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...