Before knowledge of the deadly pandemic, I gave notice to retire as high school English teacher after 24 years in the classroom. Since the pandemic’s abrupt decision to end that role, I had three months of remote learning experience which helped to seal the deal. June came as I faced quarantine, retirement, limited summer vacation, and sidelined from the revolution I so wanted to join. I honored the quarantine, thankful that I could, knowing that I was entering a nofly summer. I acknowledged my retirement as the new school year approached, wrapped in its remoteness, without me, and ventured out on one last “summer vacation.”
In planning my trip, I noticed this one did not face a deadline, a return to work order, or an itinerary that demanded movement and money. This vacation and I, metamorphosized into an altogether unfamiliar vacationer and her beloved vacation. I did this in the exotic region of Assateague Island on Maryland’s eastern shores and a small enclave beautifully situated on Ayers Creek where things stopped.
The Airbnb upstairs quarters were adorned in expansive curtain free windows, skylights, and floor to ceiling glass doors that led to a balcony overlooking a sprawling lawn reaching out to Ayers Creek. Every morning greeted me with the rising sun. The place was purposeful, minimally dressed, nothing more needed than light. (On the sixth night, a full moon appeared in a ceiling port hole, drenching me in its beam). I was present to receive it. I awoke without an agenda, no itinerary, tour guide, or train to catch. No time to consider. I sat with the binoculars on the balcony, to watch two laughing gulls do just that! Coffee in hand, I was still.
The summer heat engulfed me, the rising sun a threat, the blanket of humidity oppressive. So I waited it out. By late afternoon, I joined a salt marsh paddle, slow and steady, a breeze brewed and carried us to the homes of many birds. In our slowness, we encountered eagles (perched on a branch above my head, sharing in my stillness). The “great blues” appeared at every turn, barely noticing us, others hesitantly, somewhat annoyed. The cormorant classically hanging its wings out to dry, so cool, stopped in all its glory, as natural as its flight. Our guide spotted every little tern, turtle, crab, and reed. Her specialty was finding eagles and their nests, from her winter watch for the Maryland Conservancy eagle count. I had nowhere to go.
Except to Assateague, which is a magical place at any time, but when sitting at its shore, with just two other families more than socially distanced, it is another world. I did not get on a plane to come here and entered with a lifetime senior pass.
A trio of Assateague ponies came prancing down the beach in a frenzy, whinnying and flirting with a welcoming pony from the opposite direction; they greeted in a circle dance, in front of my blanket under the moon. Their show was for me, I was sure of it. The full moon hung over us, as the sun parted. We followed it to the bay side finishing the night with the glorious display of a star just doing its job and loving it!! Taking the time to call it a day.
My time there was not squandered. Many vacations bring the pressure of itinerary and must sees in 36 hours. This one, with COVID as its parent, reminded me to walk slowly, step out of the way, and behind a mask, let my eyes do the work. I am the student now.
Julia Gillern is/was a high school English teacher who resides in College Park, MD.