Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Bankers of Shackleford Island

I have a very unique bucket list. And I'm serious about it. My goal is to check every item off…well…before I kick the bucket. 

Which brings me to today. 

Today I was able to check one more item off my list. And I swear, it's better than anything I've experienced so far, including climbing Croag Patrick in Ireland. I'm still smiling.

This bucket list item was to photograph the wild ponies of Shackleford Island in North Carolina. 



Here's the story. As the legend goes, in the 1500's, a Spanish settlement was attempted on the coast of North Carolina, with very few survivors. As ships continued to come this direction, they would either run aground, or land on the outer bank islands. Once here, the ships would abandon their livestock - including horses. This continued for  decades, with horses being cast overboard or released from Spanish ships, for whatever reason. Today, hundreds of years later, the descendents of these early equestrine pioneers roam the banks of Shackleford Island, as free as their ancestors. They are lovingly referred to by the locals as "Bankers".

There is a ton of historical references about these ponies - and I encourage you to research - but for now, for the sake of time and this blog, I'm going to focus on my up-close experience with these amazing animals.

My day started on an early ferry ride out to Shackleford Island from the quaint little town of Beaufort, North Carolina. The island is part of the National Park Service of North Carolina, and home to about 100 wild ponies. As our boat came closer to the island, I took note of the landscape. Typical island - not a lot of trees, hilly, lots of sand. 

And not a pony in sight.  

My time was limited, so a strategy was necessary. I decided to head to the highest hill. Should be easy to spot a pony from a high vantage point, right? 

Hiking through the marshy sand, working my way up toward the hills, I found myself asking, "Where would I go if I were a horse?" 

And that's when I saw it. I had wondered off into a shady grove. (if I were a horse I'd want shade, right?)

A horse grave. Of sorts.  

I had almost tripped over the skeletal remains of a horse. Not quite the encounter I imaged. But it certainly was a reality check. Horses live here…so they have to die here. Right. 

I continued on to what I saw as the highest point of the island. The sun was relentless and the humidity was not something I was used to, but I was determined. 

And just when the heat was getting to me and I was wondering if there were really any horses on this island, there they were.

I saw them first from a distance. There were about 6 ponies eating in a small valley about 50 feet away.

I dropped my pack, grabbed my camera, and moved forward slowly, so as not to spook. These were wild ponies, after all.

I moved closer ….slowly stepping, snapping pictures, afraid they would bolt any minute. Soon, I was less than 15 feet away. And they were unfazed. 

They raised their heads a few times, to check me out, but they seemed unconcerned about me as I moved closer. And then, an amazing thing happened. They started walking toward me. 

I stood still, snapping pictures as they silently moved closer and closer. I was so caught up in taking pictures, that when I finally looked up from the camera, I couldn't believe what I saw.

Two of the horses were running toward me. Really running. Straight toward me at a full gallop.

I had to make a quick decision. Do I move? Or do I stand my ground and not move? 

I stood my ground. And raised my camera. And that's when these shots were taken. 

It was the most thrilling, scary moment I've ever experienced. I loved it. 

Later, on the ferry ride back to Beaufort, I told our captain about that experience. He smiled at me and shook his head. "Why do you think they were charging you?"

"I have no idea. I was just standing there taking pictures."

"Girl, they could have run you over. It's happened. You are lucky. Or blessed. Those ponies have attacked people."

I smiled. He shook his head.

Standing my ground now has a whole new meaning.

It was an experience I will never forget, which is what a bucket list item should be. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Four years later

You’ll blossom.” He smiled at me.

I thought it an odd thing to say.

He had just learned he had less than a month to live, and he was concerned about putting me at ease. It was so like him.

The next month was a blur, and memory being a fickle thing, I can only recall those things I recall. Why is that? Why can’t we remember everything? Why do we only remember bits and pieces of moments and words?

I posted the truth on the blog, as I had been doing for the past year since his surgery. The followers counted on my honest truth. I didn't pull any punches. “Don’t come to me at the funeral and tell me what a wonderful man Bob was. Tell him now. Those are his words to hear.”

And so they did. They drove, flew, wrote, called…we had a white board with a schedule of visitors. It was more than I dared hope. It was exhausting and energizing all at the same time.

I can’t tell you how many times I heard “I came to encourage him, but somehow he encouraged me.” 

Character is revealed in the worst of times. Truly. Want to know who you really are? Then deal with a disease. Deal with a deadly diagnosis.

He took control of the only thing he had the ability to control – his departure. He planned the funeral, down to each song. He politely asked the choir if any were able he would appreciate them being there to sing. Over 150 choir members came to sing him home. He went with me to select the casket and the thank you notes. I remember him pointing to the oak casket and asking me if I liked it. How do you answer such a question?

I later found a note he wrote. “I’m giddy at the thought of meeting God.” His faith was unshakable. Even as the ground beneath his feet shifted, he stood strong.

Sam said it best as he stood in full military dress at the funeral. His father lay in similar dress, quiet and still just a few feet away.

My father taught me how to live….and he showed me how to die.”

And that was his legacy. IS his legacy. That he loved others more than he loved himself, enough to teach a final lesson, when he had absolutely nothing to gain.

“You’ll blossom.”

Those words echo in my mind. You’ll be okay, he meant. More than okay. “You will blossom.”

His final gift to me.

I’m trying, Bob. I’m trying.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Happily Ever After....

Thanks to fairytales and Disney movies, Little girls know with absolute certainty that the Prince will always come to the rescue of the Princess at the end of the story. Or, at least every fairytale we’ve ever gone to bed hearing told us that.

So for years we laid our impressionable little heads on pillows, and drifted off into stress-free slumber with visions of perfect endings. Just the stuff dreams are made of.

And this is the point where we owe every man alive an apology.

It’s no wonder men never live up to our warped expectations. It’s not that our princes are inadequate. It’s that our expectations are not realistic. We expect them to save us from lonely towers, poison apples, wicked stepmothers, fire breathing dragons and really mean bosses. And we expect them to get that work done in short order on a daily basis while they are facing their own dragons. We expect them to deliver “happily ever after.”

We expect a lot.

Little boys, on the other hand, are also given over to delusions of grandeur. They are told that by pinning a towel around their shoulders, they become a superhero who can fly.  For little boys, an old tree branch becomes a deadly sword to fight off evil aliens from invading the world. And a stick becomes a gun to shoot the bad man and save everyone from danger. Every little boy is a hero in his own eyes, because that is what he is told he can and should be.  

And this is where they owe women everywhere an apology.

Because little girls believed little boys. We believed they could fly. We believed those swords would save us from the world and from ourselves. They should have told us the truth the moment they realized they couldn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound.

So, does the stuff of fairytales really exist? Are there knights in shining armor just looking for a damsel to rescue? Is there a “happily ever after?”

I spent the day asking both men and women if they believed “happily ever after” really exists. The answers were pretty predictable. Many women said no, and were adamant about it. A few said yes, but they agreed you have to work for it. I never did get a straight answer from the men. One said, “I don’t understand the question.”

But the most profound answer came from the mouth of my own little girl. The daughter I had read bedtime fairytales to. All grown-up now, she put into words what many had not been able to do;

Of course it exists.” (this with a mouth full of spaghetti as we shared dinner together)…The fact is, everyone is responsible for their own happy. We all have the ability to experience “happily ever after” on a daily basis.“

She’s absolutely right. The truth is, “happily ever after” does exist. But it has nothing to do with being rescued by a handsome prince. (although that wouldn’t hurt). It doesn’t hinge on a relationship. It has everything to do with finding our own happy.

So here’s my advice on how to experience your “happily ever after.” 

First, to the gals: Take note. Little boys do not grow up to become perfectly built, impeccably groomed, handsome men whose only job is to protect us. They come in all shapes and sizes with all levels of intelligence, and actually have jobs that have nothing to do with fighting dragons. Most will rescue the person they love if given the chance. They will slay dragons for you. The challenge is you have to communicate that you need them to do that. And we aren’t very good at that.

To the guys: Women are not Barbie dolls with legs that never end and flawless makeup. Barbie looked good but her head was empty. Ours are not. We are smart. So put your swords away, we don’t need rescuing. Well….maybe we do a little. But what we really need is to feel cherished above everything else in your life. Especially whatever it is that is taking up most of your time.

All this aside, I refuse to believe that fairy tales are all fantasy.  Call me delusional, but there’s a small part of me that still believes – hopes – for that fairytale experience. For that “happily ever after” ending.  And I’ll bet that every girl reading this feels the same way. 
I’d bet my tiara on it.