Revising My Bucket List

When I was a child, one of my favorite books was Maguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague

Where Marguerite Henry wrote Misty of Chincoteague

It is about the wild ponies on Assateague Island and how the volunteer firemen in Chincoteague swim them across a small channel and herd them through town to auction some of them off every July in an event called Pony Penning.  The purpose is to thin the herd and keep it healthy, and thousands of people inundate the tiny town of Chincoteague, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, to watch the affair and enjoy the festivities that follow.

Ever since I read that story when I was eight, I wanted to go to Pony Penning, but we lived in Connecticut, and Virginia seemed so very far away, I didn’t think I would ever get there.  We moved to Philadelphia when I was pregnant with our third child, and my hopes of attending were stirred up again, only to be dashed two years later when we moved to San Antonio.  Jump thirty years ahead, and here I am—living in Virginia, less than two hours from Chincoteague!  We pass the turn-off to that little town every time we drive up the Eastern Shore to Connecticut or Boston.  One time, on our way home from New England, we stopped for an hour to see if we could get a glimpse of the ponies, and they accommodated us by grazing right near the road.  I was able to capture a couple of quick pictures.

Ponies we saw on our first visit

Since it was winter, all the little shops were closed, and we vowed to return in the summer.

Sunday we decided to do a scouting expedition to Chincoteague and check out what bed and breakfasts or hotels looked good, see the shops that would now be open for the season, and, of course, see my beloved ponies.  We stopped at the entrance of the Assateague Wildlife Preserve to pay the entry fee, and my husband noticed that it was eight dollars to enter for the day, but only ten dollars for a lifetime pass to all the National Parks and Preserves in the country if you were sixty-two.  My husband told the park ranger, a sweet young lady, that we wanted to purchase one of those passes.  She asked him, “Are you sixty-two?”  “No,” he responded quickly and forcefully, then stuck his thumb in my direction and said, “but she is.”  “Wow!” said the young lady, looking sympathetically at me.  “He threw you right under the bus, didn’t he!”  My husband sheepishly apologized, but the smirk on his face made me doubt his sincerity.

We stopped at the visitors center to see a map of the trails and watched a short film on the ponies.  The narrator said the poor creatures are constantly ravaged by biting flies and mosquitos.  They showed quite a bit of footage of the ponies swatting the menacing bugs with their tails, or rubbing their hides raw against the rough bark of trees to give themselves some relief.  None of that registered with us as we started on the trail that led to a scenic overlook.  We parked our car near the start of the trail and entered the woods.  Immediately, the mosquitos and flies started attacking us.  My husband yelled, “Take off your cap and start swatting them.”  I did as he said, but as soon as I chased them off one arm, they went for the other arm and my face and my legs.  Nevertheless, it was better than not swatting them at all, and my arms quickly became exhausted from the flurry of activity.  When my husband noticed the back of my shirt was a solid sheet of black insects, he began belting me with his hat to chase them off.  “Do you want to turn around?” my husband asked.  “No, I have to see my ponies!” I said.  We continued through the forest on our way to the pasture, stopping for only a few seconds to watch in awe as two bald eagles screamed their way through the canopy of loblolly pines.  After twenty agonizing minutes of pure torture, we arrived at the lookout.  We stared out at the magnificent marsh, the magnificent empty marsh.  No ponies.  None.  We waited, scanning the pasture, squinting to see if there was any movement in the distant trees.  Nope.

Where are my ponies?

My husband and I looked at each other with the realization that we were going to have to return through the gauntlet.  I launched myself once more into the woods, my husband trying to match my pace.  “You back to power walking?” he asked.  “No, I just want to get to the car with some of my flesh still intact.”  We began our swatting act again.  “I don’t know what hurts more,” I said to my husband.  “The biting flies and mosquitos, or you beating me with your hat!”

We passed a bench on the trail, though why anyone would want to stop in that place, heaven only knows.  It had an inscription on it in memory of someone named Art.  “Here lies Art,” I said, “ who died while trying to escape the monster insects.  If he’d only been quicker…”  We picked up our pace.  Passing another bench that was devoid of an inscription, my husband said, “This once is waiting for us.  Here lies George and Susan whose bloodless bodies were found just inches from their car.”  I wasn’t in a laughing mood.

We left the park shortly after and visited the shops and had a nice dinner at Bill’s.

Sweet little town of Chincoteague

But I was done with my dream of attending Pony Penning.  I scratched all the way home.  Well, maybe if we applied some heavy duty insect repellent or draped ourselves with mosquito netting we could…shut up!  Just shut up!  And pass the calamine lotion.

About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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22 Responses to Revising My Bucket List

  1. mypajamadays says:

    OMG! I was laughing out loud because I could totally hear daddy say all those things. (and why am I not surprised he loved being able to tell someone you were older then him?) That has to be one of the funniest stories I have ever read!

  2. oldereyes says:

    So, you’re olde than your husband? Does that make you one of those cougars I’ve been reading about? 🙂

    The ponies in your photo are beautiful … it’s a shame you didn’t see any on your hike. I have to say, one thing I don’t miss about back east is mosquitoes …

    • comingeast says:

      Wait just a minute–cougars? What are they? And just so you know, though it doesn’t make any difference, my husband and I were born in the same year, just at opposite ends of the calendar!

  3. E.C. says:

    Well shucks, a sweet memory and a wonderful place ruined by a bunch of demon bugs. That’s such a shame. I wish you could’ve enjoyed a long pleasant nostalgic time observing the ponies. Your photos are fabulous. The town and dinner sounded real nice. 🙂

    • comingeast says:

      Well, we won’t go to Pony Penning, but we’d go back to Chincoteague. It is a sweet little town. But we’ll only visit the ponies when the whether is too cold for mosquitos and black flies! I’m glad you enjoyed my photos.

  4. WOW! Blogging works in mysterious ways! AA Hubby and I have been to Bill’s! And I’ll tell you why. We were on our way back from depositing Son #1 at ECU (Greensville, NC). He wanted to punch Subway into the GPS. I said, “No!” More like, “NOOOOOOOOO!” I like to try the local flavor, so to speak. We ended up at Bill’s! The weird thing is that AA Hubby and I met at Bill’s in Westbrook, CT! (Something we don’t often admit to … but now I’ve told the world with this comment!) AND … it gets better … we told our story to the waitress at Bill’s in VA and she said that she had a table once where the people had been to our meeting spot in CT!

    Now, about the ponies. Please tell me those bench signs are real. Please. As for the bug bites, tell me your back wasn’t really a solid sheet of black bugs. Please. The parents of a friend who live in VA suggested we check out Assateague Island once we get settled in MD. I’m not so sure now.

    This isn’t a consolation prize, but because you love ponies … a generally speaking assumption … you might enjoy the artwork of Bev Doolittle ( – your beautiful photo of the pony reminded me of her work.

    And, so ends one of the longest comments ever …

    • comingeast says:

      Unbelievable! I’d love to hear the story of Bill’s in Westbrook, too. We go to Connecticut all the time, but have never been to Bill’s. We usually go to Lenny and Joe’s in Madison. Ever been there? As for the benches, there really were benches and one of them had an inscription in memory of someone named Art, and though the inscription didn’t say what he died from, I’m sure our guess was dead on. And, sadly, yes, my back was a sheet of mosquitos and flies. That being said, Assateague is a beautiful place. The beach is very nice (we have great beaches here in Virginia Beach, so that’s not such a draw for us), and I think the park would be great in cooler weather, when we saw the ponies the first time. And, depending where you are in Maryland, it wouldn’t be a long drive. It’s only two hours for us. I will definitely check out Bev Doolittle’s work. Thanks for the tip and the comment.

  5. I remember reading that book! I’m glad you fulfilled that desire. Maybe Prince Edward Island of Anne of Green Gables next?

  6. Leah says:

    That looks so peaceful and pretty. Very nice photos too!

  7. Sounds like Cumberland Island!

    Also, you must be a professional photographer!

    • comingeast says:

      LOL! I don’t know anything about apertures and F-stops. I usually set my camera on automatic and hope for the best! At least I do have a really nice camera. That helps!

  8. I’m curious to checkout that book! I will have to call the library and see if they have it. I found humor in you and your husband’s comments, although being engulfed by blood-sucking bugs is not a moment for comedy at all. Great photo of the pony, too.

    • comingeast says:

      Misty of Chincoteague is a classic. Henry wrote a whole series of books about the ponies, and Misty is just the first of them. It made me want to own a pony when I was growing up. Still would love that, but I live in the city, so that won’t ever happen. You, on the other hand, probably romp with the horses whenever you want!

  9. Margie says:

    We live in mosquito country, but we don’t have black flies. For that, I am thankful!

  10. What an adventure! I had to laugh at your husband’s comment “Here lies George and Susan whose bloodless bodies were found just inches from their car” I am sharing your post with my mother-in-law. Her mother and aunts lived there on Chincoteague (a few still do) and she tries to trek down there to see the horses every year or so. She came back last year with some gorgeous pictures. It looks so peaceful (aside from the killer bugs!)

    • comingeast says:

      I love the little town, and that first time we went in the cold weather and saw the ponies, it was wonderful. I wish the shops were open when the bugs are gone, but they just can’t seem to get it in sync.

  11. Julia says:

    This was one of my favorite books, too — and I too decided I wanted to go and see the ponies someday! Although it sounds like a pretty miserable walk (and no ponies to boot!), I still have this on my list…. maybe I’ll need to figure out the right season to go, however to avoid a repeat of your experience! (p.s. I loved the inscription the husband wrote about your bloodless bodies… 🙂

    • comingeast says:

      The problem is that Pony Penning is always the fourth Thursday in July, and the bugs are the most miserable I’ve ever experienced. Chincoteague is a sweet little town, but nothing much is open except in the summer. We passed people on the trail who had used bug spray, and it still did not deter the wee beasts.

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