Virgins No More

In 1493 Christopher Columbus visited the chain of islands that he named after St. Ursula and the 11, 000 virgins.

My sister Lee, my friend Kathy, and I were all Virgin Island virgins, having never before set foot upon them.

Until last week.

We flew into St Thomas and took the car ferry over to the island of St. John.

St. John is a US territory, with nearly two thirds of its land set aside as a National Park and wildlife sanctuary.  It was a short drive from our hotel on Cruz Bay…

…to the pristine beaches of the U.S. National Park.

Big blue land crabs made their homes in the muddy floors of the mangrove swamps…

…while tiny red crabs in the tens of thousands sounded like rain on the forest floor when they skittered into hiding.

Pelicans could be seen fishing on every beach.

Iguanas frequented both beaches…

…and grassy areas.

And so many birds!  Dark hummingbirds, yellow songbirds, cranes, egrets, and many others.

Everywhere we saw ruins of a troubled past, where slaves once worked the sugar plantations dotting the island.

Who sat on the tiled veranda of this mansion sipping coffee and enjoying the ocean breeze within sight of the mill, where slaves were forced to stir boiling kettles of sugar syrup in unbearable heat?

At the Annaberg Planation, this windmill processed sugar cane.

It is a relic of a cruel past.

By 1733 slaves outnumbered Europeans 5 to 1.  Harsh laws condoning torture, amputation, and murder were enacted to keep slaves under control, but instead prompted a bloody rebellion.  Slaves rose up and held the island for six months before the French Militia helped the Danes crush the revolt.  Rather than return to slavery, hundreds threw themselves off rugged cliffs into the sea below.

In 1848, when again faced with uprisings, the governor of St. John declared an end to slavery on St. John.

This statue of a slave, sugar cane knife in hand, blowing a conch shell to sound the call to freedom, celebrates hard-won liberty.

Today 78 percent of the population is descended from African slaves.

The Virgin Islands are brimming with color, whether it be in nature’s sphere…

…or made so by human hand.

 It is a place filled with joyful music…

…and lively spirits.

They know how to live down there.

They work hard.

And play hard.

 And take nothing for granted.

All words and images 2014 Naomi Baltuck, unless otherwise stated.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Minimalist.

Mad Cow Disease

Earlier this month I visited the Hampshire College campus in Massachusetts.  I was there to spend a few days with my daughter Bea…

…who was studying at the amazing Yiddish Book Center at the college.


Hampshire has a lovely campus in the middle of rural farm country.  And it was 97 degrees.

I’m from The Emerald City and I know green when I see it.  Believe me, that countryside was green.

It was midday, and the campus was deserted, except for mad dogs and Englishmen.  Oh, yeah, and Bea and me.  We were walking to the dorm to sit in front of the AC and have lunch (did I mention it was 97 degrees?).  Then out of nowhere came a couple of dairy cows, fresh off the farm, looking like two giant Oreo cookies on the hoof.  Completely out of context, they looked larger than life.

One doesn’t often see cows going faster than a mosey, but these two came galloping toward us–no, frolicking is the only word for it.  They came frolicking across the manicured lawn.

They seemed giddy with the sense of freedom.   No cattle lows here.  In fact, I could almost hear one calling to her girlfriend, “Woo hoo!  C’mon,c’mon,c’mon, come ON!!

Oh, they were fresh, and they were frisky!  Across the campus they bounced, udders swaying, heads bobbing.  Like young girls taking the bus downtown for the first time.  Or mothers in a frenzy of activity when Baby goes down for a nap.  Grownup sisters on their first overnight after the kids are weaned.  Old ladies and their girl herd down at the senior center on Bingo Night.

A student heading out to the parking lot saw them.  Before ducking into the safety of her car, she shouted, “Get inside!  Mad cows on the loose!”  But Bea and I weren’t afraid.  If this was Mad Cow Disease, we wanted to catch it.  I swear, those cows were laughing and shoulder bumping!

They were on their first jump over the moon.  New sights, new smells, new tastes.  Maybe the grass really was greener on the other side of the fence.  How would they ever know if they didn’t give it a try?

You’re going to stick your head into a garbage can?  Then I’m going to stick my head into a garbage can too!”  Thelma and Louise on the hoof!

Out from under Farmer Brown’s thumb!  You go, girls!

I knew then and there, I would never wait for someone to open the gate of the corral.  If it’s locked, I’ll jimmy it.

Whether your middle name is Hamburger Helper or you’re just tethered to a milking machine, life is short.  You can put in your time on the farm, but if you wait patiently for someone to put you out to pasture, chances are it ain’t gonna happen.

It’s up to you to kick up your heels while you still can.

You hear what I’m saying?   Get Moooving!

All words and images copyright 2013 Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Travel Theme: Pairs.

Click here for more interpretations of Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge: Farm Animals.

Click here for more interpretations of Nancy Merrill’s A Photo-a-Week Challenge: Green.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Fresh.