Story Thyme

There is a hearty herb you can find in many St. Martin gardens. It has big, fuzzy leaves with serrated edges. During the wet season, it thrives. During the dry season it is surprisingly resilient. You can even find it growing on some stone walls and other inhospitable places.

Stingy Thyme is found in many St. Martin gardens.

On St. Martin, the most common local name seems to be Stingy Thyme. It’s not a name that shows up much in Google searches. In fact, it only comes up on a couple of pages, both from Anguilla. On St. Kitts and Nevis, the same plant is known as Sticky Thyme or Jumbie Sticky Thyme. In other parts of the Caribbean, it is called Stinging Thyme. These names seem connected. Did the name travel with the plant itself, gradually shifting as it moved from island to island?

There are plenty of other names for this plant. Some call it Spanish Thyme, Big Thyme or Broad Leaf Thyme. In the Spanish-speaking Caribbean, it is Oregano Poleo. In French, Gros Thym. In Trinidad it is Podina, and in Guyana, Fat Leaf Thyme.

There are as many uses for this plant as there are names for it. Many on St. Martin use it as a seasoning, particularly for meat and fish. It is also used to tenderize meat, to thicken soups and in pakoras. It is cited as fantastic when combined with hot pepper.

The leaves of this plant are also used as a tea. St. Martiners use it for the flu, coughs, asthma and nausea. It is also said to reduce swelling and high blood pressure. Many uses related to pregnancy were suggested: to help with morning sickness, to help overdue mothers go into labor and after childbirth to stimulate milk production. It is also used on the skin for insect bites.

This plant is native to Africa. Many plants that were brought by enslaved people directly from Africa. This one was introduced to Europe first and then brought to the Caribbean, perhaps one reason why Spanish Thyme is a common name for it. Within the Caribbean, the plant has its own cultural significance, with a variety of names and uses.

Local names and uses for plants vary from island to island, even if the plant itself is originally from far away. Over time, they become part of the local culture that makes each island unique. On a multicultural island like St. Martin, we also get to see how information spreads across cultures. Stingy Thyme tells a story, as do all the plants we use.

Do you have another name or use for Stingy Thyme? Tell it to us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

A Culture of Nature

On St. Martin, nature and culture are like two vines endlessly twisted around each other. Following them back down all the way to the ground, we would find them springing from the same root. These vines are ancient. They twisted their way through centuries and back farther still. But today they are often overlooked and under threat.

What is the future of local nature and culture on St. Martin? How do they survive and add meaning to the lives of future generations? How do we make them part of the island’s prosperity?

Bush tea and bush medicine are a collaboration with nature.

To start, we can celebrate the connections between all parts of the island’s heritage. Painting, dance, food and writing on St. Martin all have roots in nature. They bring us to nature and help us find our place in nature. Fishing and farming are collaborations with nature, as are bush tea and bush medicine. 

Ancient walls have the power to stop fires.

Salt production was hard work, but it was also made possible by an almost magical transformation powered by the sun. The stone walls—called slave walls after the enslaved people that built them—that still stand after hundreds of years are one of the most natural constructions ever made by people. Held together by just the weight of the stones and the knowledge of their builders, they allow water and wind to pass and have become home to many native plants and animals. Nature and culture can’t truly be separated on St. Martin. Each makes the other stronger.

In a world of competing interests, heritage must fight for attention. Today’s youth pass their time looking at a small rectangle of glass. Today’s adults do that, too. But culture and nature together can still cut through. Children are naturally fascinated by nature, and this should be fostered. As they grow and consider their place in the world, it is important for them to learn about about their heritage. It should be part of school, but it also needs to be on their phone screens and in their ear buds. 

Culture and nature are the foundation of the entire economy of the island. “The Friendly Island” is welcoming and open. It is the culture of a place where sharing was just a part of living. It is the spirit of a place where people left to find work and returned with a broader view of the world. Combined with amazing beauty of beach, sea and hillside, it is a culture that turned a quiet island into a major tourism destination.

There is no time to lament the destruction of nature or vanishing traditions. It is time to work. We need to document what is here, what is still alive and still remembered. We need to protect what is crumbling or threatened. We need to share what is special about St. Martin—with each other, with the next generation of children and with the visitors who come here. 

The island’s oldest buildings are made from local stone.

This age of many distractions has also given us many tools to document and share. We should use them. We should encourage government, schools and businesses to help in this mission. We should also take part directly: as citizens, residents or parents. Each person on the island knows something about St. Martin. Something that could be shared, or lost.

A St. Martin with beautiful nature and a vibrant culture is a place of prosperity. It is a place that tourists fall in love with and return to year after year. It is a place with money and jobs. But of course it is more than that. It is a healthier place. It is a stronger community. It is an island that tells its own story. 

Nature provides the wind that fills sails and the fish that fill nets.

We are all people who would live richer lives knowing more about this special island, and it is up to all of us. We are the people who can enrich others by sharing. We are the caretakers of those long-growing vines of nature and culture. We are the ones who can ensure they survive and prosper.

What part of St. Martin culture or nature are you most worried about losing? What story of St. Martin can you share? Take a few moments to tell it to a friend, child or grandchild. Post it on Facebook, or tell it to us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

A Notion of Nature

Scientists who study nature have many words to describe nature. They are useful and necessary. They describe what makes one animal different from another. They help us understand what is special and unique about one landscape compared to the next.

Animals and plants can be native or endemic. Or they could be introduced, invasive or naturalized. A forest could be virgin or primary. Or it could be secondary or disturbed. These words help take the diversity of nature and make it something we can study and protect.

It is important to know that there are animals that live only on St. Martin. They are worth protecting because if they disappear from this island, they disappear from the world. When rats threaten the survival of seabirds by eating their eggs and chicks, we can see it is a problem. We know we caused the problem by bringing the rats.

This language helps us understand nature, but it can also lead us to certain ways of thinking about life on earth. Or life on this island. It can divide the world into what is natural and what is not. By valuing certain things, we risk undervaluing others. By separating the manmade from the natural we also separate ourselves from nature.

Is a mango tree part of local nature?

There are other ways to think about nature. When you look at a mango tree on St. Martin, do you see nature? Most people would probably say yes. But at the same time, mango trees were brought by people and planted by people. A million years ago there were many trees on St. Martin, but no mango trees.

In some ways it is unnatural for the mango, breadfruit or flamboyant to grow on St. Martin. We have transformed nature by bringing them here. On the other hand, they are undeniably part of nature. There are small spiderwebs in their branches and insects sipping from their flowers. Anything alive and interacting with other living things is nature.

A field of grass with goats or cattle is not the same as the forest that was once there. But you can still see the butterflies flying through it. The most carefully landscaped yard still harbors wild residents. A beach with a restaurant is still a beach and waves still roll onto the shore.

A scientific view of nature helps us see the details more clearly. A more casual view of nature finds the wildness in human space. Both views reveal truth and we need them both.

We should protect the wildest spaces left on St. Martin. There’s nothing quite like them anywhere else in the world. But the island is too developed—too human—to just do that. We should celebrate and protect nature wherever it remains. Not just “pure” nature, but everywhere nature still flows into lives and local culture.

What does nature mean to you? Where do you go to connect with nature? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Soil Savvy

After the rain, caterpillars came for weed and crop alike.

The story of St. Martin is made of many things, and agriculture is a big part of it. A written history of the island would surely reference tobacco, cotton, coffee and sugar. But the crops grown for local consumption were probably more important to the everyday lives of the people who lived here.

The Les Fruits de Mer association has been working on several plant projects at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House. There is a native plants nursery raising native tree seedlings for backyards plantings and restoration of wild spaces. There is a bush tea and bush medicine garden. We have also planted some traditional foods. Even the local wildlife has joined in: birds have planted guinea corn by dropping seeds from the bird feeders.

Over the past year, these projects have provided a window into the challenges of agriculture on St. Martin. I can imagine working very hard and being very hungry. 2018 began with month after month of dry weather, lasting through the summer. A few plants did well, but most struggled.

Old school farming on St. Martin.

Wild plants were not much better off. Many lost their leaves to conserve water. The landscape was dry and dusty. This sent desperate iguanas into the garden to eat any greenery that survived.

Fall rains brought a quick transformation. Plants were sprouting everywhere. Vegetables, herbs and tree seedlings were finally thriving. But grasses and weeds were also. Gardens became a chaos of new life and it was hard to keep up.

Hard for a person, at least. Nature maintains her own balance. In this case, she sent in wave after wave of caterpillar, and a few grasshoppers for good measure. For every plant there was an insect ready to eat it. But this ecological harmony made few exceptions for vegetables.

Growing a few plants as an educational showcase is surprisingly hard. It makes you think about how difficult this work was. The amount of local knowledge developed over the years must have been vast as well. Generation after generation had learned what to plant where and when. They found ways to safeguard against a crop-destroying drought or storm.

Longhorn beetles ate a tree full of Surinam cherries overnight.

This knowledge and skill influenced many aspects of St. Martin’s culture. Local farming and fishing influenced how people traveled and traded with each other on the island. Crops and their seasonality influenced what recipes became popular and when certain foods were eaten. Lately, interest in sustainable local farming is increasing. How will traditional agricultural knowledge help today’s farming efforts?

Do you have any advice to share about farming or gardening on St. Martin? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

The Science, the Story, the Scene

What is the relationship between what we can see, what we remember and what we can learn form science? On St. Martin, we see an island that looks different each season: storm-battered, dry, lush and flowering. We are lucky to have the stories and memories of an older generation. Scientific study can also help us understand the island.

In many cases, these sources of information agree. Anyone who lived through Irma knows how ferocious she was, and many have memories of previous storms to compare. The idea that climate change will bring stronger storms is not abstract in St. Martin. It is very real. Caribbean countries, and other island nations, are leaders in the effort to fight climate change.

There are different ways to see coralita.

Sometimes we struggle to make sense of things. When masses of sargassum first arrived on our beaches, it was a surprise. It quickly became a curse. Over the last few years, scientists have been working to learn where it comes from and why. Our knowledge is quickly growing. On a practical level, we are watching to know when it is coming and developing ways to collect it before it chokes Caribbean beaches and bays.

Sargassum came as a surprise and became a crisis.

Science, story and the scene around us are all modes of observation. Scientific observation is structured. Data is collected so conclusions can be drawn from the results. On St. Martin, one weakness of science is a lack of data. In the past, few scientists studied the island, so we don’t have much data about how it has changed.

Story and memory are observations gathered over time. On St. Martin, these can be very valuable. We might be able to learn how often crops were lost due to very dry weather, or when a certain introduced animal was first seen on the island. Through storytelling and written journals, these memories can stretch back generations.

Dry times can be forgotten after a few weeks of rain.

When we look at the scene around us, we get a snapshot of the island. It is the most immediate and real observation. It may also disagree with what we know. Looking at the green island today, it is easy to forget the months of very dry weather that just ended. Recent studies show a scary decline in insects around the world, a danger to everything in nature that depends on them. For the moment, it is hard to imagine, with a butterfly on every flower and a caterpillar on every leaf.

The green leaves and bright pink flowers of the coralita vine are all over the island. Science shows it is a threat, smothering native plants. Old timers can probably remember when it wasn’t so common because fields were farmed or full of livestock. Looking at it, abuzz with life in the soft light after a rain, it’s easy to see the beauty in it.

What changes have you seen in St. Martin over the years? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Free BirdSleuth Caribbean Training for Educators This Weekend

BirdSleuth Caribbean is a bird-based education program made for the Caribbean.

On October 20th and 21st, the Les Fruits de Mer association is offering a free training for teachers and others who work with children. The training is for the BirdSleuth Caribbean program. The training and materials are bilingual in English and French. The September BirdSleuth training was fully booked, and many educators from that session are already using the activities.

“Imagine a school class having fun and learning about biology by playing a game of Bird Bingo or Habitat Scavenger Hunt,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We’re excited to make that possible by offering a free training program for teachers and educators. It can be used in the classroom and outdoors and it was made for the Caribbean.”

BirdSleuth Caribbean is a set of fun lessons and activities that uses birds to teach youth about nature and science. BirdSleuth Caribbean has been specially adapted for the region, so kids learn about the birds and habitats that they can see around them. It’s designed for students 9-13 years old. The program contains lessons, activities and learning games that can be done in the classroom and outdoors.

Binkie van Es teaches a BirdSleuth Caribbean training session.

Les Fruits de Mer will be hosting free training in the BirdSleuth program with instructor Binkie van Es. Participants will enjoy hands-on training and receive materials to bring back to their class or youth group. On each training day, 4-5 different games and activities will be taught.

“It’s an amazing feeling to see kids fall in love with birds and science through the BirdSleuth program,” explained BirdSleuth instructor Binkie van Es. “Birds are the perfect gateway to a love of nature and a passion for learning. The activities are a lot of fun for teachers, too!”

Educators learning BirdSleuth Caribbean explore nature at Amuseum Naturalis.

The bilingual training will be at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House: October 20th and 21st, from 9am-1pm. It is free, and lunch will be served after each training session. If you are interested, please contact info@lesfruitsdemer.com to reserve your spot in the free training.

Awesome New Activities for All Ages at Migratory Bird Festival

Everyone got an up-close look at aquatic creatures at the Portable Pond.

Despite the rain, over 150 guests of all ages found fun new ways to learn about birds at the Migratory Bird Festival on Saturday. Created by an all-volunteer team from the Les Fruits de Mer association, this year’s festival took place at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter.

Kids find aquatic creatures in historic boiling coppers. (Photo by Tim CAM)

“This was our sixth Migratory Bird Festival, so we created a lot of new activities to keep it fresh,” explained Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “You could listen to bird sounds and measure yourself compared to local birds. People loved decorating their own bird tote bags and playing Bird Bingo in the gardens.”

Kids and adults had fun decorating bird tote bags to use instead of plastic bags.

The Migratory Bird Festival celebrates the birds that travel thousands of miles each year to live in St. Martin. They connect this tiny island to the rest of the Americas. The festival also highlights the things these birds need to survive. At the Portable Pond, guests could see aquatic insects and other creatures that many migratory birds eat. The Habitat Scavenger Hunt sent kids looking for food, shelter and other things that birds depend on.

Kids learned about nature by playing BirdSleuth games.

“This was our first Migratory Bird Festival at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House,” commented Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “It was the perfect place, with lots of indoor and outdoor space to explore. Many people from French Quarter came to the festival, and we want to keep building the connection between the town and the Amuseum.”

Guests learned about migratory birds from bird expert Binkie van Es and teacher Jessica Sabas.

The 2018 Migratory Bird Festival was made possible by a team of 20 wonderful volunteers. The festival was free thanks to the support of its sponsors: L’Auberge Gourmand, BZSE, Coalys, Delta Petroleum, ECOFIP, Frigodom, IZI LIGHT, Lagoonies, Pelikaan Brewery, St. Martin’s Sweetness and SXM Logistics. To see highlights from the festival, visit http://lesfruitsdemer.com or find Les Fruits de Mer on Facebook.

MBF 2018: Photos Part 1

The 2018 Migratory Bird Festival was a real blast! There were so many fun things to do, and we were very lucky that the real rain didn’t start until right after the festival. Check out a few photos of the event.

The Culture of Seasons

New faces appear on St. Martin’s ponds in the fall.

Once upon a time, the seasons controlled the daily life of almost everyone. It was a time when most people were farmers, not just on St. Martin, but everywhere. Life was a cycle of activity on the land. The choice of when to plant and when to reap could bring survival or starvation.

Today, much of the world is different. In many places, a few farmers use massive machines to tend huge areas of land. Food is transported around the world. Most jobs don’t depend on the sun or the rain. In the United States, Thanksgiving is a time when most people don’t think at all about being thankful for the harvest.

St. Martin is a place where seasons have always been important. The wet and dry seasons set the agricultural calendar. They also determined the schedule for salt production. Fishing on the salt ponds was linked to seasonal events like filling the salt pans with seawater.

Many other cultural traditions are equally tied to the seasons. Mangos ripen in early summer, the Flamboyant is in full bloom in July and guavaberries are ready in time to make punch for Christmas. Easter is a great time to camp on the beach with family because it is dry. If it were wet, people might celebrate Easter in a different way and head to the beach on another holiday.

There are plenty of other seasons on St. Martin. We have hurricane season, carnival season and the high season and low season of tourism. In a world where fresh strawberries are sold in the middle of winter, seasons have remarkable staying power on St. Martin.

Seasons represent a deep connection with nature. On St. Martin, people spend time outside. They feel the Christmas winds blowing in and the sea warming up in the spring. They see the haze of Sahara dust and feel the heat of the midsummer sun. Perhaps they notice the birds.

In the winter, birdsong on St. Martin is more diverse.

On St. Martin, the arrival of birds from distant lands heralds the end of summer and beginning of fall. Many small, brown birds appear on beaches and around ponds—plovers and sandpipers coming down from the North. The Osprey can be seen high above ponds looking for fish. In the forest and scrub, many new songs suddenly fill the air. Eventually ducks will arrive by the dozen.

Here, most migratory birds arrive in the early fall and leave in the spring. Once they were hunted, but today they are celebrated. You can take part at the Migratory Bird Festival, 9am to noon on Saturday, October 13th. It is at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House and it is free! Visit lesfruitsdemer.com for more details.

What seasonal traditions are most important to you? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Free Fun This Saturday at Migratory Bird Festival

Festival guests can compare their wingspan to local birds. Mark Yokoyama is larger than an Great Egret but smaller than an Osprey.

People of all ages are invited to enjoy the free 2018 Migratory Bird Festival from 9am to noon on Saturday, October 13th. The festival will be held at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House, on the hill above Le Galion in French Quarter. The annual family-friendly event was created in 2013 by Les Fruits de Mer. It celebrates the birds that travel thousands of miles each year to spend time on St. Martin.

“We’re excited to have lots of fun new ways to connect with birds and nature,” says Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “How big are you compared to some of St. Martin’s birds? You can measure your wingspan at the event and find out! You can also learn the songs of some of our visiting birds, and go on a hunt for the things birds need to survive.”

If you want to see what pond birds eat on St. Martin, visit the festival’s Portable Pond. Just one inch deep, it’s your chance to get a good look at all the aquatic insects and other animals that are usually hidden. At the birdwatching station, you can learn how to use binoculars to spot birds. You’ll find out about the amazing travels of migratory birds and why St. Martin is so important to them. 

What do pond birds eat? See the amazing world of life that’s just below the surface of our ponds.

The event is also a great time to explore Amuseum Naturalis and its gardens. Discover bats, night creatures and animals that live only on St. Martin in the exhibit hall. Find out about native plants and trees in the backyard, or explore the gardens playing Bird Bingo. Guests can also learn the 250-year history of the Old House itself.

“We also want to make it fun to help birds and nature,” explained Amuseum Naturalis curator Mark Yokoyama. “At the festival, you can paint bird art on a canvas tote bag. After the event, you can use it instead of a plastic bag. That helps protect the island and the habitats that birds need.”

Add your own bird art to a canvas tote bag and take it home with you!

The festival is designed to be a good time for all no matter the weather. “There are indoor areas for all the major activities, so it will still be lots of fun even if Saturday is a rainy day!” adds Yokoyama.

The Migratory Bird Festival is part of World Migratory Bird Day. Events celebrating migratory birds are happening on many Caribbean islands and all over the world. 

Head to the Migratory Bird Festival, rain or shine, Saturday, October 13th from 9am to noon at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter. The festival is brought to you by Les Fruits de Mer, and the 2018 sponsors: L’Auberge Gourmand, BZSE, Coalys, Delta Petroleum, ECOFIP, Frigodom, IZI LIGHT, Lagoonies, Pelikaan Brewery, St. Martin’s Sweetness and SXM Logistics. For more information and a map, visit http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com.

MBF 2018: Thank You Sponsors!

The 6th annual Migratory Bird Festival is coming up soon. It’s fun, it’s free and it wouldn’t be possible without our sponsors! Please come to the festival this Saturday, October 13th from 9am to noon at Amuseum Naturalis in French Quarter. If you’re on Facebook, join the event and invite your friends!

Learn a little more about our fantastic sponsors:

bzse-web-square
BZSE Attorneys at Law
Quality, continuity and stability are the foundations of the personalized approach by BZSE. In both the civil law as well as in the tax practice, the attorneys and tax lawyers have many years of outstanding service in Sint Maarten. BZSE has grown into the largest law firm in Sint Maarten.
http://www.bzselaw.com


delta-LOGO-smallDelta Petroleum
Founded in 1985, Delta serves the Caribbean with superior performance diesel, gasoline and LPG meeting U.S. and European standards. Delta is a proud and growing member of the communities from the Virgin Islands to Martinique. Delta Petroleum is a long-time supporter of Les Fruits de Mer and sponsors many of our events.
http://deltapetroleum.com


St. Martin’s Sweetness
St. Martin’s Sweetness is a home grown company on the island of St. Martin/St. Maarten that produces and sells high-end baked traditional St. Martin pastries, juices, confectioneries, foods and goods to retail and wholesale customers. We sell premade as well as made-to-order products using local and Caribbean ingredients. St. Martin’s Sweetness makes every day sweet with products ranging from coconut tarts and sugar cakes to tamarind juices and stewed gooseberry jam.


LagooniesLagoonies Bistro and Bar
Lagoonies Bistro and Bar serves food that is crazy good for breakfast, lunch and dinner and hosts some of the hottest live music on the island several nights a week. Located at Lagoon Marina in Cole Bay, Lagoonies is easily accessible by land or sea.
Lagoonies Bistro and Bar


IZI Light
Do you need to brighten your home or business for security or convenience? IZI Light offers innovative solar lighting solutions from streetlights to landscape lighting. Solar lighting is easily installed with no wiring needed, and a variety of long-lasting LED lights are available.
IZI Light


L’Auberge Gourmande
Auberge Gourmande, in the center of restaurant row in Grand Case, serves fine French cuisine in an intimate dining room in one of the oldest Créole houses on the island. Lovingly remodeled in subtle browns and yellows, the wood and stone of the old house harken back to a time of slower pleasures. Enjoy an evening on their terrace or step inside to find your favorite alcove.
L’Auberge Gourmande


COALYS
Expert in the rehabilitation of historical monuments, COALYS works with individuals and professionals in premium construction and renovation. Our teams rely on traditional know-how combined with innovative technologies to support you in all your projects.
COALYS


SXM Logistics
SXM Logistics is a shipping agent and consignor specializing in maritime, land and air shipment.
SXM Logistics


Pelikaan Brewery
Pelikaan Brewery is the first micro brewery on St. Martin, producing delicious local beers that are perfect for the Caribbean.
Pelikaan Brewery


FRIGODOM
Frigodom offers complete logistics solutions, specialized in the shipping of refrigerated and frozen products from the Port of Galisbay.
FRIGODOM


ECOFIP
Specialized in the field of industrial tax exemption for companies, ECOFIP mounts and provides investment management under the Girardin Industrial Law. For this, ECOFIP puts at your service its financial engineering and its support tools to allow you a great flexibility in the management and the realization of your investment program.
ECOFIP

Unnatural Disasters

Damaged and diminished wetlands offer less protection to people and their homes.

On St. Martin, people are all too aware of natural disasters. We have been keeping a close eye on every possible storm since Hurricane Irma. We are trying to deal with the sargassum washing up on the beach in huge amounts. We have seen unusually dry seasons in most of the last five years.

We know that human activity has contributed to these problems. There are few climate change deniers in the Caribbean. Communities truly know their islands. There is a shared knowledge and memory of what is normal. This makes it easier to see when things have changed, even without satellite images or data models.

Many local problems have global causes. Stronger hurricanes and drier weather in the northeast Caribbean are both expected results of global warming. The sargassum blooms may be connected to fertilizer runoff in South America.

While these issues are very modern, people have been making natural disasters worse for a long time. This is the topic of a recent article by Oscar Webber, “The Plantation’s role in enhancing hurricane vulnerability in the nineteenth-century British Caribbean”.

Webber finds a big difference in the damage and death caused by hurricanes in Barbados in 1831 and Dominica in 1834. Barbados was completely deforested at the time, with sugar cane planted everywhere. There were massive landslides due to rain. Fields were destroyed and the mud swallowed livestock whole. With no forest to shelter in, many people died trying to survive the storm on open ground.

Unlike sugar cane, coffee plants have strong roots that hold soil.

On Dominica, much of the forest was uncut. The main crop was coffee, a plant with deep roots that hold the soil. No landslides were reported, and no request for aid was made. Although almost all buildings were destroyed, there were far fewer deaths.

On both islands, the plantation system meant that enslaved people suffered much more from these storms. Their dwellings were less secure, and many died. On Barbados, guinea corn was one of the main rations for enslaved people. The crop was destroyed in the storm. Many feared starvation. Two enslaved people stockpiling guinea corn were shot by colonial authorities.

Coastal mangroves have been destroyed for centuries.

There were surely similar issues on St. Martin. Sugar cane was grown on much of the island. We may have made some ponds more vulnerable when adapting them to salt production. By clearing mangroves we left shorelines unprotected.

We still do things that make natural disasters worse. We fill ponds and build on beaches. We depend on an industry that can be destroyed by a major storm. Slavery is over, but there is deep inequality on the island. There are thousands living in unsafe homes with insufficient resources.

Beachfront is valuable, but vulnerable, too.

What would you change to make St. Martin stronger before the next natural disaster? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

World Migratory Bird Day in St. Martin and the Caribbean

World Migratory Bird Day will be celebrated on 16 Caribbean islands.

The month of October heralds a change in the seasons—even in the Caribbean. The days grow shorter and the fierce heat of the sun lessens. Countless birds journey to the their winter homes on these islands. October also brings World Migratory Bird Day, when Caribbean people celebrate the birds that come here every year.

In the Caribbean, about a third of our 500 bird species are summer or winter visitors. More than 30 events on 16 Caribbean islands are lined up to celebrate these amazing birds. More than 80,000 people will join in the activities, led by Environment for the Americas and BirdsCaribbean.

The Migratory Bird Festival is October 13th at Amuseum Naturalis in French Quarter.

On St. Martin, the Les Fruits de Mer association is hosting the sixth annual Migratory Bird Festival. This year’s event is Saturday, October 13th from 9am to noon at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House in French Quarter. It is free and people of all ages are invited.

The Migratory Bird Festival is a great chance to go birdwatching.

At the Migratory Bird Festival, guests will see birds and learn about the amazing journeys they take each year. There will be bird-themed arts and crafts, and fun games like Bird Bingo. Guests can also explore Amuseum Naturalis and enjoy its gardens and scenic viewpoints.

The 2018 theme for World Migratory Bird Day in the Caribbean is “Year of the Bird.” It is a chance to look at issues facing birds. On St. Martin, pollution and debris impact many places where birds live. It is also a chance to take action. Planting native trees to replace the ones lost to Hurricane Irma can help birds.

“Last October, we weren’t able to celebrate WMBD,” says Executive Director of BirdsCaribbean Lisa Sorenson. “Hurricanes Irma and Maria had just hit several islands with great force, and many of our partners were in shock. Now we are moving forward now with great hope as migratory birds return to our shores.”

Birds like the Whimbrel travel thousands of miles to spend their winter on St. Martin and other Caribbean islands.

Visit migratorybirdday.org or birdscaribbean.org to learn more about celebrations all over the Caribbean. For more information about the Migratory Bird Festival at Amuseum Naturalis in St. Martin, visit http://www.lesfruitsdemer.com.

Les Fruits de Mer Highlights Heritage to Boost Local Education

Students have fun learning about St. Martin at Amuseum Naturalis.

Les Fruits de Mer is launching new initiatives to help teachers and young people. The non-profit association has provided education about St. Martin wildlife and heritage for the last five years. Since Hurricane Irma, that mission has become even more important. While schools on both sides of the island work to build back their staff and facilities, Les Fruits de Mer is helping with new ways to provide education focused on St. Martin.

“The first phase of Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is open,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “It’s a great place to learn about the nature, history and culture of St. Martin. We’ve already been getting lots of visits from school classes, youth groups and families.”

Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is a free museum created by Les Fruits de Mer and located in French Quarter. Right now, the Amuseum features eight exhibits on local natural and cultural heritage. There’s also a botanic walk with native plant signage, a bush tea garden, plots of traditional food plants, and special panels about the historical site and its features. Games and activities in English and French help students of all ages discover and learn. Classes and youth groups can book free visits to the museum.

Binkie van Es leads the first session of free BirdSleuth teacher training at Amuseum Naturalis last Saturday.

The Amuseum is also hosting free bilingual teacher trainings for the BirdSleuth Caribbean program. The program includes fun lessons, games and activities made for the Caribbean. BirdSleuth uses local birds to help kids connect with nature and learn science and problem-solving skills. Training at the Amuseum will empower dozens of schools and youth groups on both sides of the island with this program. 

“We love helping people discover what is special about St. Martin,” explained Les Fruits de Mer co-founder Mark Yokoyama. “That could happen at a visit to the Amuseum or a BirdSleuth activity in your school. We also share everything we do for free online, including books and movies. Interviews we’ve filmed with St. Martiners reveal a lot in just a few minutes. They’re a great way to connect with local culture and history in the classroom or just watching on your phone.”

Delphine David shares stories about her life in an interview filmed by Les Fruits de Mer.

The fall hours of Amuseum Naturalis are 9am-noon Tuesday to Saturday. The next free BirdSleuth teacher trainings are scheduled for October 20-21. Contact info@lesfruitsdemer.com to participate in the trainings or to schedule a free school visit. Short films, presentations, books, and art activities focused on local nature, culture and history are available for free download on www.lesfruitsdemer.com.

Crowdsourcing Culture

Word travels fast on an island. It always has—before WhatsApp, before Facebook, before the Internet and before there was a newspaper on St. Martin. Sharing knowledge with neighbors was key to survival back when the island wasn’t a quick plane ride from the rest of the world.

Over time, this shared knowledge forms the culture of the island. How are certain plants used to treat illness or injury? How are certain dishes cooked? Which styles are common in many home designs? What words and phrases are unique to St. Martin?

Snapshots of everyday life tell the story of St. Martin.

We are lucky that much of this culture is still here. We can see it in buildings, we can hear it spoken in the street and we can taste it from a bowl. But in this globally interconnected age, many things may be lost. Will grandma’s recipes be forgotten now that Gordon Ramsay’s are just a click away?

Culture doesn’t have to disappear, but it’s not going to preserve itself. We live in an amazing time when we can read, listen to, eat or watch almost anything from around the world. This world is a wonderful place, but it is also a place where languages are dying and traditions are disappearing. Can we have it all?

Citizen science provides an interesting model. Using modern technology, regular people can contribute observations that help us learn new things. Bird sightings on St. Martin, for example, can fill in on tiny piece of the story as millions of birds fly south for the winter. Sharing something about your backyard can change what humanity knows about the world.

Sharing bird sightings can help us understand migration.

Sharing science melee can be very effective. After writing about the Colombian Four-eyed Frog in The Daily Herald last week, readers have shed new light on this species. It has been seen on many parts of the island, and it was here long before anyone noted it in the scientific record. Being able to communicate with the local community in real time, helps us get a better picture of nature on the island.

Citizen science techniques could also help preserve local culture. People are already sharing stories and photos online. Collected and organized, this could be an incredible resource for preserving local culture. Pull together enough grainy snapshots and fuzzy memories, and a remarkably clear picture of local culture may emerge. By participating—even in a small way—people also become actively involved in preserving their culture.

Do you have a story or memory that tells us something about St. Martin culture? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Amuseum Naturalis encourages visitors to participate by saving items seen along the garden path.

New Song in the Night

Nights may never sound the same on St. Martin. We will still have the piercing thweet of the Whistling Frog, the cackling of the Cuban Tree Frog and the harsh buzzing of the Money Bug. But a new sound is echoing out on rainy nights. It is a low-pitched honk, as if from a giant robot goose, and it’s probably coming to your neighborhood soon.

It is the sound of the Colombian Four-eyed Frog. It is smaller than you might imagine from its voice. This frog only has two real eyes, but it also has two eyespots on its butt. When in danger, this frog faces that danger butt-first, hoping that those eyespots will intimidate the threat. It can also show off bright orange patches on its legs to alarm a would-be predator. If that fails, the eyespots are also poison glands.

The Colombian Four-eyed frog.

Our newest frog comes from South America. It also lives in Aruba, Bonaire and Curacao. We don’t know how it got here, or when. It was first noticed on St. Martin in late 2017.

The story of St. Martin’s wildlife has been written over millions of years. But lately, the number of new characters in that story has been increasing very quickly. Today, almost all new species come here with human help. Most hitch a ride with cargo. We almost never know exactly when they arrive or how. We only notice them when they start to be common.

The Four-eyed Frog is the latest in a long tradition of introduced species connected to major hurricanes. Several animals are associated with Hurricane Luis. Stories about the Vervet Monkey and Green Iguana often involve Luis, but there’s no proof that their arrival is related to the storm. The Giant African Land Snail allegedly came with giant spools of cable that were brought to restore power after Luis. The Spotted Oleander Caterpillar Moth may have come with Oleander bushes brought in for landscaping.

Eyespots and orange warning coloration.

Did the Four-eyed Frog arrive with cargo after Hurricane Irma? Did pet frogs escape during the storm? Was it already living here unnoticed before the storm? We probably won’t ever have an answer. We do know that it has made its way from French Cul-de-sac to Grand Case already, even though there were many months of dry weather. Probably it is headed towards your neighborhood.

We can’t know exactly how it got here, but we can learn about how the Four-eyed Frog spreads across the island. Have you seen or heard this frog? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Free BirdSleuth Caribbean Training Offered to Teachers and Youth Group Leaders

BirdSleuth Caribbean is a bird-based education program made for the Caribbean.

Everyone loves birds. They are majestic and inspiring. They are dedicated parents. Their sweet songs fill the air with life. They’re also a great way to learn about nature and science.

“Imagine a school class having fun and learning about biology by playing a game of Bird Bingo or Habitat Scavenger Hunt,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We’re excited to make that possible by offering a free training program for teachers and educators. It can be used in the classroom and outdoors and it was made for the Caribbean.”

Binkie van Es leads a BirdSleuth activity at the Endemic Animal Festival. (Photo: Agnes Etchegoyen)

BirdSleuth Caribbean is a set of fun lessons and activities that uses birds to teach youth about nature and science. BirdSleuth Caribbean has been specially adapted for the region, so kids learn about the birds and habitats that they can see around them. It’s designed for students 9-13 years old. The program contains lessons, activities and learning games that can be done in the classroom and outdoors.

Les Fruits de Mer will be hosting free training in the BirdSleuth program with instructor Binkie van Es. Participants will enjoy hands-on training and receive materials to bring back to their class or youth group. On each training day, 4-5 different games and activities will be taught.

Amuseum Naturalis has indoor and outdoor space for BirdSleuth activities.

“It’s an amazing feeling to see kids fall in love with birds and science through the BirdSleuth program,” explained BirdSleuth instructor Binkie van Es. “Birds are the perfect gateway to a love of nature and a passion for learning. The activities are a lot of fun for teachers, too!”

The training will be at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House on two Saturdays: September 22 and Sept 29, from 9am-1pm. It will be bilingual in English and French. It is free, and lunch will be served after each training session. If you are interested, please contact info@lesfruitsdemer.com to reserve your spot in the free training.

Ponds from Feast to Feast

St. Martin’s ponds are rich. They are alive. They are always changing. They are a cornerstone of both human and natural life on the island.

Ponds concentrate life. Rain falls in the hills, washes down the guts and flows into the ponds. Leaves and dirt come with it—nutrients, the stuff of life. In the pond, this matter settles down into a rich mud. It gets trapped in mangrove roots. It becomes a concentrated richness that feeds life on the pond.

This filtering also keeps the sea clean and clear. It gives coral reefs a chance to grow at their own measured pace. The sea is beautiful, vast and empty. The pond is small, messy and alive in every drop.

Blue crab in the pond.

Salt ponds were always important to the people of St. Martin. The ponds were used to concentrate sea water until it became salt to harvest and sell. This was done all across the island: the Great Salt Pond, Grand Case, Orient Bay and Chevrise.

But people can’t survive on salt alone. The ponds were also a valuable resource for food: fish, shrimp, crab and birds. Sometimes salt production and fishing went hand in hand.

In Orient Bay, the salt pond was managed at the point where the Salines d’Orient meets the Fish Pond. When it was opened to flood the salt pans, fish were caught as they rushed through the channel. In Simpson Bay, shrimp were caught at night when they passed beneath the bridge. In the Lowlands, fishing on the pond was crucial during high seas when fishermen couldn’t take their boats on the ocean.

Great egret with a fish.

In Grand Case, Roland Richardson remembers fishing in the salt pans as a boy. As the water level got lower, fish would be just below the surface. He could hit them with a stick and pick them up from the water. Though the fish were trapped, he never took more than he needed because there was no refrigeration.

The simplicity of those times is gone. In her poem, “Spirit of We Fish Pon”, Laurelle “Yaya” Richards laments the loss of local culture, and the many foods that were once harvested on the pond: shrimp, crab, mullet, bass, 10-pounder and cremole. The life of the pond was the culture of her people and the food in her bowl.

Today St. Martin’s ponds struggle, but survive. Many have been diminished by filling. Most are tainted with waste. But they still remain remarkably alive. Young fish and lobsters still hide around the roots of mangroves. Birds still come from thousands of miles away to pull crabs from the mud. We buy our food from the store now, but animals still feast on the pond.

What do St. Martin’s ponds mean to you? Tell us by writing in to The Daily Herald or to info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Saving Stories

A young couple gets married. A man holds a fishing trophy. A crowd inspects a portion of bridge that collapsed. A young girl stands on the beach with a handbag. A pier full of people looking to see who wins the boat race. One man throws a net, another cleans a fish. A woman talks with a giant pestle in her hand. In the mortar is a baton of sugarcane.

A girl stands on the beach.

Is a picture really worth a thousands words? Maybe. But a box of old photos will always hold at least a few stories. Each frozen moment gives us clues. They tell us what life was like here. We might see what people wore and what they were eating. We can see what a day’s catch of fish looked like. In the distance, we can see whether the hills are covered in pasture or scrub.

A man throws a fishing net.

Letters and journals have much to tell us, too. Recipes for food and herbal medicine are recorded. We learn how people spent their time, what things they worried about and what they hoped for the future. Even more can be learned by listening to those who lived here as the island changed.

All of these resources have special value here on St. Martin. They aren’t just the history of a person or a family, but the history of an island. They’re the record of a culture unique to this place.

Neighborhood kids pose for a photo.

These things are special, rare and always in danger. It is impossible to know how many stories have been lost to storm, fire, mildew and death. Hurricane Irma damaged the institutions that store local heritage: libraries, museums, archaeological collections and records archives. It is impossible to know how many items were lost from homes that were destroyed or flooded.

We should do what we can to save these stories. Through so much of history, only the stories of the wealthy and powerful were recorded. For the St. Martin of the last 100 years, we have the possibility of telling the story of everyday life. We can tell how people lived through great changes. We can learn what made the island what it is today.

A crowd watches a boat race finish line.

Do you have a story to tell about St. Martin? Do you have a photo or letter that shows us what life was like back in the day? Share it with The Daily Herald, or contact info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

A man cleans a fish.
A woman holds a pestle.

House of Ages

The Old House has been part of the St. Martin landscape for hundreds of years. The first known record of it is from 1766. The foundations of this house are from this era. In the census of 1772, it was the most valuable estate on the French side. Crops included 2,000 coffee plants, 1,000 banana trees and acres of cotton, potatoes and cassava.  The names of the 49 enslaved people who lived there at the time are unknown, but traces of their lives can still be detected on the site today. They cleared and farmed the land, tended the livestock, constructed stone walls, and built the foundations of this house. 

The Old House.

By 1793, much of the land was used to grow sugar cane. A mill had been built in the valley across the street. Facilities were made to refine sugar and produce vinegar and rum. At this time, the property was owned by members of the Hodge family, originally from Anguilla. By 1816, there were 77 enslaved people on this estate, producing sugar while also raising their own food. The original wooden home was destroyed in the hurricane of 1819 and then rebuilt on the same foundation.

By the late 1830s, the property was in decline and it was considered a “former sugar mill” by 1837. In 1843, the property was acquired by Daniel Beauperthuy, who had the rights to produce salt on the Orient Bay salt pond. In addition to salt production, this estate grew cotton and raised livestock: 70 cattle, 36 mules and 234 sheep. By 1931, the house was again in disrepair. Unable to tear down the strong posts, Louis Emile “Lil’ Dan” Beauperthuy set the remains of the house on fire. He said it burned for about two weeks.

The concrete house you see today was built in 1935 by Adolph Artsen. It remained the residence of the Beauperthuy family for many years, and they continued to manage salt production in Orient Bay until the late 1950s. Pierre Beauperthuy transformed the property into a museum of history and culture in the early 2000s. His charisma and gift for storytelling were key parts of the museum he created here. It was a monument to his love of his island and its history.

Pierre Beauperthuy builds his museum.

In 2018, the Les Fruits de Mer association began restoring this property as a museum of nature, history and culture on St. Martin. Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House is a free museum dedicated to sharing all the stories of St. Martin. It is also a center for community projects, including a native plants nursery, shared gardens and other collaborative projects. The museum is now open for its fall hours, Tuesday to Saturday, 9am to Noon.

Rediscover St. Martin at Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House

Students enjoy activities during their visit to Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House.

People of all ages are invited to enjoy and explore Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House this fall. Organizers have announced the fall hours–the Amuseum will be open from 9am to noon, Tuesday to Saturday, starting September 1st. Amuseum Naturalis is a free museum of local nature, history and culture, developed by the Les Fruits de Mer association with an all-volunteer team. It is located at the historic Old House on the hill above Le Galion in French Quarter.

“We had a fantastic summer preview, with over 1,000 visitors in just over a month,” said Les Fruits de Mer President Jenn Yerkes. “We especially enjoyed the summer camps and school groups that visited during the preview. Now we’re inviting teachers and youth group leaders to schedule fall visits!”

While the process of restoring The Old House continues, the Amuseum has opened its gardens and an exhibit hall featuring eight exhibits. In the back yard, visitors can enjoy amazing views and learn about native trees and plants. A bush tea and bush medicine garden is growing, with many plants donated by St. Martiners who want to share this tradition.

Visitors learn about The Old House and its history dating back to the 1700s.

The Amuseum’s “micro-theater” shows a reel of over a dozen documentary shorts about nature, history and culture. Many of the films feature fascinating interviews with St. Martiners. Les Fruits de Mer members and volunteers have been interviewing St. Martin residents to share the stories of the island as told by its people. The association’s goal is to collaborate with the community so the Amuseum can be a true reflection of the island.

Families are encouraged to visit the Amuseum. Amuseum Hunt! and Amuseum Adventure! are two fun activities created by the association to help students and families interact with the exhibits.

The public is also invited to share their stories during their visits. The Amuseum is ready to film interviews, scan photos or documents and photograph historic items. Volunteers are also welcome. To get involved, just stop by the Amuseum when it is open or email the association at info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

For more information about Amuseum Naturalis at The Old House, visit http://amuseumnaturalis.com. Schools and youth groups can schedule group visits by contacting info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Flamingo Stories

When local birder Binkie van Es spotted a pair of flamingos hanging out on the pond behind Orient Beach, people got excited. You don’t have to be an avid birder to love the idea of flamingos on St. Martin. Many were also curious about where they came from and what they were doing here.

St. Martin’s salt ponds are a great habitat for flamingos. They are full of food for flamingos, like the shrimp that turn them pink. In the past, when St. Martin had more ponds and fewer people, there were definitely flamingos living here. At that time, they were also found in many nearby islands.

A flamingo at Salines d’Orient.

Flamingos on St. Martin were not part of the scientific record. Very few bird scientists visited St. Martin before 1955. But we do have some stories about flamingos living here.

Maps may give a few clues. Part of the Simpson Bay Lagoon was called Flamingo Pond, although we don’t know how it got its name. Baie de l’Embouchure appears as Baie Flamande on some maps. That is French for Flemish Bay, but also only one letter away from Flamingo Bay.

Historian Steve Kruythoff mentions the flamingo in his book, The Netherlands Windward Islands. He noted that he last saw it in the Orient Bay salt pond in 1932. I have heard that a travelogue written by a French couple includes a tale of the last St. Martin flamingo being shot by a hunter.

Between 1955 and 1975, birders did study St. Martin. They surveyed the island extensively, and the list of birds they found grew steadily. But it did not include the flamingo. The flamingo is an easy bird to spot. If they didn’t see it, flamingos probably weren’t here then. At least not regularly.

When Binkie posted photos of the new flamingos on Facebook, some commenters shared memories of flamingos on St. Martin in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Around this time, flamingos on Anegada in the Virgin Islands were disappearing. Any flamingos on St. Martin at this time would have been among the last in the region. They may have been refugees from the dying flock in Anegada.

Starting in 1992, flamingos were reintroduced to Anegada and Guana Island in the Virgin Islands. Today there are hundreds in the Virgin Islands. A few years ago, a lone flamingo started visiting Anguilla. In 2015, a birder spotted a lone flamingo flying over Grand Case. Perhaps the arrival of flamingos in 2018 will mark the beginning of a new era for flamingos on St. Martin. It certainly would be wonderful.

Do you have stories or images of flamingos on St. Martin, or other interesting wildlife tales? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Ephemera

In the film Raiders of the Lost Ark, there is a key scene in a Cairo cafe. The evil archaeologist Belloq holds out a cheap watch and says that if he buries it for a thousand years it will become priceless. Although his character was on the wrong side of history, he had a point.

A hurricane tracking map from Esso.

Today’s newspaper is worth about 75 cents. Yesterday’s is basically worth nothing. A newspaper from 30 years ago? It may not have cash value, but it might be priceless in its own way.

Today I was reading through an issue of The Chronicle from February 3rd, 1989. There was an article about the groundbreaking of a new museum, which was why this particular copy was probably saved. The paper was thin and full of international news from the wire. But even one issue was full of insights into the island at the time.

“No Cause for Alarm Over Brown Water” read one headline. There was a lengthy exposé titled “Sewage: Where It Goes Nobody Knows” that spoke of trucks pumping waste water off the cliff in Point Blanche. A few pages later, an real estate ad proclaimed Point Blanche as “suddenly the place to be!”

Over time, even the most trivial items become interesting in their own way. The 1980 program for July 14th festivities on the French side is full of great sounding concerts: the Superfly Brothers, Genius and Three Kings. The schedule was done on a typewriter, and all the accents were added by hand.

Festival program for the 1980 July 14th celebrations.

A hurricane tracking map was distributed by Esso and was touted as “a sign of progress.” A letter from Romelia Dollison identified her as “the only woman candidate in this election.” The sleeve of the seven-inch record for “O Sweet St. Maarten’s Land” is notable for using the Dutch spelling of St. Martin.

The 7-inch record of “O Sweet St. Maarten’s Land”.

So many things pass through our hands each day, it would be impossible to save them all. But even the most ordinary things eventually become fascinating in time. We should be thankful for the savers, who left us with these glimpses into the past. We should also take seriously the task of preserving and documenting what we have so that it can survive in some form into the future.

Do you have ordinary items that have survived the years against all odds? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Invisible City

St. Martin is full of cities with stories. We know their past and their present day identity. For a small island, it has a surprising number of distinct cultural centers. That’s one of the things that makes it such a great place to live or visit.

Philipsburg was a center of salt production in the past, and today is one of the region’s busiest cruise ship ports. Grand Case was a sleepy fishing village turned into a gourmet paradise. Simpson Bay was also a sleepy fishing village that is now packed with restaurants and nightlife. Marigot was the peak of chic in the 1980s, and Colombier the breadbasket of the island where traditional life is still celebrated.

By comparison, French Quarter is a bit of an invisible city. It was the first place where the French settled in the 1600s and it is one of the bigger towns on the island, but it doesn’t get a lot of attention in history books or travel guides. A large part of the population worked in the salt industry at Salines d’Orient for over 100 years, but I’ve never seen a single picture of salt production there.

A view of French Quarter.

Why don’t we know more about French Quarter? Perhaps because it is such a border town. The town is technically French, but it has always had close ties to the Dutch Side. French Quarter children would walk to school in Philipsburg back in the day because Marigot was harder to reach. Orleans Hardware is still the place to go on the French side if you need 3/4 inch pipe instead of two centimeter. The town may have been too far from the center of power on the French side and more integrated into the side of the island that wasn’t responsible for recording its history.

Today, French Quarter is also largely removed from the main industry on the island, tourism. On TripAdvisor, it has listings for six restaurants and zero hotels. Grand Case, by comparison has 47 restaurants and 18 hotels. Not every town has to be a tourism mecca, but how can a town thrive when it isn’t part of the island’s main industry?

French Quarter is an important place with a rich history. It has homes and buildings that are beautiful examples of local architecture. It exemplifies St. Martin’s greatest strength, the connection of people in communities that transcend nationality and political boundaries. It is an invisible city that deserves a share of the spotlight.

French Quarter isn’t invisible to the people who live there or have roots there. Perhaps we can work together to shine a light on this invisible city. Do you have stories or images of French Quarter? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

Mystery Machines

The backyard of The Old House in French Quarter was overgrown with trees and bushes that had been growing wild for years. On top of that, Hurricane Irma had downed branches and tossed debris everywhere. Volunteers had spent weeks clearing the yard before they finally reached the mystery machine.

The trapped flywheel.

You could almost walk by and miss it. A flywheel sticks out at ground level beside a newly cleared path. A patina of rust covers the iron, and it is similar in color to the dirt and tree bark around it. Further in, another part looks like the bell of a saxophone.

The mouth of the machine.

How long has it been there? Based on the tree trunks that are growing through the machine, it has been there for decades at least. At least some of it is now underground, but we aren’t sure how much.

This mystery machine is a symbol of so much. It tells us of old times and old ways now forgotten. Especially as a group of volunteers gathers around it to make wild guesses about what it was once used for. It tells us of a St. Martin that was the same island, but also a very different one.

It reminds us of the constant struggle to maintain our homes and possessions against the ravages of nature and time. Concrete crumbles, metal rusts and wood is eaten by termites. Nature reclaims her land, inch by inch. The process is constant and effortless.

Surely this machine didn’t come cheap when it was bought. It was forged far away and brought here on a long ocean journey. At a time when there were no cars, refrigerators or big screen televisions, this was surely a major purchase. Yet there it is, grown into the landscape. Once valuable and useful, the world around it changed.

The mystery machine.

We look forward to researching this and other mystery machines from St. Martin’s past. They are not just relics. They were once used by people here. Understanding the purpose of these machines and tools can tell us what people were doing here as they went about their daily lives.

Do you have stories of tools and machines that were used once upon a time on St. Martin? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.

History Exposed


The cycles of change between wet and dry on St. Martin have shaped the island’s wild spaces. Plants and animals that can’t survive the dry times don’t live here. Those that can have adaptations. Trees shed their leaves in dry times to conserve their moisture. Animals breed in the wet period when there is more food for their young.

Human life is also influenced by the changing seasons. To make salt, St. Martiners needed the dry months when water could evaporate, leaving the salt behind. The choice of crops and the timing of planting and harvest also depended on the rain.

The yearly cycle is somewhat predictable. There is a dry period from winter into spring and a wet period from summer into fall. Of course, in the Caribbean one is wise to expect the unexpected. A big storm could bring a huge rainfall during the driest months. This could be a disaster for birds nesting beside a pond that suddenly swells and swallows their nests.

The remains from salt production in Grand Case.

There are also droughts. It is said that people here had to face the prospect of losing their harvest every few years due to lack of rain. This would have been a huge challenge in centuries past. Perhaps it is good that we don’t depend on rain for our food today. The island has been relatively dry for a number of years, including a severe drought in 2015 and 2016. Climate change may bring more dry years to our region in the future.

Very dry weather does give us one unique opportunity. We can often see historical remains much more clearly. In ponds not connected to the sea, receding water reveals the levees and structures created for salt production. Barriers of stone and dirt divided the pond into smaller areas for salt production. In some cases, they also protected salt pans from incoming rainwater.

The dry hills also reveal structures from the past. As plants drop their leaves or shrivel and dry, we can often get a better view of old buildings and walls that have been abandoned to nature. Combined with the destruction of Hurricane Irma, this is a good time to see things that would otherwise be hidden by the vibrant growth of Caribbean plants.

Rains should be on their way. For thirsty plants and animals, it will be a chance to thrive again. For those of us still living beneath tarps, it will be a challenge. Before they come, take a moment to look up into the hills and down into our ponds to catch a glimpse of the past while it is still exposed.

Have you seen parts of St. Martin’s past exposed by the hurricane or the try weather? Share them by writing to The Daily Herald or info@lesfruitsdemer.com.