Saltwater Cowboys and Wild Ponies
15 April 2021 | Chincoteague Island
We were on our way home from Charleston, South Carolina when Jay and I decided to take a detour to Chincoteague and Assateague islands. (To be clear, we were commuting by car, not by boat. Cadenza is tucked safely in her slip down in Mexico.) I had always heard about the wild ponies and wanted to see what we could find.
From what I understand, wild ponies inhabit several of the barrier islands along the east coast. We found them on Assateague Island which is home to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Legend has it that in the 1700s a Spanish Galleon shipwrecked and the ponies swam to shore and have resided there ever since. Besides the ponies, there are hundreds of other species that find refuge here including over 300 different kinds of migratory birds. There are numerous trails and a pristine beach that lies for miles along the Atlantic Ocean.
We began our day hiking through the trails of Assateague Island. Though we were there for the ponies, it wasn't all about the ponies. As we walked through the forest, we came upon the endangered Delmarva fox squirrel. It crossed our path, nonchalantly, not one bit intimidated by our large stature compared to its tiny frame. It was a beautiful soft gray color. We heard Blue Jays and Carolina Chickadees as they sang in celebration of spring. White egrets stood quietly and elegantly surrounded by the salt water grasses. Two Turkey Vultures hovered above us, looking for their next meal, I suppose.
We were led to an overlook where we could see the ponies. Barely. They were way, way off in the distance. I felt a bit disappointed. But then I reminded myself they were wild and that means they wander at their free will. Luckily Jay brought binoculars. Obviously, if our eyes couldn't quite see them, pictures couldn't capture them.
We continued on and found a clearing. "Come over here, Jay." I told him. "Look!" They were still way far away but we could see them more clearly from this new angle. I looked behind me to Jay and saw a man standing to the side of us, using his binoculars. Upon leaving, we struck up a conversation with him. He was on foal watch as he worked for the refuge and said they thought there were at least five or six mares pregnant. He went on to share his knowledge.
In the section of the island where we were standing, there were two bands of ponies. Each band had about ten to twelve horses. There was one stallion for each band. He was very protective of his mares and could be quite aggressive. One of them had once backed this man up against a tree, showing him who was boss. In each band there was a lead mare. She was the one who directed the other ponies where to go. Sounds about right. Nature and its hierarchy always fascinate me.
The Chincoteague Fire Company owns the horses and has permission for them to graze on the island. Three times a year, the ponies are rounded up; twice for health checks and the third time for the annual pony swim and auction held every July. Because much of the area is salt water marsh, getting access to the ponies is done on horseback. This is done by the firemen who call themselves The Salt Water Cowboys.
Later in the afternoon, Jay and I booked a boat tour of the island where we got to see the ponies from yet another angle. I think we saw more than a dozen grazing. Their stomachs looked a little distended. We couldn't decide if they were the pregnant mares or it was just the result of adjusting to a salt-water diet.
It was a sunny day but windy and cool on the water. An eagle passed overhead. Ducks meandered along with the kayakers.
Our guide showed us where they round up the ponies and send them across from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island. After the swim, they rest them before they parade them through town. The finale is an auction of the foals. This is the sole source of funding for the fire company. Some purchase the foals for private ownership. Others buy the foals and then donate them back to live forever on Assateague Island. This keeps the island from being overpopulated and enough land for the horses to feed. We weren't there for the swim. In fact, because of Covid it has been canceled again this year. But after hearing about it and seeing the photos, we would love to return to witness it. It must be amazing.
We left our boat tour with mixed feelings. We learned a lot about the area and about the ponies. We saw them from a distance. But we really wished we could see them close up. We had one more opportunity where we might get that chance. The gentleman who worked for the refuge told us about the carnival grounds on Chincoteague Island. "This is where they keep the foals that were donated back." He said. "They keep them there for their first year of life to make sure they are healthy and survive. Then they release them into the wild. They are going to release them tomorrow." He then went on to say if we went to the carnival grounds we could probably see them up close. We did just that.
There were about a half dozen grazing behind a fence. Some were brown with white markings and some were white with brown markings. I was grateful for a chance to see them up close but I was even more thankful to know they would be free the following day. Free to join a band and bond with other ponies. Free to graze and live a life of peace. What a wonderful gift.
A Bend in the Road
11 January 2021 | Edgartown, Massachussetts
This blog post isn't about cruising. It's not even about sailing. But as all cruisers are acutely aware, life events lead to detours at any given moment in time.
To begin with, there is this thing called Covid. I know there are many people who are out there cruising, racing, and enjoying dinner with friends. All seemingly fine. (Of which I am very glad.) Then I read about the numbers of people who are contracting Covid. I read about overloaded hospitals and bodies filling up morgues. I am so confused.
Jay and I continue to be cautious. We are staying close to home and following the suggested guidelines. (Although I am threatening to break free this spring. We shall see.) We miss the warmth of the Mexican sun. We miss our sailing community. And, of course, we miss Cadenza. Yet, "when one door closes, another one opens."
Jay's son got a fantastic opportunity, working for a government contract company in the DC area. Relocating his family of six from California to Virginia is no small feat. Since he didn't know the area and is required to partake in three months of intense training, we offered our house for our daughter-in-law and four grandsons during the transition. This will give Scott time to scout the area before committing to a lease. What that boils down to is some very special quality family time that is rare these days. So, when we were vacillating on whether or not to venture south this year, it became clear staying at home in Martha's Vineyard was the better decision.
Christmas is always better spent with children and this year was no exception. Their excitement and joy filled our house with smiles and laughter. It has long been quiet. Maybe too quiet.
The boys, ages eight, two eleven-year-old twins and one teenager at fourteen, are all formally enrolled in our local schools - attending remotely. Afternoon and evenings are spent playing games and taking long walks. Saturday we went on a four-mile hike in 32-degree weather. It was cold. Especially when we got to the cliff overlooking Vineyard Sound. The sky was covered with a thick cloud bank except for a slight window of blue sky and sun off in the horizon. We could hear the coastal roar of the surf as it made its way to the shore. The wind was fresh and cold, leading us to quickly turn around and head back. Still, the scene was beautiful, cast in a stark and gray light.
Friday night was a meatloaf smack-down. Team Terri & Jason won against Team Gina & William. No still photography but the boys created a documentary video of our home cooking - such as it was. All gathered in the kitchen, helping and stealing ideas. It was a fun evening with the promise to do more cooking smack-downs. Mac and Cheese next? Who knows, we just may come up with our own cooking show to pitch to the Cooking Channel.
And Sunday - music lessons given by Papa J on trumpet and piano.
Does it get a little crazy and noisy with four energetic boys? Of course, and so what. Honestly, these four are so helpful and polite. It is refreshing.
Oh! And did I mention a dog came with the family? Harley is a King Charles Cavalier. She is the sweetest dog. And now we get our dog fix! We just love her.
All things considered; we are good. We miss the rest of our family and are looking forward to the day we feel we can travel safely. Meanwhile, we are enjoying getting to know our grandchildren.
The Great Getaway
04 August 2020 | Katama Bay
Photo by Dana Gaines
It has been over four months since "shelter in place" was put into effect and although it is no longer officially an edict, Jay and I still find ourselves adhering to the restrictions; wear a mask, wash your hands, stay away from large gatherings. Simply put; we're bored. Sometimes I feel as if I am in the movie "Groundhog Day" where every day is the same.
Disclaimer: I have a roof over my head and food on my table. I live on a beautiful island. I am healthy. Our families are healthy. I have no real right to complain. Nevertheless, here we are.
Some days, I walk around the house in circles. "I have to do something!" I tell Jay. "What?" He asks. "I don't know, anything. Something different."
We don't do much because there are way too many people on the island. Staying away from crowds is difficult. Even walking on the bicycle path is like the 405. (A major highway in California that is always stop and go traffic.)
When we walk, we look for sparsely populated areas like the farm. We bike. I go to the grocery store every two weeks - at 6:00 am. Whippee! And now that it is so hot and humid, wearing the mask is, frankly, annoying. But wear it we do.
Our great getaway is the boat. Skipjack is our lifeline to a world where we were once free to move about as we please. With no need for a mask, I can breathe in deeply. Nothing better than fresh air off the sea. I can feel the wind on my face. In the words of Christopher Cross...
"Well it's not far down to paradise, at least not for me. If the wind is right, you can sail away and find tranquility. Oh, the canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see, believe me..."
Stay safe and healthy. We miss you all.
Floating in Air
09 May 2020 | Martha's Vineyard
May 9, 2020
Day 45 of Shelter in Place due to Coronavirus
Today is a spectacularly beautiful day. The air is crystal clear. Large, white, puffy clouds sail across a vibrant blue sky. Dogwoods have bloomed and the cherry blossoms are rushing to keep up while the wind billows through their leaves. I fear their petals will be found on the ground tomorrow, shortening what joy we get from the spring flowers. Especially now. I have always loved witnessing spring turn into summer but sitting on my couch day after day, I am particularly attentive and appreciative of the seasonal change. It brings light. It brings a smile. It brings hope. Much needed hope.
The island is coming alive too. There are more cars in the driveways. There are more people taking walks and riding their bikes. I am at once both delighted and fearful. I want so much to be able to hug a friend or go to a restaurant or simply walk along the docks without the worry of bumping into people. On the other hand, I feel it too soon. And so, I must be patient.
Ours is not a difficult task, really. We are just told to stay put. I’m not on the frontlines. Our family and friends are safe and healthy and relief dollars are finally showing up. And yet...sometimes I feel as if I am floating in air, with nowhere to go.
Jay has decided to paint the ceilings and closets which has forced me to do some much needed spring cleaning. I am more focused than ever at getting my book completed. We continue to take walks and I am back into my yoga routine. These are good things. Other things, not so much. Like my gray roots are demanding equal time to my bleached hair. Its strands are longer than I would like and are looking rather shabby. Jay is working on a man bun. I don’t dare take the scissors in my hands. It would not go well. Trust me.
I still have bad days. The other day, my daughter talked me up. She shared her optimism and encouraged me to not worry. “We will be okay.” She said. I felt much better when I got off the phone and pondered how roles have changed a bit. It used to always be me (the mom) talking her (the daughter) through bad times. Now it is she who comforts me. The cycle of life.
I keep waiting for some profound realization in the form of a life lesson. Maybe it is not going to come to me in some grand explosion but rather in small doses like watching the flower buds slowly open. And so, I sit on my couch and look outside as the island inches back to life, contemplating and dreaming of not so much what is to come, but what is right now.
24 April 2020 | Edgartown, Massachussetts
Morning Glory Farm Porch
April 23, 2020
Day 30 of Shelter in Place due to Coronavirus
Nothing much has changed, yet everything is different.
It has been a cold and wet spring here in Martha’s Vineyard. The other day, I slept in until almost noon. Fourteen hours in bed! When I got around to getting up, I made it to the couch. And there I stayed. All day. What a waste of a day. On my behalf, it was raining, no, pouring, which lends itself to being lazy.
The following day, the sun came out. It was still terribly cold but it was beautiful with white puffy clouds soaring through the sky. A nor’easter on its way. I was determined to make use of the day.
At 7am, I jumped out of bed and decided I would drive over to one of our nearby farms, Morning Glory. I had gotten an email the previous night that they had replenished some of the items they put out on the porch. I was able to get a dozen fresh eggs, a bag of Yukon Gold potatoes and some mixed salad greens to plant in our yard. It is on the honor system. I put the dollars in a box through a slot.
I no sooner arrived at home when I announced to Jay I was going for a walk. Usually, we walk toward the bay and/or the beach. Instead, I went into Edgartown proper. I think I was looking to connect with…what? I’m not sure. Being in town did give me a sense of hope but also longing. Longing for the excitement spring brings to the island as shops and restaurants open up in preparation for the throngs of summer visitors. The unknown leaves me uneasy.
While I was walking into town I found I am so used to silence, human voices startled me. I looked behind me. How close were they? Were they wearing masks? Was my scarf tight enough around my nose and mouth? Should I cross the street? I couldn’t really smile at them. I mean, even if I did, they couldn’t see it because of my covering. I waved my hand. Said a muffled hello. I wanted them to know, I’m not really afraid of them (because that is what it feels and seems to look like). These new dynamics between people upsets me, but it’s just the way it is now.
Another interesting note about sound; I was baffled to hear machinery. More to the point, I realized how long it had been since I had heard the everyday noises of construction. Usually, there are living souls up and down the street, not just taking advantage of the bike path, but building and repairing. Gone are the landscapers who beautify the lawns. So, what was this noise I was hearing? It turned out to be a tree trimmer, cutting down a tree that was invading someone’s home. Essential? I don’t know, but happy for them to be working. It seemed harmless enough. I stopped and watched for a long time. Would I have done that if things were normal? Or would I have walked right past, not even noticing?
I must say, “sitting by the dock of bay, watching the tide roll away” really did lift my spirits. So much so, after I went back home, I got Jay and we went back. I wanted to lift his spirits too. I wanted him to see we are really here, on this beautiful island and that is something to be grateful for. Cooped up in the house day after day one can get tunnel vision. After all, when the highlight of our day is when the UPS truck doesn’t pass us by seems rather pathetic.
Today is another sunny day in a week forecasted with cold winds and more rain. We are going on a six-feet apart walk with one of our friends. Who knows what we will find? If nothing else, a little companionship can go a long way. I miss our family. I miss our friends.
The Big Pause
14 April 2020 | Edgartown, Massachussetts
April 12, 2020
Day 19 of Shelter in Place due to the Coronavirus
Today is Easter Sunday. I went to mass via my phone while in bed. I have always found the idea of television evangelicals and those who watch them uncomfortable. This was not that. This service was held at our church, St. Elizabeth’s in Edgartown. This was our priest, Fr. Nagle, preaching to an empty room. It was familiar so it felt strangely comforting and isolating at the same time. I wonder if it felt as surreal to Fr. Nagle as it did to me. Mass is meant to bring the congregation together. As I watched him partake in the Holy Sacrament of Communion, I couldn’t help but wonder if communion will ever be the same for me again.
Jay and I continue to take walks as the weather permits. The other day, we took a walk in the woods. We came across two people walking toward us. They raised their masks across their faces. We wrapped our scarves tighter across our mouths and noses. Instinctively, we drew apart, crossing paths as far away as possible. If this is the “new normal” I hate it. Human beings are meant to connect with one another not repel as if repulsed by the other. Intellectually, I understand this is to keep us safe. On a purely emotional level, I can’t help but be saddened by this.
After two weeks of self-isolation to be confident we didn’t bring the virus home with us through our travels, it was time to go to the market. I called Stop n Shop in Edgartown and asked about the senior hours. I was told not to come during those hours as the store is packed with people. The store clerk suggested I come later. She was right.
I anticipated a line of people outside waiting to go in. There was no line. I wore my mask and gloves and sanitized the cart. As I walked inside, I saw lines on the floor; tape used to direct customers to travel through the store in a one-way direction. The store was not overly crowded. There was room to stay six feet apart. Most everyone followed directions but for this one man who hurried up the isle the wrong way and bullied his way to the cans of tuna fish. He had no concern for anyone but himself. I almost said something but didn’t. He wasn’t worth my while.
There was food but there were empty shelves too. I was able to get almost everything on my list. I packed the cart full so I wouldn’t have to go back for at least two weeks if not more.
We hear rumors about the cruisers in Mexico who decided to stay and wait out this crisis on their boats. Many headed to the Sea of Cortez where there are beautiful coves to anchor. Some are finding they aren’t welcome. I suppose it is fear driving the Mexicans. They don’t want strangers bringing the virus to their small villages where there is little, if any, medical care. One can’t blame them. We hear of ports being closed. If allowed in, the cruisers are checked for fever and told to quarantine for two weeks. Others are told to leave. There are check points on the roads and the Navy patrolling the beaches. I think Jay has finally agreed that coming home was the right thing to do.
Some days I don’t want to get out of bed.
Other days, I can’t stay busy enough.
I cook. I clean the dishes. I put the dishes away. I cook. I clean the dishes. I put the dishes away. I cook…
I watch the news. Maybe I should. Maybe I shouldn’t. I don’t know. But I watch the news.
I continue to write but find it difficult to focus.
It is like I am suspended in time.
Governor Cuomo of New York calls it the NY Pause. Every day between eleven and noon, he holds a press conference. He delivers facts. He explains the situation he is facing in New York which is a mirror of what all communities are facing or will be facing. He has a team of professionals that are working all angles to contain the virus, support the medical workers, and find a way back from this nightmare. I have to say it again, he addresses these problems with facts. And compassion. Governor Cuomo is the epitome of a true leader. He gives me hope for our country. In fact, if it not for (most) of our governors, I don’t know where we would be in this mess.
Our prayers continue to go out to all those who are suffering and for all those who are helping us through this nightmare. May we all have the strength to do our part. Even if it is simply by staying home.