at Assateague Island National Seashore State Park, companion to Ellen Rice's Merriment
by Ellen Rice
Assateague Island is one of my favorite places on Earth. Its quiet, uncrowded beaches, pristine sands and wild ponies make it a place unlike any other.
For me, it is a place of happiness, a reminder of long walks in the sun with a friend and his family looking for traces of the past - shipwreck artifacts like Spanish pottery, bronze spikes and ancient coins. And of course, the hoped for encounters with the island's wild and mysterious inhabitants, the small ponies which once a year are corralled and herded across the water to neighboring Chincoteague Island in the annual "Pony Swim." After being herded through the water from one island to another, the ponies are auctioned to people in search of an equine friend to adopt.
As a young girl, I was entranced with Margaret Henry's book, Misty of Chincoteague. The book tells the story of a young girl and an island pony called Misty who was a descendent of horses that legend says swam ashore to Assateague in the 1700s from a Spanish shipwreck. There was a real Misty and there is a museum in her honor on Assateague Island's very close neighbor, Chincoteague Island.
The wild ponies of Assateague, whatever the truth about how they got there, can be seen on the state and Federal beaches of Assateague throughout the year, dotting the landscape along the beaches, surrounding dunes, trees, marshes and bay. You'll see them grazing, frolicking, showing off for vacationers, rolling on their backs in the sand by your side, begging at beach blankets - and if you're not careful stealing the contents of your picnic basket. (You're not allowed to feed them, because human food isn't good for them and because it encourages this behavior.)
One day, one of the ponies walked right up to and greeted me with a whinny as I walked along the surf's edge. She was sand-spattered for she'd been rolling on her back, perhaps to keep flies off or maybe just because it felt good. I felt privileged. Of course I didn't have my camera.
I painted Serenity soon after that, mostly from memory, over a period of several weeks. First came the sunny sky and high wisps of clouds (do you see the image of a pony anywhere?), then the surf and beautiful sands. The pony came next. I let the painting sit several more days.
Something felt missing - perhaps a ship, a tall 1700s sailing ship like the one the ponies' ancestors might have come from, its sails glowing faintly above the horizon. It took longer than I imagined to paint those sails just faintly enough but not too faint. Is it a tall ship replica sailing today? Or, is it two or three centuries ago?
I'm happy with this peaceful little painting. It came to me easily and brings wonderful remembrances. If you get an opportunity, visit Assateague Island and enjoy its beauty and wildlife. Just remember to bring some bug spray!