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SEA Currents: SSV Corwith Cramer

November 23, 2019

Calm Cats and Vocal Locals: a Diverse Day in St. Croix

Julian Scent, College of the Atlantic

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Above: John Farchette of the East End Marine Park discussing the history and topography of St. Croix; Below: Julian, Muriel, and Batman; Examining bubble algae.

Howdy, my name’s Julian. I’m part of the C-289 class like almost everybody else who’s will write on this blog in the next couple months. I’m a senior at College of the Atlantic, and I’m originally from Georgia. So, let me tell y'all about last Wednesday.

The day began at East End Marine Park, with a cat named Batman. Batman provided a wonderful interlude as we waited for the tour with the ranger to start. If you want a magnet for college kids, then look no further than basically any mammalian pet. I miss my own mammals at home dearly, so it was nice to get that fix for a little while.

The tour started with an overview of the history of the island and the EEMP property, and then we headed to the beach, since all of what EEMP protects is in the water. It was nice to stand with my feet in the waves, listening to a passionate ranger speak about the park. A couple interesting things mentioned by our guide, John Farchette, were the manchineel tree, which causes a deadly histamine reaction, and bubble algae. The alga was comprised of a single cell that is larger than a grape, and some specimens could be larger still. However, by far my favorite part of the morning was getting to speak one on one with John. My career goal is to become a park ranger and, while the position I am seeking is different from John’s, it was still inspiring to speak with someone who has as much passion as I do about protecting parks and educating the public.

In the afternoon, we went to downtown Christiansted for some proper touristing. While my group was inside a shop, we heard shouting coming from the alleyway. When we stepped out to see the commotion, we saw a local man screaming animatedly in the face of another guy. For me, at least, and, from what I could tell, my classmates too, it was difficult to understand what the man was yelling about through his accent. Another local in a military uniform (although it wasn’t digital or multicam, so I honestly didn’t recognize the uniform) stepped in to break up the verbal altercation a short time after we started watching. The man who’d been shouting began to walk up towards our group after the uniformed man intervened. I was talking on the phone at the time, but I was the closest to him when he passed by. He was several feet past me when we made glancing eye contact. He immediately turned around, walked up until he was approximately six inches from my face, and began shouting about the same thing he had been shouting about to the other man (it had something to do with money). I kept my face passive and looked back at him; we held eye contact for what must have been no more than ten seconds, and then he walked away. I finished my phone conversation as the class reacted with appropriate amounts of bemusement and alarm.

What caught my attention about the event were the potential sources of the man’s behavior. At first glance, he seemed very angry because of something the other man had done. His tone suggested he had completely lost the ability to regulate his emotions in that moment. For a normal adult to lose control of themselves in that way, which was reminiscent of a tantrum, they have to be experiencing extreme amounts of distress. This is a possible explanation. However, it doesn’t explain his sudden attention towards me after the fact. Even for a really angry person, it seemed out of the ordinary to approach and shout at a stranger after another altercation already occurred, when that stranger only caught their eye for maybe a quarter of a second.

He might have been drunk or otherwise under the influence of a substance, but from how he moved and how aware he seemed of his surroundings, I doubt that. The last likely option that occurred to me was mental illness. This seems most plausible to me, as it explains both his lucid-seeming state of mind, his inability to regulate his emotions, and his sudden focus on me. From what our professor could glean from the locals, this is typical behavior for this man and they assured that he was harmless. The fact that this is a pattern also indicates that it was the result of mental illness.

I found myself simply having sympathy for the guy. He didn’t look like he was in an economic bracket to be able to afford proper care, if he would even want that care in his current state of mind. In fact, I’m not convinced, as I was in the moment, that the first man he was shouting at was the original source of his anger. He could have easily been some other stranger who caught his eye, and any set of factors, such as body language and eye contact, could have contributed to that interaction lasting longer than mine did.

Who knows what was going on with this guy, but I can’t help but think it must be unpleasant to feel that way so often. Just goes to show that you never know what’s going on with a stranger, even if they’re angry at you for seemingly no justifiable reason. I don’t mean to turn this into some kind of life lesson, because this isn’t an episode of The Magic Schoolbus, but, nevertheless, it was certainly thought provoking.

Lastly, we rounded off the evening by having a guest speaker over for dinner. She works as an environmental manager for St. Croix’s oil refinery. Now, having someone who works for an oil company over with a bunch of student environmentalists could be a recipe for a disaster, but it was overall a pleasant evening. My personal take was that she’s just another human trying to make a living and care for her family exactly like the rest of us. When talking with her one on one, she even told me she had felt guilty about working for the company when she first started, and believes in weaning humanity off fossil fuels in favor of renewable energy. And, even if she didn’t hold those views, I still wouldn’t judge her. All most of us can do is take the opportunities we have available in order to live the best lives we can and support the people we love.

I’m willing to bet most of you reading this drive cars and are viewing this on a computer screen powered by electricity generated using coal. Even if everything you own is solar powered, the process and resources used to build those solar panels aren’t exactly sustainable. So, on the off chance you’re on your high horse when confronting other people about their chosen occupation, I suggest climbing down and leading the steed over to some hay and water. Like it or not, if you live in the First World, you participate in things that contribute to environmental degradation. Fortunately, our entire class has nuanced and compassionate understandings regarding both the perspectives of their fellow students, those of any guest speakers, and disturbed strangers on the street, even when we don’t all share the same opinions.

Categories: Corwith Cramer,Caribbean Reef Expedition, • Topics: c289  port stops  study abroad • (0) Comments

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