Living on a small island creates some distinct challenges.
As a small but recent example, last week as I was leaving for Cruz Bay I saw my car’s back tire was completely flat. With no time to do anything about it, I headed down the hill to the Coral Bay “crossroads” to hitch a ride to town. Since I was going to work I was completely overdressed for the short walk in the island’s persistent humidity. On the way I spoke to a neighbor who told me he had an air compressor at the house. Perfect! All I have to do is buy a tire patch kit. Reaching the crossroads, I got a ride immediately in a nice air-conditioned car with a couple from the east end. Ahhhh… The next morning, with the help of a friend and the neighbor’s air compressor, the car was on the road again.
On St. John there is no Triple A to call for help, no dealer where you drop off your car and take a loaner for the day, and a tow truck might cost a week’s pay. There is no hospital but a clinic where the doctor is called out of bed to come in if there is an emergency after hours and weekends, Internet and power is sometimes simply not there, and cell phone service is not consistent. Throw in hurricanes and what you have is an island that loves its Happy Hour! And it also makes you aware of how you need the help of others and they need your help in return. The very act of thinking who you know and seeking them out for a favor makes you more aware of this.
This is a lengthy way to convey that on St. John when people want to accomplish something, they usually do it by working with each other, not as a single entity or by working against one another other. Perhaps it is because we never know who we will be asking assistance from in the future, or maybe it is just the friendly attitude of many of the people who live here, yet either way, we can often find someone willing to help when it is needed.
Secondly, there is the history of the island that makes many people wary when someone arrives suddenly and intends to change things, or non-residents want to make changes without any alliances with the people who live here. No matter how needed the idea or good the intention (even assuming the best), it may be received poorly. A important example relates to the establishment of the national park on St. John. A brief background goes something like this: Rockefeller wanted to help create the national park on St. John. As most books will tell you, he bought some land and donated it to the park along with others. But before that the US Department of the Interior had intended to condemn the privately held land on the island in order to expand the park holdings. Senator (V.I. Legislature) Theovald E. Moorehead, “Mooie” as he was known on St. John, led the protest against this amendment and won! The St. John and Cruz Bay you see when you get off the ferry today is credited to the efforts of “Mooie”!
This series of events occurred in the late 1950’s when tourists were just starting to visit St. John. I have yet to find it in any books that write about the history of St. John but everyone who lives her knows that history. I spent some time searching the internet because, without a finding the story in the history books written about the island, I was beginning to think it was an “urban legend”. However I found numerous references online to Mooie’s hard work in saving St. John and have provided two links that discuss the remarkable history here.
With an awareness of these two island themes, I want to share some photos a friend posted on Facebook recently. This person got a closer look at the Maho tents, shared the images and I was given permission to share them here. By posting these images I am not trying to point out any problems or call for any changes. My belief is that the time for “saving” Maho was in the years before it was sold. I am sharing what I know of a place that has been a large part of the island for decades. And I know the people who visited and cherished their time at Maho are curious. It does not actually answer anyone’s questions other than to know their current physical state. And I am encouraged to see what appears to be a thoughtful dismantling that is not damaging the fragile hillside or making a wreck of reusable lumber, particularly since resources here are precious.
I do hope that the wood that served as the tent-cabin floors is reused/donated, whatever the case may be. It is currently exposed since the roofs have been removed and will not fare as well exposed to the tropical sun, rain and leaves that will fall, accumulate and hold moisture. There is plenty of wood that needs to be disposed of but not those pieces.
It might be nice to hear from the current owner, especially if the activity on the land is something locals can support. And there are a number of island organizations that have decades of experience dealing with a variety of potentially relevant issues – from material reuse, native plantings, sustainability, to tropical design and construction – and would be a valuable resource. Which leads me back to my introduction; that this is a community where people more accustomed to helping their neighbors because we know that we need each other to thrive on an island of limited resources. All of our lives become entwined here in one way or another.
– John F. Kennedy