This week I’m revisiting a column from a couple summers ago, a different place on my cancer journey:
The mystique of a childhood classic, the pull of the sea, the stark beauty of wild horses … when we reached the waters of Chincoteague Island for the 92nd annual Pony Swim a few weeks back you could taste excitement in the humid salt air.
Hours earlier I slipped out of bed before the alarm rang for the 80-mile jaunt on silent, dark roads. I didn’t know how much we (my twin, her hubby and I) would see, but was up for the adventure.
The fame of the pony swim spread with the 1946 publication of Marguerite Henry’s “Misty of Chincoteague.” To refresh my memory, the day before our trek I curled up with a 1947 paperback edition borrowed from Indiana Free Library.
The swim draws thousands of visitors to the Virginia coastal village the last Wednesday of every July. This year wranglers guided some 200 feral ponies — actually small horses — across the quarter-mile channel from their home on Assateague Island to Chincoteague, Va.
There’s nothing quite like it in all the world, the announcer said over a loud speaker that morning, and no where else she would rather be. The whole thing had a friendly, small town kind of feel.
After the swim the ponies paraded to a shady corral on carnival grounds. A day later many were sold at auction, especially young colts. The funds collected support the local fire company and veterinary care for the herd. The sale also prevents a pony population explosion on Assateague.
The little horses most likely arrived hundreds of years ago after a Spanish ship wrecked, which would mean ancestors of today’s herd completed the very first pony swim to dry land.
We stood with a wide-awake crowd as shadows turned to dawn and light crept across the bay. Luckily, we were next to a dock at the front of Memorial Park for the main event, although not as close as those standing in the muddy marsh far down the island.
Most in the park viewed the swim on a big screen but after I adjusted my monocular (half the weight of binoculars), I was able to watch the saltwater cowboys driving ponies into and across the water, a half-mile away.
The time of the pony swim is determined by slack tide, the best time to navigate the channel.
This year that occurred at an unusually early hour, before 7 a.m. and sizzling heat set in. After their brief five-minute swim the ponies rested for about half an hour.
That gave families with strollers and folks in my generation with folding chairs time to wander over to Main Street for the parade. Soon the ponies trotted by, the youngest keeping pace with mares and stallions, so close I could feel their breath.
Organizers plan the swim’s time for the safety of the animals, not the convenience of the crowds. They understand the importance of both slack tide and rest.
Slack tide was a new term for me.
It occurs when outgoing seawater — ebb tide — slows and stops momentarily before switching directions. Thefishingline.com says, “There is a window of time between high and low tides where the tide ‘rests.’”
Recovery from cancer takes periods of daily stillness, too.
So why do I think I can cyclone through my day without pauses, without rest … without consequences?
I’ve found the way to tame my eagerness to move beyond this stage is by following the lead of Psalm 46:10. I’ve quoted it before and have yet to plumb its depths: “Be still and know that I am God.”
God isn’t saying, “Be constantly busy and you’ll know Me better” or “Dash around like a panicked stallion and you’ll find peace.”
Be still …
Rest is God’s idea.
The Creator of wild creatures and still waters built rest into the universe.
I saw it in a baby’s sleepy pink face, snuggled against his daddy’s shoulder that early morning in Chincoteague, oblivious to ponies sprinting by.
I see it in the pattern of the seasons.
In a farmer’s fallow fields.
In flocks of birds who know autumn’s migration is a calendar page away.
At slack tide.
A quiet pause is a good beginning to the morning, before I’m off to the races.
And a near perfect way to close the gate at day’s end.
Near to the heart of God.
All will be well.
© Jan Woodard 2017