Assateague State Park, as it turns out, is fantastic. This is partly due to sheer dumb luck: Val and I were busy hedging our bets with the kids coming in thanks to the Belugas we never saw in the Saguenay, and the Caribou Herd we never saw in Gaspesie. We made it clear that we might never see another horse again.
But literally the second we pulled into the park to choose a site, a couple of ponies wandered into the roadway to start grazing and the girls were over the moon.
We got a terrific site, tucked just behind a barrier dune right at an entryway to the beach, set up camp, and I began laying out the wood to do my best to dry it in the sun so we could enjoy a proper campfire that evening.
The girls played in the sand, jumped into the surprisingly warm water, Val and I took turns going for long runs (we would run down the road into the National Park, and then jog back along the beach), and we would then lay about and read.
A few days in during our stay, the Grand Crisis was resolved and the National Park reopened, and so we explored it, and the girls read a sign somewhere about being able to catch crabs. It didn’t seem to be that involved, so we decided that we’d go ahead and try it the next day.
We stopped by the office of the State Park that morning to ask a few questions about where and how to crab, and coincidentally, a tall young Ranger happened to be at the desk and his blue eyes lit up when we explained that we were hoping to take the girls out.
Ranger Adam suggested a local shop where we could get bait (chicken necks, to Val’s horror) and tackle (a simple string with a wire bail that you skewered the neck onto) and then revealed his favorite crabbing spot – his broad, friendly smile betraying his excitement for us – beneath a certain bridge on a certain road.
As it turns out, crabs are dopey (or voracious) enough to simply grab the bait and hang on for dear life as you start to pull them up and out of the water. If you’re fast enough, you can get a net under them, and if they measure 5 inches across the back of their shells, you get to keep them and eat them.
Still, having taken the girls fishing before a couple of times, I moderated my expectations. If we got a single crab, I would view the day as a success.
Any day on the water with the girls is a good one, but I just wasn’t expecting that we’d get much in the way of actual crabs.
We located the certain bridge and scrambled down the embankment.
I was responsible for skewering the chicken necks on the wire bails, and then, with Sylvie and Leonie suitably armed, we sat back to watch them crab.
And they caught crabs. Loads of them, often both shrieking simultaneously and sending Val and I into a frenzy as we grabbed the nets, scooped up the crabs, and deposited them into the blue bucket we happened to bring along.
They’re glorious, evil-looking creatures, the blue crabs, hardwired by nature to be aggressive and mean and eat anything they can get their sharp mitts on. Caught, they would splay their claws wide at us, with the clear intent to fight us to the death if only they could get out of the bucket.
Val and I had the unnerving job of measuring them, and throwing back the ones that didn’t measure up. After several hours, we had a full bucket of keepers and had run through several chicken necks.
We stopped by the Park Office on the way back to the campsite to thank Ranger Adam directly (on the off chance he was there) for the advice, and show him our catch. He happened to be in, and was genuinely touched by the girls effusive narrative of our day and how much fun they had.
He then gave us the proper instructions on how to cook them, and so that night, to the horror of the girls, Dad enjoyed a supper of Blue Crabs, fresh from the bay, and cooked over a campfire at sunset.
As we were washing up our plates, we saw a Ranger’s truck slowly circling the campground loop and making its way toward us. I tucked the can of beer I had been surreptitiously enjoying behind a pot, as is in contravention of park rules to drink the stuff in the first place.
The truck pulled to a halt, and Ranger Adam poked his head out of the window. We all waved at him.
“Hey guys – I just want you to know that I really appreciate the girls stopping by the office to say thanks today. I deal with a lot of stuff, usually the same stuff over and over around here, and it can kind of grind me down. Seeing you guys taking your kids out, and having a great time, and taking the time to say thanks… I don’t know, but it really means a lot. It’s what makes my job worth it.”
And with that, he was off.
It was heartwarming, and I said as much to Val.
Val agreed, and also added what a handsome young man Adam was.
I looked at her, and she immediately added that he still wasn’t nearly as handsome as older, bearded, unemployed men.
I retrieved my beer.
An all-round good day.