(photo used with permission by Beached Paws Photography)
The Mindful Beauty of Assateague Island
Assateague Island is a 37-mile (60 km) long barrier island located off the eastern coast of Delmarva. The northern two-thirds of the island is in Maryland while the southern third is in Virginia. The Maryland section contains the majority of Assateague Island National Seashore and Assateague State Park. The Virginia section contains Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and a one-mile stretch of land containing the lifeguarded recreational beach and interpretive facilities managed by the National Park Service (or NPS). It is best known for its herds of feral horses, pristine beaches, and the Assateague Lighthouse. The island also contains numerous marshes, bays, and coves, including Toms Cove. Bridge access for cars is possible from both Maryland and Virginia, though no road runs the full length of the island. (www.wikipedia.org)
It’s hard to believe that this pristine island was once planned to be a private ocean resort community. On one of our visits, Jim and I walked the length of what remains of the main road built back in the 1950s for the resort. Before the national seashore was created in 1965, some 5,000 private lots comprising what is now owned by the National Park Service were zoned and sold for resort development. However, a huge storm in 1962 destroyed all the early structures and roads, ending all plans for development. Today, the Assateague Island habitat is maintained by the NPS to remain wild and safe for all its natural residents. We’ve seen the feral ponies on just about every visit. We’ve also seen the native small deer, called Sika Deer, wild turkeys, eagles, white egrets, blue herons, and many species of terns and gulls. And I haven’t even mentioned the beautiful dunes, marshlands, flora, and fauna. The more often I visit, the more I find to enjoy.
Jim and I live just thirteen miles from Assateague Island and we visit frequently. Its natural beauty, ocean beaches, and wild ponies draw us again and again. Dogs (leashed) are allowed on the beach and we enjoy bringing Chuck and Hunter – who seem to sense that there’s nothing better for the canine soul than digging holes in the sand! When my German cousins visited this summer, we took them to Assateague and they were thrilled by a school of dolphins 200 yards away from them as they played in the waves. Ponies ambled along the roads and paths, even grazing on the grassy areas of the parking lot.
Protecting the Assateague wildlife, especially the ponies, is a tough job. This summer, we locals were horrified to read that a pony died after a visitor fed it dog food. Seriously? There are signs everywhere pleading with visitors, not to pet, feed or even get near the ponies. I am continually astounded at the number of visitors I see who take their young children up close to the ponies They are wild and they will kick!
Obviously, I love the ponies on Assateague, but there are many natural wonders of the Assateague Island world that provide inspiration, delight, and peace. My friend, Ellen Sullivan, wrote a book of poetry, Assateague Island Inspirations, which captures much of what makes the island experience a mindful paradise. Below are a few of her poem titles and a brief summary of each. I find Ellen’s poems to be a virtual Pandora’s Box of mindfulness experiences!
- A Place in the Sun. Glorious sunshine and the roaring waves – a source of empowerment and gratitude.
- Children Redux? The bliss of watching children play in the waves and sand. Laughter is indeed the best medicine!
- The Zen of Moving Sand About. “Scoop, pile, heap, and shape.” Like little Buddhist monks making sand mandalas.
- March Mare. Ponies nibbling blades of grass. Gulls with pink feet. A long-necked grebe’s dark silhouette.
- Ocean in Motion. I meditate on the ocean’s music. Life and eternity – being with God.
- Walking Problems Off. Eagles rise and hawks dive. Some problems can be solved by walking.
- Nocturne. The sun exhales and drops below the horizon on the bayside. Autumn sounds and laments of loss.
What inspires you on your mindfulness journey? I’d love to hear from you! I’ll finish this post with one of my favorite of Ellen’s poems.
Assateague Island, Maryland
On Assateague’s bayside you can still hear
The Atlantic Ocean’s muffled roars.
Like far off war drums they don’t rile.
In sheltered coves slap subtle beats.
Soft slurps and murmurs of wavelets butt
Against bay’s beach. Reed may creak.
Breeze-pruned scrub pines moan and whisper.
Red-winged blackbirds, teetering on tall weeds,
Oft screech their shrill territorial claims.
Bay waters splash around fixed log
Where glossy ibises doze to wavelets’
Repetitive sloshing cradle songs.
On Assateague’s bayside no thunder claps
Of ocean waves bid you to pay
Much heed. You stroll and feel content.