Happy Winter!

We got hit with another winter storm last night. It dumped more snow, and now the temperature is plummeting and is supposed to get down to 10 degrees below zero. That’s serious bundle-up weather!

The sun figure on the door to our backyard seems to be enjoying it, at least.

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Saving Photos

My cellphone is old, and I regularly get messages telling me I’m up to storage capacity on things like phone messages and photos, and it’s time to start deleting.  The phone messages aren’t hard to get rid of — the fact that I haven’t deleted them already is just due to inattention, really — but the photos are a much harder call.

Sure, I could dump every photo that I’ve ever taken onto my home computer or store them in the cloud, but that’s not really a true solution — you just end up with a huge array of photos that are creating storage capacity issues somewhere else.  And if you’ve ever tried to find that one photo you are thinking of in an indiscriminate mass, you know it can be a frustrating and time-consuming task.  It’s similar to the problem that many of our parents and grandparents had — they’d have boxes  and boxes of unorganized Kodak and Polaroid photos from family trips, reunions, and other events, and one of their long-lasting resolutions was to actually identify who was in the curled up and browned-out photos from the past and put them into some kind of meaningful order in photo albums.  In many families, like mine, that just never got done successfully.

In my view, the key is to suck it up and engage in careful editing on the cellphone itself, respecting the device’s storage issues and limiting your library to those really worthwhile photos that you think you actually might look at in the future.  Where are you most likely to look at photos, anyway?  These days, it’s on your cellphone, when you are with friends or waiting at an airport gate for a plane and want to remember a good time from the past without going through some elaborate storage retrieval process.

So, how do you make the call on what to keep and what to delete?  It’s easy enough to delete the out-of-focus shots, of course, and there are always some photos that, when you look at them later, you wonder why you took them in the first place.  But once you’ve discarded the chaff, it’s a lot harder.  How many photos of beautiful sunrises or sunsets do you want?  Which photos of family and friends should you keep indefinitely?  When I look at the older photos on my cellphone, I see that there’s a pattern:  I have kept photos of special people, and places and times that I want to remember.  There’s a photo of Mom and the rest of the Webner clan at her last family birthday party, for example, and photos of me and Kish on vacation, and the photo with this post that was taken on Lake Louise in Canada on a perfect June day when the color of the water and the backdrop of mountains was just dazzling and we walked along the edge of the lake just reveling in the scenery.

My test is simple:  what do I want to remember, and what really makes me smile?

 

Ram Head And Salt Pond Bay

Hikers are a collegial bunch, and when they encounter other hikers in a new place they like to swap information about their hikes. On our hike to Saloman Beach we ran into a friendly couple from Nashville who raved about the Salt Pond Bay and Ram Head trail, so we had to try it on our last full day in St. John. It definitely ended our trip on a high note — literally.

The trail is found at the far southwestern tip of the island. It’s about as far away from Cruz Bay by car as you can get, but the drive is worth it. You begin by walking past the beach at Salt Pond Bay, which looks out onto the Caribbean and offers the calmest waters we found on the island. The beach is beautiful, placid, and secluded, and a treat for snorkeling and swimming after the hike.

As you walk down the beach, be sure to veer a few yards off the trail to the east and visit the Salt Pond that gives the Bay its name. You won’t find that beautiful blue Caribbean water here — or swimmers either, for that matter. The saline content of the pond is so high that the water is gold in color, and you can smell the salt. It’s a bizarre setting that would be an ideal location for a scene from a Star Trek episode.

The trail then starts to move up the finger of rock the forms the Ram Head Peninsula. To the west there’s a black pebble-strewn beach, shown in the first photo above, where each gentle wave causes a noticeable rock on rock clatter and people have positioned white rocks against the black stones of the beach to leave messages for hikers to come. To the east, where you can see the British Virgin Islands in the distance, the surf is crashing into sheer rock cliffs. It’s a total contrast to the gentle currents seen to the west.

As you move uphill, you’ll notice two things. First, you’re not seeing the tropical foliage that you’ve seen on every other hikes on the island. Instead, you’re in a treeless desert, with cactus and other desert plant life. And second, the wind is a force that scours the ground and leaves you walking on barren territory. There are lots of dramatic views, but don’t get too close, or you’ll risk losing your balance in a surprise gust. And be sure to take off your hat, or the wind will do it for you.

At the top of Ram Head you’re hundreds of feet above the water, on a rocky crag jutting our into the sea, with surf crashing far below, the wind whistling past, the sun glistening on the water, and a commanding view in all directions. It’s unnerving to be so exposed, but the views are irresistible, and you can’t help picking your way through the stunted cactus to a spot closer to the edge where the view might be just a little bit better.

At the very tip of Ram Head, on a tiny outcropping of rock, you can go no farther. You’re looking due south and that’s St. Croix on the horizon, dozens of miles away. The view is dramatic and mesmerizing, but after a few minutes of slack-jawed wonderment you realized you’re being buffeted by windy blasts just a few feet from a sheer plunge into rocks far below, holding your hat in a death grip, and you decide it’s time to carefully pick your way back down the peninsula to sea level. A swim in the calm and warm blue waters of Salt Pond Bay sounds awfully good right about now.

A Trip To The BVI Aboard The Bad Kitty

On Sunday we hauled out our passports and took an excursion to the British Virgin Islands aboard the Bad Kitty. It’s a nice little boat with a friendly three-person crew that took us and about two dozen other passengers on a three-stop tour.

The tour started with a long leg across relatively calm seas to the Baths, a popular destination for cruise ship excursions. Along the way, the crew gave us water, juice, fruit, and bread, then checked us in with the British authorities. The Bad Kitty then anchored close to the beach by the Baths, and the passengers and two of the crew members swam over. Because I didn’t have a waterproof carrier and didn’t want to wreck my phone, I didn’t get any photos of the Baths. They’re interesting rock formations right on the beach and pictured in countless swimsuit photo shoots. Be advised — there is some bending, climbing, and physical exertion in visiting the Baths, as you scale rocks and squeeze through crevices; an older guy in our group found it to be a struggle. And speaking of exertion: after the visit to the Baths we swam back through the surf to the Bad Kitty, which was about 100 yards offshore. My exposed cellphone would never have survived it.

Once all of the members of the group were present and accounted for we sailed past a number of the small islands in the BVI — many of which are apparently privately owned — to Norman Island for snorkeling. Along the way we saw lots of sailboats and other craft out on the water. It was a perfect day weather wise, and people were enjoying it to the hilt.

At Norman Island, we plunged into the water again to explore some good snorkeling territory, with lots of colorful tropical fish, like schools of yellowfin tuna, and a cave to explore. We were given flotation vests because U.S. law requires it, but the water is so salty floating is easy.

Then it was back into the boat for the last leg of the trip, to Jost Van Dyke. With the strenuous work done, the crew supplied us with a flow of “painkillers” — a popular local drink featuring rum, fruit juices, and a sprinkling of nutmeg on top to give it a nice holiday touch. We also were given Bad Kitty temporary tattoos, and the ready availability of the painkillers made for some creative tattoo placement on the part of some passengers. I went for the traditional upper arm placement.

Our final stop at Jost Van Dyke let us wade ashore onto what is supposedly one of the world’s premier party beaches. (We were told 15,000 people were expected on the beach for New Year’s Eve, which would be incredible if true.). Dozens of boats were anchored in the bay, and the alcohol flowed freely for the visitors. We stopped and had lunch, flaunted our tattoos, and enjoyed our trip to the BVI.

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.