Friday, August 30, 2013

Clams, Mussels And Crabs...Oh,My!

Today is Friday, Carl’s Day to become involved in something he‘s interested in. He is so patient with me while I drag him from one end of the island to the other, traipsing up and down the beach in search of a band doing something other than being horses, or stopping on command as we pass something of interest on the way to somewhere else. At each National Park we have visited, they have ranger led programs geared mostly to families with children and Assateague is no different. Carl wanted to get involved in clamming and crabbing along the beautiful waterways of Maryland’s barrier islands. The best time to dig for clams is actually high tide because they have much less grit and “clamminess”. During low tide, they “clam up” clamping their shells together and won’t release anything for fear of drying out. They also prefer sandy bottoms and not the marsh mud we normally associate with clam digging. Who knew? Ranger Sara did. Carl also learned it is much easier to harvest mussels which attach themselves to the grassy stems at the water’s edge. Clams must be dug with a rake, backbreaking work that can wreck arm strength for days. In fact, Carl harvested about 4 pounds of mussels which he proceeded to clean, steam and eat for lunch. You can’t get much fresher than that, from bay to table in about an hour. He didn’t catch even one legal Blue Crab.

When he was through with lunch, we gathered all the shells, papers and other trash to haul to the dumpster which is all of 20 feet from the camper by the way. We forgot one item so I opened the door of the camper to hand it to him and behind him was one of the pinto mares from yesterday, followed by a second and third. I grabbed my camera and slipped into my crocs so I could get some photos. Bringing up the rear was the Mahogany Bay stallion who was being attacked by these huge horse flies. I call them B-52s because they are so massive and we've seen them swarming all of the horses. They’re so huge they appear to be birds in the photos I've taken. The small band meandered across two campsites, checking for edibles on the tabletops and stopped where the pit toilets and water faucets are located. A couple of the horses seemed to be checking to see if anyone had left water while the others grazed on the grass nearby. Park volunteers called the “Pony Patrol” routinely drive the roads and campgrounds to make sure both humans and ponies  behave themselves. One patrol member arrived and I asked about the band we were watching. He told me the stallion was one of the oldest in the park, having been around for more than 20 years. That’s a ripe old age even by domesticated standards. We also found out this band has the nickname of “ the picnic robbers”. We didn't
realize that just 15 minutes later we would find out why.

Carl watched the band of horses cross over the dunes and head back towards the beach. I grabbed my camera and walked two sites down to the boardwalk as us humans have been instructed to do. Only half way out to the beach, a lady came from the beach and approached the campground hosts. It seemed a group of horses were on the beach molesting a family for their snacks. The lady also reported the animals were attempting to “eat” the blankets they were sitting on. I crested the hill, just in time, to see, yes, you guessed it, the picnic robbers all standing within inches of the vacated blankets. The people tried to hold their ground but not wanting to be cited by the rangers for being too close or feeding the horses, they retreated. The camp hosts radioed the rangers who sent someone to gently convince the horses to move on but by that time, the people had gathered their things and left the beach. The band led by the Mahogany Bay didn't seem the least bit contrite for all the fuss they had created.

Someone mentioned last night these animals are more feral than wild. By definition, feral means existing in a natural state, not domesticated, having reverted to a wild state or characteristic of wild animals. When applying these definitions to these horses, I find they are not domesticated but also are they not wild. They have become habituated to humans and their foods most likely through no fault of their own. This is not their natural state. When a person can walk to within a foot or two of a “wild” animal and it is not afraid, there is danger for humans and animals alike. It’s the same with bears who become too accustomed to climbing into dumpsters, raiding bird feeders and even busting down screen doors to get into kitchens for the food on the table. It usually ends up badly for the bears. I certainly hope that our love of these hardy and adaptive horses doesn't end up being the cause of their eventual demise. Incidentally, the definition in my dictionary of the word “wild” reads very similarly to the word “feral”.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

A Day At The Beach

Today we got to see first hand when a juvenile “ages out of the system”. A small band of horse were taking advantage of the strong and much cooler northeasterly breezes on the beach. Three pinto mares were lounging in the sand while their stallion, a beautiful deep Mahogany Bay, stood watch over them a couple of feet away. Much further off, a couple hundred feet or so, stood a much younger stallion who I estimated to be about 2 years old. While he’s not a mature breeding animal ready to have his own band of mares, he is too old and no longer tolerated in the family group. The band stallion, probably his father, has decided he can no longer hang with the “family”. Talk about tough love. Now the youngster have a one to two year period of being on the fringe. Most likely he will get together with age mates in the same predicament and when the time is right, he will steal a mare or two and form his own breeding herd. Sometimes he will fight for those mares. Later in the day, we observed another band on the beach enjoying the brisk breeze while the surf swirled around their legs. What caught my eye in this band was a palomino mare, not rare but also not as common as the more prevalent bays, chestnuts and pintos.

Just before supper we started out for a drive to see if we could discover any other bands in the area. Sometimes it’s difficult to believe there are more than 100 horses on the Maryland end of the island with none in sight and at other times, you almost drive into them. We left our site, drove no more than 50 feet and there they were, munching on the thick grass in the campground. And sure enough, it was the “Palomino” band from earlier in the day.

Each evening we drive the park roads in their entirety. That sounds impressive, doesn’t it? Well, there are about 5 miles of roads on this end of the island. We drive this loop a couple of times each day in search of ponies. Towards the end of tonight’s loop, we spotted a band of 6 members feeding on the thick cord grass growing on the marshlands. I had an up close experience with the stallion of this band who was grazing nearest the road. He crossed the course sand no more than 5 feet from me and even though they are pony size in stature, every inch of him looked horse to me. Even their knickers to one another are deep and throaty. We found a roosting tree of egrets but the sun was low in the sky so I wasn’t able to do justice to this majestic sight. After a short drive off the island to find a postal box to mail cards, we were back at the same marshy area when a second band of ponies which included the cream and white pinto mare arrived. Knowing two stallions cannot abide one another for very long, I suspected there might be fireworks. The mares milled together for a short while, some even seemed to be greeting old friends but just moments later, the stallions came nose to nose. There were sharp squeals, one showed his teeth and the other showed his heels. The late arriving band showing good sense, left the field, and it was all over. I never considered myself as “that person” who goes to a NASCAR race to see a wreck, or in this case, watches as two stallions fight over grazing rights. But there I was feeling disappointed when it was over that quickly.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Second Trip

Our 2nd trip to Assateague comes with mixed feelings. This was supposed to be the trip to show our granddaughter what a natural wonder this place is. Whether you subscribe to the romantic notion of Spanish horses swimming ashore or farmers turning out young or unused stock to avoid being taxed, this miracle began more than 300 years ago. Each year the shape of the island is changed by winter storms, wild hurricanes and even normal tidal erosion. What doesn’t change is the conditions these hardy animals have had to endure, driving rains, gale force winds, wind driven blinding snows, less than nourishing browse and biting and stinging insects that drive even us humans stark raving mad. I should know. I was outside without bug spray on for just a half hour and I’ll be scratching for days. And the heat is enough to drive any sane animal searching for shade and a cool drink and this is where it gets really interesting. The island is surrounded by salt water so the only source of fresh water are these oversized puddles where rain water collects or slightly brackish water filtered by sand and limestone finds its way. The photo with this post, while not beautiful or awe inspiring, shows one of these areas. We have since found out brackish ponds have the fresh water floating on top of the much heavier salt layer. The barrier island is also smack dab in the middle of the Chesapeake Flyway, one of the largest migratory routes in North America, making this place a birder’s paradise.

Last April, we were greeted by a small band of ponies just after crossing the Verrazano Bridge onto the island. This year, because of the heat and insects, the ponies seem to be hiding in the woods. I did observe a small band of 5 animals, a stallion and four mares walking in circles, brushing up against and walking under as many low hanging branches as possible. They did this over and over, varying the route only slightly. If I were to watch this behavior in my pasture at home, I would say the animals were stressed or bored silly. Here, it seems a more than practical way of temporarily relieving the itching and biting.

And much later in the early evening we were fortunate to see a rather large band, consisting of 6 mares and a stallion on the beach. Most of the horses of color here are black and white or brown and white pintos but in this group there was also a palomino
and white pinto, unusual to say the least. We spent our first evening at Bayside Landing to watch the sunset.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Unrelenting Weather

Wednesday found us traveling south to the St. George’s Peninsula in search of two lighthouses. The thick fog commonly referred to “pea soup” still had not lifted as we approached the Owl’s Head Light, a short squatty tower raised on a grassy knoll above the keeper’s house. It didn't take long to climb the stairs, walk around the base, take a gray photo and then descend the stairs. The keeper’s house was open and had been converted to an information center/ gift shop. The lady inside was very friendly and was glad to hear we were on our way to Marshall Point to visit the second lighthouse. We drove for about another hour along the coast, sometimes seeing bits of the harbors or outlying islands while at other times found ourselves unable to count the boats tied to the village wharfs we drove by. Marshall Point light sets out on a pile of rocks at the confluence of the ocean and the St. George River. You access the light by a narrow walkway leading from the keeper’s house. I’m sure it’s a sight to behold on a blue sky day but not today. The bit of visibility we had revealed a well restored working light surrounded by a small crowd of visitors undeterred by the lack of visibility. In fact, there were 4 or 5 artists working on small canvases spread out on the grounds. I asked one lady if she was painting from memory and she chuckled. Then she remarked how unlike us photographers who depended upon lighting and a view, she could paint what she wanted to be there. She was working on a section of rocks with breaking surf on them. Her surf looked angrier than what was there. We had an ice cream lunch at a Dairy Truck overlooking fields in the process of being hayed and the St. George River. Before we returned to the campground, there remained just one last lighthouse on this part of the coast, the Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse. From the parking lot to the lighthouse is a mile over huge blocks of granite put in place to protect the harbor from North Atlantic storms. The exercise was great, the photos came out okay and we made it back to the truck just as the thunder rumbled in the distance. The rain settled back in for the night. On Thursday morning, this bright light broke through the camper window and woke me up. We ate a hasty breakfast and headed out towards the communities of Rockport and Camden, both scenic, historic and a Mecca for tourists who want to shop, picnic or just relax. Their relaxation makes for tense driving for Carl and equally tense situations for the person with the camera, me. We had to pass on a couple of spots due to lack of parking but did make it to the Camden Hills State Park and a drive up Mt. Battie where we were treated to a view of the ocean and coastline for miles. And then, like clockwork, the clouds gathered, rain threatened and we headed back to the campground. Carl watched another movie while I did a couple loads of laundry. On the 26th, we’ll leave here and head southeast to South Paris for the Moore Park Art Show.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Fog Bound

Our odyssey continued in the state of Maine, moving on Monday to the rugged coast near Rockport. We arrive at the Megunticook Campground well before the check in time of 1:00 but were greeted with a smile and escorted to our site by a young man on what used to be a small riding lawn mower. The mowing deck had been removed and what was left moved along at a pretty good clip considering the potholes and bumps in the road. Our site was well shaded and roomy, providing us with a cozy parking spot for the next four days. We could see glimpses of the ocean through the thick hardwood forest behind us and after setting up the camper, we headed down a well traveled path to a beautiful little picnic area and still further below were Adirondack chairs just waiting for someone to settle into them and gaze out, possibly catching a glimpse of whales or passing ships. Unfortunately the gray sky created a gray ocean and in the distance we caught sight of a low hanging fog bank moving into the area. On nearby Indian Island stands a keeper’s house and a square lighthouse about to be swallowed by the approaching wall of gray. Tuesday found us pretty much camper bound by alternating sprinkles and torrents of rain. We couldn't reach any television signals so the only thing that saved Carl’s sanity was the nearby Wal-Mart and it’s Red Box. In all, we rented 4 movies and bought one of those $5.00 specials, this one containing 8 different Miramax movies. I alternated between reading, editing photos and looking out the window for some sign the weather was changing. That, sadly did not happen.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

There’s No Business Like…

If you don’t like the weather, wait a few minutes and it’s never more true than in New England. In the past week there have been heat index busting days and thunderstorms that put some tropical depressions to shame. A case in point would be our first day of the Yarmouth, ME Clam Festival. By 7:30 AM, the temperature was in the mid 80’s. No one felt much like moving about but wait. It got much worse. The heat index hit an all time high, the weather service called for an air quality health alert and the previous Portland, ME record of 94 was broken by 4 degrees. In all of that humidity, we tried to be pleasant and chat people up but let’s face it, even I couldn't ramp up any enthusiasm for my work. The small groups of people that did show up wandered from shady patch to shady patch in search of their next cold drink.  The second day seemed a bit cooler thanks to a very slight breeze and there were a few more people roaming about. I judge the days by how many business cards disappear so appeared to have been pretty good. A line of nasty squalls headed in our direction so everyone baled by 6:15. But, even this weather was a bust. When you talk about differences between night and day, we woke on Sunday to what I can only describe as the Lord having installed a New England wide air conditioner. There was a beautiful cooling breeze with seasonably mild temperatures and big white puffys in an azure sky. So how come we had a lousy day? I've never been able to figure out the Art Show business and how people perceive one piece of art from another. It’s possible the people came, saw and did on the previous two days and having done it all, they didn’t feel the need to return. There’s never been any rhyme or reason to what makes a successful event. Some days, people come to spend and other days they do not. This was a “do not” weekend.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Heading Home

Our trip north was relatively uneventful except for the new channel we were glued to as we drove. It’s been a surreal five days with all that has happened in Boston, MA. As I sit here trying to put my thoughts in order in regards to the events; the bombings at the marathon, the search for evidence, the discovery of CCTV footage and the release of suspects’ photos, the quick demise of one suspect and the long lockdown of a city and it’s suburbs, it’s a good feeling to know the last suspect is in custody. I have no photos to show for the more than 300 miles we covered today and quite honestly those photos would pale in comparison to the events being followed on radio and tv. Northward and home tomorrow!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Cretaceous Park Doesn't Have The Same Ring!

So, the weather was less than cooperative on Thursday. We awoke to a thicker than Pea Soup fog that didn’t seem to left all day. I watched for a bright spot, hoping for a bit of sun but to no avail. All week we’ve been driving by this closed miniature golf course at the end of the street. The appeal for me was the place was crawling with dinosaurs. Okay, not really crawling but there were a bunch. I thought this might make for an interesting photo or two. And throughout the week, we always had things to do and places to go. But not today. So, during a time when the light coming through our windows seemed to brighten, I grabbed my camera and headed for the corner. Upon arriving at the closed golf course, I noticed a bunch of activity. There were people ripping up the old carpet, cleaning the “fairways” while others were laying new carpet and putting fresh paint on some of the other props. I walked up to a couple of guys manning a rake and a hose to ask if they knew who was the owner or in charge. They indicated I could speak with them. Now, I don’t consider myself a bold individual but I am getting a bit more backbone when it comes to asking for access to what I want to shoot, especially when it involves private property. This is a key piece of information for all of you shutterbugs. Any shot you can achieve from a public place, park, sidewalk, road, etc. is fair game but the moment you step onto private property, even if it’s in the driveway, you must have permission from the landowner. After procuring the necessary permission with a warning to keep off the carpet, I began trying to capture these dinosaurs. Easy, right? Wrong! This is a busy street corner in a major city. There are wires over head. It’s a place set up for the public with lots of lighting because theoretically one could play the course during the evening hours. All of these things add to the difficulty in trying to capture a “believable” image. Now, I know there are no more dinosaurs but hey, I really wanted to get something I could turn into a note card to sell. I have dozens of photos young ladies find interesting but very few photos equally interesting for young men. And who doesn’t love dinosaurs. Four of the creatures were relatively uncomplicated; the velociraptor,  brachiosaurus, T-Rex and the frilled and hooded Dilophosaurus. Proving much more difficult were the two armored dinosaurs and most difficult was the stegosaurus, the image I wanted most to bring home. By evening, the sky finally turned mostly blue with a few wispy clouds. We grabbed a quick supper and headed off to grab a sunset before heading home in the morning. We found a lovely spot just over the Maryland-Delaware border and waited. The timing had been perfect. I had enough time to set up the tripod, police the area for stray branches in the way and take a few test shots. About 3 other vehicles pulled in with the same idea, to enjoy a beautiful end of day. As I am fond of saying, “I enjoy taking sunrise and sunset shots. There is one of each every day but each is very different.” And I wasn’t disappointed this evening. The orange ball slowly slunk away from the daylight tossing a bit of color to the immediate vicinity but no further. I waited for a full half hour after the sun was below the horizon knowing the show, the best color, hangs on until the last. But it wasn’t meant to be on this evening.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Misty’s Chincoteague

We drove the 1 ½ hours to the Virginia end of Assateague Island in hopes of seeing so many more wild ponies. But I was secretly concerned after we spoke with the volunteer at the Visitor’s Center. She told us how Tropical Storm Sandy had trashed the fences and the ponies had run rampant all over the Nature reserve. Well, why not? I thought to myself. I mean aren’t they the whole reason the reserve is here to begin with? As it turns out, the answer is NO. This end of the island is actually dedicated to Sika Deer, the DelMarva Fox Squirrel and a nesting sanctuary for thousands of waterfowl. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department have secure grazing rights for their ponies and the herd is restricted to one end of the island. Knowing this, I thought with 150 ponies in a restricted area, there should be tons of viewing opportunities. We drove onto the reserve and straight to the trailhead that would lead to the pony viewing platform. The Woodland Trail is a paved easy 1 ½ mile loop through a forest devastated by Sandy’s power. Huge 200 foot tall pines were laid over while others were snapped like toothpicks 25-30 feet from the ground. Once out to the platform, my fears were realized although I hadn’t yet been able to voice them. Before us was hundred of acres of brown cord grass and not a single pony in sight. We waited for about 20 minutes but no ponies appeared. We found ourselves headed back to the shady path but somewhat quieter than we had been before. About 15 minutes further down the path was a trampled pathway through the briars and leading to the edge of the cord grass marsh. Our first impression was one of curiosity and the second was of hope. By the time we had reached the edge of the marshy area, Carl had spotted the first pony, a wildly marked brown and white pinto standing on a pine covered hummock about 100 yards from the edge of the 4 strand barbed wire fencing. We could just barely make out one or two more ponies in the shaded brush and trees. The  natural camouflage was amazingly effective. We worked our way out to the fence and set up the tripod for my camera. All that commotion got the attention of the pinto who decided those strange creatures near the fence were worth investigation so it slowly came out, nibbling here and there on the grass while the whole while keeping an eye on us. Slowly legs shifted on the hummock until we could see several members of the band. In all, there were 7 and we spent about an hour photographing them until they grazed their way out of range of my lens. On our way back to the trail, I breathed a huge sigh of relief and Carl mentioned how glad he was to find some ponies after having traveled that distance. We had planned to take a short trail named Bivalve off the Woodland trail but as we approached the sign for the turn, I froze. There, in front of me, was a very pregnant pony standing on the pavement about 100 feet in front of me. I grabbed a shot or two as she turned down the trail. I looked at Carl with a big smile on my face but he pointed back towards the sign. There on the path were two more very pregnant mares and they, too, turned down the Bivalve Trail. We slowly followed so as not to spook them. The trail was a mere ¼ mile and ended in Tom’s Cove, a tranquil body of water with a narrow beach running along the shore. It wasn’t the water or sand that had drawn the ponies here however. It was the rich new growth of cord grass about a foot tall. I stood almost transfixed by the sheer beauty of them as they chomped on the succulent shoots. We were so close we could easily hear the sucking sounds their hooves made in the mud as they moved from clump to clump. Their teeth ripped off large mouthfuls at a time and you could hear them chewing slowly, relishing every salty bit. I’ve read the ponies drink twice the fresh water domestic horses drink due to their higher than usual salt intake. Carl asked me about the mares being alone without a stallion for “protection”. And while I don’t have an official answer, I mentioned how some animals leave the herd to give birth alone which also includes that protective stallion. I was more curious about why they were on this side of the fencing and then it occurred to me Sandy had knocked down the fences and the Fire Department Cowboys had missed these three. Maybe there were more roaming around the reserve and we should find them! After 50 or so photos taken of the fat trio, I said goodbye and we returned to the parking area to have a bite of lunch. We drove to the beach and looked around for more pony opportunities. There were dozens of people, fishing, sunbathing, playing in the surf and even a couple flying kites but no ponies. I’ve read they save their beach time for the hot summer months where the breezes and cooling waters help to alleviate some of the bug miseries. Lastly we found ourselves at the Marsh Trail which wanders around one side of the Wildlife Loop, a 3 mile walking bike path that is open to vehicles after 3:00. As we were finishing the last ¼ mile of the Marsh Trail, I spotted a lone pony directly across from us with a large body of water separating us. It was just 3:00 and Carl decided to return the borrowed binoculars to the Visitor’s Center before we drove the loop. And as luck would have it, after returning the binoculars and driving the 3 mile Loop very slowly, it put us in a perfect position to get some beautiful shots of the lone pony, a stallion. I have to believe this is the band stallion for the fat trio of mares. At some point in the near future, they will rejoin him with their foals at their side. I wish I could be there for that moment. All together we saw and photographed 11 individuals from the Chincoteague herd. There were differences even though they are the same. These animals have the benefit of human intervention, health care at least once a year and they are also carrying marks, both brands and adhesive numbers attached to help quickly tell them apart from one another. Although I can’t prove it, I believe these animals are a bit larger and have sleeker coats. I do, however, take exception to the foals being taken from their dams at such an early age, some of them being no more than 3 months of age. But what do I know? They have been rounding them up for more than 70 years and will continue to do so. I’m just thrilled I was able to experience these beautiful animals in their natural home while they still exist. I’m going home a happy camper!

Monday, April 15, 2013

A Couple Great Days

Okay, so I have aching muscles and sore feet to remind me of how much fun I’m having in Ocean City, MD. I mean, when was the last time I walked 3 miles? It doesn’t matter the walking was on the boardwalk, all one level and at a leisurely pace. It just matters there was that much energy expended. We enjoyed a quick lunch at a restaurant called Gordito’s Burritos for, what else, tacos and a side excursion for a couple of souvenirs. That pretty much took the bulk of Saturday and although there were few photo ops, I did manage to snap a couple of interesting pics. Now Sunday was a totally different matter. We traveled about 15 miles to Assateague Island, home of the Atlantic Barrier Island Wild Ponies. There is some speculation how they came to be there but genetically, these animals started out as horses about 300 years ago. Start with harsh weather conditions, add a poor diet consisting of mostly salty cord grass and no new blood introduced in that 300 years and you find yourself with an extremely hardy ruggedly built and sure footed easy keeper with the stature of a pony and general physical characteristics of a horse. Assateague Island is divided at the Maryland-Virginia state line by a post and rail fence. The bands on either side of the boundary number approximately 150; the herd on MD soil belonging to the National Park Service and the ones on VA soil the property of The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. The VA bands are rounded up every July and the foals are auctioned to help maintain the maximum number allowed by the Park Service’s grazing permits.  The MD bands are not thinned in this manner but their reproduction is controlled by a hormonal injection given to select mares each year. All my life, I have longed to visit these incredible and durable horses ( ponies ) and on this day, April 14th, that dream has been realized. We approached the island by way of the Verrazano Bridge. I wondered out loud how long it would be before we saw our first pony. I had voiced a similar question of the Bison in Yellowstone. There it had taken just 30 minutes before that first massive beast appeared. This time it was only about 1 ½ minutes. We weren’t even off the bridge when I spotted  a small band of three in the distance and another group of two just a couple minutes after that. All five were quite a ways from the road so we passed on these hoping for a closer viewing opportunity. That first contact with an observable family group or band, about 20 minutes later, was at the Old Ferry Landing. There, just across a narrow shallow waterway, were 8 mature ponies, some grazed while others stood in the warm April sun just soaking it in. At first I couldn’t determine mares from stallions due to the distance but some time later, while observing them from another vantage point, I could see the chestnut with the flaxen mane and dark tail standing off to one side was clearly the one in charge. We roamed all the drivable parts, walked a few of the trails and even stopped by to check out the campgrounds. And as it happened, in one of these campgrounds, we found another small band of 4. After lunch and a check of the beach to see if there were any ponies building sand castles (j/k) we headed off with the intention of going home. We hadn’t traveled more than a mile outside the park when we had one more opportunity to observe another average sized group. This one had 7 members with one of them being much younger than the others. We took a bunch of photos from the road but then Carl suggested we might try working our way through the woods out onto a spit of land halving the distance to them. Not only did we find ourselves closer but from that vantage, we observed most of the band were slowly grazing their way closer to us. In fact, before we were done, 3 of the members would walk off the salt marsh right past us, close enough for me to reach out and touch but I kept my finger on the shutter happily snapping away. We backed out of their way and allowed them to pass without incident. You see, these are truly wild animals and no matter how used to people they have become, something can change in an instant resulting in people being bitten, kicked or run over. And sometimes the ponies’ interactions with people have lead to their deaths. Cars are the aggressor on the island where there are no natural predators to concern them. I went home a happy photographer after sighting  25 different ponies. Today, the weather was against us with a forecast of showers and cool temperatures so we decided to stay close to home. I got some much needed housekeeping done before we zipped off to the movies to see “42”. Tomorrow, the plan is to travel to the VA end of the island.  More photos of wild ponies coming up!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

____ Miles From Home

If we fill in the blanks, our trip began much like this. 50 miles from home, the snow completely disappeared. 100 miles from home, there was a distinct greening of the grass beside the highway. By the time we had traveled 150 miles from home, we could see the first signs of leaves fighting to wake up on the trees. When we found ourselves 200 miles from home, the Forsythia bushes were in full bloom. And it was exciting to note that when we reached 250 miles from home, the daffodils and flowering trees were vibrant in their yellows and pinks. And although the entire trip was highway miles, it was not a boring trip. We saw many Red tailed Hawks which, it turns out, are camera shy. We tried backing up on Rte 91 for several hundred yards as the Hawk, in the photo, flew from tree to tree, just out of reach of my lens. Later in the day, I missed a beautiful tom Turkey displaying for a small group of hens. It’s very difficult to slam on the brakes when you’re going 65 mph in 4 lanes of traffic. I now understand why the state name for NJ is the “garden state”. This part of the Garden State Parkway we traveled this evening is downright rural, complete with small herds of black tailed deer and salt flats. We are staying at the Econo Lodge in Somers Point, NJ. It’s not much but then it’s only a place for Carl to recharge his batteries from his 500 plus miles of driving.
Tomorrow we’ll drive to Cape May and get on the ferry to take us to Lewes,  DE. From there, we’ll drive to Ocean City, MD to spend the week. I’ll post more later, I promise!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Thinking About Time Travel

There’s a lot to be said for the modern conveniences of air travel these days. But no matter how global our lives have become, no matter the planes are hundreds of times faster than they were 100 years ago, it still takes one heck of a long time to get to Hawaii and back. The first leg of last nights trip was 5 ½ hours. You can say “ well that’s not all that bad but we’re working against time here. There’s two hours difference between HI and CA. Our morning started at 8:00 AM on Friday Hawaii time. That would be 1:00 PM here. Our flight left at 11:00 PM out of Lihue which would have been 4:00AM in Boston. We did hit it lucky in LA, getting off one plane, walking 5 gates and walking right onto the next flight, another 5 hour flight crossing against a 3 hour gain. While we arrived in Boston at 3:40 PM on Saturday afternoon,  our internal clock was saying it was 10:40 AM on Saturday and in reality we had been up and moving for just over 26 hours. While most people put their head phones on and close their eyes, falling asleep in just minutes, it takes me more than an hour to relax. I did actually sleep for a few hours on the first flight but nothing on the second. Carl was a bit more successful on the first flight but also couldn’t fall back to sleep on the second flight. Long story, shortened a bit, we caught the bus and arrived in Concord in good time. Our truck was surrounded by snow thanks to last weeks big storm. It could have been way worse. We agreed to drive as far as Tilton for the night. I couldn’t see pushing all the way home and then having to return to Plymouth on Sunday morning for space rotation at Artistic Roots. So here I editing photos and writing my blog while Carl has already fallen into a deep sleep. The photos posted to face book today will be of that last day on the island and I have tried very hard to find out names of these beauties. I may have some not quite right but others I haven’t been able to find at all. I’m beginning to feel a bit like Charles Darwin must have on the Galapagos finding so many finches looking similar and yet very different. That’s the way it is with Hibiscus and Plumeria.  

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Odds And Ends And Farewells

Wouldn’t you know it, today we have to leave and the weather is beautiful. But there is some sense of order to the universe in spite of the meteorite crashing into Russia. The trades are blowing in some really unsettled weather and it could get downright miserable on Monday. Of course, I will be back at work on Monday so what do I care about the weather in Princeville? We vacated our unit by the required time of 10:00 AM and drove slowly towards Lihue. We stopped in Kapa’a and wandered through the permanent craft fair, picking up a couple of t-shirts in the Authentic Red Dirt Shirt Outlet. For those of you Mike Rowe fans, he came to Hawaii a few years ago, washed windows on Oahu and then came to Kauai to play in the mud. All of the outlet stores are running that footage. We did purchase one of those shirts a few years ago for our son. You have to be real careful for the first ½ dozen washes or so but after that the color stays put. From there we headed to Koloa and had lunch at the Kauai Food Truck before making a second visit to The McBryde National Botanical Park where we managed to kill another hour. One of the places I’ve always wanted to check out is Akuhini Landing at the mouth to Hanamaulu Bay so we spent some time there as well. There was one native with a net, checking the water for fish. I waited about ½ hour for him to throw that sucker but no dice. Either he was camera shy or there was nothing for him to throw it at. And finally one last trip into Walmart was needed for our return flight snacks. We didn’t get so much as a bag of peanuts from the airline on the way out. Our grand tour from one end of the island to the other felt as if we were saying good bye for a few years to an island we have become quite comfortable with. Our rental car returned, we found ourselves at the Lihue Airport by 5:00 but that still left us with a huge chunk of time. We figured to check our one bag, clear security and then relax in the lounge area until supper. Even that didn’t pan out for us since the American Airlines Ticket counter doesn’t open until 7:40 PM. That’s almost 3 hours of sitting on the concrete half wall which given the alternative of no seats, I’ll take the wall.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

We Fly Tomorrow

Today is our 42nd anniversary and we spent the day “at home”. I know it’s not very romantic but the day involved showers, laundry and cleaning up all of the food left in the refrigerator. It can make for a couple of strange meals, I have to say. For instance, tonight we had the last of a store rotisserie chicken, the last of the mahi mahi , the left over carrots and the last of the potatoes. Carl finished up the milk minus enough for his morning tea because he doesn’t want to open up a new bag of coffee and I am trying to finish up the bottled water and cans of Coke Zero. I think Carl will have to leave three beers because we cannot bring them home, even in our checked luggage. As it is, we have a box of tea, a can of turkey Spam and a back of Knorr rice pilaf to fit in somewhere. Our breakfast in the morning will consist of the last two eggs, two bagels, 4 oz. slice ham lunch meat and the last of the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter plus two apples. We will have to throw away about ¼ cup of light mayonnaise and about ½ cup of brown mustard. See, we’ve done this a few times and sometimes we over buy and others we get it just right. This time it was just right.    

 There are lots of photos from our recent trip to Kauai at my other face book page

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Loose Ends Before Leaving

Today, we were up before the sun. We found ourselves on the Hanalei Pier waiting for Mother Nature’s morning wake up show. Sadly, although the surf on the bay had settled down, the cloud cover messed up the brilliant colors we were expecting. After almost two weeks here, we have figured out the weather patterns here. Each morning, the clouds are thick, threatening and sometimes even delivering some rain. By 10:00 the sky most always clears and remain so until about 4:00PM when the clouds begin building once more. So, to fill in the rest of the day, we revisited some of our previous sites to retake what I considered to be some uninteresting photos. Then it was back to the unit for lunch until it was time for us to change. Today was the Dinner Theater at the Kauai Beach Club to see their production of “South Pacific”. The buffet was less than stellar and the production, while entertaining, was chopped up to the point of confusion to anyone not familiar with the original storyline. We did have an entertaining bus ride to and from and learned some local history, Hawaiian phrases I can’t remember and a couple of mildly interesting jokes.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

My Afternoon Off

It started raining sometime in the night and ruined our plans for sunrise shots at Hanalei Pier and spending the day browsing the shops in Hanalei.  As it turned out, it also put a hefty damper on the rest of the day. I did a load of laundry and Carl cooked supper. We called it an early night. On Tuesday, Carl dropped me off at Princeville Center, the shopping plaza, for me to browse the shops and pick up a couple of things for supper. Then I walked back to the unit while he continued on to Kapa’a to catch his fishing charter. He was like a little kid. He so wants to bring home supper. Although there are always trade winds in the islands, it has also been on the humid side. With all my friends and family still shoveling the effects of the latest nor’easter, I almost feel guilty complaining about the sticky weather here. Oh, and there is an upside to this entry. Although the fishing sucked and only one mahi mahi  was caught, every one on the boat got a piece and it was delicious broiled with a pile of fresh carrots.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Sandy Shores

This morning I have a mission, to find Secret Beach. It should be easy enough. It’s on the map and I can read maps. The issue is lots of the roads aren’t marked and some are glorified cart paths. We have been told to take Kalihiwa Road and turn right onto Pier Road, drive to the end, park and take the path to the beach. On the way, I saw the sign pointing to Anini Beach Road so we turn down this dead end to find one of the more pristine and protected snorkel sites on the north side. And sure enough, the huge waves are breaking several hundred feet off shore. The reef that protects this beach is also responsible for the abundance and variety of marine life. All beaches are public in Hawaii but some, with services like lifeguards, rest rooms and propane grills are run by the county who can implement certain rules. The big one seems to be no pets allowed. I can understand that. No one wants to stretch out in the sand where a dog has done his business. So, people with pets choose less choice spots for pet recreation. We cam upon a lady, her two children and their two puppies in a quiet cove almost in site of Anini. The down side- no amenities and very little beach but the up side was a quiet tidal pool the children could play in and the dogs had free range to be, well, dogs! We found another place overlooking the outlet to the sea of the Kalihiwai River into the bay of the same name.  There, the surf was breaking a bit more reliably and there was a number of boards in the water. Another hour found us finally at the path to Secret Beach after three more dead ends and a turn down into two more quiet coves. But, oh the beach was incredible. It’s a two mile crescent broken at low tide by several lava benches jutting into the ocean. Absolutely no one was in the water and with good reason. The waves here were huge and I could tell by the way they were breaking, there was a massive rip tide and untold amounts of reef beneath the surface. The sun sparkled off the Kilauea Light up on the bluff and I think I took another 100 or more photos. I found it hard to leave. Each wave seemed larger than the one before and it may have been so. We were watching a rising tide. Before our return to Princeville, we drove another mile to Kilauea town to photograph the Christ Memorial Episcopal Church, built from stone and dedicated just one month after the attack on Pearl Harbor. We had lunch at the Chevron Station in Princeville which is reputed to have the best pizza on the north side. I passed up a slice for $7.00 and change to have the local Princeville Pride Beef in the form of a Holo Holo Burger. I’m pretty sure that means with the works as it came with cheese, lettuce, tomato and onion. In fairness to the price of a slice, I have to mention a slice is ¼ of the pie. The day ended with a visit to those Hanalei Taro fields we viewed earlier in the day from the overlook. After crossing the one lane bridge over the Hanalei River and taking a hard left, Carl found a safe place to pull of the one lane road so I could do my thing. The only accessible field is the first one on the right and even that one has signage to prevent theft or damage to the crop. That’s all well and good but I want photos that are unencumbered by fences, signs, and anything that screams of modern convenience like cell towers and power lines. I found a comfortable position on the ground just close enough to the water but not so close I was in danger of trespass. Taro is a staple of the Hawaiian diet and not just something to serve Haole tourists at luaus.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Big Waves

Of all things, we found ourselves in a timeshare pitch today. No, we didn’t buy another week but we did get a $75.00 American Express gift card and a VIP discount card which we are actually able to use on the dinner theater production of South Pacific on Wednesday night and Carl’s fishing trip on Tuesday. This killed a huge chunk of time between the orientation breakfast and the promotional tour so after lunch at the unit, we hit the road for just a bit. We headed north on Rte 56 to the end of the road at Ke’e beach. The high surf advisories weren’t joking and the waves were pounding in. Lifeguards have closed most beaches to all water activity and if you should be stupid enough to enter the surf zone and get into trouble, I hope you have deep pockets. It actually took us longer to find a parking spot than it did to take the 100 + photos. The spot is very popular, beautiful sandy beach, facilities and normally some snorkeling. It’s also one end of the 11 mile long Kalalau Hiking Trail. On a scale of 1 to 10, most people say it’s a 14 in the degree of difficulty. But it’s the only way other than by boat or air to see the most pristine part of the island, the Na Pali coast. Pali means cliffs in Hawaiian and they are humdingers. Razor edged peaks rise from the ocean more than 3,000 feet in some places. I saved some memory card for other waves and we headed for the world famous Tunnels Beach. Here we found a collection of tents complete with smoldering campfire, occupants having a beer and waiting for the word to hit the waves. And those waves certainly seemed much larger here than they were at the north facing Ke’e Beach. I would have loved to stay longer when those campers turned into surfers but the light was fading. On the return home I counted the11 one way bridges, all very narrow, our guest relations staff told us about.

Friday, February 8, 2013

One Week In The Sunshine

February 3-8, 2013

While travel to Hawaii isn’t new to us, this trip is a bit different than others. Our first week will be spent at our “home” resort of Lawai Beach on the south side of Kauai. Our second week will be on the north shore in an area called Princeville, a part of the island we haven’t spent much time exploring. And no matter how smooth the ride or how much extra leg room, vacant seats or great movies there are, it’s still a very long plane ride. All together, we flew 14 hours in 3 different planes.

This first week has been quiet which is the way I like a vacation to begin. We have driven as far west as we can to Polihale Beach, revisited old friends like Spouting Horn, Wialua Falls and Opaekaa Falls and quaint villages named Waimea, Koloa and Hanapepe.

We have experienced two different food trucks, one serving Mexican and the other Hawaiian food. This is Carl’s new thing after having watched The Great American Food Truck Race for the last three years. They both served okay food but neither of these dining experiences left me wanting to revisit.

We stopped by a local Farmer’s market in Koloa on Monday. This was a new experience too. The rules were even more strict than the market held in Littleton, NH. The crowds began gathering at 11:30 but were held until exactly 11:55 when the throng of shoppers were led to the vendors in one large group so no one had an extra advantage. No sales were allowed before 12:00. The place was mobbed, some vendors sold out in the first 10 minutes and I found myself holding my breath for fear of fender benders or parking lot rage due to the shortage of open spaces. We also noticed the produce went for higher prices than the local super market. We paid $7.00 for a pineapple and found them priced at $6.00 at the Big Save.

Our last new experience centered around Kilohana, an old plantation home turned pricey tourist restaurant who offer train rides through what used to be cane fields and walking tours among their beautiful gardens. We have done the train ride but their new endeavor, started only 3 years ago, is the Koloa Rum Company. Our host, Jason offered a small tutorial on how to make rum and for those of us over the age of 21, the tasting began with their non-alcoholic Mai tai mix. To this we added what was left of our samples of the white, dark and golden rums tasted by themselves. This made a perfect Mai tai  although I’m not a huge fan of straight rum, I can tell you that I did enjoy the mixed cocktail. There will be a coconut rum joining the “family” soon.

With only one sunset under our belt and no sunrises, I’m feeling a bit of a failure as a photographer. So with that in mind I’ve decided to book a tour with a company that caters to photographers for next week. I know we’ve been to Kauai several times and driven to all of the locations the tourists know about. This tour will take us to the more out of the way unmarked beaches, panoramic overlooks and even waterfalls that have no names.

We departed Lawai Beach a day early to make the most of our north side experience.

The Move North

February 8th , 2013

The drive north was punctuated by stops at the gas station, a farmer’s market and Kilauea Lighthouse and Marine Sanctuary. Carl is now eligible for his lifetime park pass which will cost just $10.00 and never expires. Admission to the Lighthouse grounds was $5.00 per person so for us , the decision was a no brainer. Today was the day to purchase his Lifetime Pass.  We chatted with the young ranger and then continued on to the lighthouse where we observed a large pod of dolphins playing in the cove near Secret Beach. Off in the distance were several spouts indicating whales basking in the sun while their calves nursed and grew stronger. And for all the time spent in Hawaii, we’ve seen little evidence of the existence of the state bird, the Nene until today. There were quite a few on the grounds of the sanctuary along with nesting kites, red footed boobys and even albatross.

We had a bite to eat in the parking lot and headed to Princeville. Our unit wasn’t ready yet so we headed to Hanalei Bay to see the pier and what the surf was doing. You know that saying “surf’s up” . Well, it has been building for the last 36 hours. The normal tranquil bay was cloudy with silt and waves were breaking in the 4 to 5 foot range. The locals loved it, surf, paddle and body boards were everywhere. But that was just a problem for me, the bay was roiling, tons of people were all over the beach and even the pier was crowded.