July 23rd, 2019
The Ford Excursion was fully packed with all my camera gear as I began heading East for the coast. The grey skies seemed to match the truck’s paint color as the rain fell heavier and heavier. I made it to about 5 miles out of the office’s parking lot before I knew that a black coffee wasn’t just wanted–it was needed. It’s hard to keep yourself awake when you’re alone behind the wheel and there’s no one to keep good conversation with.
So Eastward I went–the rain falling heavier and heavier. The following day I would witness the Chincoteague ponies swim.
By the time I made it to the Chesapeake Bay my hopes for great video footage began to turn into worry for my electronic devices–did I bring a raincoat just for my camera? It was July after all, so I kept my hope in the passing of quick summer storms. I made it to the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and looked out at the fierceness of the Bay’s choppy waves. I thought back to fishing trips on our family’s old 24’ boat and imagined how sick one would be bobbing up and down these huge waves on such a small craft. There was no boat in sight–smart. Eventually, I made it to the Eastern Shore of Virginia. There was solid ground under my truck’s tires again. The Ford’s large engine hummed on as I gripped the wheel more tightly now. Standing water made travel North up the Island quite scary! I knew I was closer to Chincoteague than I had ever been before, but I still wasn’t there yet. Slowly I traveled. Safety was first on my mind.
About an hour and a half later I met up with my cousin Chris Forbes, a local police officer on the Eastern Shore, at a dive bar named AJ’s. He bought me a cold Budweiser and my shoulders finally fell loose again–no more dangerous driving in the summer storm. At the bar with Chris and me sat an old “Saltwater Cowboy.” I shook his hand and introduced myself; Walter was his name. I tried hard to refrain from asking him the same 5 questions every tourist asks, but I knew nothing about what was about to take place the next morning. I laughed at their comedic jabs at the folks they called“mainlanders”, for they truly were funny. Their Eastern Shore identity was strong and just as cool as their title: “Saltwater Cowboys” and I found myself taking it all in.
Walter told me I better get there early if I wanted a good spot to film.
“How early?”, I asked.
“3 o’clock kinda early,” he replied.
I acted like I knew this already as I casually sipped my beer. “Imagine you’re getting up to duck hunt,” I told myself. It’s never hard then.
July 24th, 2019
When my alarm went off at 4 a.m. the next morning, I woke in a hurry. I slid out the door as quietly as I could so as to not wake Chris’s young son from his quiet sleep. I was warned that parking would be hard to find, but I wanted to get as close to the action as I could. I had a good bit of camera gear to carry, and to be honest, I was feeling a bit lazy that early in the morning.
A local lady had turned her sandy grass yard into a $10 a day parking lot, so I gladly paid her and began to grab my necessary gear. I knew I’d be by the water’s edge so I couldn’t bring everything I wanted to. Anything that had a strap on it was thrown over my shoulders as I eased to the bay’s edge.
Walter wasn’t joking when he told me the bank was going to be muddy.
I was in place by 6 a.m. Lots of folks had me beat. But luckily I’m tall enough to see over most heads, so I set up my tripod, kicked off my now mud-soaked boots, and began to take in the scene. I was so excited to see what was to unfold in the next few hours! The morning’s overcast sky began to sweep away with an unfittingly cool breeze. The chance for rain disappeared and the sun came out–I couldn’t believe I was in place and ready to film without having to worry about rain or storms. Amazing luck! Or was it a blessing?
What followed that day was an experience I’ll never forget. The Eastern Shore of Virginia and Maryland is the only place in the entire world that holds wild ponies along the ocean and bay. I’ve lived in the beautiful state of Virginia my entire life, and I’m always amazed by the beauty that is spread throughout. I’ve seen mountains, cities, rivers, caves, ocean, and farmland. In fact, Virginia has the most diverse ecosystem than any other state in the United States–amazing! And there I was–a hand’s reach away from the world’s healthiest heard of wild ponies–only 3 hours away from the town I’ve always called home.
More info: Pony Swim Guide