Sunday, August 24, 2014

Part 5 of 10: The Island of Wild Horses

The winds, the sea, and the moving tides are what they are. If there is wonder and beauty and majesty in them, science will discover these qualities. If there is poetry in my book about the sea, it is not because I deliberately put it there, but because no one could write truthfully about the sea and leave out the poetry.

- Rachel Carson, on being awarded the 1952 National Book Award for the Sea Around Us 

We started our journey in early March - having camped in forests, swamps and beaches - and now, upon reaching our halfway point, we celebrate this moment of our summer on the beautiful island of wild horses.

Assateague Island is a magical place. It is a long stretch of land surrounded by stormy seas, outlined by white sand, occupied by wild horses, and regarded with wide-eyed wonder. To borrow from author and environmentalist Rachel Carson, it is hard to describe this island without speaking in poetry.

Part 5 of 10: Assateague Island National Seashore

Assateague Island is a barrier island shaped by stormy seas and winds. It is a beautiful yet harsh salt marsh environment that is home to a variety of plants, animals and insects that have adapted to its fickle nature.  The island is a creature in itself - gradually moving and being reshaped by storms and rising sea levels.

There is an element of vulnerability in beach camping (at least on Assateague) that is hard to convey through photos. The stormy weather brings with it rain and winds that, without sand stakes and flood prevention, will knock over your tent in the middle of the night. Many a seasoned campers have taken shelter in their cars when the Assateague weather tried to share their tent for the night. We learned from the stories of our campmates and reinforced our tent. Fortunately, we survived the night, which was signaled by a beautiful fiery sunset and then sung us to sleep by the sounds of crashing waves.  

Park services have done an incredible job of offering the public clean and spacious campsites. As a camper you have the option of oceanside camping on the west side of the island, or bayside camping in the wetlands area facing the Sinepuxent Bay.  Both beautiful in their own way.

Assateague is best known for its wild horses who roam freely as the masters of this island.  Legend has it that they are descendants of horses who survived a shipwreck along the cost and made Assateague Island their home.  The more likely belief is that these are descendants of domestic horses that locals kept on the island to avoid taxes on the mainland.  In either case, the salty low-nutrient diet of the marshland is believed to be the reason why these horses have a smaller build.