Sunday, August 25, 2013

The Resident Tourist, Episode 2 - Chincoteague

I am a long-time resident of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  2013 has afforded the opportunity for me to drive from the far western hills to the waves lapping at the shores in the east.  Most recently, I was in the east to a place I had never visited: Chincoteague.

Prior to this, the closest I got to Chincoteague was a trip to Wallop's Island Marine Science Consortium in High School and we did a bunch of research on tidal basin water.  Turns out I was about 5 miles from Chincoteague and I was none the wiser.  Anyway, it was a pretty fun trip.  Here's what I remember the most: My friend Becca and I were finished with the experiments for the day and we were walking to the dining hall or evening meeting or something.  (The details are a little foggy after so many years.) We were walking past the boys lodge and we heard someone singing in the shower.  It was my good friend Brian who was singing a song dedicated to another friend on the trip, Charlie.  Presumably, Charlie was in earshot and could hear his name being sung to the tune of the Kink's "You Really Got Me".  So instead of "Girl, you really got me goin', you got me so I don't know what I'm doin'," Brian sang, enthusiastically, "Oh Charlie, oh charlie charlie charlie, oh charlie charlie charlie charlie charlie".  It's one of my most favorite high school memories.  

On this trip, it was just my mom and I. She has had a lifelong love affair with horses and I love them to.  She taught me how to ride.  Neither of us had ever been, so it seemed like a perfect destination.  I picked her up in Richmond, had lunch with her at my parent's house, and then we started off down to Norfolk and back up the Eastern shore.  I-64 from Williamsburg to Norfolk is a stretch of road I know so well from shows at the Norva, from line dancing at Saddle Ridge, and trips to Virginia Beach.  In summer all the crape myrtles are in full bloom and are so beautiful.  Also, I love water and our drive included two great bridges: the Hampton Roads Bridge Tunnel and the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel.  Highway 13 takes you through coastal terrain and then a right turn towards the horizon a few miles up takes you to the small and welcoming town of Chincoteague.  You cross over the marshlands and turn into a row of small cottages and houses.  It's also a touristy town.  My mom and I took a sunset boat tour after we arrived and got to our hotel.  I wasn't really sure what wild ponies would look like.  In case you are wondering: 

It was oddly thrilling.  I have now been on lots of wildlife safaris and have had the amazing fortune to see lots of animals in their natural habitat.  My brother had been camping on Assateague and said that the horses seemed to him like large hairy rodents.  He went in the late fall when the ponies have their winter coats and look like shag carpet rolls with four legs.  From the photos, you can see this was not the case.  I have seen lots and lots of horses in my life but it was particularly special to see these herds unpenned, unbridled, grazing peacefully in their families.   

The boat tour was relaxing and beautiful.  I really love coastal Virginia and so do these horses.  They spend most of their days grazing because the grass they live on has a pretty low nutritional value and they have to eat a lot of it to sustain themselves.  As I watched the sun set, saw the small fishing boats rocking softly in their slips, and listened to the sea birds calling over the water, I was composing sonnets to Virginia in my head.  All they've amounted to is this blog post.  

I should take a moment to mention the momentous presence of MISTY OF CHINCOTEAGUE, the pony that launched a thousand pennings.  It's a sweet book and a great story.  I read it when I was a little girl because so did my mom and she gave me the book when I was about 7 or something.  I barely remembered it, but going to the island makes it so much more real.  I remembered the characters, Paul and Maureen, Grandpa and Grandma, Misty and Phantom.  And the island certainly doesn't want you to forget either.  Just about the only thing without Misty in the name is Mister Whippy's, the delicious soft serve ice cream place that I have been curious about since a girl I knew in middle school wore their t-shirt a lot.  The ice cream didn't make me want to write more poetry, but it was a nice end to a beachy day.  

The next day we had a relaxing morning and then headed north to Assateague.  All we really did is drive through the two state park areas but the horses run wild everywhere.  They will mill about parking lots, trot across roads, and walk right along side you on the trails.  It was on one of these trails that I sustained one of the more miserable sets of injuries I've ever had.  We wanted to walk a short nature trail to get a better look at some of the salt marshes.  I was out of the car for around 5 minutes and received no less than 47 mosquito bites (and that's when I stopped counting).  It was mosquito blitzkrieg.  I had to bail on the half mile hike and RUN back to the car to take shelter.  It has always been a problem for me, they love my blood for some reason and I react to the bites more than most. But I walked unprepared into a full assault from the insect population of the island.  I had to stop at a drugstore and buy special cream so that I could keep driving and not have to feel like I was on fire for want of itching.  My mom escaped the attack unscathed, so I learned that taking me along on your trip is 100% effective for you, and less poisony than deet.  Win win! (for you anyway).  I can only liken the discomfort of those bites over the next three days to the time when I got horrible poison ivy in North Carolina when I was cleaning out someone's backyard.  My extremities were absolutely covered and I could barely sleep.  In this case and that one, I was applying cream to my lower arms and legs for the better part of a week.  

My mother and I had a great time exploring these far reaching islands in Virginia and Maryland.  It's recommended for a nice weekend away as long as you don't mind driving a good bit.  It's pretty far but oh so peaceful.  Also, the seafood is fantastic.  

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Resident Tourist, Episode 1 - The Library of Congress

I have lived in the DC Metro area on and off since I was 5 years old.  I have been away from it for a collective total of 11 years, if you count college when I was still coming home most summers.  I make it a point to try new things and also to never forsake my first loves, if you will.

I recently came to a point where I almost left DC for a job.  It ended up not working out but in my head and partly in my heart I had one foot out the door.  Since that time, it struck me that there is a lot in DC that I don't take enough advantage of.  When I was studying there, my Parisian host mom always told me "Profites-en bien!" meaning "take good advantage of being here!"  She's right.  Some of the best recent advice I have been given is to "bloom where you are planted".  Therefore, since my lease on DC has been renewed in a metaphorical sense, how can I bloom in this ground which I call home?

Something has surfaced as I've thought about this, also taken from a friend with the same mission: to try one new thing a month.  For me, this means visiting one new place or doing something touristy in DC one time each month.  So I've been following the shorts and sandals amidst the sea of suits on the sidewalk.  Where are they going? What's important to people who are seeing DC with new eyes, the eyes of someone who only has a short time to cram everything awesome about the city into one visit?

I was recently online looking to schedule a White House guided tour through my congressman.  I found out through this process that, due to sequestration, tours of the White House are no longer offered to the public.  Woe is me!  I have a distant memory of going to a White House Christmas party when I was in 2nd grade and a dress marine served me spiked egg nog.  This is, admittedly, pretty fantastic.  However, I thought I would probably appreciate the White House tour more now that I can vote, and have watched all 7 seasons of The West Wing at least 3 times all the way through.  Only slightly daunted, I decided to schedule a tour for the Library of Congress instead.

I had to take a half-day off work to be able to take the tour and it was well worth the time.  They begin the tour saying that the LOC is one of the most beautiful buildings in DC.  I think it wins that contest hands down.  Floor to ceiling marble, ornately carved staircases, stained glass, stately columns and statues, one walks through these halls thinking of all the knowledge stored within them.  The Jefferson building has burned to the ground and been added on to several times and has a huge annex, the Madison building, to house its extraordinary collection.

The Great Hall and the central reading room are the crown jewels of the building.  The post-Enlightenment theme of the decorations in the main foyer speak to the virtues of nobility, knowledge, and truth.  The names and quotes in the Great Hall were chosen by Librarian of Congress Ainsworth Rand Spofford and Charles W. Eliot, the president of Harvard University at the time.  It is evidenced through their selections that they wanted the building to have the Enlightenment spirit.  Man is God and Knowledge is Truth.

I really loved seeing the Gutenberg Bible, contrasted with an older bible, all written by hand with the most beautiful script.  Some things are worth taking a long time with.  But bless Gutenberg for making print so accessible!  I wonder what he would think of the internet and e-readers? 

 We had to wait a while to get into the main reading room.  But look at this beauty!  I wouldn't mind reading more in a space like this.  Though I do enjoy my couch quite a bit as well.  The library of congress has beauty I had not known!

Everyone should visit this beautiful building.  Some people have asked me if it is right to spend so much money on things like this.  They have asked it in regards to churches.  Is it right for the goverment to spend so much on a building? What of the cost of the intricate carvings, the ornate stained glass ceiling?  I've been thinking this week about beauty.  What is beauty, why does it matter? There was recently something on the TED Radio Hour dealing with this question.  In that episode, a contributor said this: "Beauty draws us in. We can't stop looking or listening or touching. It takes us outside ourselves and it motivates us. " Neurologically, one learns from this podcast, reactions to beauty in music or art stimulate activity to the areas of the brain devoted to creativity.  A building that houses some of the most cherished works of art, cartography, literature, audio and more from our nation's history should be a place of beauty.  Beauty does draw us outside of ourselves. I would contend it draws us toward the eternal, the transformational.  That's why beauty is important and that's why this building should be just as it is.  

Stay tuned for more resident tourist adventures.  

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