Life Is A Treasure
Digging in with Max Sipple
OCTOBER 24, 2018
I used to love to draw make-believe treasure maps. The idea of a journey, a quest. I had no idea the coordinates I received my second day on the job with All Hands and All Hearts – Smart Response in St. John would end up being a real life map to a year-long buried treasure.
We drove up and down long winding roads and through donkey crossings. We were surrounded by flowers, fallen trees, and the sea. We finally made it, “X” marked the spot, or in this case, a wooden staircase marked the spot. I walked down the steep steps and met Max Sipple. His radio was blasting the song, “Dig In” by Lenny Kravitz and the lyrics, “Persevere with a smile and once you dig in you’ll find it coming out the other side” were floating through the air. We shook hands and we were ready to dig in.
Max Sipple was born in Oregon on January 5th, 1952. He was mostly raised in Texas and Louisiana. He’s an adventurer, a painter, a musician, a story- teller, a collector, and like his home, a treasure chest of history. In 1978, he moved to St. John, a place where the water matches the color of his eyes. He likes to “jam a lot at home,” go swimming, and hike off the beaten path. One of his favorite spots being a giant bamboo grove.
On September 6th, 2017, when Hurricane Irma made landfall, Max was at his friend’s house on Bordeaux Mountain. He arrived there with two things: his 1972 Jose Ramirez Studio Guitar and his cat. When the sky went dark, the doors blew off, and the winds carried away almost “everything that wasn’t concrete,” Max held on.
Overnight, Max was “down a house, a sailboat, and a car.” He lived in a 12 x 14 tent at the bottom of his property until he built a small structure off what was left of his home.
“The next year I don’t know what happened. The first three months it was pretty easy to just keep moving and doing stuff and then depression set in.”
“Most of the exhaustion comes from depression. I have Fibromyalgia which gives me some chronic fatigue once in awhile. If I feel exhaustion, I know it’s probably not true, so I go ahead and push myself to keep moving and it works.”
With not being able to prove he owns the property, with money tied up between insurance companies and banks, Max couldn’t afford to pay for help or a dumpster. On September 10th, 2018, All Hands and Hearts Volunteers arrived to assist Max.
Each item we recover has a history, a history Max is happy to tell. Through the layers of debris and dirt we find the layers of a life. Treasure after treasure, rich with stories.
“What you all have done in a week would have taken me the next two years. This is fantastic. It’s really good.”
“It’s gonna make life possible again. In a few months I’ll have a cute little house again. Thank you!”
We first met with a handshake ready to “dig in” and ended the day with a hug dedicated to “coming out the other side.”
Story and photography by Alexandra Tamburro for All Hands and Hearts – Smart Response