“When I was young, my grandparents would travel from Louisville to Charleston (West Virginia) each summer on their way to the coast of Maryland. They would surprise us (though our parents knew) and would come late at night, let us pack, and then we’d leave very early in the morning. (My pappaw didn’t want to catch any traffic crossing the Chesapeake Bay.) We would get to the bay bridge around 6:30am and would be able to see the sun rise over the water before we entered the pine plains on the other side.
We would usually arrive at the beach around 8:00am. We’d put our bags in the house, which was small – just a kitchen, family room, and a hole where a bathroom should be, plus a large, wide sleeping porch. Before my grandparents would let us go, my grandma would say, “Be right sure that y’all sign you’s name in the sand.” Then we’d run down the path through the marsh, out onto the sand with one thing in mind: the ponies.
The fondest memory I have that is taking that same trail through the Maryland ‘low country’ out to the tip of the land, where we would then trek through the waist-high water from one sand bar to another, until we would reach Assateague. The journey out took about 45 minutes, if we were able to catch a time without a high tide.
If we went any time before September we would be able to see the wild mares and colts in the dunes. We’d hide behind sand drifts until a large group of horses would run across the dunes – and then we would try to race them across the beach. We’d name certain horses – specifically the ones that we thought were the prettiest. And when we needed a break from running, we would take a look around and find a big empty spot to write our names. We’d write my name, and they’d write their names, and then we’d write every person’s name we could think of in big long lists. We’d even write the names of the horses we met that day. And when we were done writing we’d go and run some more.
Though we never beat the mighty fast animals we never stopped and never lost hope that we were as wild as the horses – even if we looked like lunatics to other people.
In my young age I never stopped to think how unique it was to be able to interact with creatures so wild, yet so docile.
My grandparents have long since passed away and the house is no longer there. It has been replaced with giant beach houses that tower over the beach. Even most of the long leaf pines trees that towered over the house no longer stand. The sand bars that used to speckle the distance between there and Assateague Island are now much fewer, and the distance seems to have gotten longer – probably due, in part, to the hurricanes that have since come through.
Now, my family comes up from Memphis and drives through Kentucky to get to West Virginia. We cut through Annapolis and meet my sister and her husband, round up their children, and we all make the long journey across the bay. And then the short journey to the beach. I’ve tried to present to my children the same exact path that I used to take to get to the ponies, but now it requires a boat.
So many things have changed. We have to stay in a big house that is disproportionate to the land. And, as they’ve grown up, my children have begun to prefer to go to Ocean City to visit their friends during the summer. But once I get them away from the new, we can take the journey to see the ponies.
And once we get to the island, you can hardly see any of the built-up mainland across the wide sound. And the ponies are still there running just as they used to do. And chasing them is still just as fun. And before we go back, we make sure to write our names in the sand.”
Big thanks to Chuck, who sent us this email sharing his favorite Coastal South memory. Photo via SkydiveOC.
Posts are a combination of my own research, visits, and conversations, plus various information found around the web. I try to provide sources, but if you have specific questions, feel free to ask!