Kassie Dunbar ’09
Social Work | Women’s and Gender Studies | CAST
“You must like seeking adventures,” Olasee Davis said to me on the way back down on our hike from Maroon Ridge. Olasee is a professor at the University of St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, who further opened up my knowledge of the profound history and culture of the island during my second trip there. Although St. Croix has white sand beaches, beautiful landscapes, and a rich culture, the history runs deep and can be felt throughout many areas of the island. This history is our shared history.
Approximately 15 minutes prior to Olasee saying this to me, we were at the top of Maroon Ridge, where I read out loud the names of the maroons (runaway slaves) who risked coming to the ridge as they sought their freedom by escaping to Puerto Rico. The risks associated with being caught by the Danes were severe, from brutal torture to death. The view from the ridge is breathtakingly beautiful, but the significance of the history there can be felt within the depths of your heart. As we took a moment of silence on the ridge before coming back down, my mind envisioned the people who came up there with little to no options left and the pure desperation they must have felt; that feeling is still with me even miles away in Wisconsin.
As a sophomore at Winona State in 2007, I had the opportunity to go to St. Croix for the first time through the Woman and Gender Studies program, with Professor Tamara Berg. I may have been young, but I immersed myself into the culture and fell in love with the island, its slow paced culture, and its “life in the left lane.” I promised myself to return one day, and just over 10 years later, there I was. Much has changed within my life in that time, successful career as a Social Worker, I’m married to a wonderful life partner, we have a beautiful house we’ve made a home, and two beautiful children. However I’d always said a piece my heart had remained in St. Croix.
Since I had returned to the island, I was able to compare my experience from my early 20’s to my now early 30’s. This second trip was not for credit for college, but rather for my own continued life enrichment and growth. We were able to complete activities on the island that I did before, but this time I saw them with a different set of eyes. We had the opportunity to see the island during the Tan-Tan Tours, a fun-filled day off-roading on a jeep throughout the island, we saw the Beer Drinking Pigs at Mount Pellier Domino Club, we worked at the Women’s Shelter and Coalition, snorkeled at Buck Island Reef National Monument, visited Point Udall, awaited a Leatherback Sea Turtle to come and nest at night at Sandy Point Beach, and spent time at Christiansted and Frederiksted.
This time around I even had the opportunity to experience scuba diving under the Frederiksted pier, see a historical Baobab Tree over 250 years old, go night kayaking in one of the few bioluminescent bays in the world, and ride on a sunset cruise. The most significant piece of the Tan-Tan Tour was seeing the Sugar Mill ruins, learning how they operated, and understanding the history of the slavery of the island. Each opportunity extended more education to me about the island’s history and about myself, all while forming life-long friendships.
I set being a mother aside (to my best ability possible) and pushed myself to enjoy each day on the island, to take in the culture, to enjoy the people, to let time slow down, and to allow myself to absorb it all. I woke up early nearly every morning and snorkeled in front of our Cottages by the Sea home. The stillness of the life under the water is absolutely incredible. My late grandfather may also have confirmed that I was meant to be on this trip, as I found an old dice while snorkeling (he had a small collection of dice that I have had since he passed). I was also privileged to find a piece of the island’s history while snorkeling, a piece of Chaney with two blue stripes that I had made into a custom bracelet. Chaney dates back to the early 1750’s, can be found on the grounds or in the water, and carries the history of the old sugar mill plantations. I love imagining where my piece of Chaney began, where it was throughout all these years, and what stories it could tell.
Either way, my piece of Chaney ended with me and I’m honored to carry it with me every day on my wrist. It sits right next to my Crucian Hook bracelet from the island that I purchased on my first trip. I brought home two Crucian Hook bracelets for my children from this second trip and I’m now able to share with them the piece of my heart that is still left on that island.