It was Sunday afternoon and we were at Ha'penny Beach, a beach on the southside we'd heard was the nicest on the island. It was nice, a white beach circling a perfect little bay. But the nicest beach on the island? I mean, how do you choose? It's a small island, but it's almost all beach.
Still, it was the first weekend of spring break and we decided to try a different beach than our usual one – Dorsch Beach, a three-minute drive from our house – as an adventure.
The water was shallow and you could wade a long way out. I was waist deep and still about 20 feet away from Tori, who was about shoulder deep, when a shadow passed over the water between us.
It was a bright day, hardly a cloud in the sky. The shadow was small but distinct. I wish I could say that, like Aragorn in "The Fellowship of the Ring," I had realized immediately that it was moving swiftly, and against the wind. I admit, it was only later that I realized the shadow was moving west to east, while the breeze was coming from the east. At the moment, all I realized was that it was all wrong to have been cast by something passing between the sun and the surface of the water.
It was something big under the water, passing right between us.
Tori realized it right away, and it made her jump.
"Ray!" she shouted. And no, she didn't mean a Corvette Sting Ray or one of those bikes with the banana seat and butterfly handles. This was a ray, a flat, diamond shape fish, about four feet from tip to tip.
Tori has seen them in the water before. She snorkels, and has found herself more than once passing over one. She gives them a respectful distance. She has also noticed them noticing her, and circling underneath her as if trying to decide whether she posed a threat or would be good to eat.
This one had apparently been enjoying a snooze on the sandy bottom (a good name for a rock band) when it was annoyed by the sudden presence of a school of people splashing about. So it took off in a huff.
It had been closer to her than to me, but since there was only about 10 feet between us, it was a tight fit. And a little alarming, I admit. He swam away, but Tori and I decided maybe we'd get out of the water for a bit.
Max and Alan (he's the 19-year-old we've known since Tori's first on-island teaching job) weren't in the least fazed by the experience, so they stayed out. And Tori and I both went back out in the water, though I admit I didn't wade out as far as I had. And none of the other 30 or so people at the beach had noticed a thing or showed any concern if they had.
That's all it was. A thing. The sort of event that happens from time to time when you live in the tropics and go in the water. And if you don't go in the water, what's the point of living in the tropics? Other than the rum, I mean.
We stayed at Ha'penny about another hour, as the sun worked down the sky. Being a sunny Sunday, the beach was "crowded" by St. Croix standards – I counted 38 people in the water or on the sand in that almost mile stretch of beach.
Here's the other thing about St. Croix's south-facing beaches. From any of the north beaches you can usually see St. Thomas, sometimes St. John and even up to Tortola in the BVI. From the western beaches, on a clear day you can see all the way to Vieques, the island just off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico.
From the south, it's nothing but blue, bending horizon from the east to west. There's nothing to see but the occasional ship and Venezuela about 500 miles to the south.
Staring out to sea at the deep blue of the Caribbean, I shook my head again. How did we get so lucky?