After spending a week writing and being in the presence of twenty-one amazing women in the Taos high desert I am working my way back across the country through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee to North Carolina where I will hole up, like an outlaw, with my daughter for a few days.
Things I ponder on the road at 80 mph…
…why do I get melancholy leaving each town I’ve spent the night? Because I don’t get to explore more and I have to leave? Wait, I don’t HAVE to do any of this. I am choosing to move on to something else and see something new. Remember, Lori, this is all YOUR choice. I could have chosen to stay home!
…is it safe to meditate while driving? Practicing with my eyes open of course.
…how long has it been since I’ve seen another vehicle?
…why are war memorials way out here in the boonies and not where the people are?
…a sign that says, “Prison: Don’t pick up hitchhikers in this area.” Are they advertising that they don’t have good security? Makes me want to drive a little faster and lock my doors so I don’t get highjacked by an escapee from the correctional facility.
…am I pretty, why does it matter…what’s the difference between pretty and beauty?
…gah, a roadrunner crossed in front of my wheels! He is familiarly distinct but looks nothing like the cartoon version.
…why did I have to do my brother’s laundry when I was ten (he was five years older) why didn’t he do his own damn laundry?
There is a dearth of interesting places to stay along the way so I default to freeway hotels. The only place really worth mentioning if you happen to be in Jackson, Tennessee is Cypress Grove Nature Park. It is peaceful place to wander on raised walkways over swampy groves, with a really beautiful sanctuary for injured, non-releasable hawks, eagles and owls. I was alone with them on the trail in their beautiful large outdoor habitats and thought if I was injured and unable to be free this was a pretty good way to live. They had fresh, dead white mice waiting to be eaten and they were only separated from the sounds of the woods and fresh air by a bit of wire. The raptors and I had some nice, one-sided chats about being caged versus dead.
After a delightful catch up with my daughter Audrey I took the coastal route north toward home. I have always wanted to see the wild Chincoteague ponies after reading Misty of Chincoteague to my horse-crazy girls at bedtime, with them all cuddled up around me in their floor-length, home-sewn, flannel nightgowns. Marguerite Henry’s children’s book, published in 1947, became hugely popular and was made into a film about two young kids that buy one of the ponies with their hard earned savings and was inspired by a real pony named Misty.
The true story of how the ponies landed on an island off the Virginia coast is the stuff of legend, involving the shipwreck of a Spanish Galleon in the 1700s. The locals believe it completely and others say the early settlers released the ponies on the island to graze. Each year on Assateague Island the ponies are herded together and then all of them swim across the narrowest part of of the channel to Chincoteague, even foals as young as two weeks old, where they are then checked by veterinarians, penned and culled. The foals are auctioned off and sold so that the herd stays at the required 150 animals and then they swim them back across the channel to their island home for another year. It’s a big tourist attraction in July where the small community swells to 30,000 people for a week of pony festivities while awaiting the six minute swim at low-tide. It must be quite the sight to see, all those bobbing horse heads in the water.
I took the advice of a niece of a friend and stayed in the old town of Chincoteague. It has a tiny little summer beach vibe and I was glad to be there off-season. I missed the famed huge mosquitos, black flies and the crowds of tourists. Yay. It was early evening as I dumped my luggage into the motel room and returned to the driver’s seat for a dip out to Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge to get the lay of the land for my next day of exploration. On my way to the beach, I saw the wild, wind-swept ponies happily chomping swamp grass which whetted my own appetite for more the next day.
I decided to do the Woodland Walk trail in the morning (recommended by two strangers) to see if I could get in closer proximity to the ponies. I have to inform you, that you really can’t. There are fences to keep the ponies away from people, or the people away from the ponies most likely. It was great to see about thirty of them in the distance but I wanted more. So I walked out to the beach and turned right in hopes of walking past all the fences to where I could get a little closer. After about a mile climbing over brush, stumps and through briars, I finally decided that, like Sleeping Beauty’s castle surrounded by thorns, the way was impassible without a machete. Disappointed and defeated I returned and was awarded a darling glimpse of three fawns just off the path on a spree, their mother/s no where to be seen.
I then proceeded to another beach where the waves were high and I sank into the beauty of the surf, sand and sunshine. Never one to give up easily, I decided to do a bit of research on how to get closer to the wild ponies and found that going by water was the better way. So I booked a last minute seat on a sunset pontoon boat excursion and was rewarded with visions of a beautiful herd just off the beach. Bill, my skipper, was a native Chincoteaguean, one of a very few left that was born on the island many moons ago. He was full of tales of the ponies (knew all of their names) and showed us an eagle’s nest (HUGE) and a beautiful eagle perched three trees over. It was the magic sunset hour with a golden glow on all of the nature and lighthouse.
I learned about Horseshoe crabs that live off these coastal shores and have blue blood. I had seen their upturned carcasses on the sandy beach and wondered what prehistoric turtle/crab/stingray things they were. It is amazing to me that there is always something new that I don’t know. I had never seen or heard of a horseshoe crab. Anyway, they are actually gathered for their blood, which is then extracted and used to detect contamination in vaccines. I read an article that says, “They are critical to the biomedical industry and the humane bleeding process achieves survival rates in excess of 80-90%.” (https://www.scseagrant.org/stranded-horseshoe-crabs/). They only kill 10-20% of them? Yikes! And in all my years, after all those blue-blood sacrifices, I had never even known they existed.
I round out the night eating homemade ice cream at the Island Creamery and tucking myself into bed feeling satisfied with seeing at least 50 ponies, tiny scuttling crabs, fawns, and eagles in my one day excursion on Assateague Island. It finally feels like a vacation since I have two nights to stay in one place. If you are able, and not crunched for time, that’s the way to do it. At least two nights at one location so you can drive into a town and then have the next day to explore, before leaving the day after that to roam again and ponder the roadside echoes of your mind and maybe like me, get a bit melancholy.