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High Tech Primitive

Assateague Island is a long narrow barrier island off the Mid-Atlantic coast of both Maryland and Virginia. All thirty-seven miles of its pristine shoreline are part of the National Seashore. It’s quite primitive. To get there from the Virginia end you have to first cross Chincoteague Island.

Chincoteague is a smaller island with a lot of marshland, but no real beach. There is however a town there. Chincoteague. It’s a small town but very nice with good restaurants, some good art galleries, a movie theater and of course several hotels. A quiet place. Not like the not too distant Ocean City, Maryland.

Going in reverse a little further geographically, we find a quantum leap technologically. Wallops Island, Virginia is the entry point to Chincoteague Island and here we find ironically one of the most technologically advanced NASA outposts in the world. It’s not shrouded in secrecy like Area 51 in Nevada, but it’s probably not very well known either. But they offer tours if you are interested.

Driving by the base on the perimeter road you can see a lot of towers with antennae, microwave dishes and all sorts of communications devices. There is a C-135 on the tarmac. No people in sight. What they do here I don’t know all the details of, but, I can tell you this- they fly drones out of there.

I know a little about this because of some connections I have. The drones are launched during hurricane season and flown over to the coast of Africa where most hurricanes begin as storms. The drones fly in circles tracking the storms to offer early information to weather trackers. Pretty cool!

A few miles away on Assateague, the only thing you can see above the natural coastal forest is the lighthouse. It’s built ten feet above sea level and is itself 142 feet tall. Built in 1833 it warned mariners of shallow waters in the area and had a giant Fresnel lens. Today it has an eclectic light that shines nineteen miles out to sea.

Other wise the beach is almost entirely primitive. There are many walking trails through the forests, and to the lighthouse that can be climbed during the day for a great view of the area. The beach is very peaceful with no surfing, body boarding or kite flying allowed. There are lifeguards but they seem to spend their time telling people they can’t surf, body board or fly a kite. And there are armed park rangers who scold people for wandering into the bird sanctuary. All with a smile and good-natured attitude. For some people, the absence of those activities is a positive thing. The beach is beautiful. And tranquil. A place for enjoying the sounds of the sea and your own thoughts.

One of the most famous aspects of this island is the wild ponies. There are about three hundred ponies that just roam around freely. They pretty much stay away from people and my kids were disappointed to find that the ponies didn’t just walk up to you on the beach. But we spotted a number of them from a distance. Each year, in the spring, they are rounded up and make a swim to Chincoteague. Across the bay. There some are sold to raise funds to maintain the island. They have been there for hundreds of years and will be for a long time into the future.

So there you have it. Primitive. Quaint. High tech. All in a row on three adjoining islands. Definitely worth the trip for a good time.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?  www.personalhistorywriter.com


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Wind Chimes

For Father’s Day my kids gave me a new set of wind chimes. I acted surprised, and exceedingly happy. And indeed I was happy. But not surprised. After all, I told them what I liked and where to get it. It’s a little more special than it sounds though.

We were at the beach for our vacation on Father’s day this year. Not planned, it just worked out that way because of everyone’s schedules. We usually go to Florida for the beach, but this year we were in Virginia. Chincoteague and Assateague Islands. Assateague is a national park. It’s so undeveloped that there are ponies that roam wild on the island. They are a big deal and every year they swim over to Chincoteague for the great pony swim.

So it’s a new place for us. And different from the commercial beaches we tend to go to. Not that we favor them, we just tend to go there. Anyway, they told me that since this was a different kind of trip, and Father’s Day was involved, I should be on the lookout for something special to take home as a souvenir. I knew exactly what they meant. Something they could give to me as a memento of our family trip to this special place. Cool.

Over the course of our stay we hit a number of shops. Art galleries, beachy tourist traps, and some gift shops. I didn’t need postcards, t-shirts or alligator heads. You know, that kind of stuff. And since my kids are students they couldn’t buy me any great artworks. But in one shop I found the wind chimes.

I’ve always loved the wind chimes they make in Maine. They tune them to sound like the buoys at various lighthouses along the coast. And they are expensive. I have a job and can’t afford them. But these were made in Virginia, were well made, and had a very nice tone to them. They just didn’t sound like any particular famous bell. Just a nice bell. And they were affordable.

These kinds of chimes always sound a little melancholy and they reminded me of a time earlier in my life when I lived near the ocean. At the time I went to Naval Officer Candidate School it was located in Newport, Rhode Island. It’ moved since to Pensacola, Florida. Warmer there. That’s another story for later. We lived in a brick barracks building and my room faced Naraganset Bay. The bay was about fifty yards from my window. I was there in the dead of winter and at night I could lay in, I mean, on my bed and hear the buoys clanging in the bay. The buoys mark the navigation channels for ships. Each buoy has either a green or red light on it and they bang away with their motion on the water to warn sailors in the fog about the channel. All night long I’d hear a kind of distant clanging. Soothing in a way. A guardian in the darkness.

Ever since then I’ve enjoyed listening to the sound of the chimes as wind blows through them. I have five now. They are made of different things. Metal tubes, glass, old silverware, old bells. Two are sentinels calling out the opening and closing of the outside doors to my house, and three are just to sooth my soul.

That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com

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