It begins with waking up to 5 degrees outside. It’s 3:00 in the morning. I stoke both wood stoves to revive the embers to flames again, use the entire hour before my planned departure to do the small random things that still need to be done, say goodbye to Nora, and begin the hour long drive to the airport. It is a thrill actually, to be driving these dark streets with my high beams, not another soul in sight until I get to the expressway, also quiet and fast at this early hour and yet I still feel the anxiety of getting to the gate to board the plane, even with the extra hours I have allotted, so focused with desire now to get to my final destination. I leave my car at a long term storage place and board the little shuttle bus to the terminal, surprisingly full, an indication of a full and busy airport. It is now 5:15. I’ve met up with two others heading to the same retreat and we promptly board our flight that leaves at 7:15. The first leg is complete.
It’s a short flight to Philadelphia, the brief de-icing on the small plane a nod to the early morning freeze, and we land in a barely perceptible light snow flurry in Philly, fear that we might get caught in the predicted impending storm abated for the time being. It’s a lengthy walk through three terminals along moving walkways to get to our gate for the next flight. The snow has picked up outside. Intermittent moments of panic alternate with reassurance as the door to the jetway opens on time and we are all boarded on the large plane that will take us to St. Thomas. Settled in my seat, I look out to a howling wind and snow. Miraculously, the plane is fully boarded and begins to move. It is 9:55. The second leg is complete.
The plane stops after just a few minutes. Starts up again to the deafening sound of whirring engines. Moves a short distance. Stops again. I justify the tension that is building in me by imagining the beautiful place I will soon be inhabiting. But the intense sound, the overwhelming fumes, the evidence of snow now collecting on the runway take over, and the fact that no one has informed us of the cause of the delay pushes me into a fear that we might not actually be able to take off dominates my awareness. The pilot finally comes to to say we are fifth in line for de-icing, and once we get there, it will be a twenty minute process, and then getting back in the cue for take-off. His matter of fact-ness is oddly reassuring. By the time we get to the de-icing station I am shocked to see it is like something out of a science fiction movie.
We are one of three very large planes lined up to be serviced at the same time by a man in a hermetically sealed machine that looks like a yellow serpent, moving up down and around the plane spraying and spewing a series of solutions over and over until the ground below is frothing with chemical waste that is both sinister and beautiful at the same time.
The fumes begin to infiltrate the plane cabin, replacing the jet fuel that had been lingering there for the past hour now. The de-icing is finally complete and the now green encrusted plane is ready for departure.
It is a full two hours past our scheduled take off. And we finally do, take off, just in the nick of time I’m sure. After a bumpy road to the ocean stratosphere, we coast in the bliss of knowing it won’t be long now. (And where, I wonder, did all that green chemical go?)
Three and a half hours later we land in 82 degrees and sunshine. It is 4:30 (including the one hour Ahead time difference. The third leg is complete.
We bypass baggage claim and offers of free rum to get a taxi to the Red Hook ferry ASAP. A lively and ride through the windy streets with our entertaining driver Barbara gets us there in record time to make the five o’clock ferry. However we are some of the last to board what is clearly one of their older models, there is no room up top where we can travel with the sea air, and barely find seats amongst the mixed tourist and native crowd on the main floor of the vessel. It is loud and full of fumes here too, just the hint of what is to one to be seen through the scratched windows that are shut tight to prevent the engine fumes from backing in. It is 5:40. The fourth leg of our journey is complete.
The ferry ride to St. John is short. We arrive in Cruz Bay, retrieve our bags and head to the taxi stand that occupies the transition space between the dock and town. The sun is rapidly descending toward the horizon. It is 6:00. The fifth leg of our journey is complete.
The taxi drivers all express some aspect of dismay when we say where we want to go. Concordia is on the opposite end of the island and a long drive that only makes sense when the large open air taxi can be be filled. But it is never filled. We indulge the nice man who says he will take while he eyes the rest of the newcomers coming off the dock with anticipation, hoping for any others who will want to go our way. He doesn’t make us wait too long however, and finally gestures for us to follow him. It’s just the three of us, and he is gracious and accommodating, even knowing this will not be the most profitable trip for him. He even stops at our favorite grocery on the way and asks if we’d like to stop for some provisions. Now he has reached saint status, waiting patiently while we shop. We are so grateful when he delivers us in the now fully dark sky, unloads our bags. He charges us even less than what is expected and of course we simply pay him more for his kindness and consideration. It is 7:15. The sixth leg of our journey is over.
First there are hugs and greetings by other group members who have already arrived. We check in, and begin the arduous task of carrying our bags up the infamous flights of stairs to get to our eco-tents which have been built into the side off the mountain facing Saltpond Bay, only accessible by foot. It is too dark to see the expanse of ocean that will greet us in the morning, but the sound of the surf is strong, the sensuous breeze like a balm for the travels of the day. We have arrived. It is 8:00. The seventh and final leg of the journey is over.
The magic of the morning here never fails. It is a homecoming here too.