My sweetie pie and I have a little place in St. Croix.
“Where?” you ask.
Well, she’s one of the US Virgin Islands. St. John, St. Thomas and tiny Water Island—which is mostly uninhabited and remote— are her sisters, but she is the red-headed step child of the group. St. Croix is not flashy and full of nightlife. Travelers don’t come to party. They come to stare at the sea, which, depending on the side of the island you’re on, is peaceful with serene turquoise waters and white sand beaches, or wildly rough and constantly changing, displaying every color of blue you can imagine.
We are exceptionally spoiled because just outside our back porch a vast swath of sea bordered by green mountains and rolling hills entertains us daily: a moving piece of living art.
Onto this canvas each day come the birds. We have spent the last three decades living in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, so these creatures are different from the ones we’re used to. Everyday, a pair of brown pelicans soars overhead before they fold their wings and dive into the foamy white waves, hoping to snare fish to feed their baby who sometimes flies with them.
Pelicans resemble prehistoric creatures and perhaps for good reason. Their ancestors go back at least 30 million years, according to fossil records, so they’ve done pretty well on the evolutionary scale. The birds developed a throat pouch that expands when they hit the water. About two-and-half gallons of water rushes in and, if they’re lucky, a fish or two, which get scooped up and gobbled down.
But they only get to keep the meal as long as the frigate birds aren’t around. While these fleet creatures with scissor tails—named after the powerful French Man-of-War sailing ships— can snatch flying fish, tuna, and herring from the surface, unlike other seabirds they don’t have waterproof feathers. So, rather than risk their plumage in the sea, they often attack other birds to steal a meal. Frigates will harass our friends the pelicans, for example, and get them so frazzeled they will throw up their food. But there’s no waste, I promise, because the frigate bird is there to grab the regurgitated fish, snatching the tasty treat in mid-air. Even cooler perhaps, and far less gross, is the fact that frigate birds can fly for months at a time over the ocean and are able to sleep while doing so. How cool is that?
There are also beautiful feral chickens all over St.Croix, birds displaying rust, black, brown, white, and purple-colored feathers, the descendants of chickens that arrived with Europeans five centuries ago. Striking red-combed banty roosters strut about with their harems, plucking bugs and worms from the ground that they ceremoniously give to their hens. The birds are so ubiquitous here that the rooster is the island’s unofficial mascot.
On our last trip, half a dozen chickens would come up to our back porch daily and visit. But this time, not a single one appeared. We wondered why and then spotted an elegant, brown winged bird with a curved beak: a predator that the locals call a chicken hawk. No wonder our feathered friends had fled.
There are other birds—tiny black ones that flit past so quickly you wonder if you imagined them and swift white birds that fight arial battles with one another— but we haven’t been able to identify them yet. All we know is we’re provided with constant avian entertainment each day, a show that makes Netflix pale in comparison.
I’d tell you more—especially about the six-point, white-tailed buck that stared at us from 15 feet away before slipping over a hillside the other day— but there’s an iced glass of sweet, dark rum waiting for me on the porch.
The past and present collide when a tenacious reporter seeks information on an eleventh century magician…and uncovers more than she bargained for.
February 2, 2022
In 1939, archeologists uncovered a tomb at the Northern Arizona site called Ridge Ruin. The man, bedecked in fine turquoise jewelry and intricate bead work, was surrounded by wooden swords with handles carved into animal hooves and human hands. The Hopi workers stepped back from the grave, knowing what the Moochiwimi sticks meant. This man, buried nine hundred years earlier, was a magician.
Former television journalist Kate Butler hangs on to her investigative reporting career by writing freelance magazine articles. Her research on The Magician shows he bore some European facial characteristics and physical qualities that made him different from the people who buried him. Her quest to discover The Magician’s origin carries her back to a time when the high desert world was shattered by the birth of a volcano and into the present-day dangers of archeological looting where black market sales of antiquities can lead to murder.
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