Archive for the ‘Maryland’ Category

Love the Ocean … Hate Love the Beach

I love the ocean. I just love the vastness of it all (similar to my love of the Great Plains). I love the power of it, how it carves and weathers the rock and land around it. I love how it can create storms of such immensity men cower in fear, and how it also provides a tremendous bounty for mankind to eat. I love how it’s the giver of life, for we all can trace our roots back to its nutrient-rich waters. I love the serenity of it, how the waves lap the shores in a soothing, rhythmic, sexual fashion. The sea caresses the land, then, during moments of great power, parts the shoals and penetrates inward, over and over and over and …

Um, wait, where was I? Oh yes …

Ocean City T-Shirts — © 2008 America In ContextI love the ocean, but I hate the beach. I really can’t stand it, and it’s not just because I’m a fair-skinned freak who fries easily. It’s also not because it’s freakin’ hot (but that doesn’t help). I hate the beach because most of them are crowded, and filthy, and full of miscreants. Here’s a question: why do Goths hang out at the beach, going out of their way to alienate people? Aren’t they pretending to be vampires or something? Can’t they hang out in caves? Why do they hang out at the beach?

For that matter, why do bikers in full leather hang out at the beach? Don’t they cook in their black outfits? I don’t think that percolating in one’s own filth in a black leather suit is a great idea. And why do people squeeze into bathing suits against all the rules of physics to lay in the sun and broil themselves? Is the baked-potato look really that fashionable? Yeah, sure, there’s occasional eye candy at the beach, but for every hot babe, there are a dozen drunken louts frying their brain cells while aggravating all who pass. Bah!

Beaches are a pain to get to, impossible to park at, and surrounded by the sleaziest bars, restaurants, and crip-crap shops imaginable. Try to get a decent burger, or a good beer, or anything else, on a beach strip. Just ain’t gonna happen, not at a good price, anyway. And I dare you to walk across a beach without stepping on a cigarette butt … it’s mathematically impossible, I’m sure Stephen Hawking would agree.

Or, if you do find a beautiful beach, odds are it’s blockaded by tony, extravagant homes, owned by slimewads who think their money puts their beach rights over everyone else’s (well la dee dah). Why don’t the hurricanes target those dipweeds and leave the poor folks alone … if they want the beach to themselves, they can have the ruddy cyclones to themselves, too.

Red Wing — © 2008 America In ContextI originally planned to avoid all the National Seashores under the National Park System because of my natural antipathy to beaches. I figured the NPS just protected the little sliver of land between ocean and the t-shirt shop, and the rest was up for grabs by Goths and snobs. Who needs that?

Assateague Island changed my mind.

Assateague Island is a barrier island south of Ocean City, Maryland. It has a strip of beautiful, pristine beach that stretches for miles and miles. It’s totally clean, almost totally natural, and (at least when I was there) unencumbered by throngs of beach-goers. Yes, there are people, but on the day I went, I walked down two miles of gorgeous beachfront, just me and the sea and the birds. It was a gorgeous day, sunny yet temperate, breezy yet quiet. Yes, there were a few people, but they kept to themselves, and I to myself, all of us thoroughly enjoying one of the most spectacular stretches of land on the East Coast.

Assateague is a place where you can absolutely just stand in one spot, and stare out at the ocean, and wonder just what the heck is over that horizon. Looking back, I’m not even sure if I saw any shipping. I may be romantizing the island too much, but seriously, I can’t recall seeing anything: no freighters, no jet-skis, no parasailers, nothing. Nothing but birds, and seashells, and sand dollars, and that’s it. No industrial sounds, either. No horns, no ghetto blasters, nothing but wind and waves and that’s it.

Just Me and the Birds — © 2008 America In Context

The other side of Assateague is bounded by the Chincoteague Bay. Although the western side does have its share of boat docks and marinas, the eastern side, against the island, is still pristine and beautiful. Rent a kayak and spend an hour or two paddling around all the inlets and coves, it’s a great way to spend an afternoon. It was past bird-migration time when I was there, but there were still plenty of egrets, pelicans, and storks to see.

Of course, Assateague is most famous for its wild horses. Apparently, a couple of centuries ago, local farmers abandoned their horses on the island (perhaps in an early tax evasion scheme), and they thrived and bred on the island (smaller, of course, because of Foster’s Rule). Today, descendants of these horses remain.

I wanted to find these horses and snap some pictures of them in their environment. So I beat through the brush and walked along the waterways, hoping to take some spectacular photos. Oddly, though, they were nowhere to be seen … until I stumbled across an RV campground. There they were … eating scraps left for them by campers, totally against NPS rules. Yep, even on remote, protected Assateague Island, people have to muck around with nature. People just can’t leave things be, can they? No, they have to get their perfect picture from the comfort of their folding chair, while idiots like me traipse through the woods, trying to see wildlife as nature intended.

OK, to be fair, these horses aren’t really there as nature intended. Man put the horses on the island and left them there, but still, it would be cool to see them just living on their own, instead of begging for scraps at mankind’s overladen table. I did take some pics, I had to use some clever angles and cropping to make them look “native”. Such a shame.

I guess even the pristine beaches have their share of spoilers.

Wild Ponies — © 2008 America In Context

[See more of my Assateague photos, plus a couple from other sites in the area (including Atlantic City, where I won $2K at the slots — I don’t just hang around in the woods, ya know) here.]

Sand Toad — © 2008 America In ContextLinks:

Assateague Island National Seashore

Clean Beaches Council

Google map to Assateague Island


Just for the heck of it, here’s a picture of a sand toad…

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Failure In Success

Antietam is one of the great battles of the American Civil War, involving 130,000 soldiers (infantry, cavalry, and artillery). There’s only one way to describe the Battle of Antietam: a bloody, awful mess. It is remembered in history as the single, deadliest one-day battle ever fought on American soil. The Union won the field that day, in spite of bad command decisions by General George McClellan and his field commanders. Lee was driven away, his weaker numbers unable to take victory, despite his own tactical brilliance. By the end of the day, over 3600 men were dead, and another 19,000 injured (and likely dead shortly thereafter, thanks to medical practices in the 19th century). A bloody, awful mess, indeed.

Confederate Dead — public domain photo courtesy of Antietam on the Web

A lot of men died in the Civil War. Over 600,000 men gave their lives on the field of battle through the course of the war, and (as always happens in war) an uncountable number of civilians lost theirs as well. But Antietam holds another special place in American history. The pre-Grant Union Army could do what only the pre-Grant Union Army could do: it snatched defeat from the claws of victory. If Gen. McClellan was any kind of able commander, instead of the pompous ass he was, he would have crushed the Confederate army right then and there, and ended the war within 18 months of its inception at Fort Sumter. But McClellan lacked something that defines winners from losers: energy and drive. He allowed his forces (thousands of whom didn’t even fire a shot) to rest on their laurels while Robert E. Lee’s men retreated southward. If only McClellan had acted then and there, and whupped Lee in the fields of Maryland, the war would have been over.

Lincoln and McClellan — public domain photo courtesy of Antietam on the WebI really want to let that soak in a bit. If McClellan had acted, the Battle of Fredericksburg would not have happened (2,000 dead). Spotsylvania would not have happened (4,000 dead). Chancellorsville would not have happened (est. 5,000 dead). Chickamauga would not have happened (est. 6,000 dead). The Battle of Gettysburg would not have happened (8,000 dead). Richmond would not have been sacked and looted. New York would not have had its draft riots. Atlanta would not have been burned to the ground. Virginia would not have had its entire countryside scoured by war. And maybe an assassin would not have claimed the life of the greatest President we ever had.

But McClellan sat on his lazy ass, Lee got away, and country had three more years of war. Good job, Georgie!

I suppose there is success in failure as well. One good thing came out of Antietam (beyond McClellan’s immediate firing): Lincoln’s most famous, yet most misunderstood, act — the Emancipation Proclamation. Lincoln had been working on it for some time, but needed the right moment to release it. As lame as McClellan’s actions were, he gave Lincoln that moment: a Union victory over the Confederate army. Lincoln released his document to the public, gave a wonderful speech, and America turned a vital corner away from slavery (read more commentary on Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation here).

Walk the Path of History

A Lone Grave — public domain photo courtesy of Antietam on the WebEven though I love the National Park Service and the sites they protect, I have to admit: many of the Civil War sites are nearly undecipherable. You have to really use your imagination to envision the order of battle or the strategic importance of the terrain. It’s hard to imagine a line of Union artillery in a Wendy’s parking lot. What were they firing at, the Avis Car Rental?

Antietam, on the other hand, is a great park to envision an old battle. The Dunker Church still stands, the Cornfield has been replanted. Bloody Lane is still discernable, and the sturdy Burnside Bridge remains. The latter represents the greatest blunder of the Civil War behind Pickett’s Charge. Union Major General Ambrose Burnside ordered thousands of men to storm across the stone bridge, where they were easily slaughtered by well-placed Confederate riflemen. Old Dumb Ass didn’t realize he could send his thousands of troops across the creek itself, where their numbers would simply swarm over the enemy positions. The ruddy thing was only a couple of feet deep! Nothing I could write could explain the idiocy of funneling all your men across a tiny bridge where they could be slaughtered like crawdads at a Cajun restaurant. The Antietam National Battlefield preserves this land so perfectly that a short visit and some clever observations will reveal what should have been so obvious in 1862.

Antietam is a wonderful park to visit. It’s not a long drive from Washington, DC. Next time you’re in the nation’s capital, stop by Antietam. Make sure you stop by for a pint at Brewer’s Alley in Fredericksburg, MD!

Burnside Bridge — public domain photo courtesy of Antietam on the Web

Sadly, I didn’t own a digital camera when I visited Antietam. Historical pictures courtesy of a terrific Civil War website: Antietam on the Web.



Antietam National Battlefield and Cemetery

Antietam on the Web

Brewer’s Alley Restaurant & Brewery

Google map to Antietam

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