Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Island Colonial Mustangs: Chincoteague Ponies The "Misty Factor"Challenge Painting #152

With an estimated $70,000 raised around the pony penning each year on Chincoteague toward the maintenance of the ponies and the Volunteer Fire Department on Chicoteague,  Chincoteague Ponies are well marketed and very well known. The real reason  I think for the fame of the ponies is the Book Misty of Chincoteague. Misty's life story captured the hearts and minds of every generations of North American children since the 1940s. As Providence would have it the Chincoteague Ponies became one of the driving forces behind the preservation of the Island Sea Shore, that was facilitated when the hurricane hit the larger island of Assateague in 1962.

"Misty Factor"
5 by 5 inch Watercolor
by LindaLMartinArtist

Those islands were doing their jobs of protecting the in land across the bay from the storm and serge. Where I lived at the time as a child, in the Fishing Village of Glouschester Point, Virginia we waited with a water filled bathtub, the mandatory hurricane lamp in the picture window in our living room and many candles and lots of food and ice should the need arise. We had transistor raidos and mom's storys of our parents growing up in Hampton and Portsmouth and riding out the big storms.

 We had rain.  As Providence would have it the storm missed us, only the high stormy tides came into the Chessapeake Bay and the driving rains left a sweet smell like a fresh sea breeze  all across the tidal lands.

To the north in Accomack county, on the Atlantic coast things were not so good. The  Islands had a direct hit from the storms. Reports were that Chincoteague was under water for days, much like when the storm surge breached the levees in Louisiana in 2007. As the Drama played out my friends and I waited in some fear wondering what had happened to Misty and her offspring that lived on the island.  Its amazing how these things affected us. We didn't know Marguerite Henry, nor even Misty or the Beebees but we were part of them and they were part of us because we were horse loving girls who had ponies and were the daughters or nieces of watermen.

Misty has long since left the employ of Marguerite Henry and moved back to the Beebee Ranch where scores of children and there parents could see her  and her current offspring each year when they came to visit for pony penning. A few of my friends actually tried to talk their parents into going to the auctions. 

We waited by transistor radios through the days and nights  of the Hurricane, trying to hear word from the coast. What happened to Misty.  What happened to the BeeBees. Ok they were pretty much all grown up by then. and married.. hey but children have a bit of a time warp when they read a lot and have vivid imaginations. I think that the children of  Glouchester Point were not the only ones worried about the pony. Eventually my dad called me in to the kitchen a few days later, to hear the announcement that Misty was safe and sound. She had spent the entire storm in Grandma BeeBee's Kitchen.  It was the highest room in the house. And for several weeks couldn't be reached  except by a small boat.

Because my parents put such high value in Education we always had the latest issue of National Geographic in our home. The reality of the event came home to me when one afternoon  I opened the latest edition to find the story they had done on the Hurricane and how it had pretty much leveled all the homes on  the North part of Assateague and flooded out Chincoteague. There in the midst of it was the photo of Grandma BeeBee and Misty peering out the kitchen door togehter smiling for the photogrphers. I kept that editon for many years like a reassurance. 

 I think there were two miracles that happened  During that storm.  

The first was that any ponies or other wildlife survived at all on Assateague.. but they did. They knew where to go to hide from the driving winds, they knew how to stand in the laurel groves to be protected from the driving rains and they knew where to stay that was high on the island. They knew from generations passed down the best place to go so the storm serge didn't wash them out to sea. 

The other miracle was the stopping dead in its tracks of the huge development plan that was slated to begin on the  Maryland side of Assateague Island later that year.  It was on the Maryland side of the island where people lived near Ocean City.  Just like the waves that washed away most of the island coastal towns near Galveston recently, very little was left of homes or  buildings on the north end of Assateague after the hurricane of 1962. The choice was made in some quick moving decisions to preserve the island for the nation and to protect the ponies and the wildlife. It was an epic decision that I and millions of horse and bird lovers will  thankfully pass on to our grand children for generations to come.

In doing the research for this part of the Mustang A Day Challenge I realized that my perception as a child was probably quite different than I would have remembered as an adult. Our parents protected us from  as much as they could in those days, mostly I think so we could have happy memories of childhood.  

There are things I found out about Misty, as an adult that I didn't realize as a child. I was influenced by the movie and the books of course. Even the way I thought Misty appeared was flawed. The photographs Ive seen of her  these last few weeks look decidedly different than they way  I remembered Westley Dennis painting her. I wasn't able to find a photo in public domain for her but I did find another nice Chicoteague pony for tonight's  painting that has the Palomino Pinto coloring that she is famous for. I call it the "Misty Factor"  Its a big legacy for such a little, yet well loved horse.

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