Thursday, December 27, 2007

Believing in Santa

(I know I'm a little late, but I'm still in the Christmas spirit...)

I grew up believing in Santa.

One Christmas Eve when I was very young, my brother and I heard him knock over an ashtray in the living room. We didn’t get out of bed though – we were too afraid. We knew he only came once we were asleep, and we didn’t want him to catch us awake.

So we just laid there frozen in our bunk beds until we finally dozed off again. But for years, that was proof that he was real.


Throughout elementary school, I had the hardest time falling asleep on Christmas Eve. I would just lie there, wide awake in my brand new footy pajamas (every year we received new pj’s so we’d look presentable in the Christmas morning photos). Every once in a while I would turn over and look out the window above my headboard.

No reindeer on the roof.

No sight of them in the sky.

I would lie there waiting for him for as long as I could, but I’d eventually doze off sometime after midnight.

In the morning when I ran downstairs to check under the tree…

“He came! He came!”

And I would wake everyone in the house.

One year it was my brother who woke me. It was about 3:30 in the morning and sure enough, the presents were overflowing from beneath our twinkling tree. Duane woke me up first, and then the two of us ran to wake Mommy and Daddy.

“He came!”

“He did?”

“Yeah! Can we open presents? Please??”

“You can each open one, and then we’re going back to bed until the morning.”

My mother chose two from the pile that looked identical. One had my brother’s name on it, and one had mine.

Inside we each found tape recorders and three-packs of blank cassettes.

My parents went back to bed, and Duane and I set out to master the buttons and record our voices onto the tapes.

“Well… it’s Christmas morning,” Duane announced in a voice that was scratchy from a winter cold. “Mom and Dad went back to bed, and me and Tam are playing with our new tape recorders that Santa brought us.”

“I wanna talk!” I whined from the background.


My brother slid the recorder over to me, and I sang a song I learned from Bugs Bunny:

“I wiss I was in Dixie... Hooway! Hooway! I wiss I was in Dixie… Hooway!”

Lots of giggles followed, and then the loud click of my brother stopping the tape.

We stayed awake playing with our tape recorders until the sun came up. And when my parents finally got out of bed and made some coffee, we were allowed to see what else Santa brought…


When I was a little older, we used to call a phone number advertised on TV to hear a story read by Santa. I’ll never forget the year we called at around 9 o’clock on Christmas Eve. Santa didn’t answer – it was Mrs. Claus:

“Oh my goodness,” she said. “What are you still doing awake? Santa is on his way to New York right now!”

I think our eyes shot out of our heads and ricocheted around the room like superballs. “Santa’s on his way here right now! We gotta go to bed!”


Duane was in 5th grade when his friend John caught his parents putting the presents under their tree. And he told Duane, and Duane told me.

“There’s no such thing as Santa, y’know.”

“There’s not?”


“Well I’m not telling Mom and Dad that I know.”

“Why not?”

“Cuz then I’ll only get half as many presents.”

You see, about half of ours were labeled “From: Mom and Dad” and the rest were labeled “From: Santa.” I figured if I let on that I knew, there went half my stuff.

I was no dummy.

Christmas isn’t quite the same once you don’t believe. It’s fun to get all the presents, of course, but it’s more fun when you believe that something magical happens while you’re sleeping.

I was fourteen when my little brother was born and the magic was rekindled in our house.

When he was eight years old, Mandy was born, and so the magic continued on.

It wasn’t easy with her though… she was an extremely inquisitive child. I had to have very creative and consistent answers to her questions, consistent handling of such things as wrapping paper and handwriting, and even some serious acting skills.

“Mom….. this present says Santa, but it’s wrapped in YOUR wrapping paper.”

My face looked shocked, then even more shocked, then a vision of pure amazement…

“He… touched… our… stuff??? Oh my gosh! I wonder what else he touched!!” I started looking around the room.

“You think he used our tape and scissors too?” I asked. “I wonder if we can fingerprint this stuff?!”

She gasped. “You think he could have done it without his gloves on?”

“I don’t know! This is so cool! Are there any others he wrapped with our paper???”

And so another hole in the amusing charade was filled in, and the magic lived on. Mall Santas, flying reindeer, how the dogs sleep through it all… I creatively explained every piece of the puzzle, or at least presented a sound hypothesis. And when I just didn’t know how to answer, I’d say, “You know, I’ve always wondered about that too. What do you think?”

In the fifth grade she figured it out after seeing a movie on TV. And with that, all the magic collapsed liked dominoes, one after the other – the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny – everything gone in one fell swoop.

She was even a little annoyed that I had lied to her.

Of course, the holiday isn’t really about presents or Santa, and my daughter knows that.

But every year Mandy says to me, “You always made Christmas so great, Mom. I miss when I used to believe.”

And I tell her someday, when she has a child of her own, she can revive the magic all over again.


"Christmas--that magic blanket that wraps itself about us, that something so intangible that it is like a fragrance. It may weave a spell of nostalgia. Christmas may be a day of feasting, or of prayer, but always it will be a day of remembrance--a day in which we think of everything we have ever loved." -Augusta E. Rundel

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Landscape in Black and White

So here I am in another frenzied phase at work, and I haven’t had much time to post or visit my friends’ blogs. But when I saw the most recent challenge over at The Round Robin Photo Challenges, Black and White Landscape, I thought, “Well I can do that!”

I’ve made it a point to get out with my camera on the weekends these past few months. The fresh air does me good. I am a solo adventurer, of course, because my daughter is often off with friends and my husband works weekends.

At first it feels a little lonely as I get out of my car, gear up, and head up a trail. But in no time I am immersed in the sights and smells around me, and photographic opportunities abound. Soon I begin thinking, “It’s a good thing I’m alone because I could drive someone crazy, stopping so much to take pictures.”

Plus, I end up taking especially lengthy hikes when I’m unaccompanied. Freedom to do what I want...

Of course, my family worries about me while I’m off gallivanting. My daughter will call and check on me. My husband will call ten times as much. But why? I could run into a psycho on the street or in the mall much easier than I could out on the trail.

A recent phone call sounded something like this:

“Where are you?”

“Sam’s Point.”

“Where’s that?”


“Where’s that??”

“Remember when we took that really long motorcycle ride?"


"We passed it.”

“Who are you with?”

“No one.”

“So someone could just jump out of the bushes and grab you.”

“Well that would be impossible, since I haven’t seen another human being in about 2 hours!”

(Ooops! Wrong thing to say…)

But hey, long hikes alone make for great shots. Here are a few I’ve taken recently. I think translating them into black and white gives a completely different feel…

These are from Sam's Point Preserve:

The area is home to one of the best examples of ridgetop dwarf pine barrens in the world:

From the 1920's until the 1960's, the area was home to a home to a thriving summertime industry of huckleberry pickers. Some of their shacks still remain...

Another recent excursion was to Olana, a Persian influenced home built between 1870 and 1891 by Frederic Church, a major figure in the Hudson River School of landscape painting:

Not a lengthy hike, but a lovely drive. This is a pond on the grounds...

I will be back soon with a Christmas-inspired post, and I will try to make my rounds and visit you all...

Friday, December 7, 2007

Thank You, Uncle Happy

At dawn on December 7, 1941, naval aviation forces of the Empire of Japan launched a military strike on the United States Pacific Fleet center at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the U.S. full-force into World War II.

Pearl Harbor Day always makes me think of my grandfather, even though he wasn’t there.

Seventeen years earlier, two young boys were playing in a small yard behind a small house in a small town in the suburbs of New York City. Anthony, who everyone called Happy, was 9 years old at the time, and he was keeping an eye on his three-year-old brother Joe (my grandfather).

As many 9 year olds do, Happy fancied himself a very grown-up boy. A responsible boy - almost a man. And as such, he decided to demonstrate his manly prowess by chopping some wood like his father or his big brother Tom would do.

There was an ax in the cellar.

Joe looked up to his big brother and followed him closely, tethered with the invisible twine of wonderous admiration. He followed him to the cellar, where the ax leaned against the cool damp stones of the basement wall. With the mighty instrument in hand, Happy headed out to the wood pile with little Joe in tow.

“Here Joe, hold this wood up for me.”

Happy lifted the ax up above his head and quickly realized that it was much too heavy for him to handle. But as he was already committed to the swing, he brought the menacing blade down and landed it on the wood with a deep thud. Almost right where he wanted it.


He had chopped off half of little Joe’s small, dirty, three-year old ring finger on his right hand. Blood was spurting in every direction.

Joe ran into the house crying and shaking the source of his pain. The blood splattered this way and that as the little hand shook and little Joe cried.

Their mother was screaming as she tried to figure out where on his blood-covered body Joe was hurt. When she finally found the wound, she quickly wrapped his hand in rags and took him on the Charlie cars to Dr. Brooks in town. The doctor sewed up what was left of the finger, just below where there should have been a knuckle, and it healed just fine.


But it was still a bit sensitive as Joe sat in the back of a Chevrolet Coupe, heading to New York City with a group of buddies to sign up for the Navy. He was 19 years old.

They found the enlistment office easily enough, and they got their physicals and completed their written tests.

But just as Joe took the pen in his right hand to sign his name on the dotted line, officially enlisting in the United States Navy, the registrar said, “Whoa! Wait a minute – don’t sign. You’d better go back home and get your other half a finger first.”

Joe and his buddies had planned to sign up together and stick together. But since the Navy turned Joe down, none of the other guys joined either. They all piled back into the Coupe and drove home.

Looking back, my grandfather thought maybe that man had saved his life. It was 1939, and he probably would have been sent to Pearl Harbor for four years of training.


Joe lived with a friend in Connecticut for the next two years. He worked at a foundry with steam presses and molds, making rubber gears for airplanes.

In 1941 he had his appendix taken out. He was on sick leave from work for 6 months after his operation, so he came back to New York during that time. And that’s when he met my grandmother.

But the news of Pearl Harbor inspired the nation to action. “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory” President Roosevelt told the citizens of the United States. So early in 1942, Joe was on his way to military training in Camp Wheeler, Georgia. I guess the Army wasn’t as concerned about that stubby ring finger, especially now that the country was at war.

After training he got his shots, he got his teeth and eyes checked, and was sent up to New York Harbor. On February 8, 1943, my grandfather boarded a ship to go to war. He served in the Signal Corps in North Africa and Italy until the war finally ended in 1945.


President Roosevelt called December 7, 1941 "… a date which will live in infamy." 2,333 lost their lives, another 1,139 were wounded, and Americans’ commitment to isolationism was cast aside as they entered the war with fierce determination.
I have nothing but gratitude and respect for all of those who have served our country, and for those who continue to serve today.

But on the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, I always end up thinking about my grandfather, and the stories he told me of his service in the European Theater Operation.

I also think about chance and fate.

Our paths through life are directed and redirected by both decisions and accidents, and maybe even forces unseen. So many maybes, so many “what ifs”…

What if my grandfather had enlisted in the Navy and gone off to Hawaii for training? Maybe he would have been one of the casualties of that fateful day. Or maybe he wouldn’t have.

But maybe if he’d join the Navy in 1939 he wouldn’t have met my grandmother and started the chain reaction that resulted in me.

Or maybe if he didn’t get appendicitis he wouldn’t have come back to New York and met my grandmother and started the chain reaction that resulted in me.

Maybe I’m here today because 83 years ago my great-uncle Happy chopped off my grandfather’s finger with an ax.
Or maybe I would have happened anyway....

“There is no such thing as chance; and what seems to us merest accident springs from the deepest source of destiny.” Friedrich von Schiller

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Random Musical Memories

I grew up on music.

My parents had a huge collection of albums and 45’s – everything rock-n-roll from the 60’s and 70’s: The Beatles, The Doors, The Kinks, The Mamas and the Papas, The Guess Who, The Four Tops, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Bad Company. You name it, they had it. Even some disco, like KC and the Sunshine Band and Earth Wind and Fire. And a little bit of country too.

We spent a lot of time listening to music, enjoying the latest tunes on the radio or putting an album or a stack of 45’s on the turntable. We had a collection of 8-tracks too.

Funny… choosing which 45’s to play and in which order was kind of like making a mixed tape (which would become a favorite pastime a few years later). The 45’s needed to be set up on the plastic spindle adapter above the turntable (because 45’s had an opening in the middle the size of a half-dollar, whereas albums only had an opening the width of a pencil), and as each single-song record finished playing, the turntable arm would lift and move out to the side, the next record would drop down and then the arm would move back and lower the needle right onto the beginning of this new record. Pure genius.

These 45’s were my favorites as a young kid in the 70’s:
No Sugar – The Guess Who
Bad Leroy Brown – Jim Croce
December, 1963 (Oh What a Night) – The Four Seasons
Stay – Frankie Valli
Let Your Love Flow – The Bellamy Brothers
Dream Weaver – Gary Wright
Happy Together – The Turtles
I Can See Clearly Now – Johnny Nash

If you look closely at the photo of me with my cousins, you will notice that we are not gathered around that big console television to watch TV, but to listen to the 45's on the turntable on top.


I remember dancing in the living room. I made up whole dance routines to Play That Funky Music (Wild Cherry) and Get Down Tonight (KC and the Sunshine Band).

Funny how the lyrics go right over your head when you’re young.

And I remember my father teaching me how to do “The Bump,” which was basically just swaying side to side and bumping hips with a partner to the beat. Of course his hip was up too high for mine, so sometimes his bump would hit me in the shoulder and send me to the floor, but that made us both laugh.

My big brother and I had an old record player on the floor in our little bedroom. It was in a big hard case like a suitcase. We used to load an album onto the turntable and close the lid and take turns dancing on top of it, performing for each other on our tiny little stage. And if we jumped around too much the record inside would skip.

Skipping was the worst. When our records got too scratchy we used to tape pennies to the top of the arm, right above the needle, to weigh it down and hopefully keep it from skipping. But sometimes I miss all the clicks and pops of those old records. There was some character in those old scratchy recordings.


Some of my favorite times as a kid were when my father would strum songs on the guitar and sing to us, and if we knew the songs we would sing along. I had a favorite request – a song called “So Tired” by the Kinks. I liked the song and I liked the way my father sang it. But it wasn’t one of his favorite songs to play, because he had to slide his fingers across the strings and they’d get sore after a while. I always requested that one though, and he always played it for me. And My Maria too. And Take Me Home, Country Roads - I used to follow along in the songbook, singing the words to that one as Dad played.

Sometimes he would record us all singing. Once we were trying to record In The Still Of The Night – my dad singing and playing the guitar, and me singing the backup “Shoo-doop shoo be doo”. I was only about 6 years old, so my mother whispered the shoo-doop shoo be doo in my ear so I wouldn’t miss the words or the timing. But all those SH sounds really tickle when someone is whispering them in your ears, so I kept giggling. I don’t think we ever got through the song.


When I was in 6th grade I got my first boombox for Christmas, which meant I could have music in my room. I’d had music in my room before – big console stereos that we found in the garbage and got working for a while, but the speakers on those didn’t sound so great.

The new Sanyo boombox, on the other hand, sounded awesome. And with a three-pack of blank tapes from Caldor I was taping the latest greatest songs from the radio, diligently waiting for the DJ to stop talking so I could hit Record, and then pressing Stop before the talk resumed. I would wait for hours for a specific song to be played. Maybe it was Billy Squier. Maybe it was Madonna. Maybe it was the Go Go’s, or Journey. Maybe it was Huey Lewis and the News.

But I would wait up until midnight if I had to – you know how hard it is to have a song in your head and not be able to hear it. With the instant gratification of internet, kids don’t have that problem anymore (and actually, neither do I). But back then it took a lot of time and patience to make the ultimate mixed tape. There was always taping songs from your record collection, of course, but there’s nothing like having a new favorite song.


My brother and I used to get a weekly allowance, usually $5 each. It’s funny to me, looking back – it seemed we didn’t have enough money to heat the house or even to go food shopping sometimes, but somehow my parents managed to give us money every week. Well, not every week. We didn’t get the allowance if our rooms weren’t clean. Hmm… now that I think about it, they probably didn’t have to give us much money after all.

But if I didn’t spend my allowance during bowling night, I would save it up for new records from Caldor. Caldor had new billboard charts every week, one for each genre of music. The top 20 were kept in a wooden shelving unit near the register with slots numbered 1 through 20. A song’s ranking on the billboard chart corresponded to the numbered slots. I spent a lot of money there.


I remember walking into my mother’s bedroom once when I was younger and fully into good ol’ rock-n-roll, and she was listening to some kind of disco song. “What the heck are you listening to, Mom? Rock Lives, Disco Dies.”

“Well I like all kinds of music. Disco is good to dance to.”

I wonder if she ever regretted keeping me open-minded on the music front? My father may have. My bedroom was right above the living room, and as I got into the dance music of the 80’s my father became convinced that I spent 5 years listening to the same song, over and over, morning noon and night. The incessant sound of it thumping above his head was like water torture as he tried to watch Three’s Company, Sanford and Son, The Dukes of Hazzard or The Love Boat. Occasionally, he would get the broom from the kitchen and knock on the ceiling with the handle. That was the signal for many things - pick up the phone, come down for dinner - but usually it meant “turn down the music”.

I’ve remained very musically open-minded and have even expanded well beyond the genres introduced to me by my parents. Mandy’s taste in music probably covers just as wide of a spectrum, as she can wake up to techno, chill mid-afternoon in her room to some alternative rock and fall asleep at night to new age or classical. We regularly introduce each other to new songs.

Music does something for me. Not that I don’t enjoy silent times alone with my thoughts – I certainly do – but music is passion and emotion and life. Sometimes it mirrors the way I’m feeling; sometimes it heightens my mood and pulls me out of some sadness or stress. It’s soothing at night before bed, it’s invigorating while I’m cooking or cleaning, and it’s company while I’m driving in the car or walking around the lake.

And so many songs spark memories for me. I think that’s what my next few posts will be about…

Joy, sorrow, tears, lamentation, laughter - to all these music gives voice, but in such a way that we are transported from the world of unrest to a world of peace, and see reality in a new way, as if we were sitting by a mountain lake and contemplating hills and woods and clouds in the tranquil and fathomless water. (Albert Schweitzer)

Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Return Of LeedleDee?

I’ve never really had a nickname, or at least not one generally known by anyone outside my immediate family.

My father is one of the few that uses my middle name, calling me “Tamma-Jean!” or sometimes just Tamma.

My little brother (who was born when I was 14) and I call each other by only our middle names, he calling me Jean and me calling him Joseph. No real reason.

I also used to call him Big Bri Stud, because as a pre-schooler he was constantly eyeing up the pretty girls (of any age, usually blondes) and hitting on them. My high school boyfriend had taught him to say “Hey Babe, what’s happenin’?” at the tender age of 3, so he was always a hit with the ladies. But over the years Big Bri Stud has gotten shortened to Big B. Or sometimes I just call him B.

My big brother was 1-1/2 when I was born, and he loved me. To my mother's dismay, he would sneak into my crib and try to hold me and sing me songs. At least he wasn't smacking me. That came later during The Teasing Years.

And as a toddler he called me “LeedleDee”, because he thought that sounded like a song. That was my first nickname: LeedleDee.

He called me LeedleDee often as we were growing up. He said it with a sneer during The Teasing Years. Those years ushered in new nicknames as well, such as Slammy and Meathead. I liked LeedleDee better. If memory serves, I simply called him Duane the Pain, or sometimes just Jerk or Idiot (said through tears, of course).

When my brother entered high school, he got a nickname of his own. My parents had named him after Duane Eddy, the guitarist my father loved so much. But he had never liked his name, because the show What’s Happening had come out in the 70’s with a main character named Dwayne, and that was perfect ammo for elementary school kids.

I’m not quite sure what my brother did in high school to earn the name “Doctor Love,” but I am quite sure there is more to the story than a simple fondness of the song by Kiss. To this very day, he is known as Doc. Most people don’t even know his real name and they get confused at his job when I call and ask for this “Duane” person.

In the days of my grandparents and even my parents, everyone had a nickname:
Lukey Lou (our crazy neighbor)
The Ground Mole (my uncle)
Beetle Bailey (another uncle)
Dob (my grandmother, and I have no idea why)
The Pheasant (my great-grandmother)
Tank (another guy from the neighborhood)
Mimi (my aunt)
Porky (my father’s friend)
Twinkie (Porky’s son)

One of my grandfathers was called Tiny, because he was so thin. My brother has a friend called Tiny as well, because he’s the size of a Mac Truck.

I’ve got a cousin named Buddha and a friend named Sully.

My father has two drinking mugs that he got when he was in the Navy. Both display the emblem of his submarine. But I remember asking him once when I was little, “Why does one say ‘Peachy’ on the back and the other one say ‘Tiger’?” He pointed to my mother: “Peachy!” And then he pointed to himself: “Tiger!” “No way!” They both nodded their heads. “Ooooooh…”

But for the benefit of us kids, my father gave himself a new nickname. “You know what you kids should call me?” he proclaimed one day. “Super-Fonzie-Austin.”


“Super for Superman. Fonzie, because I’m cool like the Fonz. And Austin for Steve Austin, the Six Million Dollar Man. Super-Fonzie-Austin - that’s my new name.”

So we would giggle as we called my father Super-Fonzie-Austin. Soon after, he decided to add Genius to the end of his name. And so besides being known as “The King” (another self-nomer) throughout his castle, he also became known as Super-Fonzie-Austin-Genius.

“What should mommy’s name be?” we asked.

“The Old Bag” he joked.

That one always made us attack him, and a full-blown wrestling match would ensue. I was the more aggressive one though. “Go get him, Tam!” my big brother would say, pushing me toward the infidel who had insulted our dear mother, yet maintaining a safe distance from the melee.
I would run across the living room toward him at full speed, fists flying, and try to land as many punches as I could before he finally wrestled me to the floor, turned me around, and locked my head between his knees so he could continue watching TV. He never even had to get up out of the recliner. I’d still be karate-chopping at his legs, but I’d eventually admit defeat.

That “Old Bag” thing got him in trouble once, though. My little brother had just started pre-school, and he wasn’t feeling well. They needed to call my mother.

“What’s your mommy’s name?” they asked him.


“What does your daddy call your mommy?”

“The Old Bag.”

They got quite a chuckle out of that one over at the pre-school. My mother didn’t know whether to be mortified or hysterical with laughter.

But I’ve always thought it would be fun to have a nickname, a real nickname that everyone knew. Friends have called me different things over the years like Tamma-Lama or Tammie-Tam or Tabitha. Boyfriends have had pet names for me of course, and my husband does as well. My daughter and I have a million different silly names for each other.

But I’ve never had a real nickname. Perhaps I’ll take a cue from my father and name myself. I just have to come up with something good…

Friday, October 19, 2007

Wild Horses

It was the middle of the night, probably 2 in the morning, and Mandy was on her way to the bath house to use the restroom.

Our campsite seemed to be equidistant from the two closest bath houses, so one day I counted my steps to each one: 96 steps to the one on the left of us, 96 steps to the one on the right. But for some reason Mandy preferred the one on the left.

As I mentioned a few posts ago, the light from the full moon reflected so brilliantly off the white sand on Assateague Island that we never needed to carry flashlights. One could easily distinguish the narrow roadway, the other campsites, the bushes and the dunes no matter what time of night.

So Mandy was walking alone in the dark without a flashlight, heading for the glowing building 96 steps to the left of our campsite. The salty breeze made her blond hair billow as she walked.

She could hear the waves crashing on the other side of the dunes and the occasional sanderling flying overhead. We had never realized that these little sea birds hunt both day and night, racing toward the retreating waves to feast on tiny crustaceans and sea life left behind on the sand.

But otherwise, the night was still and very peaceful. All the campers were sleeping soundly, their bodies weary from another day in the sand, surf and sun, their campfires finally reduced to glowing red embers.

Mandy became aware of a gang heading toward her from up ahead on the roadway. They weren’t speaking, but the moonlight informed her that there were quite a few of them. Teenagers, she supposed.

She continued on in the direction of the bath house, the light from it silhouetting the silent parade as it approached and creating long shadows which now touched her feet.

Within moments she was completely surrounded. They looked her over. They nudged her, obviously curious to know who she was and why she was walking alone down the road that apparently belonged to them.

As Mandy’s eyes focused, she came to the delightful realization that she was completely encircled by a group of wild horses.

After a few more nudges and a snort or two, they were off. Their meeting was brief, but it was the sort of magical encounter that makes you smile and wonder if you’re dreaming.


One of my favorite memories from our first trip to Assateague five years ago was the time I woke up early to use the restroom and decided to steal a quick peak over the dunes. I’d wanted to see the beach completely uninhabited, but what I’d found was even better.

The weather had been quite hot and humid that week. And so before the campers had arisen from their tents to brew some instant coffee and shake the sand from the beach towels drying on their picnic table benches, the horses had decided to overtake the beach.

There was a herd of white horses with dark brown patches walking through the surf.

There was another mixed herd farther up the beach doing the same.

There were groups of two or three horses standing here and there, squinting in the hazy sunrise.

There was a mother standing guard as her foal rested on the sand.

And standing there with her eyes wide and her mouth agape was a fool who had gone up to the top of the dune in the early morning without her camera.

It’s hard to run in the sand. It’s even harder to run in the sand at 6am when you haven’t even sipped that cup of instant coffee yet. But there I was, running urgently yet sloppily with sandaled feet and no caffeine, back to my tent to retrieve my faithful companion of those days, my 35mm camera. I tried to rouse little Mandy, but she wouldn’t budge.

By the time I'd returned to the beach, some of the herds had moved much farther down the shoreline or back to the dunes. But I was able to capture the mother and her foal, as well as a few other groups of horses that had remained for a while longer.

This was the sort of scenario I had been hoping to duplicate on my next trip to Assateague. I was ever-vigilant, checking the view over the dunes at all times of day, and my camera was always on my shoulder.


But it never happened that way on our recent trip. For some reason, the wild horses were scarce during the day.

I was able to track a few to the mosquito-infested marsh on the other side of the island and get some photos, but I didn’t see the herds like last time, and I didn’t see them on the beach.

They seemed to mainly come out at night like bands of hooligans dominating the campground. Campers carefully secured their food and hid their coolers, but the ruffians knew where to look.

In fact, a cooler with a tough latch is no match for a wild horse with his sights set on a midnight snack. We discovered this our very first night.

We awoke to the sound of whinnying, of pans crashing on our picnic table, and of incessant banging on the cooler. Even in my dazed state I knew they were focused on the cooler, the one with the latch that was on the ground next to my father’s truck. “They’re not getting into that thing,” I thought.

I thought wrong. They’d eaten all the tomatoes and all the carrots by the time my father’s girlfriend Jackie got up to investigate. Other, less desirable food was strewn around on the ground with holes ripped in the packaging by probing teeth. Henceforth, the coolers and all snacks were kept in the truck. We were much more prepared for their subsequent nighttime visits.

They were entertaining to watch though, exhibiting playful, almost frisky behavior at night. They chased each other up and down to dunes and whinnied and stole food. It looked like fun.


Our time at the campground was over too soon, and we packed up and headed for Ocean City for some boardwalk time and one night in a hotel.

Of course, there was still the problem of my car's battery light. The alternator was history, and it was just a matter of time before my battery was too. Luckily, it lasted all the way to our hotel on 26th Street and died there in the parking lot.

There was an auto parts store in town and my father is handy, so it didn’t take long to get my little car working again (once we had the right tools, that is). So after some food, some shopping for school clothes, and a good night’s sleep, we were on our way… home sweet home, here we come…

But it wasn’t going to be that easy.

Being someone who drives an older-model car and accustomed to checking the gauges, I noticed that the car was running hot about an hour into the 5 ½ hour trip. Hmm, that was strange, especially since I had my oil changed and all fluids checked before setting off on this journey.

I pulled over and bought some coolant, refilled the reservoir, and set off again.

Half an hour later the gauge was almost up in the red. As it turned out, there was a leak. I found some empty jugs around the next gas station and filled them up with water – no sense wasting money on coolant that will end up on the roadway like a trail of breadcrumbs to my house. If only I could make it all the way home…

Well, I couldn’t. I made it most of the way, within an hour’s drive. Triple A got me the rest of the way there, but the whole ordeal took about 12 hours total. A flatbed towtruck lowered my car into the driveway at about 5am.

I had the old car repaired, and it will wait in the garage for Mandy’s 16th birthday. It will be fine for around town.

And as for me, I’ve got something new – brand new, with that new car smell and everything. I haven’t had a new car in 10 years, so I'm pretty excited!

I may even have to plan another road trip...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

More from the Farm

As promised, here are some more of the photos I took at my brother's farm a few weeks ago...

This one is probably my favorite - looking out from one of the barns onto the fields...

Here's a few from inside the big barn featured in the last post:

The room originally used for hay is empty...

The other rooms have stuff in them, because my brother is a pack-rat with too many projects on his list, most of the projects being cars...

This is inside the silo, looking up...

And this is on top of the barn...

Like any farm, there are stray cats that my brother and his girlfriend are now feeding and taking care of. This one has chosen my brother as the center of her world...

This one has chosen his girlfriend to follow around and meow at...

Surprisingly, Pete hasn't eaten either one of them yet.

Pete absolutely loves the farm, loves running through the fields and following the tractor all day.

My mother spent most of the day riding around the property on the tractor's one fender.

A cushion has been affixed for comfort...

I got up there for a ride too...

The bench featured in the last post is a very good resting spot...

It overlooks a tiny pond...

Group shots are always fun...

I may try to go back to the farm this weekend.

It's my new favorite place :)

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Photos from the back yard

As many of you know, I've been going through a tough time lately. One thing that I find very therapeutic is taking photos.

The theme this week over at Round Robin Photo Challenges was suggested by me: Back Yard Photography. When I'm feeling uninspired and don't know what to do with myself, I always know that I can take my camera out into the yard and find something to photograph.

Usually it's the critters that catch my eye...

But this past weekend, I needed to get away from the house, get out of town,
get some fresh air and clear my head. So I didn't take any photos in my backyard.

Instead, I took them in my brother's back yard.

He bought a farm in central NY a few years ago, and shame on me for not getting up there for a visit before now. He used to rent it out, but this summer he's been using it as a weekend getaway. And hey, I needed to get away... Of course, I brought the camera and had a good ol' time...

Besides, he has cooler things in his yard...

Of course, I still had my eye on the little things, like this snail in the pond...

Overall, it was an awesome day and just what I needed. I can't wait to go back.

Next post I'll share some more from my farm photo safari...