In honor of Earth Day today, the University of the Virgin Islands alumni office contacted me to lead a hike to Mount Eagle, the highest peak on the island of St. Croix.
It is a beautiful hike with a view of the scenic landscape of the central plain, southern coastline, and to the eastern end of rolling hills of the island. This hike is astonishing because of its green rolling hills, mountains, valleys and the tranquility of one being with nature.
What I described is just the beginning of the hike that leads to Mount Eagle. As we enter the head trail of Mount Eagle, the environment changes to a tropical forest on a ridge formed when the island was uplifted from its geological formation. The rocks underlying the northwest and northeast mountains of St. Croix are what we will be hiking on. Deep underneath the Central Valley of the island, which is connected to Mount Eagle, are sedimentary rocks formed of the debris from eroding volcanic rocks and from volcanic ash spewed out from an erupting volcano.
According to geologists, sediments from volcanic ash spewing out were deposited deep on the ocean floor of the Atlantic and Caribbean seas in the late Cretaceous period about 80 million years ago.
As we hike and I explain the island’s geological formation, hikers will have a general understanding of the limestone or white marl exposed at the surface of the Central Valley of St. Croix. This white marl, according to geologists, is the remains of a coral reef that formed the central part of St. Croix as the island was uplifted some 20 million years ago.
In geological terms, St. Croix was two islands joined by the uplifting of the coral reef. Nevertheless, the path we will be hiking to Mount Eagle is relatively easy, although we will be several hundred feet above sea level. By the time we get to the foot trail, we begin to climb over 1,000 feet to the summit of the mountain. Along the way, hikers will hear different sounds of birds in the distance.
For most migratory birds on our islands, April is the month of “jumping off.” In other words, Easter flight of certain doves and pigeons is on the move in large numbers. Easter is the promise and resurrection call for certain species of birds in our forests and woodlands. The movement of the Zenaida doves and soldier crab in August of each year is one of the greatest and most spectacular displays of the natural world of birds and crabs that takes place in the archipelago of the Virgin Islands. The Zenaida, or what we locally we refer to as “mountain dove,” is very thought provoking as it makes its sounds throughout the mountains.
The Bridled Quail Dove is known in the mountains of the northwest and northeast forests of St. Croix. These birds have a very low-pitched and mournful one-note sound, which is easy to miss if you do not listen carefully. The Bridled Quail Dove is an excellent indicator of forest conditions because it cannot withstand much habitat change.
Once arriving at the summit of Mount Eagle, hikers almost have a 360-degree panoramic view of the island. At Mount Eagle summit, one can see the surrounding islands and estates, including the northern Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Vieques, Buck Island and Blue Mountain — the latter known by the numerous antennas at its eastern end. Beyond Blue Mountain is Goat Hills, with two cone-shaped peaks far in the distance near the eastern end of St. Croix.
Of course, the hike will include discussions on celebrating Earth Day, and reflections on how far we have come from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year was a dark year in human history. Little did we know that we would be isolated from one another, filled with fear, anxiety, discontent, depression, stress, and deaths in the hundreds of thousands worldwide. The deaths of love ones — and others near and far — from the pandemic have impacted all of us emotionally, physically and spiritually. Long ago, our elders used to say, “where there is life, there is hope” and this year proves it.
The theme of this year’s Earth Day celebration is “Restore Our Earth” and to me it means bringing hope to the human spirit on earth. So, as we continue the fight against COVID-19 via vaccination or by boosting immune systems with fruits, vegetables, herbs and whatever means one chooses to stay healthy, we must keep in mind that faith can move mountains in solving problems. With faith, we can work together by solving complex environmental problems like climate change, the vanishing of wetlands, deforestation, groundwater contamination, air pollution and the deterioration and loss of our earth’s natural resources.
The pandemic and climate change have a lot in common. Both of these crises began with experts warning us about the invisible threats to the human family and with catastrophic consequences that are nearly unstoppable if we don’t change lifestyles and how we use the earth’s natural resources.
Before his death in 1997, George A. Seaman, a native scientist in wildlife biology, said: “No better place for groping man to happily live in was ever created than our present world, yet in his fear and confusion he explores the heavens in the wild hope that he may discover a new world, which as he has done to this one, he can also destroy. Do you honestly feel there is hope and future for us? I have tried very hard over a long life and God knows always prayed for light and a sign to cheer me along, but sadly and truthfully have found neither on this darkening road.”
On Earth Day, I hope to shine light on this dark road of protecting our island’s natural resources to those who I will be leading on the hike to Mount Eagle. Hope springs eternal. Therefore, we all have a role to play in the celebration of Earth Day whether through virtual events, lectures or the redemption of man’s soul to his earthly home environment.
— Olasee Davis, St. Croix, is an ecologist at the University of the Virgin Islands. He is active in Virgin Islands historical, cultural and environmental preservation.