Off and on for the past several years, Kathy and I have been talking about taking five or six months to drive some of the side roads of America so that we can see what’s unique to each area—sort of a more modern William Least Heat Moon trip. When we drove last week to Chincoteague, we did part of the drive in Maryland on those “blue highways” just to see what it would be like. Boy, was I disappointed. What did we see? Lots of WaWa gas stations, Hardys, and Dunkin Donuts, alternating with fields of corn, strawberries, and melons. It felt like just one long stream of commercials and incitements to buy all along the way.
When we got to Chincoteague itself, luckily there was relief. Despite the focus on increasing revenue from tourism to balance out the loss of revenue from fishing, Chincoteague still retains a lot of its own quirky personality. There are only two fast food places—a Subways and a McDonald’s—both on the main street leading to Assateague Island and the beaches. And while there are lots of other restaurants —three ice cream parlors (we alternated between the Creamery and Mr. Whippy’s), several sub places, some bad restaurants on piers, and Bill’s (which generally had great food breakfast, lunch, and dinner) – and stores (including lots of “treasure chest” and beach supplies options), the town retains its uniqueness in lots of little ways. We, along with the rest of the traffic, stopped at least three times, for example, to let a family of ducks and ducklings wander slowly across the road. Folks on bikes of all kinds rode along just about every road we drove or walked. And, since we were there in July, there was also the Fireman’s Carnival going on each weekend, which we could hear and see the lights from in the distance each evening from our balcony.
But the best part of Chincoteague and Assateague was the birds. Despite the piping plovers being flooded out this year, there were so many birds—bald eagles, snowy egrets, cattle egrets, and great egrets, geese and ducks of all kinds, red winged blackbirds, bobwhites, white ibises, osprey, cardinals, herring gulls, little blue herons, great blue herons (how prehistoric they look in flight!), tricolored herons, sandpipers, terns, and swans. They were everywhere— on the lawns of homes and over the water, out on the trails and by the docks. I loved being surrounded by them.
But my favorite of all was being on the deck off our room watching the laughing gulls fly over and around us every 30 seconds or so. I’ve always felt drawn to those black-capped gulls and used to joke that if there’s such a thing as transmigration, I probably was either a dolphin or a black-capped gull in an earlier life. I was awoken each morning by the sound of their laughing and then started each day sitting for a few hours out on the deck just enjoying the way in which those gulls road the currents. And it was those parts of the day that will stay as the best part of my time on Chincoteague.