Thursday, June 22, 2023

Adam’s Horse Tours: Getting to know the Banker Mustangs @AliciaBessettebooks



ALICIA BESSETTE: I’d lived on the Outer Banks for months before I saw the famed wild horses that roam the Virginia/North Carolina border. It was a warm, overcast day in June of 2016—seven years ago, almost to the day—when my friend Adam aired-down his Jeep tires and took me and a few other friends to what’s known as “the 4x4 beaches,” an area accessible only to four-wheel-drive vehicles.


The journey was bumpy and jostling. Even Adam’s expert navigation and the fresh ocean air blowing all around didn’t ease my white-knuckled grip on the grab-handle. Soon, however, I caught my first-ever glimpse of a wild mustang: a chestnut mare standing atop a dune, gazing out over the Atlantic Ocean. We stopped to admire her from a distance, and I snapped a photo. After that we saw more horses. They galloped in the surf. They nuzzled each other. In the dunes, they grazed on sea grasses. I was so mesmerized by the mustangs that I forgot to take photos. When we reached the fence that marks the state line, I snapped a cool shot of some pelicans coasting overhead. Then, reluctantly, we turned around and headed home, admiring a few more horses along the way.


Fast forward to five years later, when I was brainstorming ideas for the sequel to Smile Beach Murder. I remembered that wild mare gazing out to sea, and I asked, what if a very important mustang inexplicably goes missing from her sanctuary on beautiful, fictional Cattail Island? That was the question that spurred the writing of Murder on Mustang Beach, in which your bookselling heroine, Callie Padget, does everything in her power to restore order to the beloved herd.

While researching Murder on Mustang Beach, I learned that no one really knows how the Banker horses got here, though it’s theorized that they have lived on this skinny strip of land for about five hundred years, having descended from Spanish horses brought by explorers.

I learned that Banker mustangs in the Corolla area are managed by a nonprofit called the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, which promotes continued land preservation as their permanent sanctuary.

I also learned that they drink from rain puddles; manmade canals; ponds and lakes that form after heavy storms; and the Currituck Sound, which is mostly freshwater. And, the mustangs are locavores, dining on acorns, persimmons, sea oats, and various coastal grasses.

In fact, Banker mustangs cannot digest apples or carrots and frequently die after accepting those food items offered by tourists. The takeaway: never approach, touch, or feed wild horses.

“It only takes one apple to kill a horse,” says Meg Puckett, herd manager of the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, who was kind enough to speak to me after I found out I’d be guest-posting here at Jungle Red Writers.

“Culturally, historically, and genetically,” Puckett says, “each individual horse is critical to the herd’s survival. There are 300 of these horses total in all the world, and here in Corolla, there are 99 horses. When you’re talking numbers like that, if you lose just one horse, it damages the genetic health and overall wellbeing of the herd for generations. It’s so important for all of us to keep in mind that when we are in their home, our actions have consequences.

“People are always asking me what they can do to help, and I like to tell them, ‘Awareness is a big part of it.’ These horses don’t belong to the caretakers. They belong to everybody. So talk about the horses. Advocate for them.”

It’s my hope that this blog post does just that: advocates for the continued thriving of the mustangs of the Outer Banks. As Puckett reminds us, very few remain, and they need us. For more info, see the Corolla Wild Horse Fund at https://www.corollawildhorses.com

Thank you for checking in today, Jungle Red Writers & readers. I’d love to hear about a wildlife encounter that left an impression on you. Please feel free to discuss in the comments. I’ll pick a lucky winner at random to receive a beautiful, signed, hardback copy of Murder on Mustang Beach.

Happy Summer to one and all!


BIO: 
Alicia Bessette’s first mystery, Smile Beach Murder, was a finalist for the inaugural Lilian Jackson Braun Memorial Award given by the Mystery Writers of America, and was a Southern Indie hardcover fiction bestseller; an Amazon Editors’ Pick; and one of Real Simple’s Best Beach Reads of 2022. Bessette’s journalism has won a first-place award from the New England Newspaper & Press Association. She lives in coastal North Carolina with her husband, novelist Matthew Quick.

ABOUT MURDER ON MUSTANG BEACH:

When a killer stirs up trouble on the Outer Banks, amateur sleuth and bookseller Callie Padget is on the case, in a new beachside mystery from author Alicia Bessette.

Cattail Island in the Outer Banks is a popular destination for honeymooners and nature lovers alike. So it is a huge blow when the murder of a newlywed grinds the pre-summer season to a screeching halt. Bookseller Callie Padget launches her own investigation after mysterious customer Geri-Lynn Humfeld, caretaker of the island’s protected wild horses, brings in an irresistible piece of information.

Determined to restore order and safety to her beloved hometown, Callie searches for answers—even as those answers cast suspicion on her soon-to-be boyfriend, Toby Dodge, whose martial arts studio was the scene of the crime. As she digs deeper, Toby becomes the police’s prime suspect. The truth raises troubling questions and sends her scouring the bookshop’s shelves for guidance.

Meanwhile, a well-loved member of the mustang herd—a pregnant mare whose anticipated foal is a symbol of summery hope for locals and visitors alike—may be facing dire circumstances. With help from Geri-Lynn, Callie unearths startling secrets surrounding not only the compromised mare, but the murdered newlywed, too. And when another body shows up, this time on isolated Mustang Beach, she must race against time to stop a killer from claiming any more innocent lives.



70 comments:

  1. Congratulations, Alicia, on your newest book . . . .
    Your account of the Corolla mustangs reminds me of the somewhat similar experience of seeing the Chincoteague ponies on Assateague Island. Other than the amazing opportunity to see the ponies [a truly memorable experience], our wildlife encounters are pretty much relegated to encounters with the deer that regularly wander through our yard . . . .

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    1. Chincoteague and Assateague are on my bucket list. Yes, deer sightings are a daily occurrence here as well. There are two babies in the neighborhood this year -- twins! Thanks Joan.

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    2. I'm very fond of twins . . . .

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  2. Congrats on the new book!

    The wildlife encounter I'm thinking of at the moment was a moose and her two young I saw with my family in Alaska. There were lots of tourists around taking pictures, and they just sat there and let us do that. Then, they just walked off, as if it was time to log out for the day and go home.

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    1. Wow, how cool. I saw a moose trotting down a dirt road in Vermont once. At first I thought someone's horse got loose. Then I thought, 'what's wrong with that horse'? Then I realized what I was looking at and nearly drove off the road! Thanks Mark!

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  3. ALICIA: Congratulations on your new book! These Corolla mustangs remind me of the wild horses in Sable Island, off the coast of Nova Scotia, Canada.

    Me, I loved watching sea otters floating on their backs in the NWA near Monterey, California. They were soooo cute!

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    1. Thanks Grace! I have never heard of Sable Island - thank you for putting it on my radar. Nova Scotia is another place on my bucket list. (It's a long list!) Every now and then I spot an otter swimming past my house. Cutest things ever.

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  4. We were camping in Rodanthe on the Outer Banks, NC when my husband says he wants to show me something on the beach. It's dark out except for a few camp fires that they allow with a permit so we walk away from them and to my unbelieving eyes I see these tiny white/glow in the dark crabs. My husband says they call them ghost crabs and there were lots of them. I had never heard of them before. He had been there as a kid with his family and he wanted to see if they were still there. Congrats on your new book and thank you for the chance at your giveaway. pgenest57 at aol dot com

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    1. Oh yes, ghost crabs are definitely still a thing here on the Outer Banks! Thank you for sharing this story. Rodanthe is a pretty place.

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  5. Congratulations! How I would love this book, but I’m too far away, so I won’t throw my hat in the ring, but order it instead. I get being too spell bound to take pictures. What a wonderful experience that must have been. And thanks for sharing the information about what these marvelous animals can and cannot eat.

    My own experience with a wild animal animal actually happened in a city in India. We were visiting my husband’s family and I was upstairs in the bedroom where we were staying, combing my hair, when this white owl flew by the window, peered in, and then flew inside and perched on the dresser, staring at me. And then, examination over, he/she flew back out and went on its way. I have no idea what a white owl was doing in a bustling city (Tiruchirapali), but I felt almost privileged to have caught its attention. It’s a moment I’l always remember.

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    1. Thank you, Elizabeth! Your story gave me goosebumps. I've had an owl encounter myself, and the word "privilege" definitely applies. I'm glad that owl chose you ☺️

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  6. Congratulations, Alicia. Wild horses - they are such a compelling image, almost romantic. And a great anchor for a story.

    I moved to a new house some years ago that had a strip of woods behind the yard and a river nearby. One evening I heard a cry like a baby being tortured. It was terrifying, but I learned it was a fisher, a carnivore related to weasels. At dusk I sometimes saw it prowling the edge of the woods - and I made sure my cats were safely inside before then!

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    1. Hi Edith! Thank you. Oh my gosh, talk about goose bumps -- the cry of the fisher cat is a horrifying sound. I grew up in the woods in central Massachusetts and they were/are plentiful there.

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  7. Those wild horses sound magical, Alicia. I'm glad to know about them, and about your series. Congrats on your new book!

    As for wildlife: At the cottage on Lake Winnipeg, many years ago, I was in bed when I heard sort of snuffling and shuffling noises outside the window. When I crept out to the living room to look out the window I saw a mother black bear and her cub digging into the garbage bag of wheat-based cat litter I had put outside earlier for dealing with in the morning. I had not for one second thought a bag of used cat litter would be attractive to any living creature, but that sight made me realize otherwise. While we left them to it in the moment (no harm being done and certainly no threat to us), I have never again been that naive (stupid) about the great outdoors and 'stuff' I leave out in it for the morning.

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    1. Thank you very much, Amanda. Whenever I go hiking, I always wonder if, around the next bend, I'm going to come face to face with a black bear. I wouldn't mind seeing one from a distance, and through a pane of glass!

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  8. Alicia, congratulations on Murder on Mustang Beach and thank you for letting us know about your inspiration. I love the cover of your book.

    Living in the country, I occasionally see deers, raccoons, skunks and wild turkeys. I especially like to observe mothers with their little ones. When driving, I pay special attention to avoid hitting them when they cross the road.
    Danielle

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    1. I love the cover too. The artist is named Michelle Pereira and her Instagram handle is youngpapadum if you want to check out more of her work. She is incredibly talented. Thank you Danielle ☺️

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  9. Welcome Alicia, so happy to have you here! I realize reading this again that I forgot my intro--telling everyone how I loved SMILE BEACH MURDER and how it was nominated for the Lillian Jackson Braun award...thanks for visiting us today!

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  10. So many wildlife encounters in my life, thanks to living with a wildlife photographer. But the very first time I saw a doe while walking in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, 40 years ago, still makes my heart flutter. Deer were nowhere as common as they are now, and this one was just standing there, slightly off the path and partially hidden in the woods. I stopped dead and we looked each other over, silently. When I walked on she vanished as if she'd been smoke. Magic.

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    1. We took our daughters to see the Chincoteague horses when they were young, and that was an equally magical experience. There is a smallish herd of wild horses in North Dakota, too, in the Theodore Roosevelt National Park. You can also see bighorn sheep right alongside the road, and they'll sidle up to your car if they think there's a good grazing patch there.

      Alicia, congratulations on the new book! How wonderful, to get the first LJB award, too.

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    2. Ahh, magic indeed. Thank you very much, Karen! ☺️

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  11. A female moose chose our rural Vermont neighborhood for a stay a few years ago. She spent an afternoon in each yard observing and resting. She walked up our driveway, laid down at the top and dozed for a few hours before standing up, taking a huge pee and trotting into the woods. Such a beautiful beast !
    B.

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    1. Oh wow. Yes, they are so odd and so beautiful. And so big!

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    2. And I have a feeling the above comment was written by my mom ๐Ÿงก๐Ÿงก๐Ÿงก

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  12. ALICIA: Welcome back to JRW! And congratulations on your new novel!

    Yes, when I was a young child, we would go to the Animal Farm at a Park within driving distance (not too far) from our house. I remember seeing farm animals up close. And there was also a pony corral where young children could ride ponies around the ring. Very slow but still fun.

    Diana

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    1. Hi Diana/Bibliophile! Thank you for the kind words and for sharing this lovely memory. Nothing wrong with a slow pony ride - LOL.

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  13. Wild horses fascinate... and that they have a dedicated place (still) to remain wild is astonishing. Your post reminded me of the small horses we saw in... musta been Ireland. Small. Gorgeous. Local emphatically tell you they're not ponies. Congratulations on the book! I've always wanted to get to the Outer Banks.

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    1. Thank you Hallie! Let me know if you ever come to the Outer Banks -- I would love to thank you in person for writing 'Writing & Selling Your Mystery Novel.' A game changer for me! ๐Ÿ˜

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  14. Very cool topic and theme for your book! I grew up on Marguerite Henry's books: Misty of Chincoteague, Stormy, Misty's Foal and Mustang, Wild Spirit of the West all dealt with wild horses. We have a herd in SE Oregon in the Steens Mountains. I have not seen them in person (yet). I know a couple of people who have adopted and trained wild horses. I imagine they didn't have the same dietary restrictions as the Banker mustangs.

    Regarding wildlife, the bears in Banff come to mind. In a few days, we saw 9 bears--way more bears than deer. Luckily, none of the encounters were on the hiking trails. I routinely see coyotes in my neighborhood. They live at the nearby golf course and raise their young. My obsession is the red-tail hawk family that also lives at the golf course. They have at least one baby in the nest. My friend has a great camera and got some pictures and videos of the little one this week.

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    1. Whoa -- what kinds of bears?? I'm guessing they weren't the relatively mellow black bears we have here on the east coast.

      My current obsession is the osprey nest down the street. There is at least one baby in there. Can't wait to see it fly.

      I was hoping someone would mention the Misty of Chincoteague books today. Classics!

      Thank you for chiming in, Gillian.

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    2. They were black and brown bears. I don't believe any were grizzlies..They were all over, feeding in the bushes, mom and baby crossing road, another was being captured and relocated because I guess it presented a danger. Yes, my sisters and I wore those books out! I think King of the Wind was my favorite.

      Ospreys are very cool birds, so fun to watch them fish. We've seen our hawks swoop down and grab little critters from the undergrowth. This morning my friends were under the nest tree making a video of the hawk mom feeding her little one and saw a mom coyote with 6 pups on the island in the middle of the golf course's water hazard. Wow!

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  15. Congrats Alicia! I've read one of your other books and enjoyed it! Your photos are beautiful. They really capture the feel of the area with the grey skies. Lovely.
    I have to say I love your name! It is also my daughter's name.

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  16. Congratulations, Alicia. That's amazing about the Banker horses. I wonder if the size of the land also keeps the number of horses down because the resources are what they are. Fascinating.

    We have deer who roam our backyard. They treat the place as if they own it and we are merely temporary residents. Maybe we are. LOL They don't let us get too close, but they aren't scared away by our presence, either.

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    1. Hi Liz! Outer Banks deer have the same attitude. I see them almost every day and it never gets old ☺️ Thank you for chiming in today.

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  17. I’ve vacationed at Chincoteague nearly every year, for over thirty years. Each day we’re there we go to Assateague Island (the Virginia side) and visit” the ponies. (And to enjoy the beach!) I’m returning in August. I can’t wait, because I haven’t been there since 2019, thanks to the pandemic. I miss those ponies!

    DebRo

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  18. Oh wow, what a great tradition! I've heard so much about Chincoteague & Assateague. One of these days I'll get there. I hope you have a delightful vacation! Happy summer to you.

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  19. I fell in love with these horses when I read Misty of Chincoteague to my niece. They are beautiful to see. I'm looking forward to your catching up with them on Cattail Island

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    1. Thank you Kait! So many readers hold Misty of Chincoteague close to their hearts. ๐Ÿ’— I love that you read it to your niece.

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  20. Wild animal sightings are such a treat. We used to live on 40 acres and saw just about every large mammal. The interactions were interesting. A deer poking its nose toward a pheasant. Another deer huffing and stamping at a gray fox. I got up close photo of two coyote pups playing. A hawk went after a blue jay and they tussled on the ground. It was the blue jay that flew away. The hawk was stunned for a bit. Also saw a hawk go after a turkey. I don't know what the plan was there. And we saw a bobcat once - a rare treat.
    Congratulations on your book!

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    1. I love these stories! That must have been an amazing place to live. I saw a bobcat once -- it darted across the road right in front of me as I was driving. So powerful and so fast. Thank you for the comment.

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    2. We see bobcats snd mountain lions regularly on hiking that we frequent. We are located in the Bay Area in California.

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  21. We live in an area that is unique. Deer visit the houses each day and wander up and down the streets. They are such beautiful and special creatures. We respect them and watch out for them.

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  22. I love horses, and I really liked the first book, so thank you for the chance to win her new book. Where I live, we get a lot of wildlife, birds, squirrels, groundhogs, chipmunks, and geese. Yes, geese. One day, a momma, daddy, and nine babies came through our complex, walking towards the river in the back. It was so cute to see all the little ones following the mommy, with daddy bringing up the rear. Plus, they were in a straight line! Too cute.

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    1. I'm glad you liked Smile Beach Murder! Thank you for reading it. And thanks for your comment. So cute about the baby geese. ๐Ÿ’•

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  23. I have two little encounters:

    I used to house sit at a condo comp!ex, staying in a second floor unit. There were multiple coastal redwoods planted throughout the complex. I was looking out a window and found hummingbird next among the soft needles branches. I didn't see a bird but the nest was so little. The other encounter was years ago while camping in Prairie Creek state park. There is a huge herd of Roosevelt elk in the park. We were assigned a site near the meadow. We were just setting up when an elk came up to the edge of the meadow, and had a moment with my brother. They stood there just looking at each other a few minutes until the elk moved off.

    The location of your book sounds beautiful. Someday I'll travel further than the West coast and places like the horse reserve are places I'd love to see. Congratulations on the new book.

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    1. Thank you Deana. I've never seen a hummingbird nest in person. Super cool! And elk! That must have been a majestic moment.

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  24. Hank Phillippi RyanJune 22, 2023 at 10:38 AM

    Misty! Stormy! SeaStar!
    There were times when those horses and that place was such a total immersion part of my life… I was maybe… 12? And it’s all I thought about. I never looked up Marguerite Henry, back in the day… I might do that now. What a treat to read this, and what a gasp worthy and beautiful adventure you had. Welcome, welcome welcome… And cannot wait to read this book

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  25. Hello Hank and thank you for checking in today. It’s magical how the books we read in the formative years nestle their way into our hearts & minds & stay there for decades. ☺️

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  26. Hi, Alicia! Oh, I am so excited for this book. The horse loving girl in me is giddy. Thank you so much for writing this mystery and bringing awareness of the Outer Banks mustangs to readers!

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    1. Hi Jenn! And I am excited for Summer Reading. ๐Ÿ’—

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  27. We traveled for several years in our RV and fell in love with North Carolina. We moved to NC this spring. In our travels we’ve seen deer, wild bore,bald eagles,falcons,black bears and many more. While in Florida, I was walking near a pond and saw what I thought was a log start drifting toward me. Then the log rose above the water and blinked at me. I decided to give my alligator pal a wide berth and I got out of there! Yikes!

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    1. Thank you Lucy. Where in NC did you end up settling? It really is a fabulous state. Ocean, mountains, country, city -- NC has it all.

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    2. Lucy D, you are the winner of Alicia's new book! Please contact me at raisleib at gmail dot com to arrange the transfer.

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  28. I have had several encounters in very different geographical locations. The closest is in m town
    right next to Boston and seems to be a magnet for wild turkeys who have made themselves at home, strolling down the streets and gathering on lawns. I also remember, in the back of a relative’s
    house, seeing a mother skunk with a line of little one trailing behind her.
    In the Lakes District of England, I was walking through a small stand of trees and a deer came bounding across my path.
    In Denali Park, Alaska I had taken a bus which goes along the road to an observation area. I was
    standing on the deck and noticed a fox lying beneath it watching a bear a short distance away.
    In Glacier Bay I saw a seal floating by on a small ice floe.
    All of these experiences (except the turkeys) made me think about my being the visitor in the
    wildlife’s home.

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    1. Indeed -- we are but visitors! Thank you Anonymous for sharing these incredible encounters.

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  29. Congratulations, Alicia! I've wanted to visit the Outer Banks since elementary school when I read Marguerite Henry's books. Maybe this year. When we lived in El Paso our neighbor invited us over to view the hummingbird and her nest. This bird was friendly and showing off her nest with its baby! My past encounters have included bison in S. Dakota (at a safe distance!), a young moose,eagles, and an arrogant male pheasant in Minnesota, deer, groundhogs, wild turkeys, and a lost badger in Ohio, armadillos and alligators in Texas, spooky red crabs in the woods in Costa Rica. I'm leaving out insects and snakes. I would really love to view those Bankers from a respectable distance!

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  30. Thank you Pat! And thank you for leaving out insects and snakes ๐Ÿ˜‚ Friendly mama hummingbirds are the best. There was a bison farm near where I grew up. So electrifying to stand in their presence (a respectable distance away)!

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  31. I've been to the Outer Banks years ago, but we didn't see the horses. I wish we had known about them then. My wildlife encounter was in Colorado. We were driving home in the mountains and my cousin pulled over to the side of the road and we saw a group of big horn sheep on the mountain pawing the ground and dirt looking for food. The male was really huge and he was watching over his herd. It was amazing to see them in the wild.

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    1. Oh wow. I would love to see big horn sheep in the wild! That must have been amazing. Thank you for being here today!

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  32. What a breathtaking adventure! I'd love to see those wild horses in person. We live in a wooded area and share it with a variety of birds, foxes, deer, wild turkeys, and the occasional herd of peacocks. One of my most memorable encounters took place when I was snorkeling in Hawaii. I swam out a few hundred yards to get away from the beach and as I was floating I saw hundreds of bubbles rising from the deep. It turned out to be seven spinner dolphins who surrounded me and bobbed in the water along with me. I felt no fear, just astonishment and awe. They stayed for about five minutes and it felt like I held my breath the entire time. ~Lynda

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    1. Thanks Lynda! I recently read a very absorbing nonfiction book called Voices in the Ocean by Susan Casey. The author had an awe-inspiring experience swimming with spinner dolphins in Hawaii.

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    2. Oh, that sounds like a must-read for me, thanks. ~Lynda

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  33. When I traveled, I saw a lot of animals, including deer, antelope, moose, big horn sheep, bison, and bears. Once while having Thanksgiving dinner at my brothers, a flock of turkeys went by the window! Thanks for the chance.

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    1. Hi Sally! Thank you for chiming in today.

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  34. I saw these horses, would have been January of '83. You've now taught me to be glad I had no snacks for them, nor was I close enough to offer any. <3 -- Storyteller Mary

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    1. I wish I could have seen the OBX back in '83! I bet it was so much wilder. In the best of ways. Thank you Mary!

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  35. Sounds so interesting and fun to read. I love books ๐Ÿ“š with horses in them. I really want to read it soon! Thank you for the chance
    It sure made an impression on me when a deer ran in front of the van.๐Ÿ˜ณ๐Ÿ˜ฌ I didn't hit it, it kept running! Donakutska7@gmail.com

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