A Journey Back in Time on Assateauge Island


I awoke with a start as the wind whistled past my window. Rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, I rolled over to check the time on my phone. It was 5:43 in the morning, and there was no way I was going to fall asleep again. Sighing, I swung my legs over the side of my bed and made my way down the ladder, careful not to make noise. I grabbed a crumpled piece of paper off of the table and scrawled a quick note to my mom in case she was to wake up while I was gone. 

Gone for a walk. 

I snatched a sweatshirt off of the coat hook and tugged it over my thin cotton shirt. Easing the door open quietly, I stepped out of the RV and set off. 

The sand was cool and damp under my bare feet, and the salty breeze tousled my short hair. As I started my walk through the campground, I could hear the insistent crashing of the waves against the shore. Slowly I trudged down the road the beach, dragging my feet through the thin layer of sand covering the pavement. 

As I reached the beach, the sun had started to climb over the horizon, leaving the ocean with a brilliant orange glow. I strolled sluggishly down the waterline, carving patterns and shapes into the sand with my toes. I was staring so intently at the lines in the sand that I had been creating, I didn’t see the log resting in my path. 

Stumbling on to my hands and knees, I finally looked up. Around me, horses stood casually. Swinging my head around in confusion, I dropped to the sand to think. How on earth had I managed to get myself into the middle of a group of horses without realizing it? I must have been way more tired than I realized. I turned around to head back to the camper. As I slowly snuck my way out of the group of horses, I realized that none of them had even looked up at me. Weird. 

A Journey Back in Time on Assateauge Island

I started off towards the direction of the camper, but before long I started to recognize that something was wrong. 

The trees looked… different. 

And, as my toes combed through the sand, I noticed that all of the patterns I had drawn earlier had disappeared. I shook my head and decided I was going crazy. 

A Journey Back in Time on Assateauge Island

As I walked briskly down the shore, I heard a commotion from behind me. I spun around in time to see three men rush towards the horses and corral them in my direction. A split second before I was going to be trampled, it dawned on me that they were not going to stop. I dove to the side and scrambled as far away from the horses thundering by as possible. 

Still trembling from my close call, I brushed off the sand clinging to my hands and knees. I took a shaky breath and tried to wrap my head around what was going on. Around me, where I was sure the campground had been minutes ago, was nothing but dune grass. As I stood, trying to comprehend what was going on, four young kids rushed out onto the beach. They scrabbled across the sand and splashed up to their ankles in the water. The three boys wore shorts that ended just above the knee, with collared shirts and sweater vests. The little girl had a short, heavy dress, covered in ruffles. They all had their shoes slung over their shoulders, the laces tied together. None of them seemed to notice me staring at them in awe. Whatever these kids were wearing, it certainly wasn’t modern clothing. Off in the distance I heard a voice calling, “Robert! James! Mary! William! Where are you? We can’t be late for the penning!”

With nothing else to do, I followed the kids as they ran down the beach. 

After shadowing the kids and their mother as they made their way across a canal on a boat, I was sure no one could see me.  When we reached the other side of the canal, I could see people swarming all over the beach, food carts, and pony stalls.  

It seemed that everywhere I looked, there were flyers. Hoping to understand what was going on, I pulled away from the family I had been following to get a better look at the flyers. Written on each one were the words:

12th Annual Pony Penning

A Journey Back in Time on Assateauge Island

Suddenly, it dawned on me. I must have traveled back in time! I knew that didn’t make any sense, but I was desperate for anything to explain what was going on. I grabbed the poster, stuffed it into my pocket, and shoved through the crowd. From across the celebration I heard the sound of horses neighing, and a constant splashing. 

I knew what was going on! 

My mom had told me about pony penning. It was when saltwater cowboys herded all of the horses from one side of Assateague Island across a channel to the nearest island. Just as I was starting to make sense of what was going on, a man rushed through the swarms of people, accidentally pushing me forward. 

Momentarily off balance, I tripped and fell to the ground. The next thing I knew, my head was cracking against a rock on the ground.
When I regained consciousness, I was laying in the sand. My little sister was shaking my shoulders.
“Alice! Wake up! We can’t miss the penning!”

A Journey Back in Time on Assateauge Island

I was back home! I was fully convinced I had gone down to the beach, fallen asleep, and had a crazy dream. But as I followed my sister back towards the campground, I stuffed my hands in my pocket. In it, I felt a crumpled piece of paper. 

Smoothing it out, I saw the words:

12th Annual Pony Penning


A Journey Back in Time on Assateauge Island




Alice Toussaint Pittman is a member of the Youth Travel Blogging Mentorship Program


All photos courtesy and copyright Alice Toussaint Pittman, except "Catching a Pony" sketch of the pony penning at Chincoteague, Virginia, 1876. Howard Pyle, Scribner's Magazine.