Living On St John, USVI
A Story of Transformation
Life in Weehawken New Jersey was contemplative, full of insight and discoveries born of inquiry as to the nature of who we are, where we are and how we come to exist. Days were occupied with piano practicing, reading and study, and central to all was the disciplined devoted practice of meditation. At seemingly light speed, I was experiencing an auto-didactical education of psychology, philosophy, concepts of quantum field theory and how all this relates to various forms of spiritual practices. Delving into realms of gnostic Christianity, Jewish mysticism(Kaballah), Hinduism, Sufism(Islamic Mysticism and Buddhism were the routine readings of my days. Very often there were mind/body/thought experiments and self created exercises of approaching the font door of our apartment building and suddenly emerging into a state of realization that something other than my immediate awareness was doing the walking, opening the door and taking steps one foot after the other up the stairs. I would stop and contemplate in stillness, thinking on what was this impulse and where is it located. What is doing the thinking of intent. I figured this is simply garden variety philosophy on the nature of the quest to understand “self”. What I did not realize at the time was the journey that was unfolding into practices of Shamanism and the essence of Presence of Being.
I was living off of the fruits of publishing royalties, mainly from the gifts of being awarded a Gold Record for a project that was full of auspicious blessing three to five years prior. Little by little all of my keyboard and recording gear was being sold off which also afforded me my lifestyle of material simplification and ascetic practices. Although not austere, my chosen environment reflected the mission within knowing that my life up until this point was wrought with lacking the insight and wisdom for a life of cultivated compassion , patience, inner quiet and stillness for the health of my physical health. I was enjoying an extremely simply life coming from moderate extravagances of spending on material goods. The apartment was a six foot upper unit of a typical style early 1900’s home in Hudson County NJ. We were three blocks west of a grand overlook of the Hudson Rive facing the Empire State Building. From the quaint community park located on the main boulevard I had a bird’s-eye view of the horror on the morning of September 11, 2001.
Our little domain on Liberty Place was a block of interactive and friendly people. The neighborhood had a large Cuban and Dominican population which brought a sweet diversity of food, music, and an overall tapestry of culture. A next door neighbor was a family of six where typically as with many of the Dominican families, the children are bilingual and their parents relied on them for handling interactions that require written or spoken english. Part of the enjoyment of this was a warmth of heart from imagining distant memories of my own family as my father’s parents were immigrants from Germany and Russia. Although they learned to read, write and speak english fairly early on in their new life in the United States, there was still a definitive challenge when it came to navigating more complex aspects of society in Brooklyn NY. This was around the years spanning 1915 thru 1940 and my father and uncle were always engaged in family matters and business. My grandparents owned a small grocery store in Crown Heights, a neighborhood of Brooklyn NY. Every morning before school my dad would be out delivering milk and other daily essentials to their regular customers. My father always lived from a place of family responsibility. He took care of my uncle who was six years younger, and the story goes that as my grandparents worked such long hours into the evenings, dinners of sardines, cans of beans and hotdogs, and foods more of jewish ethnicity were the regular dinners that my dad prepared for himself and my uncle. At one point, after my grandfather being asked repeatedly by my dad for a bicycle, the requests were finally answered. To his dismay, the new gleaming bike came with a side cart. The idea was that my dad would be able to cruise around with his little brother in tow. Not exactly the independence that he had in mind. But, as I say, My father was a Being of soulful responsibility to those closest to him. He honored his parents beyond anything in his life and this was continued into and throughout his marriage to my mother. His sense of family responsibility carried deeper than ever to his two son as well. Despite a history of all that parents can potentially be unaware within healthy emotional function, I was the beneficiary of parents that possessed dutiful amounts of responsibility toward their children.
Our family history includes stories of my paternal grandmother and here sister being the only surviving members of her immediate family from the madnesses of the Third Reich Nazi takeover and mind control of a vastness of the German population. The family spawns from immigrants out of the very late 1800’s and into the early 1900’s, so I relate in spirit to those that were making new lives for themselves in the NYC area when I was enjoying such transformational shifts as their neighbor and friend. The Dominican family of four children next door to us resembled the same kind of respect, commitment and care for family. I became very friendly with the two sons of which one became a music promoter within the latin dance scene. The other was always interested in the esoteric, whether of a spiritual nature or all that was emerging scientifically at the time, dealing with the nature of life and consciousness. During the spring summer and fall I would be out nearly every night sitting on our front stoop having conversations with a number of the young people on our block and those passing by on a regular basis. Liberty Place was a regular walking route to one of the major food stores in the area. Our eclectic pad was between Kennedy Boulevard And Park Ave, which was actually Union City. Kennedy Blvd is an awe inspiring vantage point with its panoramic view of NYC spanning the George Washington Bridge down to the Twin Towers and into the Narrows bays hosting the enormous Verrazzano Bridge connecting the NYC boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island. Park Avenue, was home to quite a number of diverse small eateries and restaurants. We enjoyed foods of Cuban, Turkish, Italian, Chinese and middle eastern cultures. One of our regular stops was El Unico, a small Cuban Restaurant where at the time, we would jump in for a two dollar and fifty cent lunch of roast chicken, rice and beans and absolutely delicious yucca. The lunch time hang was more of music talk, philosophy, spirituality, maybe some politics, whatever else was on one’s mind and usually a cafe con leche to round out our lunchtime meal.
As living the life more and more as a renunciant of material possessions, a growing disillusionment of conventional life was building within me. Desiring objects and belongings, for a home, a car, various insurance policies and the overall nature of what we consider worth working for became less and less important to me. In fact, the more I meditated and focused on my studies, the more I really saw the nature of impermanence. Not only impermanent, but aspects of the way in which we construct our lives based on all that we have been taught. I was questioning the methods of our being persuaded as to what is meaningful and necessary for one’s feelings of fulfillment.
Now very importantly, I am by no means saying that I do not enjoy wealth and all the comforts that money can buy. Quite the contrary, I do enjoy my comforts. What was shifting deep within me was questioning what it would take for me to be comfortable and more than anything, have happiness if not a life of joy! I cannot say in any way that my life was sustaining joy for any amount of time beyond perhaps some momentary interactions. But then the joy would be gone. I wondered what it would be like to actually be a living embodiment of a joyful existence. If there were great fruits of labor for my enjoyment, wonderful. But by way of all this introspection and inquiry into the nature of self, there was not the sense that joy is dependent on any “external” stimulus of material good. I will up the ante here – what about experiencing some sustained ecstatic moments? I was not imagining this beyond the peak moment experiences I was having within meditation. in fact, one day as I was coming out of the nearby food store after a long nearly three hour sit in meditation, my thought was that I was now understanding why for instance the Tibetan monks meditate for hours and hours on end throughout their day. If my three hour session’s sense of joy and peak moment ecstasy seems to fade after and hour or two, then it is clear that to maintain this type of mindset in the way of mood and temperament would require an ongoing mind of a meditative state. Now of course it goes without saying that surely I was achieving great strides by the conviction, dedication and devotion of my heart’s intent. This is true and the sitting in stillness and quiet was having profound affects and outcomes in expansive ways considering where I had come from as a diagnosable complex post traumatic stress disorder. Even being raised by such honorable and responsible parents did not mean that my brother and I escaped dysfunctions of my family’s cognitive and emotional environment. Even ten minutes of meditation for one that is dabbling in first experimentation brings very measurable leaps in all the benefits of meditation. My point was extreme. Inquisitiveness and seeking of the possibilities of living in joy, and just plain being happy with myself coming to know what it is to be in loving relationship with, in and as me was paramount!
From my first spring day on Liberty Place, there was the unfolding of what came to be recognized as events that where not of a usual nature from the way things had been in my past. I began to see the meeting of people and the web of relationships that we develop as something so essentially integral to our development in this life. A web of connecting dots merged in such clarity that I could not see life in any way but how we serve one another and are “spirit guides” so to speak for this journey. We are navigating an energy field that sort of tricks us by way of the neurobiological lattice encasement of consciousness that we are. I was seeing interconnectedness everywhere. Also was the phenomenon of having every aspect of all that we require at any given point in time, emerge for all our needs. I was coming into awareness of such a profound sense of trust and how being void of doubt and trepidation clears the way for our most natural flow of happiness as mental, emotional and physical well-being. I could not help but to think of this as magical. It was so unlike what had been the mechanisms of life in years(and decades) prior.
The “magical” first spring day on the block was met with meeting my Soul-friend, Eileen and her then husband Paul. To my great surprise, they were acquainted with me as huge and very appreciative fans of the music from my RCA recordings from just a couple years earlier. They both were very eclectic and Paul had a very colorful life himself. Their beautiful and very insightful daughter Zoe was sixteen at the time. Eileen and Paul were both a little bit older than me and held a wisdom that I could tell was going to play a significant part of my life in Weehawken. That it did for sure! Eileen was a spirit more than a physical being in this incarnation. Her day to day life was as an elementary school teacher who possessed a passion for seeing the kids as souls, not necessarily as bodies with personalities. She developed the first theater program at Weehawken High school to support the expression of a soulful life. We spent much time together and if there was anyone within my journey on this spaceship Earth that was an auspicious spirit guide in human form, introducing me to something so radically unlike what was familiar up to that point in time, it was Eileen.
On first visit, I entered Eileen and Paul’s apartment encountering beautiful and numerous wall hangings of all sorts of metaphysical domains and dimensions. Precious crafts and trinkets from all over the world occupied shelves on end. It was obvious and unquestionable that their heart’s emanated from within their Buddhist teachings of wisdom and compassion. Also was a vast and very diverse vinyl record collection which always draws me into where people are at in their views of life and how I might be able to fit in with them as friendships are about to emerge. One of the greatest understanding I acquired out of meeting Eileen, was and still is that we have our web of relations throughout this life. There is always family or perhaps extended family, and no matter where we might travel to the farthest corners of our home Mother planet, we will without doubt always have those that intuitively sense are our family. I learned to walk my path knowing this, that there are always the friends and close relations of seeming cousins or even siblings of simply just another parallel genetic channel. But none-the-less, close family.
A very enriching and massively expansive year and a half passed. i decided that I wanted to have my grand piano with me for the exploration of new possibilities within my playing. The piano had been in storage since I moved from the farm house in Far Hills and was one of the few material possessions that I kept in humble honor of who and what I am as a musician. With the constraints of moving such an instrument into an upper level apartment where the early 1900 stairwells were narrow with sharp turns into doorway passages, the likelihood of having a sizable piano in my living space seemed more and more out of the question. After just a bit of pondering, Eileen began imagining how we might configure the garage of the building the she and Paul lived in. These were tall and somewhat narrow generally two family homes with some having one car garages on the street level. Their particular building had a small one bedroom apartment behind the garage. The owner of the building was a New York attorney, acquaintance and was friendly with Eileen. His father, Aldo, who appeared to be a Bohemian type of artist lived in the ground level apartment. Eileen pursued the idea of having us create a little practice and rehearsal space out of the garage. Of course everything would be makeshift and no permanent alterations would be made. No problem there because the space was a garage – cement, cinderblock and obviously as old as the building. Aldo, his son, Eileen and I agreed on a very small fee for what was to become my “vortex portal” of bringing forth the greatest adventure of my life: trekking with all abandon of doubt, fear and trepidation to live on the island of St John in the United States Virgin Islands!
We hung heavy plastic and corrugated materials from used shipping boxes as insulation for the piano studio. I picked up a space heater and all in all the garage was snug and comfy. My good friend Dennis who was an accomplished guitarist and piano tuner lived a block away and shared his skills beyond generously in keeping the piano in constant good tuning. The support that anyone could express was surpassed by unimaginable bounds when one day shortly after getting the piano moved in, I open the door leading from the main floor stairway, and I am beside myself with the new interior design of the piano room. Immense and powerful energy emanating from posters large and small had been hung on the walls. These were beautiful depictions of Tibetan tangkas which are paintings on cotton, or silk appliqué, usually depicting a Buddhist deity, scene, or mandala. Also, staring at the piano bench right where I would be sitting for hours a day, was a big poster of the Dalai Lama with his infinite eyes and kind, gentle and wisdom knowing smile. The “piano studio” was transformed into the “Magic Room” !
Along the way was a lot of life being lived in my space on Liberty place in Weehawken, NJ. All the exploration of consciousness in and out of meditation, the depths of studying, new found concepts for the music moving through me, attending various metaphysical and spiritual meeting groups and nurturing this ascetic lifestyle of inner journey. There was an aspect that appeared to be so mystical, that it was as if I was being literally guided without any effort on my path. On separate occasions I received very pronounced indications that I would be very happy living on St John in the USVI. To many this might seem as if just passing happenstance. However, there was an internal resonance vibrating within me that somehow I knew I was being effortlessly led upon my unfolding journey. One of these indications was a postcard from a close friend and music production associate. It was the most serene photo of Maho Bay with its crystal clear aqua blue water, white sand beach and luscious foliage. He and his wife went on a vacation staying in one of Maho Bay Resort’s huts. He wrote on the back of the card – “You belong here”. That was it. Not too long after that, I was getting a hair cut by someone who I had visited a few times within the year. This haircutter started telling me about his visit to Maho Bay in the USVI. After a little bit of his description, he looked in the mirror directly into my eyes for a few moments and said – “you need to go there”. I sat in his chair and said to myself, “I guess I am going to St John”!
That portal-eske postcard was sitting leaning against the wall on our kitchen table for months. I would sit and stare at it and very often authentically feel myself there. I would imagine what it would be like to live in such a place and to leave the conventional life that was becoming irrelevant to me in every way. Although I was so committed to this way of seeking and embodying a life of a transcendent mind, I had no vision of earning a living to speak of and savings that I had was not defining me by any means as independently wealthy – at least in monetary terms. What I was experiencing as conventional life included the noise of urban living, toxic smog, ever increasing fast pace, congestion of traffic on the roads especially if one were to encounter rush hour heading into any of the tunnels accessing NYC from (as they say) the “Jersey side”. To me, what people lived in without their questioning was clearly a very unhealthy and programmed dystopia.
As my disconcertedness for the dystopia grew larger, my late nights were getting later and later accompanied by enjoying tall cans of Foster’s beer. One night where the weight of measuring myself against society’s definitions of success, providing for one’s self and how my life must look to someone that works a daily routine of a “regular’ life, my self esteem took a nose dive. Possessing all my insights was not appearing to garner a healthy sense of self. At least not for me at this time. I was forgetting all that I had been so devotedly committed to and allowed somehow for my mind to tumble into believing I was living a way less than inspired life. I was not seeing a fit and was beginning to sense a knowing that my time in Weehawken on Liberty Place was coming to a close. On this particular night hanging out flipping around TV channels, a high energy infomercial appeared. It was Tony Robbin’s latest greatest program, Unleash The Power Within. A number of years earlier I had enthusiastically participated in his previous program, Unlimited Power which helped me greatly to move through the treacherous waters of navigating career management and RCA Records. As I sat watching the entire infomercial I acknowledged that something had to change for me in a very dramatic way. I said out loud: “I must do this – I am going to do this”. The marketing was all about committing to re-designing your life. With the relentless post marketing voice of reason talking away, I took out my credit card, picked up the phone and ordered Unleash The Power Within. I committed to myself to dramatically change my life!
Waiting, waiting, waiting – and the box of cassette tapes arrived. A happy and vibrant day! Gearing up for this was by way of further committing to myself and the power of shifting one’s mind in actualization. Creating a new and different reality! I brought the package up to the kitchen where my portal post card resided, and began my journey with Tony Robbins as my trusted coach at the helm of re-designing my life. I was now implementing all that I had traveled the last three years of seeing with new eyes and feeling with a new heart. The trajectory was to follow every instruction morsel by morsel. Sit through what felt as though really didn’t apply to my situation, pay hyper laser attention to all concepts and follow every exercise both physically and mentally. I spent hours within the program’s journals loving up the process writing in specifics of exactly what was instructed. Through and through was nothing but determination for actualizing a shift within all that I knew existed as a waking dream – this life of aggregating particles – collapsing wave potentiality into a reality of experiential happening! I wrote and wrote describing the feel of a life on a tropical island. The sounds, smells, warm breeze, salt of the ocean water, the people, how they are dressed, the food that would be available, how I would exist in such a place and where I might live. All was so very thrilling. I worked this program of transformation religiously venturing excitedly into all the neurolinguistic programming. I lived within creating my visions with zero doubt that they would become my reality.
For months I was having sessions in the magic garage portal usually once or twice a week with a bass player friend of mine. He was well known and very accomplished. He held the bass chairs over years in numerous Broadway pit orchestras. We would get together to mainly explore my original compositions. One day with a rehearsal set up for early afternoon, he did not show. I waited for and couple of hours since this was just prior to the advent of everyone having a personal cell phone. It took a while before I received a call from him. I knew something was up because it was not his character to just not show without letting me know. Well after 3:00 that afternoon he called me from a phone booth on 11th Ave in NYC where he had been sitting in traffic that was at a complete standstill. He laughed in a cynical way and told me that the word was that Jacqueline Onassis was traveling through the Lincoln tunnel with an entourage and the security detail closed the routes into the tunnel. This was unbelievable to us. As I had already been in my mindset of conventional life making less and less sense to me, this really smeared some icing on my philosophical cake. I hung up the phone, sat on the edge of my bed for what was probably about fifteen minutes, and in a moment, I called information for the phone numbers of United, American and TWA airlines. Knowing that I could not possess any reservation, doubt or question, I called the airlines for price quotes to St John. Within a short time and multiple phone calls I did what came to be seen by so many in my life as unreasonable. I booked a one-way flight to St John, USVI!
Departure was on July 5th, 1994 out of LaGuardia airport. Now having two months and a few days for re-distributing the bulk of my few remaining possessions, the big one settled in. What about my piano? Thoughts of a nonconventional life on an Island included, fishing, driving a taxi, working a juice bar, odd jobs etc. If all I had done musically up to that point was all I was meant to do, I convinced myself I was reconciled with this. Or so I thought. It felt important to start sharing with people close to me the decision I had made which seemed as though it would add to my conviction for not backing out. Along the way in these two short months, there seemed to be an inordinate amount of situations coming up that could have potentially had me derail my plans. There were all kinds of responses communicated directly to me as well as less than complimentary words spoken among others, to others. And actually to my great surprise, my older brother came to my defense in a number of situations saying to those darker judgmental ones, He’s doing something you only wish you had the guts to do! That pleased me and warmed my heart.
My determination was that I am getting out of what looks, feels and resonates on very deep levels of being highly dysfunctional referred to as functional society. The grand piano meant a lot and had seen me through so much musical exploration and a companion as a voice for all that came through as living the birthing processes of composing. I would only want the piano to find a good home. The word was put out immediately and in not much time some responses and interest emerged. An acquaintance of mine, another Broadway musician and conductor was seeing a medical doctor for a condition related to playing. He described the doctor as a creative type and they were looking at pianos for their young son who was showing interest in going further into his piano study. An appointment was set up for them to see and play the piano and sure enough a day later they said they would take it. That was indeed a big one for me. Saying goodbye to the piano brought heart sadness. However, in keeping with the transient nature of all that was learned over the last three years, it suddenly became just another fleeting aspect of impermanence. The energy of my piano’s existence as a collaborative friend and soulful mate within my music also gave me a gift and another kind of blessing. The morphing of ownership adding to my sense of some measurable financial stability to embark on the great adventure. All was good.
Following through on the idea of minimalism, shopping for a backpack and a tent was the next step. The idea of a spackle bucket came to mind because I reasoned that such a setup would be airtight and waterproof. I guess the thought of being in any situation had occurred as visions. Seems funny now. The spackle bucket had tiger stripes painted on it by one of my oldest and best buddies. He was along for the trip in a vicarious capacity. It ended up being packed with cans of sardines, beans, resealable bags of seaweed, utensils, and a six inch iron skillet. The bucket also functioned as a wash basin, clothes washer and flipping it over, made a great sounding hand drum. One evening, my buddy and I went and enjoyed an outing to a well known camping outfitter in New Jersey. I picked out my two person Kelty tent and a nice trekking backpack. Things were coming together and taking shape. Each day I was able to cross off items from my detailed to-do list. It was imperative to stay on task with my list if the timing trajectory was to align for the day of departure. A number of friends offered names and phone numbers of possible contacts. I got on the phone and pursued what never really came easily to me up to that point. Cold calling and introducing myself wasn’t something that I preferred to do, but I made a mission out of it. I actually ended up having a few inspiring conversations. However there were also a couple that I remember as not so brightly lit. Funny how some folks will leap into a rather parental disapproving mode without even knowing you. I chalked it up once again to their own fears of walking beyond the lines of one’s thresholds for comfort.
I arrived on St John as the sun was setting. What a gorgeous otherworldly sight! I walked around Cruz Bay just a bit short distances at a time given that my backpack was about twenty pounds overweight. I had packed two dense books that I figured would be a good way to start off with my new life. Continuing on with reading in context from where I had left off, the two favorites were a Treatise by Alan Watts and Dark Matter and Hyperspace by Michio Kaku. Alan Watts had been a tremendous influence on me from the very first pages of one of his most popular writings, The Book: On The Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. This one was my very first stage of significant awakening to the illusions and distortions of what we believe to be reality. Not only were these books dense, but they were severely weighing down my backpack. My shoulders were aching and public benches were a welcomed sight.
My first destination was Maho Bay. Maho was about a fifteen to twenty minute ride by taxi up and down hills and around switchbacks. The taxes were mainly retrofitted pickup trucks with two parallel benches facing each other on either side. At this point it was just about dark and it turns out that the taxi driver “saw me coming”. The administration office where you check in was already closed and he knew it. New on the island and I had to get wise quick. I ended up with a pricey round trip without a place to stay. I let him know a little bit of my dismay but was very careful not to overstep my bounds. Starting off on the wrong foot would not be the way to go with the native locals of a Caribbean Island. I knew this for sure and after all, compassion, kindness, wisdom and understanding were some of the fundemental ideals that I was practicing to live by. Now back to Cruz Bay from my futile excursion, between dropping my backpack off my shoulders to rest, I would saunter around short distances seeking a place to stay. Given that it was July 5th, not much was going on. Tourist season ended a while ago and things were very quiet. At this point it was getting to be around midnight and I spotted tow gentlemen walking the main road in the center of town. Just to get an idea of how chill and remote type of existence St John was at the time, there was only one stop sign on the entire island. No traffic lights and an entire population of less than 3,500 residents on an eight mile stretch of island. I had absolutely nothing to loose by walking right up to these guys, stating that I just got “on island”(as they say), by backpack is killing me and asking if they knew of a place that I could stay. They had been out for the night loosing their cares and worries and it was obvious. One of them looked me up and down, paused and said, “you look okay! I’ll put you on my boat”. What?!!? I said inside to myself! Where is you boat, I asked in disbelief. he pointed to Cruz Bay Harbor and said, “out there on a mooring”. Ok I thought! The adventure has now officially begun. They helped me with my belongings, boarded his dinghy, and we were motoring under a canopy of stars out to his boat!
Moving in and out of all kinds of sailboats from small day trippers to larger forty and fifty foot voyage sail vessels was magical. My accommodations for the first night was a small sailboat with a tiny cabin pretty much just for stowing gear. It was fitted with comfortable cushions on the sitting benches. It was a simple boat probably twelve or fourteen foot. He bid me a good night and said he would be back to bring me into town at about six in the morning. I saw this significant spirit guide off as he motored back to the dock of Cruz Bay. First order of business was to just organized a little bit and have a snack. By this point I was pretty hungry so some tasty treats from my tiger striped spackle bucket were very welcome. My sleeping bag had been a birthday gift from Eileen the year prior and could easily been considered a vision of insight for all that was to come. A nice sleeping setup on the bench cushions was ready in minutes. After having my late night meal and some “outback” style preparation for heading to bed, I dropped down on the make-shift sleeping setup with a tremendous relaxing deep exhale. The soft sweet subtle clang of metal rope supports gently bouncing off of other boat masts near and in the distance was as soothing as a summer night’s remote wooded location of an orchestra of crickets and cicadas. Also was the dreamy mellow and rich sound of easy lapping water up against the side of my one night stay, luxurious open air bedroom as well as other neighboring moored sailboats. Laying comfortably with my head resting on my hands with fingers interlocked , I gazed up into the dark night sky lit with twinkling lights of celestial bodies communication as light from many years past. It was a blanket of stars as the backdrop of this dream experience. All was quiet and still within and the immediate surroundings. No cars, city noises, dense smog filled air, machine noises – nothing – just the beautiful sound design of vision coming to be reality. As I was enthralled with the majesty of such a poetic sight, the one thought occupying my mind was, here I am, first night, a couple of little bumps in the road, but I am sleeping in Cruz Bay Harbor – on a boat!
I woke up suddenly at about three a.m. to some drizzling rain that was intensifying. It raining was not something that was taken into consideration just a few hours ago as I was enjoying the clarity of the blanket of stars. I jump up and pulled out the waterproof fly from my Kelty tent and spread it out over my sleeping bag. It worked just fine for staying dry and was yet another initiation of the dreamy journey. Six a.m. came around and my host as human alarm clock sounded off. “Hey my friend”, he said in a quick tone and temperament. “Time to get going!” My new acquaintance was a bit more stern this early in the morning, but this did not matter to me. I quickly jumped up with an inner expression of gratitude, organized my few belongings and was off heading back to land.
I was bid a good day and good luck. Oddly enough it occurred to me months later, I had never again seen or crossed paths with this gentleman that extended his graciousness for my well-being and safety when I was in need. More or the fleeting blessing we receive as we open to remaining still and quiet within our minds of doubt free knowing as trust within simply Being.
Not wanting to venture too far on foot I eased my way to one of the early morning spots for some local regulars. it was surely obvious that I was new on the island and greeted by well know long term St John residents talking over their early morning eye openers. This little establishment was know for their biscuits and gravy. And if you were a seasoned islander living the spirit as the final frontier of western civilization, a six a.m. beer, rum or vodka mix was accompanying. Sitting at the bar with a rare morning coffee, I enjoyed observing and taking in the surrounding conversation. You quickly came to identify the causation one term locals generally by their sun weathered leathery type of skin and overall demeanor of a sailing culture. These folks came to St John for the same reason as my trek – escapism. I sat quietly wide eyed and a subtle happy smile. A woman a couple of bar stools away asked me where I was from and if I am passing through. I shared in a few words my intent to set up on the island. Asking me what my thoughts were of work, I responded keeping things really simple in that I was taking things slow and as they come for now. Responding to her inquiring as to what I had been doing on the mainland, I shared that I am(was) a musician. Some interest developed in her suggesting some opportunities for work, but she was quick and certain to for some reason make it clear to me that the options were slim. I was sort of passive about this since playing music was not a focus in the front of my mind. Here too, it came to be strange that I had not seen or crossed paths with yet my second acquaintance for many months. This is a very small island and pretty unusual not to run into folks here and there.
The beauty of this aspect of the sojourn and story is that while not seeing my early morning less than optimistic transitory friend, the next time I crossed paths with her was playing a nice paying gig at a gorgeous cliff side open air speed of a home overlooking a remote bay on the South Atlantic side of the island. I recognized the face and demeanor in a second and thought, “that’s her!” – from the first morning! I approached and said with a huge smile, “hi! Do you remember me?” She looked for a few moments and as I realize that I was a distant familiarity to her, I responded explaining that I was the one, new on the island over six months ago with the giant over weight backpack – early in the morning at the joint in Cruz Bay! Her eyes almost popped out of her head. She said, “you’re the musician!” Yes, and I proceeded to share that I had auspiciously stumbled into many opportunities for playing and it was keeping me busy on five to seven gigs a week during tourist season. There was more magic that I saw in here smile. Beautiful things happen when you know all is good!
This story can go on and on and I will continue to add these happy and inspiring experiences as we further develop our program of Grief To Relief – A Passage Into Heart. I will close for now sharing just a few more settings as my time on St John.
The initial week was spent at Cinnamon Bay campgrounds. The first evening there after setting up and having dinner, I went for a swim taking in what can only be described as surreal. The only thoughts in mind as I rested floating on my back looking up at the slowly sun-setting pastel sky was, I am here – this is amazing! – surreal! I did it – fulfilled my vision thus far! My time was managed between the camp site and making routine daily trips into town at Cruz Bay. Early mornings were spent in meditation, communing with trees, birds and other little residents of the surroundings followed by breakfast, some simple spackle bucket laundry cleaning and usually a saunter to the beach for a swim. The accommodations at Cinnamon Bay ranged from very nicely designed permanent structures with full sleeping and bath facilities to large walk-in family tents and simple camp sites. I had my tent setup in a sweet spot in a dense area of trees with a nearby path leading about thirty-five yards of a stroll to the white sand, crystal clear blue water to the west end of Cinnamon Bay.
By late morning with a packed lunch I would set out for hitching a ride into town. Thumb out on the winding hilly roads was not only legal but the main mode of getting from one place to another for those without a vehicle. It wouldn’t take long until a ride was offered by a familiar face who would become a regular acquaintance very quickly. Small island – same folks day in, day out. During routine trips to town in the early afternoons I would explore the immediate area of shops and services for essentials that I might be needing. Food, post office, phone, bank etc.. After about the third day of becoming quite familiar with a way of life on St John and beginning to interact with various locals, it was getting to be late in the afternoon and I knew I was needing to head back to the campsite. Walking down the quiet main drag lined with palm trees and folks living a slow paced life, I heard some live music emanating from one of the well known restaurants in Mongoose Junction which was pretty much quaint shoppes for tourists. There was definitely a regular crowd hanging out for the pre-dinner “happy hour”. I climbed the railroad tie steps from the street and kept myself inconspicuous on a balcony outside some french doors looking into where the music was coming from. A guitar player with a very cool midi setup was playing and singing a great repertoire of tunes spanning James Taylor, The Eagles, The Beatles, Elton John, Carol King and older standard type tunes of Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Nat King Cole etc. This was right up my alley of appreciation. Although off to the wings, he saw and felt my presence as any musician feels “the vibe” of another musician. I was really enjoying his set and was taken by the level of a player he was, being on the island. As he moved into his break, I once again acted on what up to recent times was not really within my comfort level. However, approaching him in my new dreamworld of an environment was less intimidating here among the local folks that knew all the goings on. I immediately complimented him on his playing, singing, tunes and midi setup. He was appreciative, very approachable and very knowing that I was a working musician from the nature of the midi acknowledgment. He asked what was happening with me being on island and how long my stay is. I responded by saying, “I’m here man!” You are here to live? Yes, I said with a knowing yet seeking smile. Some conversation ensued, he bought me a beer and asked if I would be into getting together to play sometime in the afternoon. That’s musician talk for, “I want to check you out”. Or – hold an audition to see if you can play and break the monotony of able musicians on the island being far and few between. Without any intent of playing music and being involved in “a scene”, I immediately said, Yes! We arranged for him to pick me up in his little Suzuki jeep style island run about (which was the vehicle of choice in this environment) the next day and head to one of the very, very impressive open air, torch lit restaurants at Caneel Bay Resort. He become a good friend and shared two very essential and pivotal books with me not too long after coming to meet one another. The profundities of Autobiography Of A Yogi and Black Elk Speaks live within me as a primordial wisdom and have shaped a great deal of me path in life. I thank him for this too.
There were a number of acoustic console pianos in various locations at Caneel Bay. A nice little Yamaha sat in a restaurant that was eventually to be my dinner time home, three evenings a week for a very cool and hip solo piano gig. With his acoustic guitar in tow he asked me what I would like to play. I said I was really “digging” his James Taylor tunes from last night’s gig He suggested Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight. I always was and still am a huge James Taylor fan and loved that song. Although I had never played this tune, it was easy for me to play it by ear since none of the chord changes are that tricky in terms of harmonic progression. We played and I dug deep into my heart. When we finished, there were some moments of precarious silence. It was broken by him shaking his head slowly from side to side, chuckling, and saying – “can you do a gig Sunday night?” I laughed a humble laugh and said, “S U R E ! !” He followed by asking, “tell me again – what are doing here??”. I responded, “hanging out, man!” He had been living on St John for the past ten years and was the music guy hub for connecting with most everybody and everything I would need to get working as a piano/keyboard player. I was dreaming the dream!
I ended up renting a tiny room in a more fully functional type of shack. It was a share with a rather introverted Vietnam vet who grew up on St John. He built the shack on his mother’s property overlooking a south eastern bay of the South Atlantic. It had a simple indoor bathroom and kitchen. The shower was outside and he rigged up an attached long run of circular coiled copper tubing on the ground in direct morning sunlight. This was gravity pressure fed from the main cistern on their property and supplied about five to eight minutes of a very comfy hot shower in the morning. Although this simplicity was very luxurious, water conservation was at a height due to a severe lack of rainfall in that area of the South Atlantic ocean. That was no issue for me since environmental preservation had been a way of life and mindfulness all along. I rented the tiny room for three months and then moved on to an airy spread on the east side of St John called Upper Carolina. This looked out over breath taking Coral Bay where the routine seaplane would come in for mail delivery once a day. I had great and inspiring times playing many gigs in a number of varying scenes all around Coral Bay. Life was good!
For now, one of the two pinnacles of all experiences in the USVI was my three night a week piano gig at Caneel Bay Resort. I would spend most of my days reading and swimming in a remote part of Hawksnest Beach, head to Caneel bay at about 3:30, wash up, have some dinner and play my solo piano gig in a trippy environment of the torch lit open-air Sugar Mill Restaurant. Pretty regularly if they weren’t too terribly hit with a rush of large table reservations during the prime tourist season, the head chef who expressed his appreciation for my contributing to his ambiance, would have a beautiful, right of the menu dinner waiting for me at the end of my last set. Glass of Cabernet or Merlot as well. I would close my eyes and have to pinch myself to assure that I was still in this Earthly body, living in this life! It was Gratitude, gratitude, gratitude.
Hope you have enjoyed the journey thus far – More to come !