an anniversary trip to west virginia: the skyline drive of shenandoah national park

Friday, November 4:  We’re on our way this morning to Fayetteville, West Virginia to get away for a three-day weekend before the U.S. election on Tuesday.  It’s a trip to celebrate my birthday (Oct. 25), belatedly, and our 28th anniversary (Nov. 13), early. We decide on our way down south, we’ll drive a portion of Skyline Drive from Front Royal to Thornton Gap.

The view from Skyline Drive
The view from Skyline Drive

Skyline Drive is the scenic roadway that winds 105 miles through Shenandoah National Park, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia just west of Washington, D.C.  There are only four entrances to the park; we take the northernmost one, getting off at the next one south.  We have a long way to go to get to our destination in West Virginia, but we want to see some of the fall colors.  Thus we take the slower route for about 28 miles.

Skyline Drive views
Skyline Drive views

We’re so glad we do because it’s a gorgeous day and we’re rewarded with some marvelous vistas.

the valley from Skyline Drive
the valley from Skyline Drive
dappled valley
dappled valley

Forty percent of the park (almost 80,000 acres) is designated as a wilderness area; it represents one of the largest wilderness areas in the eastern United States and has about 500 miles of hiking trails, according to Shenandoah National Park – Skyline Drive: What to See.

autumn colors
autumn colors

It’s surprising to see so much color on the trees in early November; usually the trees are further past their prime at this time of year.

broad sweeping colors
broad sweeping colors
the valley
the valley
me along Skyline Drive
me along Skyline Drive
orange galore!
orange galore!
a tree amidst flames
a tree amidst flames
stark tree
stark tree
profile
profile
etchings
etchings
hillsides in flames
hillsides in flames
white bark trees
white bark trees
overlooking the valley
overlooking the valley

We enjoy our drive immensely, stopping at the numerous pull-outs for sweeping views.

a dramatic scene
a dramatic scene
rich orange hills
rich orange hills
a beacon of orange
a beacon of orange
valley views
valley views
views along Skyline Drive
views along Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive
Skyline Drive
a stand of trees
a stand of trees

Finally, we exit the beautiful park and head south on Interstate 81, in route to cross the state line into West Virginia.

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a birthday walk at meadowlark botanical garden

Tuesday, October 25:  Today, on my birthday, I take a stroll around Meadowlark Gardens.  Mike and I are going out for sushi, Sapporo and sake tonight, but during the day, I’m on my own.  It’s a gorgeous day, as it is more often than not on my birthday, so I can’t resist wandering outside through a golden-hued landscape.

golds of fall
golds of fall

Today happens to be the actual day of my birth: Tuesday.  It reminds of the Mother Goose rhyme my mother used to read us:

Monday’s child is fair of face,
Tuesday’s child is full of grace;
Wednesday’s child is full of woe,
Thursday’s child has far to go;
Friday’s child is loving and giving,
Saturday’s child works hard for its living;
But the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

pods
pods

It’s funny about birthdays.  Some people, as they get older, say they don’t like to celebrate them; they feel a little bitter that they’re getting another year older.  I don’t feel that way at all.  I love my birthday and usually try to drag out a celebration of it for a week or more. If I’ve made it to another birthday, it means I’ve been lucky enough to have another year of life. 🙂

witches and cats
witches and cats

It helps that my birthday is in the best month of the year.  I love October!  I might not feel so cheery about it if it were one of my least favorite months, say February or July or August.

sweeps of flowers
sweeps of flowers
Monarch crossing
Monarch crossing
wispiness
wispiness
pinks and yellows
pinks and yellows
geese at rest
geese at rest
the pavilion on the pond
the pavilion on the pond
the pavilion
the pavilion
turtle
turtle
koi and turtle
koi and turtle

I love these three trees, and their skeletal limbs, reaching for the sky.

skeletal trees
skeletal trees
lotus pond
lotus pond
faded glory
faded glory
grasses and pods
grasses and pods
on golden pond
on golden pond
fountain joy
fountain joy
reds
reds
last blooms
last blooms
sculpture
sculpture
sculpture in the grass
sculpture in the grass

I love nothing better than taking walks outdoors in autumn.

It’s nice and cool today; the air is crisp and sharp and the sky is as bright as polished silk.

greens
greens
pinks
pinks
bushes
bushes
purples
purples
have a seat
have a seat

In the evening, Mike and I go to Yoko Japanese Restaurant and Sushi Bar in Oakton for my birthday dinner.  My sister Stephanie introduced me to the enjoyable ritual of drinking a sip of hot sake following by a gulp of cold Sapporo, and Mike and I do just that to celebrate.  It’s a quiet birthday, but pleasant just the same.

Another year older, and hopefully wiser, or at least more experienced!  🙂

the october cocktail hour: festivals, reunions, and farm tours, along with the more mundane things in life :-)

Saturday, October 15: Welcome to our October happy hour! Come right in, get comfortable and I’ll mix you up a drink. It’s the perfect day to sit out on our screened-in porch.  Would you care for a Moscow Mule (vodka, lime juice and ginger beer), an Appletini, a dirty martini, or a Cosmos?  I’m happy to say I’m expanding my bartending capabilities.  Of course there will always be the old standbys of wine and beer.

I can also offer soda or seltzer water with lime if you prefer a non-alcoholic beverage.

Please, do share what’s been going on with you.  I’d love to hear about the end of your summer and your early fall.  Have you been on vacation or explored new areas close to home?  Have you indulged in any daydreams? Have you changed jobs or gone into retirement?  Have you seen any good movies or read any page-turners? Have you tried out any new restaurants or cooked anything wonderful at home?  How’s your garden?  Have you had any special family gatherings?

Admittedly, I’ve been imbibing on whatever alcoholic drink I can find to drown out the sorrows and frustrations of this election season.  I’ve been spending way too much time reading everything that comes along in the news and on Facebook about the election, including keeping tabs on the various polls.  I have been trying to post only intelligent political articles on my Facebook page, without sinking to the level of the trolls and haters.  All my Facebook friends are perfectly clear on who my candidate of choice is and ISN’T.  As I don’t care to infect my blog with U.S. politics, I will not discuss my preferences here, other than to say I’ve been evaluating my friendships in light of all that I’m seeing and hearing.  In addition, though I’ve never been much of a political person, for the first time in my life I’ve actually donated money and volunteered to work the phone bank during a political campaign.  Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely despise making cold calls of any kind, so this is a big step for me, and one of which I’m quite proud. I cannot stand by idly and not participate when so much is at stake.

I’m not going to discuss the campaign any more except for some comments I’ll make toward the end of this post regarding friendships.  Enough said.

I totally missed posting a September cocktail hour because in the middle of September I organized a big party/family reunion for my dad’s 86th birthday.  The only person who didn’t show up was my youngest son, Adam, who is trying to settle in and carve a life out for himself in Maui.

Soon after we returned from Iceland at the end of August, we went with my sister-in-law, my son Alex and his girlfriend Ariana to Cirque de Soleil at Tyson’s Corner.  It was a spectacular show titled Kurios: Cabinet of Curiosities, with fantastic costumes, acrobatics and amazing feats.  What a way to immerse ourselves back home after our fabulous trip abroad.

You can read about our Iceland trip on my blog about my European travels: in search of a thousand cafés.

Cirque de Soleil - Kurios ~ Cabinet of Curiosities
Cirque de Soleil – Kurios ~ Cabinet of Curiosities

It was hard to return from Iceland’s cool and sometimes frigid weather to the heat and humidity in Virginia. I always prefer cold weather to hot, so I was glad for the escape.  But.  Maybe it was the sudden change from sweltering to cold and then back to hot that caused Mike and I to both get sick on the trip, that and the tendency to go, go, go while on vacation.  When we returned home, Mike got better while I got worse.  I was diagnosed with walking pneumonia and I suffered through three weeks of pure misery.  When I felt slightly better, I walked my daily three miles in the heat, sweated profusely, then got chilled; after these attempts at my normal routine, I was wiped out for days.  I repeated this several times, thinking I was better, but then was knocked back down.  Finally, I surrendered to the illness, rested a lot, drank fluids and pampered myself.  Finally, by mid-September, I was fine again.  What misery that was!

On September 4, Mike and I want to the Virginia Scottish Games and Festival at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia.  Mike was particularly interested in watching the Border Collie sheep herding, but it turned out there was only one Border Collie and he was herding goats.  Apparently this Border Collie costs $7,000!  He was very keen to round-up the goats when his owner gave the signal.  We watched a parade, ate haggis (which I’d never had) and Scotch eggs, and checked out the shiny British cars.

We stopped at the Living History exhibit, where a man taught us a bit about Scottish history.

Living history
Living history
Scottish paraade
Scottish paraade
Scottish parade
Scottish parade

The week before the Scottish Festival, we had a faux painter paint our dining room (from a deep red to a Sherwin Williams Whitetail and Intricate Ivory using a troweling process); the week after, she did our foyer (using a stippling process with a Sherwin Williams Cooled Blue, Rivulet , and Thermal Spring glaze mixture).  I am pleased with the results in both areas. 🙂

It’s been a long year of renovations, painting, landscaping, and KonMari-ing, and our house feels like new now.  We’re exhausted by the whole process and are now ready to relax for a good long while.  We still have to renovate our upstairs bathrooms, but I won’t be ready to dive into that project for a long time.

Here’s our stippled foyer.  The three paintings to the right were ones I picked up at the Longji Rice Terraces in China and had framed.

Foyer with Chinese paintings
Foyer with Chinese paintings

I planned a big family reunion for my dad’s 86th birthday on the weekend of September 17.  My sister from California and my brother from New Jersey came, as well as my sister and her whole family from Maryland.  Sarah came for part of the time and Alex and his girlfriend were also here.  Adam was the only one missing, sadly.  We shared a lot of food and drinks and infectious laughs, especially playing Apples-to-Apples and a rip-roaring game of Charades.  My siblings and I have always been game players, so it was great fun for all of us to be together and let loose with some crazy competitions.

Sadly, I am unable to post pictures of our whole family together as my sister from California does not want her picture posted, and she of course was in many of them. 😦

On September 24, I went to Richmond to attend a day-long farm tour with my daughter.  Sarah wrote a great blog about it: Where Farmers Grow.  I hope you’ll check it out.  She’s a fantastic writer. 🙂

We started our tour at Victory Farms.

Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms
Victory Farms

I didn’t know okra plants had such pretty flowers.

After touring three other gardens, we ended up back at Victory Farms, where we enjoyed a feast of small plates prepared by Richmond chefs.

Back at Victory Gardens
Back at Victory Gardens
feast at Victory Gardens
feast at Victory Gardens

Sarah’s friend Colin, marketing director of Ellwood Thompson’s, a locally-owned and independently operated natural food market, got us the tickets for this event.

Sarah and Colin
Sarah and Colin
Sarah and me
Sarah and me

Shalom Farms, our next stop on the tour, partners with community organizations and existing nutrition programs to meet the needs of families and children. Among others, their partners include after-school programs, food banks, and community kitchens. In 2015 over 200,000 servings of Shalom Farms produce was distributed through local partnerships to meet the growing needs of nutrition programs in the greater Richmond area.

We both found the work at this farm inspirational.

Shalom Farms
Shalom Farms

Shalom, a 6-acre sustainable farm at Westview on the James in Goochland, Virginia, is an agricultural learning lab for visitors and volunteers of all backgrounds. In 2014, over 4,400 volunteers and visitors gained hands-on education and experience, helping the grow over 250,000 servings of fresh produce, according to their website.

Lickinghole Creek Craft Brewery , our third stop, supplies its brewery operations with on-site hop, barley, rosemary, hay and pumpkin farming.  We were able to enjoy a beer here and listen to some good classic rock-n-roll.

Tricycle Gardens is an urban garden whose mission is to grow healthy food, healthy communities and a healthy local food system. Their aim is to restore urban ecologies and create beautiful public spaces throughout Richmond, Virginia.

Tricycle Gardens
Tricycle Gardens

I made the mistake of standing in line at the porta-potty near the compost bins, where I was devoured by blood-sucking mosquitoes.  I must have been bitten at least 20 times, and it made the rest of my time at this garden miserable!

On September 30, Mike and I went into D.C., which we don’t do often, to China Chilcano for dinner, followed by a play at the Woolly Mammoth.

China Chilcano

China Chilcano

me at China Chilcano
me at China Chilcano

At China Chilcano, known for its union of Peruvian Criollo, Chinese Chifa and Japanese Nikkei, we sampled some Dorado Dim Sum (pork, shrimp, jicama, shiitake mushroom, peanut topped with golden egg), Bok Choy as Sillao (Baby bok choy, shiitake mushroom, oyster sauce), and Chupe de Cameron (Pacific wild shrimp soup with fresh cheese, choclo, rice, potato, poached egg).  For dessert we enjoyed Suspiro Limeña (Sweetened condensed milk custard topped with soft and crunchy meringue, passion fruit).

At the Woolly Mammoth, we saw another avant-garde play: Collective Rage: A Play in Five Boops.  Woolly Mammoth is always on the cutting edge with their performances, and this one is no different.  In Jen Silverman’s absurdist romantic comedy, five different women named Betty collide at the intersection of anger, sex, and the “thea-tah,” according to the playbill.  I enjoy it, but am always a little taken aback by the radical ideas in these plays.

Wooly Mammoth
Wooly Mammoth

Before the play, we sat and enjoyed a glass of wine, which was included in the price of our theater ticket.  Mike was awfully blue and I awfully pink. 🙂

We haven’t done much else these two months other than taking our trip to Iceland and recovering from said trip.  I have watched a number of good movies, notably Hell or High Water, in which a divorced father (Chris Pine) and his ex-con older brother (Toby Howard) resort to a desperate scheme in order to save their family’s ranch in West Texas. I enjoyed this movie and felt some satisfaction at the brothers’ attempts to get back at the bank that tried to cheat their family out of its inheritance.

I also enjoyed the atmospheric The Light Between Oceans, in which a lighthouse keeper and his wife living off the coast of Western Australia raise a baby they rescue from an adrift rowboat.  I went to see this with my sister from California as she stayed an extra two days after the rest of the family left the reunion.  After the movie, we enjoyed sushi and Sapporo and hot sake with Mike at Arigato.

One day last week, I went to see The Queen of Katwe, in which a Ugandan girl’s poverty-stricken life becomes more promising after she is introduced to the game of chess, for which she has great aptitude. I love this movie, as I always love movies that take place in foreign and exotic locales and feature an underdog rising up to meet success.

As for books, I have read some captivating books.  Here’s what I’ve read since we last met for a cocktail hour: Glaciers; And the Mountains Echoed; The Disappeared; 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works.  I listened to my first ever audiobook, Every Last One by Anna Quindlen (read by Hope Davis).  I’ve never listened to an audiobook because I can be a terrible listener, with my mind always wandering off.  But, despite a few wandering thoughts where I lost the thread of the story, I was engrossed in this book and LOVED IT!! I’m now sold on audiobooks.  I’m looking forward to listening to a lot more during my daily 3 mile walks.

I’ve now added another exercise to my walks, a Tuesday-Thursday Pilates class.  I’ve never done Pilates, but I’ve done Yoga.  Both of them I find excruciatingly boring.  But I’ve decided I like Pilates better and I think I’m getting stronger as a result of it.

In addition to Pilates, I’m taking a Memoir class at the Reston Community Center on Monday mornings.  The class is for 55+ people — that includes me!  I’m finally beginning to write a memoir; I’ve dreamed of doing this for a long time; because of the weekly deadlines, I now have four chapters under my belt. I’m getting positive feedback on it too, which encourages me to go on.  Because of this class, I’m reading Writing Life Stories by Bill Roorbach.  I’ve always been told that if you want to write in a certain genre, you should read a lot in that genre, so in that vein, I read and enjoyed immensely Pat Conroy’s The Death of Santini: The Story of a Father and His Son.

Of all the books I’ve read, I think I enjoyed The Disappeared the most.  Here’s the review I wrote about it on Goodreads: This book tells the poignant and tragic story of a young Cambodian man who was forced to leave his country during the Khmer Rouge reign and genocide, and who, while in exile in Montreal, meets and falls in love with a 16-year-old Canadian girl. Their love is beautifully and poetically rendered, and is physical and spiritual at the same time. The story is written in 2nd person, an unusual point of view. When the borders of Cambodia open again, Serey, the Cambodian student and musician, feels compelled to return to his country to search for his family. It is over a decade before his lover, Anne Greves, is able to travel to Cambodia in search of him, and when she finds him, they live together with the dark cloud of the country’s genocide hanging over them and reverberating through their lives. Serey is secretive about his days and when Anne comes to find out he is working for the opposition, she rebels against his secrecy and fears for his life. Beautifully rendered, this book reminds us of sweeping tragedies in countries where peasants or the disenfranchised take up arms and kill off intellectuals and musicians and teachers. Like China’s Cultural Revolution, and like the Nazi extermination of the Jews, it is a dark and grim reminder of the horrible things human beings do to each other when embraced with hatred and fear.

I guess this book struck home with me because of the political atmosphere in our country during this 2016 election.

In regards to that, I’ve been looking closely at and evaluating my friendships.  I read a great article posted by my favorite philosopher, Alain de Botton, on Facebook, from The Book of Life: What is the Purpose of Friendship?

The article starts with: “Friendship should be one of the high points of existence, and yet it’s also the most routinely disappointing reality.”  And then it goes on to say that relationships have a purpose which are boiled down to the following: networking, reassurance, fun, clarifying our minds, and holding on to the past.  I know I can look at most of my friendships and say they have one of these purposes.  They say friends come into our lives for a reason, or a season.

I truly wonder if we can hold on to friends forever.  Maybe I lived in a fantasy world, but I used to believe I could.  Sometimes I still like to believe it is possible.  But how can I really be friends with people who don’t share my basic values of inclusiveness and love for all of mankind; how can I be friends with people who harshly judge and even condemn those who are a different race, religion, or sex than us? How can I be friends with those who condone ugliness and hatred?

I’m beginning to think that I agree with the final paragraph in this article: “We should dare to be a little ruthless. Culling acquaintances isn’t a sign that we have lost belief in friendship. It’s evidence that we are getting clearer and more demanding about what a friendship could be.”  That’s where I am now.

It’s been the nastiest time I’ve ever lived through in the history of my country.

So, on that note, I leave you to go forward into this great month of November, when the election will be upon us, and to make decisions with good conscience. What we decide in November will be of grave consequence to the future of our country.

Cheers!!

chincoteague national wildlife refuge: the lighthouse trail & the woodland trail

Sunday, October 25:  I’m prone to making sweeping generalizations, and one I commonly make is that “It’s always gorgeous on my birthday.” I rarely worry when making plans to travel on my birthday, especially in Virginia, as the end of October (almost) always has perfect weather.  By perfect, I mean cool (in the 50s or 60s F), with a nice breeze and crisp, dry air.  Everyone who knows me knows I dislike humidity and heat; after having lived in Oman for two years and Nanning, China for one year, I’ve had it with hot and/or humid weather.

On top of having beautiful weather, the autumn leaf color is usually at its peak and the world seems vibrant and festive.  I feel so lucky to have been born at the end of October, which is also, coincidentally, my favorite time of year.

This time, I’m wrong.  This Sunday morning, on my actual birthday, it’s cloudy, rather humid and near 80 degrees.  At least it’s not raining, not at the outset anyway.  It’s a little disappointing as I’m used to getting my way weather-wise.  Oh well, it will have to do as we have lots of activities planned while we’re here at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge today.  We’re not going to let uncomfortable weather ruin our day.

The Channel Bass Inn
The Channel Bass Inn

We start our morning in the Channel Bass Inn with an amazing breakfast of cheese and onion quiche, yogurt and fruit parfait, and zucchini bread.  Innkeeper Barbara also makes a variety of delectable scones, including her special ginger scones, which she instructs us to open with our fingers, not a knife! The breakfast is a community breakfast; as only three couples are staying at the Inn, all six of us share breakfast together.

After our filling breakfast and social hour, we head out by car to explore the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.  Our first stop is the Lighthouse Trail.

The Lighthouse Trail
The Lighthouse Trail

The first Assateague Lighthouse was constructed in 1833 to warn ships of the dangerous shoals offshore. In 1860, construction began on a taller and more powerfully illuminated lighthouse, but its completion was delayed by the Civil War. After the war, work resumed and the lighthouse was completed in 1867. The light was also upgraded that year, to a first order Fresnel lens, according to Chincoteague: History.

a plaque with the words of 14-year-old Inez Doon
a plaque with the words of 14-year-old Inez Doan

In 2004, the U.S. Coast Guard transferred ownership of the lighthouse to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. While the U.S. Coast Guard maintains the light as an active navigational aid, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is responsible for preserving the lighthouse. The Assateague Island lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Chincoteague: History).

Assateague Lighthouse
Assateague Lighthouse
Assateague Lighthouse
Assateague Lighthouse
me at Assateague Lighthouse
me at Assateague Lighthouse

We climb to the top of the lighthouse where we have sweeping views of the Wildlife Refuge and Chincoteague Bay.  It’s pretty overcast at this hour of the day, around 11:00 a.m., so the views are pretty gray.

View of Chincoteague Bay from Assateague Lighthouse
View of Chincoteague Bay from Assateague Lighthouse
View of Chincoteague Bay from Assateague Lighthouse
View of Chincoteague Bay from Assateague Lighthouse

Below us to the south, we can see the assistant keeper’s house that was constructed in 1910. In 1929, the keeper staff was reduced. In 1933, the lighthouse’s oil lamps were replaced by an electric lamp, and the original keeper’s house was removed.  Today the 1910 assistant keeper’s house is used as seasonal staff residence (Chincoteague: History).

View of the assistant keeper's house from Assateague Lighthouse
View of the assistant keeper’s house from Assateague Lighthouse
View from Assateague Lighthouse
View from Assateague Lighthouse
View of Chincoteague Bay from Assateague Lighthouse
View of Chincoteague Bay from Assateague Lighthouse
me atop the Assateague Lighthouse
me atop the Assateague Lighthouse
View of Chincoteague Bay from Assateague Lighthouse
View of Chincoteague Bay from Assateague Lighthouse
View of Chincoteague Bay from Assateague Lighthouse
View of Chincoteague Bay from Assateague Lighthouse
View from Assateague Lighthouse
View from Assateague Lighthouse

After leaving the Lighthouse Trail, we drive to the Woodland Trail, where we stroll around a 1.6 mile loop. Because we’re surrounded by forest, it’s quite humid and, surprisingly, mosquitoes are ravenously sucking my blood.  During the entire walk, I’m swatting the mosquitoes and splattering my blood from their feast all over my clothes.  I’m wearing long pants and long sleeves, including a sweater over a long-sleeve shirt, and they’re biting me through all those layers!  For some reason, I’m the meal of choice; Mike hardly gets bitten at all.

The Woodland Trail
The Woodland Trail

The maritime forests are the parts of the island that have been stable for the longest time. These forests are important to the survival of the endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel and of forest dwelling wildlife, such as the white-tailed deer, exotic sika elk, raccoons, and many others (Chincoteague: Habitats).

The Woodland Trail
The Woodland Trail

I have to admit I’m not the biggest fan of lowland forest walks because you can’t see any grand sweeping views. I do love the forest in the mountains, when the leaves are changing color or when the leaves have fallen off the trees, so there are views aplenty.  I’m not a fan of walking through the forest in heat and humidity and getting devoured by mosquitoes!

views along The Woodland Trail
views along The Woodland Trail
views along The Woodland Trail
views along The Woodland Trail

I do love the sea grasses along the trail.

sea grasses along The Woodland Trail
sea grasses along The Woodland Trail
Sea grasses
Sea grasses

On the edge of the forest, where the woods meet the marshland, the trees seem to be rioting.

on the edge of The Woodland Trail
on the edge of The Woodland Trail
chaos reigns on the edge of The Woodland Trail
chaos reigns on the edge of The Woodland Trail
The Woodland Trail
The Woodland Trail
brambles galore on The Woodland Trail
brambles galore on The Woodland Trail

Finally, we leave the Woodland Trail after what seems like an eternity.  I’ve removed a layer of clothing and am scratching all over.  I’m looking forward to getting into the open areas of the refuge.  We head next to the beach and to the Tom’s Cove Visitor Center, and then take a drive around the park.

 

a weekend trip to the eastern shore: saturday at assateague island

Saturday, October 24:  This morning, Mike and I drive about 3 hours from Virginia to Maryland and back to Virginia as we make the circuitous route to the Maryland/Virginia Eastern Shore.  After our drive, we arrive first at Assateague Island, a thin ribbon of sand 37 miles long that extends from Ocean City, Maryland to just past Chincoteague Island.  According to Moon Handbooks: Virginia, “the entire spit has been designated a National Seashore, and Virginia’s end of the island was set aside in 1943 as the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge to protect dwindling habitat for migrating snow geese.”

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is one of the most visited refuges in the United States and includes “more than 14,000 acres of beach, dunes, marsh, and maritime forest.”

When we arrive at Assateague Island, we head first to Bayside Drive, where we park and get out to stretch our legs by walking along the Chincoteague Bay beach.

Chincoteague Bay from Bayside Drive
Chincoteague Bay from Bayside Drive

We’ve made this special weekend trip to celebrate my birthday, and it’s a big one. 🙂 Our destination is not as exotic as most of my travels over the last seven years, but it’s a place I’ve never really explored in-depth.  It seems exotic to me.

Chincoteague Bay from Bayside Drive
Chincoteague Bay from Bayside Drive

The bayside beach is quite pretty against a backdrop of blue skies dotted with dappled clouds.

Chincoteague Bay from Bayside Drive
Chincoteague Bay from Bayside Drive

I love the gnarly pines and other trees silhouetted against the sky.

Chincoteague Bay from Bayside Drive
Chincoteague Bay from Bayside Drive
Me at the beach on Bayside Drive
Me at the beach on Bayside Drive
beach tree
beach tree

We find some bushes with fuzzy blooms that look like fluffy dandelions.

pretty fuzzies
pretty fuzzies
the path along Chincoteague Bay
the path along Chincoteague Bay

We also find some artsy driftwood.

driftwood
driftwood

I love the golds, reds and browns of autumn.

bayside foliage
bayside foliage
beach at Chincoteague Bay
beach at Chincoteague Bay
beach at Chincoteague Bay
beach at Chincoteague Bay
beach at Chincoteague Bay
beach at Chincoteague Bay

After our short stroll, we get back in the car and drive to the ocean side of the island.  Neither Mike nor I have been to any of Virginia’s beaches in years.

Assateague Beach
Assateague Beach
Mike at Assateague Beach
Mike at Assateague Beach
me at Assateague Beach
me at Assateague Beach
Assateague Beach
Assateague Beach

In the midst of the dunes, we take the 1/2-mile Life of the Dunes Nature Trail.  The park’s brochure on the trail says: “Behind the primary dune lies a tentative environment influenced by salt-laden winds. Plants and animals must adapt to this unsettled land of shifting sands. Some thrive here, some compromise, some merely survive.”

“The dunes protect plants from saltspray, allowing beach grass, poison ivy, hudsonia, and northern bayberry to dominate the interdune area. Vegetation builds up organic matter in the soil and provides food and cover for many creatures. The bayberry’s berries persist through the winter providing food for birds, fox, deer and other mammals. In fall, thousands of tree swallows gorge on bayberries, fueling their southern migration.” Seaside goldenrod adds an autumn dose of color (National Park Service: Assateague Island Hiking).

Dunes walk
Dunes walk
Dunes walk
Dunes walk
driftwood on the Dunes walk
driftwood on the Dunes walk
Dunes walk
Dunes walk

“Pioneer plants create the conditions that enable other plants to get a foothold.  American beechgrass and woolly hudsonia (beach heather) playing a major role in building and stabilizing the dunes.  These plants form an underground network of stems that anchor the sand” (National Park Service: Assateague Island Hiking).

Continuing on the Dunes Walk, we skirt the edge of a forest of highbush blueberry, bayberry, wax myrtle. wild black cherry, sumac, holly, loblolly pine, and red maple.  A wealth of food and cover for wildlife can be found in the thickets.

gnarly trees on the Dunes Walk
gnarly trees on the Dunes Walk
gnarly trees on the Dunes Walk
gnarly trees on the Dunes Walk
Dunes Walk
Dunes Walk
gnarly trees on the Dunes Walk
gnarly trees on the Dunes Walk
gnarly trees on the Dunes Walk
gnarly trees on the Dunes Walk

Oh how I love taking walks outdoors on cool, crisp fall days!

colorful bushes on the Dunes Walk
colorful bushes on the Dunes Walk
bushes & trees on the Dunes Walk
bushes & trees on the Dunes Walk
sea grasses
sea grasses
Dunes Walk
Dunes Walk
Dunes Walk
Dunes Walk

After we finish our walk, we begin our hour-long drive to Chincoteague from the Assateague Island park entrance. Our hostess, Barbara, at the Channel Bass Inn, where we are staying tonight, has phoned to recommend some dinner places and volunteers to make dinner reservations for us at the Village. We need to have time to get to Chincoteague, settle in, and get ready for dinner.

As we drive on the road out of Assateague, we come across a few of the wild ponies that the islands are famous for.  It’s not certain how the ponies came to the island, but there are several theories.  One legend is that a Spanish galleon carrying horses wrecked off the island in the 1700s, and some of the horses were able to swim to shore.  Another theory is that they are descendants of colonial horses brought to Assateague in the 17th century by Eastern Shore planters when crop damage by free roaming animals led colonial legislatures to enact laws requiring fencing and taxes on livestock (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Chincoteague Ponies).

This pony is standing like a statue and totally ignores us as we approach him.  We do keep our distance, as the National Park Service warns against getting too close to the ponies.  It is said that they bite and kick in response to crowding or competition for food.  Also, each band has a harem stallion whose job it is to protect his mares, and most bites are by stallions.  Many visitors have been bitten or knocked down and stepped on when the horses have been spooked or reacted suddenly.

one of the wild ponies of Assateague
one of the wild ponies of Assateague

One thing that is certain about the ponies is that Marguerite Henry made these ponies famous with her book Misty of Chincoteague.

me with one of the wild ponies of Assateague
me with one of the wild ponies of Assateague

Today’s ponies, descended from those domestic ponies, have become wild and have adapted to the environment.  “Prior to the refuge’s establishment in 1943, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company purchased the ponies and continues ownership to this day. The Firemen are allowed to graze up to 150 ponies on refuge land through a Special Use Permit from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service” (U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service: Chincoteague Ponies).

one of the wild ponies of Assateague
one of the wild ponies of Assateague

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, “a fence along the Virginia/Maryland State line (the northern refuge boundary) separates the island’s ponies into two herds. The Maryland herd is owned by the National Park Service. The Virginia herd is owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and is grazed in two designated compartments on the refuge.”

one of the wild ponies of Assateague
one of the wild ponies of Assateague

After leaving Assateague Island, we drive inland and south for less than an hour to reach Chincoteague.  There, we easily find the Channel Bass Inn and check in.  Before dinner, we have some wine in the sitting room.

Mike in the living room of The Channel Bass Inn
Mike in the living room of The Channel Bass Inn
Living room at the Channel Bass Inn
Living room at the Channel Bass Inn
Looking through the hallway to the dining area
Looking through the hallway to the dining area

At the Village, we order another glass of wine and a bowl of oyster stew to share. I eat some delicious broiled crab cakes and Mike enjoys some single-fried Chincoteague oysters.  We’ve been looking forward all day to eating fresh seafood, and we truly enjoy every bite!