Today I am leaving my home in St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands and moving to Florida. The place I am moving to, Punta Gorda, Florida looks like a really nice place and I am sure that I will like living there.
Certainly I will be regaining many of the amenities that you give up when you live on an island. Shopping for many regular things is harder here and you often have to ship things and wait two weeks for them. Food shipped in from other places is often of poor quality, particularly dairy and other perishables. But I have more than made up for this by wholeheartedly adopting the amazing tropical fruits that grow here. I am going to miss the chocolate fruit, sugar apples, breadfruit, sour sops and malay apples. I’ll miss fresh mangoes that are to die for, which are so cheap that in season you can buy them for almost nothing. I will miss buying a gallon of fresh coconut water for $20. I even love the giant jackfruit, the size of watermelons that taste amazing but looks like an alien inside (and which Julie says smells like dirty socks).
But there are things about living on a Caribbean island that are hard. I have lived up a dirt road that is hard to traverse for half of each year. They fix it annually, but two hard rains later it’s all ruts again. The truck I just sold had less than 50,000 miles and has already gone through several front ends. And electricity and gas here are expensive. Even without air conditioning my electric bill is over $500 per month to run lights, fans and a pool pump.
The island I am leaving is undergoing hard times. It lost a refinery that had a few thousand good paying jobs, and on a place that has 50,000 full-time residents this was devastating. It’s likely that well over 10,000 people have left the island recently and there is a sense of quiet despair here. People don’t want to leave here, but they need to feed their families. And as the people are leaving, businesses are closing and even doctors are leaving the island.
But there are many upsides to living here as well. The weather here is unbelievable. In the summer the highs are around 90 degrees with nights at 80 degrees. By peak of winter that has dropped to highs of 83 degrees and lows in the lower 70’s. Sunny is the normal condition and we often laugh at the weather man who reads through each day of the upcoming forecast saying, “High around 85 degrees, low in the 70’s”. But he is always right! I am so spoiled that I break out the hoodie now when it gets anywhere near to 70 degrees. I have some re-acclimation to do, for sure.
People always ask me about hurricanes? We have only had a few in ten years and only one of those was bad. Category 3 Otto hit me hard, particularly the tornado that followed the storm and that hit my house and knocked down a ton of my trees. That storm prompted me to put in a generator since I was without electricity (and Internet) for six weeks. But I live in a concrete fortress and never really sweated the hurricane itself.
One of the biggest upsides is that it just feels different here. It feels more like what the US felt like when I was growing up in the fifties. It just feels simpler and freer. You are pretty much free to do anything here that doesn’t hurt anybody else. You can feel that freedom –it is a tangible thing – this is a place of live and let live.
But the main reason I am going to miss living here is that it feels like home to me. I think you all know that ‘home’ feeling. During your lives you live in many different places, but only one or two places ever feel like home. I love to just sit and look out the window, listen to the frogs and birds and watch the palm leaves blow in the wind. I love my feral cats, my mongooses and my iridescent green iguanas. Being at my island house has soothed my soul and made me happy. So goodbye St. Croix. You have captured my heart and my soul and a piece of me will always be here. But it’s now time to move on the next adventure. Look out Florida, here I come.