Rockets, dolphins, Misty: Chincoteague


Ships still rely on the Assateague lighthouse.

Countdown to the rocket launch. We didn't have to move from our chairs to see it.

Countdown to the rocket launch. We didn’t have to move from our chairs to see it.

I got a chance recently to act like a kid again. Really. I got to play, to giggle with abandon, to hang out with my favorite people for a whole week (well, most of them). It was an old fashioned vacation in an old fashioned resort, Chincoteague Island, for a week of swimming, kayaking and watching the wild ponies, at my father’s invitation.

Sure, our iPhones stayed busy. Everybody was transfixed by a stupid game, 2048, and I even joined in that for the week.

Clams from nearby Tom's Cove. We stopped by the Wednesday farmers market and snagged them, along with local watermelon, tomatoes and corn.

Clams from nearby Tom’s Cove. We stopped by the Wednesday farmers market and snagged them, along with local watermelon, tomatoes and corn.

And there were adult moments. Gin and tonics on the deck, delicious dinners — Low Country boil, fajitas, souvlaki and fresh pasta — planned and prepared by the adults. But other than that, we played and entertained each other. Twenty of us.

Then a blast from the past! — we discovered that a rocket would blast into our plans. My brothers and sisters and I grew up in the age of the Apollo missions. We stayed up late to watch the first moon walk. We were, in fact, glued to the TV for every launch from Cape Canaveral. But even with NASA’s Wallops Island just down the road, we didn’t plan on space-centered activities. Maybe a stop at the Visitors Center but we never dreamed we’d see an actual launch. And yet we were lucky enough for a front row seat.

Of course, we stopped at Wallops Island. We even picked up some "Astronaut ice cream."

Of course, we stopped at Wallops Island. We even picked up some “Astronaut ice cream.”

Just before we arrived at our houses (3 of them) in view of Assateague, we learned that a Cygnus cargo spacecraft would take off for the International Space Station at 12:52 p.m. EDT on Sunday, July 13. Remember, we’re Apollo babies. (Our kids might not have been as thrilled as we were, but we felt like we’d won the lottery.)

My childhood was filled with rockets and with ponies. Misty of Chincoteague was my first horse book and far from my last. I knew the story like it was my own. I’d even convinced my husband to drive here and join some 50,000 fellow Misty lovers for the annual  pony swim a long time ago. I knew I’d miss the swim this year, but I was sure to see ponies.



That first morning, straight across the Assateague Channel was a band of bachelor horses, strolling near the water. They greeted us every morning of our visit. We saw them on Assateague as we went to the beach. Heck, traffic would stop if there was a pony sighting along the way. And, of course, we got out of the car to gawk. Who could resist that band of brown and white dappled ponies, their long manes and tails blowing in the strong breeze.

One afternoon, my sister and I took our youngest niece to pat real live Chincoteague ponies at the Chincoteague Pony Centre. These gentle creatures melted our hearts as they firmly nosed each other out of the way to get closer to us. I don’t know which of the three of us was most charmed by all these Mistys in our midst. I think we were charmed by our little niece’s starry-eyed introduction to these legendary animals.



Oh but there were other animals to charm us, too. We spent a lot of time on the deck overlooking acres of wetlands to watch the birds swoop and fish, to see the tides sweet away and uncover the spitting oysters and the shy fiddler crabs.We took a boat tour around Chincoteague — and chose a tour that headed out into the ocean to look for dolphins. And were we lucky. They swam and dove and seemed to dance all around us.  (BTW. Salt Water Pony Tours, led by a personable local guy, offer real insight into the whole Chincoteague-Assateague experience.) I tried for photos of the dolphins but realized watching them was too much fun. I put the camera away. Again, the kid in me took over.

But Chincoteague is like that. A place to relax and be a kid again, at least for a week (or at happy hour.)

© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman

Night falls on Chincoteague Channel.

Night falls on Chincoteague Channel.