Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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A bucket-list trip filled with outdoor sightings

On a recent bucket-list trip to Delaware, the author even had a red fox come trotting up the road, stopping directly opposite the car, allowing for a bunch of photographs.

Any bucket list is meaningless save for the one who matters the most: The person actually compiling the list.

It all comes down to what he (or she) would like to see accomplished before being placed in that lonesome valley – from big-ticket items that are defined by wealth, time, and health, to small and mundane things for which a person had not gotten around to doing for one reason or another.

In truth, a bucket list doesn’t have to make sense and in some measure ought not to, either. They are the dreams found in one’s back-of-the-head diary.

Alas, I have several items on my bucket list that never will see themselves being checked off.

I had always wanted to cover – as a reporter – Alaska’s Iditarod Sled Dog Race. And I came oh-so close a number of years back. But my doctor would have no part of it when he discovered my effort would require abandoning civilization for the outback and thus require extensive physical exertion of the kind that my already deteriorating spine would not tolerate

Ditto for a withdrawn acceptance to fly aboard one of those aircraft that climbs high, fast, and cocked vertically only to dive toward the earth just as fast and just as straight. For a few brief moments the effect mimics weightlessness. My doctor’s response was as expected as was my wife’s: “Are you nuts?”

So I (very reluctantly) bowed out on doctors’ orders.

Even so, my bucket list does contain any number of “reasonable to acquire” items, and one of those I recently saw go from “to-do” to “have-done” ledgers. Oh, nothing major, but it was somewhat spontaneous, not all that expensive, with the bonus of being downright fun. Perfect bucket-list criteria.

Up until a couple of weeks ago I had just one state left to have set my foot in – Delaware, of all places, the land of soft-shelled crab cakes, salt-water marshes, and Joe Biden. The remaining 49 states were colored in, including Mississippi, which felt my hiking boot’s impact late last spring.

I could not plan on doing a several-state tour to complete the bucket list, needing to head directly to Delaware. This mid-Atlantic state bills itself as the nation’s “First State,” a claim it can make since it was the initial one to ratify the Constitution.

Anyway, wife Bev and I gathered up a AAA trip planner, loosely tossed some clothing into gym bags, kenneled our two dogs into the car and headed east for around 423 miles to Dover, Del. Don’t ask me why I selected Dover, either. I really was thinking “Wilmington” but Dover sort of popped out of my mouth.

The drive carried us through Pennsylvania’s southern tier of counties, across Maryland, and around Baltimore and then up and over the 4.3-mile-long Chesapeake Bay Bridge. The bridge is billed as the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure. It costs $4 to cross, but only if you’re headed east. People heading west in the opposite direction pay nothing. I know, that doesn’t make any more sense than me trying to scratch off a silly bucket-list item. Then again, Joe Biden as a presidential candidate doesn’t make much sense either.

Once across the bay and back on dry land in Maryland’s Eastern Shore, it was just a hop, skip and AAA trip-planner drive to Delaware, and then about another 45-minute drive to Dover, the state’s capital and home to one of the Air Force’s largest encampments.

We found a motel room for the night – not an easy proposition since all but one of the motels we visited said no to our two Labrador retrievers. As Bev would opine during our motel search, “Dover is not dog-friendly.” But I digress.

Perhaps, but what is dog-friendly (as long as an animal is on a lead no longer than 10 feet) is the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s 16,251-acre/25 square mile/eight-mile-long Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge’s front is edged by massive farm fields while its backside butts up against Delaware Bay, a salty finger of the Atlantic Ocean.

And it was at Bombay that the bucket list became more than just my last state check-off item. Bombay NWR, as Bev and I discovered in a bit of pre-trip research, includes a 12-mile motor vehicle drive. No four-lane highway, for sure, but the drive offers up tremendous wildlife viewing opportunities.

Ducks were plentiful and included the usual assortment one would expect of a migratory bird wintering ground. Pintails in large numbers as well as mallards, shovelers, and even a pair of black ducks that were picking their way through a tidal mud flat. Then there were humongous flocks of snow geese and Canada geese and tundra swans.

No wonder that a good portion of the large farms we drove past had waterfowl-hunting blinds anchored to them. Oh, and an equal number of deer-hunting blinds. It appears that Eastern Shore hunters take their big-game and waterfowl hunting seriously.

It would have proven foolish to race the course, even if the site had no posted 25 mph speed limit. We’d stop here or pull over there in order to unpack the binoculars or to leash the dogs for a quick walk to observation towers overlooking waterfowl-filled marshes. Once we even had a red fox come trotting up the road toward us, stopping directly opposite the car, which enabled us to shoot a bunch of photographs.

After four hours of touring, stopping to ogle the assembled wildlife, it was time to leave the Bombay NWR, the city of Dover, and the state of Delaware behind. I had checked off a bucket-list minutia. A fly speck of an interesting item in a lifetime of one’s existence, though important to me nonetheless.

And I would suppose there are people who would snort that a 1,100-mile round-trip journey and a $400 or so wallet reduction was on the silly side just to fulfill a bucket-list wish item.

These folks are correct in some respects, though in the end having the First State become my last to visit (as an approving niece would later say) meant that not only was a bucket-list entry crossed off, it was memorably noted with the inclusion of a very large, red circle.

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