Greetings from St. Croix

by Rob Tiller

Last July 4 weekend Sally and I decided to burn a vacation day to make a four-day  trip to St. Croix.  The main objective was to dive some of the largest coral reefs in the hemisphere.  We were eager to try out some new diving equipment and see some exotic flora and fauna.  The program we settled on involved a night dive, four daytime dives, and a snorkeling trip.

The diving was rewarding.  The reefs were reasonably healthy, and there were luminous tropical fish in abundance.  We saw our first spotted eagle ray, a magnificent and haunting creature.  We had our first see horses, first spotted moray eel, and first rock beauty.  We saw two large sea turtles and barracuda. Especially on the night dive, we saw many bizarre critters whose names we didn’t know.  It’s hard to do justice to the beauty of  reef diving.  The visibility was not great by Caribbean standards – around 40 feet most of the time – but we could see a lot.   So much life, in so many shapes and colors, some shy, some friendly, some intimidating.

Along with the diving, we had several unusually rewarding talks with various travel companions.  On the flight down, we met a 22-year-old guy working on Wall Street with a hedge fund.  One of our divemasters was a guy from Indianapolis, another from New Zealand, and another from northern Virginia.  They all had interesting personal stories.

I’ve been thinking recently about the way we each create and embody stories.  Constructing them is part of the work of being human, and communicating them is a defining characteristic of our species.  That is, to be complete, actualized humans, we need to tell our stories to each other.  On this theory, I’ve been more conscious of encouraging people to tell their stories, particularly if it seems they might be at all interesting.  I’m usually not disappointed.  Often stories that I expected to be ordinary turn out to be unusual and absorbing.

I used to have an aversion to the clichéd expressions of small talk, but fortunately I got over that. I’m now convinced that these clichés serve a very important purpose as tools for encouraging story telling.  “Where are you from?” is an invitation to begin a narrative.   The same goes for “How are you doing?”  From there, the story can go in any direction.

We had our setbacks and frustrations.  My regulator malfunctioned when we first tried a night dive at the Fredricksted pier, so we had to scrub that attempt.  The next night we made the intimidating jump from the pier to the dark water below, but got separated halfway through the dive.  The travel home involved painfully slow gate agents and customs agents, and a connection in Miami that was too close for comfort.  But we made it, and it was worth the trouble.