Friday, June 13, 2008

Pony Attack, Part Deux

We made it through the gauntlet, and that was the last we saw of the ponies at our campsite for the remainder of the trip. Our friends, however, were not so lucky.

But first, a little background. The year before, their site was pillaged. Apparently, they left their food out in the open on the picnic table. The ponies came, ate and left a mess. This year, they had a plan. They bought big rubber bins with lids that made an authoritative "clunking" sound when snapped into place. I was impressed, and wondered if our groceries would have survived, had we adopted the same equipment.

Confident that no animal could break the seal on the food containers, our friends ate, drank and made merry well into the night. My parting gift was a rum punch that packed a punch. A "kick in the pants" I believe was the term Jeff used the next day to describe the *nightcap* I served.

The following afternoon we dragged our beach chairs and a few small coolers laden with cold beverages and sandwiches down to the beach. This was the best part of the trip. Two nights into the revelry, and everyone had hit their stride. Today was a day to simply enjoy the surroundings, and the company of good friends.

Sometime after lunch, but before dinner, the story came out; in the middle of the night our comrades awoke to the sound of Joker's hoof, pounding and scraping against the lid of their food containers. The two couples clamored out of their tents to see who/what was causing the commotion. Jeff, one of my *nightcap* victims, was so twisted he ran into the clearing completely naked, before he realized that he was not alone.

Quickly covering himself, Jeff shouted at Joker; just as I had done so early in the morning the day before. Meanwhile, Cinnamon figured out how to pry the lid off the food containers. She grabbed a pack of hamburger buns, and lifted them high over her head, shaking the bag triumphantly.

Jill, another brave camper, commissioned some crockery; banging the pieces together to create an awful racket.

"Oh no, you don't!" shouted Jill. She reached up, and snatched the bread bag right out of Cinnamon's greedy mouth.

That did the trick. Joker trotted off abruptly, mercifully Cinnamon followed without protest. And so ends the "Attack of the Hungry Ponies."

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Attack of the Killer Ponies

Every year for the past three years Cranky and I have gone camping with a group of friends at Assateague Island National Seashore. This year we invested in some new gear to make our trip more comfortable. Most notable of this new gear was the "REI screen house", a roomy, breezy structure that promised to protect us from both sun and bugs.

One of the first things we did when we arrived at camp was to erect our new screen house, and marvel at its sturdy simplicity. Best of all, it has no floor, so you can pick it up and plop it right on top of your picnic table. Voila! Now we could enjoy bug-free dining and drinking, and it worked like a charm. Bugs stayed outside, people stayed inside. Plenty of room, plenty of fresh air, plenty of rum.

Lulled into a sense of superiority by the initial comfort and protection afforded by our screen house, we wrongly assumed that we were at the very *pinnacle* of the food chain on that little barrier island. This thinking led us to make our biggest camping mistake ever: putting the food in the screen house.

Looking back, I honestly do not remember what we did with our groceries on past trips. We must have locked them in the car, because we learned on this trip that even coolers and other types of sealed container are no guarantee of protection from the wildlife. At any rate, we never had any animal invade our tent, so we figured we could leave our grocery bags full of 'smores fixings, buns, chips, granola bars, etc...safely zipped in the screen house; which, after all, is really just a great, big tent.

Watching the embers die on the ocean-front campfire put the finishing touches on my exhaustion. We hobbled back to our site, and crawled into our sleeping bags. The sound of the waves breaking on the beach, coupled with an abundance of fresh, cool, ocean air, sent me to dreamland faster than you can say "Good night!"

However around 5:30 a.m., as dawn was creeping over the Atlantic, I heard a ripping sound, followed by the rustling of plastic bags and crunching. Lots of crunching.

Poking my head out for a closer look, I saw that the screen house had been ponies! I watched in horror, while one of them (I dubbed him "Joker," cause he was a paint) got tangled in the the screen siding and simply kicked his leg through the material. Meanwhile the other one (whom I named "Cinnamon," because of her chestnut color) grabbed the marshmallows, and proceed to consume the entire bag right before my very eyes.

"Get up! We have company!" I barked at my sleeping husband. I grabbed my hat (what presence of mind, considering the events that followed), and rushed over to the screen house, clapping my hands and shouting "Git! Git! Get outta there!"

My cries had no effect. The ponies on Assateague Island are protected wildlife, and they seem keenly aware of their status. Joker regarded me with a practiced eye, as he continued working his way through a bag of tortilla chips. Cinnamon seemed a tad distraught by my sudden appearance, but she still wasn't giving up on those marshmallows.

"Ha! Ha!" I shouted, and clapped my hands some more. The ponies ignored me, and kept eating. Now I was getting angry.

Cranky stumbled out of the tent, looking dazed and hungover. When he saw what the ponies were doing he laughed hysterically - in that crazed tone reserved for cartoon characters who have completely lost their mind.

"Shoo!" Cranky mumbled as he staggered toward the pony I called Joker. Joker didn't even blink. Cranky flung a handful of sand at Joker. The pony pushed his snout deeper into the bag, rooting around for more treats.

"Alright. I've got an idea. I'll distract them, while you grab the groceries and make a run for the car," I instructed the barely-awake Cranky.

Cranky reached for the bag, and Joker nipped at his hand.

"Ahh!" he yelped, jumping back in fear.

That did it for me. I grabbed one of the tent poles and shook the entire screen house, banging my hat against the side for added effect and yelling like I really meant it. This got Joker's attention. He raised his head from my tortilla chips, and looked at me with dark, angry eyes; giving Cranky just enough time to snatch three of the five grocery bags, and scurry towards the parking lot.

Not wanting to be left alone with the marauders, I ran behind him without a second thought. Once we stowed our provisions safely in the truck, we marched back to our campsite, still unsure of how to permanently remove the ponies. We saw that Joker hadn't budged from his position. In fact, he had done even more damage by punting our pineapple across the table onto the sand, and rustling through the remaining bags that held our plastic cutlery, paper plates and napkins. Meanwhile Cinnamon had torn her way through what was left of the door, and was assisting Joker with his inventory.

Feeling bold, Matt reached in and grabbed a bag right out from under Joker, causing him to back up and hip-check Cinnamon. Seeing an opportunity in the chaos, I tossed some sand and hollered at them to "Shoo!"

Instead, Cinnamon bit Joker in the flank, and snatched a box of graham crackers. I daringly reached for the box, but Joker reared up and charged me!

Fortunately, I had my big, floppy sun hat with me, which I waved above my head while jumping up and down and flailing my arms to look as big as possible. This spooked Joker, and finally convinced him to turn around and head over the dunes. Cinnamon remained, aggressively shaking the box of graham crackers in her teeth to open the plastic bag inside. Frustrated, she dropped the box on the ground and stomped it with her foreleg until the bag burst. She nosed through the crumbs, stomped the box a few more times to render it completely useless, and ambled away over the dunes in search of Joker.

We scraped up what was left of our supplies and trudged towards the car. As we rounded the dune that separated our site from the boardwalk to the parking lot we saw more ponies. Lots of ponies. They were spread out on either side of the boardwalk, creating a virtual gauntlet of equine threat.

"F*ck!" Cranky said.

"I dunno. What's worse, keeping this stuff at our site, and risking a repeat performance; or walking down the path of doom, and hoping nobody notices we have food," I said.

We opted for bravery. After all, the herd was grazing on grass. Perhaps these ponies had not be corrupted by high-fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils. To be continued...