Wild ponies on Assateague Island, September 20, 2014


Parent's Visit 2014

Last updated October 11, 2014



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Day One | Day Two | Day Three | Day Four | Day Five | Day Six | Day Seven | Day Eight

From September 17 to 24, 2014, my parents visited Norma and me. In many ways, this was a more relaxed visit...at least for me, since I really didn't plan much. Norma did a bulk of the work, planning for our trip to Chincoteague, Virginia where we met her family.

For me, the highlight would be showing them our chickens and the work I did to build the coop and run.

Day One, Wednesday, September 17, 2014
I put in a full day at work and then picked up my folks at Baltimore Washington International (BWI) Airport. We spent much of the evening just talking and getting caught up on stuff.

Day Two, Thursday, September 18, 2014

I introduced my parents to our chickens and showed them the coop. See first and second photos, first column. The hens enjoyed pecking at Mom's shoes. I collected 3 eggs that morning (third photo, first column). I then refilled their feeder and their fount (fourth photo, first column). I also fed them some mash (fermented feed). See first photo, second column. This grows some pro-biotics that are good for their digestion. Our chicken-sitter, Erin, would take care of the girls while we were away.

Norma showed off her garden. See tomatoes in the second photo, second column and sweet potato flowers in the third photo, second column.

Sometime around midday, we headed out for Chincoteague. It was a long drive but fortunately, traffic wasn't too bad.
Click thumbnails to enlarge.

We stayed at a house that Joyce (Norma's sister) rented (see photo). In addition to Joyce and her husband Jimmy, we met Hazel (Norma's mother), Jim and Lori (Jimmy's parents), Harlem (Joyce and Jimmy's daughter), and Aalisha (Joyce and Jimmy's foster child).

My folks, Norma, and I all slept in the same spacious room upstairs.
Click thumbnail to enlarge.

Day Three, Friday, September 19, 2014

Jimmy and I were up early. We drove to Memorial Park which was an easy walk from the house but a long way to carry the boats. We then launched at the ramp (first photo). The two of us rode the outgoing tide into the Chincoteague Inlet. We eventually landed on the southwest side of Toms Cove Hook, just south of Fishing Point on Assateague Island. See second photo.

Normally, one cannot land there between March 15 and August 31 because it is a nesting area for birds. But now that it was September, we were free to go ashore so that is what we did. In the past, I've found several large shells there. I was hoping to do the same today. We found a few pretty quickly but it didn't take long to realize that most of the beach was bare. I figured it was near low tide so maybe we could look just below the waterline and find things that other shell hunters might have missed when the water was higher. But even below the low water mark, there wasn't much to be seen.

I noticed that there were spots here and there under water where algae was growing out of the sand. I wondered why it was growing just in these (apparently random) places. So I stuck my hand in the sand and dug down. It didn't take long before I pulled up a big shell. I tried it again and found another big shell. I told Jimmy about this and he also started digging. We did this for about 45 minutes, gathering dozens of large shells. Jimmy and I had so many that we could be picky so we took only the best.

I decided that the smart thing was to load them in my Prijon Catalina, which I was paddling. The reason for this is that unlike the Cobra Expedition, which he paddled, I carry the Prijon upright on my car. This means we could use the Prijon to get the shells back to the car and not have to flip it over and possibly damage the shells. I certainly didn't mind carrying the extra weight.

I loaded my shells in the rear compartment while Jimmy put his in the front. My boat was packed to the gills.

Back in the water, we started heading back. See third photo.

Shortly after rounding Fishing Point, we saw a couple of dolphin in the distance (fourth photo). Yes, this is a lousy photo but dolphin aren't exactly the easiest thing to photograph, especially from a kayak. We paddled towards them. Unfortunately, they were not in big schools like when Norma, Carmen, and I saw them on July 17, 2011. We tried to take photos and videos of the dolphin but they were too elusive and they seem to be able to hold their breath forever. Over the next hour, we saw about 10. Not a lot but certainly enough to quench my craving for seeing some marine mammals. Things were quiet enough so that if they weren't too far away, we could hear them expel air as they broke the surface. See fifth photo/video.

The return trip took much longer since the tide was not as cooperative. But at least boat traffic wasn't bad and the water conditions were fairly calm.

We made it back a little after noon, having paddled about 9.5 miles. See Jimmy coming in for the landing in the sixth photo.

Back at the house, we unpacked our shells. You can see Jimmy's shells in the seventh photo. The one in the top right position is a lightning whelk. The one in the second row, and third from the left is a channeled whelk. All the others are knobbed whelk. Our count of big shells is as follows:
  • Knobbed whelk: 60 total: 28 for Jimmy and 32 for me. This is the New Jersey and Georgia state shell.
  • Lightning whelk: 7 total; 1 for Jimmy and 6 for me. This is the Texas state shell. It was unusual finding these because normally, they are not found north of North Carolina.
  • Channeled whelk: 2 total; 1 for Jimmy and 1 for me. Notice the smooth spire in the eighth and ninth photos.

  • It took me awhile to be able to distinguish the knobbed from the lightning whelk. Dr. Paul F. of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC) helped me with that. The knobbed whelk are almost always right handed which means if the spiral is faced upward, it fits in your right hand. In contrast the lightning whelk are almost always left handed. How do you distinguish the rare exceptions of a left handed knobbed whelk or a right handed lightning whelk? Just look at the spire. The lightning whelk has a much lower spire. I checked and that was certainly the case for all mine. Thanks Dr. Paul!
  • Tenth photo: Lightning whelk on the left, knobbed whelk on the right. I picked two shells that were about the same size but the lightning whelk tended to be bigger.
  • Eleventh photo: Knobbed whelk on the left, lightning whelk on the right.
  • Twelfth photo: Lightning whelk on the left, knobbed whelk on the right. When viewed from this angle, the spires look amazingly similar.

  • Both the Knobbed Whelk and Lightning Whelk are extremely variable species. The shells of each individual species differ considerably in shape, spire height, siphonal canal length, coloration, weight, size and number of knobs/spines, etc. Fortunately, species identification 99.9% of the time is assured owing to the fact that the Knobbed Whelk is dextral (right handed - opening to the right when held with the spire up) while the Lightning Whelk is sinistral (left handed - opening to the left when held with the spire up). However, both species on rare occasions are known to produce reverse coiled specimens (a shell eagerly sought by collectors and both known from northeast Florida) which can complicate easy identification in some instances.
    - from Jacksonville Shell Club

    This species [the lightning whelk] shares many characteristics with another species, the knobbed whelk (Busycon carica), but there are some important differences:
  • Lightning whelks are sinistral in coiling, whereas knobbed whelks are dextral.
  • Lightning whelks have a lower spire than the knobbed whelk.
  • The knobs of the lightning whelk are usually less well-developed than those of the knobbed whelk.
  • Lightning whelks prefer to stay in deeper waters than the knobbed whelks when feeding on mud flats [so they would be harder to find for the recreational shell hunter].
  • - from Wikipedia - Lightning Whelk

    Based on the above, a right handed knobbed whelk occurs with probability 0.999 while a left handed one has a probability of 0.001. So what is the probability of finding 7 more more left handed knobbed whelk out of a random sample of 67? According to my calculation, the answer is 8.198 * 10^-13. This is an incredibly small number. How small? The chance of winning the jackpot in the Mega Millions multi-state lottery is 4712 times as great. So it is pretty safe to say that the southpaw whelk that I found were lightning whelk and not knobbed whelk.

    I have since given many of these shells to friends and donated the best ones to the Robinson Nature Center. I've acquired a few too many things of the natural world from all my kayaking and paddleboarding. It is getting hard to keep track of them all and I figured others can make better use of them than me. See fossil donation.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    While Jimmy and I were out on the water, my parents, Hazel, and Norma took Harlem and Aalisha to the same park that we launched.
  • First photo: Harlem made a friend, if only for a day.
  • Second photo: Left to right: Mom, Harlem, Harlem's friend, Harlem's friend's father or grandfather.
  • Third photo: Tubular!
  • Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    We took it easy for the rest of the day. I took a nap (first photo).

    Jimmy's dad rented an electric Hummer as a birthday present for himself. See second photo.

    Norma played games with Harlem.

    We all enjoyed a nice home-cooked meal together.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Four, Saturday, September 20, 2014

    Our little vacation house was pretty nice. It had a pool which we never used. I heard the water was too cold. The outside was decorated with shells like the ones Jimmy and I found. There were also various flowers such as hibiscus (first photo, first column) that decorated the area. The mosquitoes were terrible, especially in the parking area behind the house. But that's just how Chincoteague tends to be. I think staying sometime after Columbus Day would have meant far fewer mosquitoes. I know that even on Columbus Day weekend, there were quite a few. See my October 9-11, 2010 blog.

    Norma, Hazel, Mom, Dad, and I drove a short distance to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Our first stop was the Herbert H. Bateman Educational and Administrative Center. Outside the building, we saw a lot of damage to a tree done by tent caterpillars. See second photo, first column. Inside, the various environmental and nature displays were very interesting.

    We walked on the Lighthouse Trail (third photo, first column) to the Assateague Lighthouse (first photo, second column). Mom and I climbed to the top (second photo, second column). where we had a spectacular view of the surrounding area.
  • Third photo, second column: View of the Maddox Boulevard bridge we drove in on.
  • Fourth photo, second column: South view. If you could zoom in, you'd see Memorial Park.
  • Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Next, the five of us drove out to take a boat tour with Daisey's Island Cruises. We met Joyce, Jimmy, Jim, Lori, and the kids there. We all went on a boat ride from Curtis Merritt Harbor east and counterclockwise around about half the length of Chincoteague through Assateague Channel and back. Along the way, we saw a lot of things.
  • Dolphin: We saw about 6. None were willing to pose for a photograph so I have no proof but believe you me they were there.
  • Bald eagles: There were about 3 that were pretty far away. Fortunately, the staff let us use binoculars to get a closer look. See first and second photos, first column.
  • American Oystercatchers: Until now, I had no idea they could be found on the east coast. See third photo, first column.
  • Farm raised clams: See fourth photo, first column.

  • Off in the distance, we could see the lighthouse that Mom and I climbed just a couple hours ago. See fifth photo, first column.

    Jimmy was looking for wildlife while Harlem was wondering why her father's beard is turning gray. See first photo second column. Later, Aalisha became the center of attention (second photo, second column).

    The big thing we saw on the boat tour were the wild ponies. Who could leave Chincoteague without seeing them? They were in the area on Assateague known as Horse Marsh.
  • Third photo, second column: Solitary reddish-brown pony.
  • Fourth photo, second column: These ponies often don't get to be horse-size (see How to tell a horse from a pony) because the salt water vegetation doesn't provide as much nourishment as what most domestic horses receive.
  • Fifth photo, second column photo: An egret keeping a close eye on these ponies.

  • I was hoping to see pelicans but I saw none. But seeing the oystercatcher made up for this.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    We went back to the house for lunch and a rest. I saw an American Toad. See first photo, first column.

    Next, we headed back to the refuge and walked on the Woodland Trail. Along the way, we saw Indian Pipe, a plant that I originally thought was a fungus but is actually just a plant that does not produce chlorophyll. Very strange. See second photo, first column.

    Norma and I walked the Bivalve Trail while my parents finished off the Woodland Trail loop. This took us to the northern part of Toms Cove. See third photo, first column and first photo, second column. We caught up with them at the end.

    After our little hike, we drove on the Wildlife Loop around Snow Goose Pool. In the past, I've seen hundreds of egret but today not so many. But we did see a few glossy ibis. See second photo, second column.

    Having worked up a bit of an appetite, we tried to meet Joyce, Jimmy, and Hazel for dinner. This was not as easy as it sounds. Saturday night in Chincoteague is pretty busy. It seems a lot of people head out there to dine. So we had a hard time finding a place. There was a good bit of traffic for this small, island town that night. A mass of ducks crossing the road slowed things down further. See third photo, second column.

    In the end, we ended up eating at Wave House Grill.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Our final event for the evening was a pony show at the Chincoteague Pony Centre. It was only $10 per person but well worth every penny and more. Some girls demonstrated some of their riding skills (I never see boy riders) while a speaker told us everything we wanted to know about these beautiful ponies.
  • First photo: Ponies on display.
  • Second photo: Jumping an obstacle.

  • Afterward, the girls let people come up to the ponies and pet them (the ponies, not the girls). They also answered questions (the girls, not the ponies).
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Five, Sunday, September 21, 2014

    After a good night sleep, we spent a little time with family (first photo), packed up, said our farewells, and headed out.

    I was hoping to stop at the NASA Wallops Visitor Center but it was closed. I've been to Chincoteague quite a few times now and every time I've wanted to go to that visitor center, it has been closed. I guess I just need to plan my activities around it rather than hope it is open when I'm free. There was actually supposed to have been a rocket launch during our visit but it got canceled. What a sight that would have been!

    We stopped at a roadside fruit stand on the drive home. See second photo. I considered buying a giant pumpkin but it would not have fit in my Subaru Impreza.

    Traffic was slow as we got close to the Bay Bridge. Not surprising since it was Sunday.
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    With the help of my GPS, I took some back roads and headed to Chestertown in Kent County, Maryland. This is a town I have been to several times. Norma and I spent a weekend there on March 15-16, 2008. If I had to choose right now where I wanted to retire, I would pick Chestertown.
  • It is the home of Washington College, a liberal arts college, and is also is the tenth oldest college in the country.
  • The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Chestertown, Maryland to its 2007 list of America's Dozen Distinctive Destinations, an annual list of unique and lovingly preserved communities in the United States.
    "Chestertown is a treasure hidden in plain sight," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. "A small, historic and relatively unspoiled Eastern Shore town, Chestertown had the good sense to hang on to what makes it so special. The result is a vibrant community that offers travelers an ideal retreat."
    - from Chestertown, Maryland - historic colonial town on the Chester River
  • Progressive Farmer magazine honors Kent County and Chestertown by naming it #1 in Best Rural Places to Live in America for 2008. "For a county to be in Progressive Farmer's Best Places list, they hold them to the usual standards good schools, health care, safety and other desirable qualities. But what makes Kent stand out is its residents' resolve to maintain a solid rural heritage."
    - from Wikipedia - Chestertown, Maryland
  • Its average temperatures make it a little cooler than Columbia, Maryland.
  • The overall cost of living is 10.8% less than Savage, Maryland and only 2.7% more than Deer Park, Maryland according to Areavibes - cost of living calculator.
  • Chestertown is full of history.
    In the mid-eighteenth century, Chestertown was considered Maryland's second leading port after Annapolis.
    - from Top Retirements

  • In Chestertown, we stopped for a late lunch at Lemon Leaf Cafe.

    We walked around the historic area after picking up some walking tour information at the visitor center. Along the way, we saw a plant with some very bright lavender colored fruit. It turns out it is called beautyberry. See first photo.

    Walking along the waterfront, we saw the Sultana, a replica of a 1768 schooner ship. See second photo.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Mom, Dad, Norma, and I eventually made it home after a long day of driving. Not surprisingly, we all wanted to see the chickens. Dad grew up with a few hundred chickens and a few turkeys but he said he had never seen any as tame as mine.
  • First photo: Mom taking a photo of Dad feeding corn to Osprey, Rosemary, Beatrice, and Dorothy.
  • Second photo: Mom feeding corn to Beatrice, Dorothy, and Osprey. Me feeding corn to Gwendolyn, Edith, and Rosemary.

  • Dad helped me unload the boats, wash the kayaking gear, and clean off the shells I found. I soaked the shells in a diluted bleach solution overnight.

    Norma and I showed some of the photos from our recent Norway trip before heading to bed.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Six, Monday, September 22, 2014

    I checked up on my shells. They were looking real clean. See first photo.

    Norma and I took my folks out to the Savage Mill Trail for a little walk. The last time they were there was for our wedding almost 2 years ago on October 8, 2012. It looked like some large (12-16 feet long) debris got caught in the Little Patuxent River after a storm. See second photo.

    We stopped at the Bollman Truss Bridge.
    The design of the Bollman Truss Bridge-patented in 1852 and one of the first to use iron exclusively in all essential structural elements-was critical in the rapid expansion of American railroads in the 19th century. Replacing wooden bridges, which were cumbersome to build and vulnerable to decay, the Bollman Truss Bridge could be built relatively quickly and inexpensively, while providing the long-lasting qualities associated with metal. This allowed new rail lines to be built over long distances in a short period of time.
    - from American Society of Civil Engineers - Bollman Truss Bridge

    Wendel Bollman's design was pretty significant when you think of it. Railroads were the thing that connect the country and helped westward expansion. Without a strong, durable, lasting bridge, the railroad companies would have faced much greater challenges.
  • Third photo: Savage is home to the last surviving Bollman Truss Bridge.
  • Fourth photo: This bridge was listed on the National Register of Historic Places on December 18, 1972, and was designated a National Historic Landmark on February 16, 2000. Notice how proud we look to set foot on it.

  • Next, we ate an early lunch at Ma's Kettle, our hometown restaurant. They don't have very good hours so if we're free midday during the week, we try to make time to go there. The place has a real small town homey feel that Norma and I love.

    We headed home to rest up and digest.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Mom, Dad, Norma, and I drove out to Baltimore County to visit the Irvine Nature Center. This is a place that Norma and I had never seen. We first stopped at the visitor center. Then we walked on the Vista Loop Trail. Along the way, we stopped at an aviary where we saw several raptors. Then we explored a little fenced-in area called the Woodland Garden.

    In the first photo, Mom and Dad venture through the outdoor classroom.

    Continuing on, we walked to the gazebo and the Meadow Overlook (second photo) before turning around at the bee apiary (third photo).

    I had Dad try out my REI carbon fiber hiking poles. See fourth photo. I think it is a great tool to help elderly people walk with good balance and posture. Just make sure to get the rubber end caps if you'll be walking on a more finished surface (e.g. paved road, sidewalk, etc.).

    Norma and I will definitely have to return here, maybe in the winter. They have more than 5 miles of hiking trails that are just begging to be explored.

    We went home and enjoyed some fine cuisine that Norma prepared.

    I set my shells out to dry.

    The four of us watched a Dailyshow interview with George Takei before calling it a night.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Seven, Tuesday, September 23, 2014, Fall Equinox

    In the morning, a datura flower was blooming in the front yard. How it got there we don't know. It just showed up and took root. See first photo.

    Norma had to go to work so I entertained my parents on my own.

    My shells were looking pretty nice. See second photo.

    In preparation for our October 5, 2014 Savage 7k run and one mile historic walk, I took my parents on a tour of the oldest section of town. I am the guide for the historic walk so I took advantage of the moment to get in some practice before the main event. See them in front of the Methodist Church next to some celosia (aka cockscomb) flowers in the third photo.

    The new pastor of the Methodist Church came by to say hello. He is a friendly fellow by the name of Dae-wah who was pleased to know that Dad had served in the Korean War.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    I drove my folks to the Montpelier Mansion. Norma had been here before but I had not. We started by walking through the garden. See first photo.

    Inside the mansion, we got a really great guided tour from a guide by the name of Mark. I thought his tour was far better than my Savage historic walking tour but I later learned that he is also a docent at the National Library of Congress. So he is big league.

    I learned a lot on the tour. Some stuff I was able to take away and possibly include for my Savage tour. If nothing else, I could at least store it in the back of my head in case folks have questions about the surrounding area.
  • The Snowden family owned 9000 acres in the late 18th century. If this didn't include some of Savage, it certainly included land very near it.
  • In my Savage tour, I mention that Henry Ridgely surveyed some of the land that now includes Savage. He married Elizabeth Warfield. Her father patented for her the land that contains the Wincopin Trails. In the Snowden family tree, both Warfields and Ridgelys are mentioned though I can't quite match any up with the Henry or Elizabeth associated with Savage.
  • By far the most valuable thing in the South were the slaves. Their worth (assuming you can put a price on a person) far exceeded that of tobacco or cotton.
  • Major Thomas Snowden was part owner in the family ironworks located along the Patuxent River. He also owned a tobacco plantation.

  • After touring the mansion, we walked through the Montpelier Cultural Arts Center (second photo). Various artists displayed their works, including some watercolor paintings of chickens. See third photo.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    My good friend Jenn came over that evening. I introduced her to my chickens. They really liked her, especially Beatrice who flew up on Jenn three times! Beatrice is friendly though I've never seen her take to anyone so quickly. See first photo. In the second photo, beatrice is playing friendly with me.

    Mom, Dad, Jenn, and I drove out to Pisco for some Peruvian cuisine. This is a new restaurant and a new dining experience for us all. The food was really different. Jenn really liked her dish and Dad not so much. I was just impressed at how different everything tasted compared to food I have eaten before. See Jenn with my folks in the third photo.

    Back at the house, I showed Jenn some of the fossils I've found while paddleboarding this year. Norma got home just in time to join in on the socializing. I gave Jenn a knobbed whelk to take home.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Day Eight, Wednesday, September 24, 2014

    Norma and I took my parents to the Robinson Nature Center. See first photo.

    I was clearly getting ready for my walking tour. Even at the nature center, I was gathering info I could use.
  • The seal of Howard County displays the county's sources of its early prosperity: wheat farms and tobacco fields.
  • The rolling hills of Maryland's piedmont had soil conditions that were perfectly suited to wheat. By 1790, wheat was America's top crop, and Maryland led the nation in milling technology and output.
  • The Mill Act of 1669 encouraged the building of mills along rivers.
  • A millrace diverts water from a river to power a mill's waterwheel. It keeps the water nearly level (while the rest of the river flows downhill), so that the full weight of the water could "fall" vertically onto the waterwheel's paddles or fill its buckets, generating enough gravitational force to set the wheel in motion.
  • Relations with Britain failed to improve after the American Revolution, and in 1807, the British openly attacked the USS Chesapeake. Attempting to deliver a retaliatory blow to the British economy, President Thomas Jefferson banned American ships from landing in foreign ports, essentially cutting off trade.

  • We checked out the numerous displays and walked outside for a bit. A great big praying mantis suspended itself from an overhang. See second photo.
    Click thumbnails to enlarge.

    Back at the house, we spent a little time with the chickens. In the photo, see Beatrice beside me on the chair with Gwendolyn behind, Gertrude on the ground in front, and Edith to the left.

    I drove my folks to the airport and we said our good-byes. I sent them home with two large shells: a right handed knobbed whelk and a left handed lightning whelk.
    Click thumbnail to enlarge.

    After my parents left, I gave a lot of thought to fitness and how an exercise program should change as we age. I was inspired to write elder training.

    I am truly fortunate for the time I got to spend with my family. We only see each other once a year so we try to make that time productive. But sometimes we try to fit in a little too much activity in a single day. It is good to be able to sit back, take it easy, and smell the flowers. The chickens helped us do that. Just watching them was almost therapeutic. They reminded Dad of his past and they make me think of where I want to be in the future...maybe on a small farm where Norma and I could have our own little piece of heaven.