Eastern Shore Getaway
Last week I took our two kids, Chase and Mackenzie, for an inexpensive and easy escape to Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Unlike Martha’s Vineyard or the Hamptons, it’s short on celebrities and long on cornfields and regular folks–a bucolic place to play out the last days of summer. Here are some scenes from my Chesapeake Bay diary.
Day 1: There’s a secret stretch of sand that few but the locals know. Beside the boat launch and ferry dock for the Oxford Bellevue Ferry is a sandy quarter-mile strip that’s usually all yours (with a jungle gym and swings 50 yards away). We swim cautiously with an eye out for jellyfish, but mostly we play in the sand. The kids bury me up to my chin. We hunt shells, build sandcastles, and look for crabs. We take the nation’s oldest privately operated ferry to Oxford, a quaint little town with a park near the Tred Avon River where the kids feed most of their lunch to the birds.
Day 2: Chase is fixated on crabs and each morning, first thing, he goes to the end of the nearby dock and helps me haul up crab pots. He pokes the crabs with a finger, squealing with excitement when they give him a nip, and makes me promise to take him for a crab dinner. Later in the day we head to the Crab Claw, a rustic restaurant on the St. Michaels’ wharf that’s been around since the mid-’60s. They tape sheets of paper on picnic tables and serve heaps of crabs, clams, oysters — a very messy affair and the kids love it. As I suspected, they want nothing to do with actually eating a crab. Instead, they gorge on chicken nuggets and fries–and feed oyster crackers to the ducks that jockey in the water near our feet. The day ends with cotton candy ice cream at the St. Michaels Candy Company.
Day 3: We drive into Easton to the Saturday morning farmer’s market–which runs Memorial Day through October. Homemade pies and pastries. Corn, peppers, cukes, melons, strawberries, peaches. Handcrafted soaps and candles. Fresh-caught crab and just-squeezed lemonade. There’s Audrey, who paints kids faces for free. And Tom, a Falstaffian character who sells his folk-art signs and carvings. And, often, there’s live country, blues, or rock.
Next we head to the Shore Sportsman to score night crawlers. Chase and Mackenzie want to fish off the dock. All way home Chase proclaims “Eeew, gross” as the worms undulate in a bag on his lap. I tell Chase that we’ll have worm sandwiches for lunch. He sticks out his tongue.
At the dock our casting adventure lasts all of 10 minutes. The kids lose interest and I’m left with two rods whose tackle is so hopelessly tangled I give up.
Instead we head out onto the bay in a 21-foot sailboat. And as we drift along the shoreline, it’s astonishing to see how much open space is still left. There are few of the McMansions that characterize some of America’s tonier coastlines.
Day 4: The beach at the 48,000-acre Assateague Island National Seashore, off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, stretches as far as the eye can see. Some sections allow cars on the sand (which perplexes me–why?), where families gather to barbeque. Kites play dodge-em in the skies. Beefy surfcasters surreptitiously drink beer and tend their lines, occasionally reeling in flounder.
The kids, of course, are clamoring to see the island’s most famous residents–the wild ponies made famous by Marguerite Henry’s book Misty of Chincoteague. Today we are lucky. Two ponies await us at the waterline and the kids get an up close and personal before the animals amble off into the underbrush.
The surf is so gentle that even three-year-old Mackenzie allows herself to ride the surge in my arms. Chase digs, creating canals and sand forts. When he finds a washed-up jellyfish, he executes sloppy surgery until it resembles sushi. “I just want to see what’s inside,” he explains.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
The kids play with dogs in the surf. They watch as pail-toting beachcombers read the sand for airholes, then dig for the clams that lie beneath. Chase collects three live ghost crabs in a pail–which, of course, he wants to bring home. The sun is low when we finally head out. The kids want to camp but we have no equipment and you must book months ahead to get a slot at this time of year. So we leave the beach to another tomorrow–and another vacation.
In the car, I glance over my shoulder and both kids are slumped over in sleep. It’s about 5:30. As I drive, I remember the summers I spent as a child on Cape Cod. We puttered around, did ordinary things, let the simple unfolding of the days establish what happened. Sometimes we try so hard to pack our vacations with events and amusements. But a few days at the shore with kids, and the sheer openness to serendipity, is what vacation is all about. If they’re like me, they’ll never forget it.
Photos: Keith Bellows