Out of island's mists, a young girl's dream

Viewfinder

August 06, 2006|By CHRISTOPHER T. ASSAF | CHRISTOPHER T. ASSAF,SUN STAFF

"The cowboys can be a little gruff."

That phrase resonated repeatedly during my time in Chincoteague Island, Va., covering the Saltwater Cowboys and the annual pony penning and swim. Many a young girl, including my sister, has read about the swim, immortalized by Marguerite Henry in her 1947 book Misty of Chincoteague, and dreamed of owning a Chincoteague Wild Pony.

This was the 81st year that cowboys gathered for the roundup from near and far under the auspices of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, owners of the ponies on the Virginia side of Assateague Island. The foal auction following the swim is their fundraiser.

I arrived in Chincoteague at 2 a.m. Monday so I could be on the beach at sunrise when the Saltwater Cowboys drove the northern herd, gathered the day before, approximately three miles down the beach to the holding pens where they await the swim. On Wednesday, driving in the daze of early morning and darkness I missed a turn and was forced to hike up the beach and wait several hours. But then the sounds of animals became distinct and the group came into view, slowly leading the heard from blurred specks in the distance into sharply defined ponies and riders as they approached.

As predicted, some of the cowboys were short at our first meeting, barely offering names, let alone any other information. Others were more welcoming. As they saw me around more, the gruff edges of some wore smoother. Day by day, the scene was not much different then the first morning. At first light the fog was thick and soupy. But as the sun rose and morning matured, the mists drifted into memory.

For an online portfolio of photos from the horse roundup, go to www. Baltimoresun.com/viewfinder.

chris.assaf@baltsun.com

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