The first time I went to Chincoteague Island, Virginia, was during their peak tourist season. Vacationers buzzed around on motor scooters and bicycles, and the streets were lined with beach shops selling T-shirts, saltwater taffy, beach towels featuring horses and dolphins, and other usual beach town fare and souvenirs. One shop stuck out at me, however, and I had to check it out. I stopped at a garage attached to a small home with the word Decoys written on the outside, and a couple of crab pots and a neon Open sign by the garage door. Inside I found shelves with wooden birds, and a man came out of the house and explained that he was the homeowner and the birds' carver. I looked around a while and commented that I especially liked one bird; it was rough wood, gestural, or interpretive. Something about it spoke to me about nature; there was a ruggedness to it that appealed to me, the suburbanite. I was quickly chastised for my lack of knowledge, however, and it was explained to me that the bird wasn't finished. I asked what he still had to do to it. The shop owner showed me pictures of his family, from whom he learned to carve, and told me about decoys being used in hunting practices on and around the island. The birds, even if they weren't to be used for hunting now, needed to look somewhat like they were, painted with distinctive markings, glass eyes set in, and so forth. There was a very different aesthetic at play here than I anticipated, and there was emotion tied to what the bird was supposed to be, which, I quickly learned, was not my idea of rugged nature. Clearly I was missing something, and I was intrigued.

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