Chaney: Lessons from the sea

St. Croix 2018

Yes, teachers go on vacation, and mine recently took me to St. Croix. But we always have our eyes open for things we can share with our students.

Sometimes, we teachers feel a little bit guilty about our long summer break. Though I sense that some of my students may think we just curl up under our desks to hibernate, waiting for their return, we do take vacations.

I’m going to guess here that many of my brethren continue to look for learning opportunities, even when they’re off sipping iced rum and lounging by the sea reading naughty novels. Searching for things we can share with our students is just part of a teacher’s DNA.

I had just such an educational opportunity recently during a trip to St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands. I’m a scuba diver, and while there is much to learn from the sea and its creatures, for me it is a place of peace and serenity, baring the sometimes off-kilter dives when we lose the boat or must maneuver in swift currents or water with little in the way of visibility.

On a previous trip to the island, we learned about chaney, small pieces of pottery that can be found on land and in the sea. There are several explanations for the fragments, most centering around the fact that when plates and cups and teapots broke, they served no further use and were simply thrown away. As archeologists know from studying ancient pottery, the stuff is pretty hard to destroy. Sure, it breaks into smaller pieces, but the firing of clay makes it one of the most durable substances on the planet. In fact, fragments of ceramics found in southern China have been dated back 20,000 years.

We were diving under the Fredriksted Pier, which, despite the ravages of last fall’s Hurricane Maria, is teeming with interesting and beautiful sea life. While the original structure was destroyed and rebuilt after Hurricane Hugo in 1988, the area has been welcoming passenger and merchant ships for hundreds of years.

Fredrikstad Pier

The Fredrikstad Pier in St Croix juts almost a half mile into the sea.

My sweetie pie swam over to me holding out a piece of plate, which he later said he found sticking up out of the sand. I could see the delicate pink and white design swirling on the rim. But I had no idea how old the fragment was until we visited the Chaney Chicks. The shop, and yes, it’s called Chaney Chicks, is on the other side of the island in Christiansted.

“Oh! That was made in the 1500s,” said Denise, one of the Chicks.

She would explain that sea chaney is rarer than land chaney, and doesn’t hold up quite as well as the pieces that are found in the soil. The fact that the pink design on our chunk was still clearly visible after centuries in the ocean was shocking.

A quick glance around the shop showed chaney of all sizes and colors, many delightfully wrapped in silver and gold wire for dangling in one’s ears or about the neck. And, of course, I couldn’t resist.

1500s Chaney

I know there’s a lesson in all of this somewhere. I’m working on it.


Anne Montgomery’s latest novel, The Scent of Rain, tells the story of two Arizona teenagers whose fates become intertwined. Rose flees into the mountains to escape from her abusive polygamous community where her only future is marriage to a man older than her father. Adan, whose only wish is to be reunited with his mother, is on the run from the cruelties of the foster care system. Are there any adults they can trust? Can they even trust each other?  The Scent of Rain is available at and wherever books are sold. 

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