“We travel, some of us forever, to seek other states, other lives, other souls.” ~ Anais Nin
A ten-minute walk from where we sit the straight-up sun bounces rays off a calm, clear sea, but there’s plenty of shade here in the orchard…tradewinds making the leaves dance…light filtering down through the papaya and mango trees. There are seven varieties of bananas, from clusters of tiny red ones to the plump yellow fruits that taste extra sweet plucked from the tree and eaten on the spot. These bananas never get picked green and packed on boats or planes to ripen on a journey to somewhere else. Straight from tree to table, everything is organic here and everything stays on this island — breadfruit, passionfruit, coconut, pineapple, wax apple, plantain, pomegranate, lime, grapefruit, orange, carambola, sugar cane… a multitude of colors and sweet scents filling up the air. (Double click on photos to enlarge; use back arrows to return to post.)
I’m sitting on a log drinking fresh, warm juice from a coconut and listening to Dr. Liao recite poetry. Minutes ago we watched him climb a ladder up the tree, gather the coconut, and hack off one end with a machete. He sings while he works. Old songs, he says. Songs I don’t understand. Songs I might not understand even if I knew the words. He tells us about his childhood in China, about walking two miles a day, each way, to school. Of having only one set of clothes to wear and washing them every night. Of struggling to learn other languages, to get an education, and to travel halfway around the world to this orchard on this small island in the British Virgins. He’s seen his orchard thrive and he’s seen it washed away. Through a tiny slit in the boarded-up window of a hillside cottage, he watched as Hurricane Hugo sent a surge of sea water over the papaya and mango and banana trees. His greatest fear was that the waters would meet. From the top of the mountain you can see the Atlantic Ocean in one direction and the Caribbean Sea in the other. Waves rolling onto rocky, deserted beaches on the one hand; a still, calm sea lined with sea grape trees on the other. And the whitest sand imaginable.
Since this is a private island, Dr. Liao is one of only a handful of people who live here and work for the owners. He’s the resident ornithologist, gardener, and philosopher extraordinaire, excited to discuss Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism or any other ism that may spring to mind. And…
for the few sturdy souls who can keep up with him (not an easy task), this 70-something gentleman leads hikes up the steep mountainside and climbs into bat caves! They say he’s as agile on a cliff’s edge as he is on a ladder (I can’t be certain, however, as I skipped the bat expedition).
“The expert traveler leaves no footprints.”
“To know tranquility is to embrace all.”
“Inner strength is the master of all frivolities.”
“The world’s pulse is our pulse. The world’s rhythms are our rhythms.”
“We can understand the world as it is without leaving our home. We can understand the world as it might be without peering dreamily out our window. The further we go, the less we know. “
And so it goes…It’s amazing the stuff one can learn or learn to ponder while sitting on a stump in an orchard on a tiny island in the sea.