Hilltopping

Over the weekend we set out on the Margaret Hill trail in a bid to scale the two tallest peaks in the western part of the island: Caneel Hill and Margaret Hill. Neither is particularly tall by the standards of, say, the Rockies or even the Appalachians. According to our excellent topographical map, available from the National Park Service for only $4.00, Caneel Hill is slightly less than 800 feet above sea level, and Margaret Hill is not quite 100 feet taller. But they certainly feel taller than that, as you scramble dead uphill from the trailhead on the northshore road, and they offer commanding views to the north and west.

To the north, pictured above, you see Whistling Cay to the left and, to the right and in the distance, you see the islands of the British Virgin Islands — or, to use the lingo of the locals, the BVI. Somewhere out there in the water the international boundary lurks, but the locals don’t seem to pay too much attention to it, especially if they are heading to the party beaches of Jost Van Dyke, which offers a kind of continuous spring break atmosphere.

From the lookout point rock atop Margaret Hill, show below, you get a bird’s eye view of the town of Cruz Bay and, off to the right, the island of St. Thomas, which is a part of the USVI. At night, the cruise ships, all lit up like floating Christmas trees steamy by St. John just to the left, south of the island, in a glittering single file parade. Who’d have thought there were so many cruise ships?

The path down Margaret Hill leads to the Caneel Bay resort, still closed in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which pulverized the island some 18 months ago. Watch your step, because the footing on the way down can be treacherous — but the chance to be a hilltopper is worth it.

Free Range

There are chickens all over Cruz Bay, the largest town on St. John. Every morning, we hear the full-throated crowing of this strutting specimen and his fellow rooster friends with our morning coffee, and when we venture into town we see the chickens hunting and pecking pretty much everywhere. We’ve even noticed “native island chicken” on the menu of some of the restaurants we’ve visited.

The chickens of St. John could justifiably be called “free range” fowl. They aren’t cooped up and being fed some genetically modified feed to fatten them up; they’re totally on the loose and running free and eating whatever they can find. But being free also means dealing with danger. For the birds that means darting across roads that are jammed with cars and visitors and dodging the wheels of the colorful Jeeps and SUVs that are the vehicles of choice on this hilly island. As we saw to our sadness and regret one night, they don’t always make it.

Why does the St. John chicken cross the road? Because it’s hungry and willing to take the risk for the promise of food on the other side.