Thursday, December 6, 2012

Plane Rage, Un-charmin' Garmins, And How And When To Take a Joey From Its Kangaroo Mom

    Pre-eclipse Light                                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
    Tablelands, New South Wales

              I will get to the local animal sanctuary and news about the total eclipse shortly.  But when I left you last, I was still in Texas recovering from my excursion to Grapevine and the difficult re-entry into the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.  Well, following two much needed beers and a great number of apologies by the two women who recommended that I go to Grapevine, things started to luck up.  The DFW lounge was about to close when one of the women told me that they had spoken with the Qantas representative who heads the Qantas lounge, restricted to First and Business class ticket holders.  But because of what had happened to me, I was invited to wait there until my flight to Brisbane was announced.  I could even take a shower if I wished, and there was a supper being served. 

       I was led down the hall to that lounge and to a desk where a gentleman in a Qantas uniform asked for my passport and itinerary.  I was then given--guess what?--a boarding pass for my flight to Brisbane! 

       Me:      "Sir, how long have you been here?"

       Him:     "Mid-morning."

       Me:       "If TSA had brought you my passport could you have given them a boarding pass for me?"

       Him:      "Most certainly."

       Okay, so there had been an option.  But TSA and that nasty American Airlines ticket person both had failed to recognize it.  If they can't do that, how can they do the things they're supposed to do?  Admittedly, it takes a little imagination, but only a little.  Anyway, that horrible part of the day was over.  Now, as I slipped into my thick terrycloth robe thoughts turned to the tasty-looking stir fry and rich beef bourguignon, and which I would choose when settled in my deep, oversized lounge chair.  Yep, things were good. 

       But not for long.  After boarding--and it seemed there was no seat to spare--the flight attendants passed out one sheet of paper per long row (this was a super jumbo jet with two full decks).  This is what I and a lovely young Australian couple sitting next to me read:

       "Unfortunately, a typhoon has formed over our normal flight route so we will have to adjust our course accordingly.  Our in air travel time will therefore be nineteen hours.  Additionally, because of our length of time in the air, we will need to land in Auckland, New Zealand, in order to refuel.  We apologize for any inconvenience."

      Groans erupted from one and all, that is, except for that small number of passengers whose ultimate destination was, in fact, New Zealand.  Miraculously, and contrary to Murphy's Law as applied to air travel, they were going to be allowed to disembark.  The longest flight that I'd ever been on was to Japan, which was twelve hours.  When it gets as high as sixteen hours, three more really didn't feel like much of a difference to me.  And again, after my episode at security, I was simply thankful that my knapsack and I were actually going to Australia together.

       However, once in Auckland, we remained on the tarmac an hour more than expected.  Why?  After--and only after--we refueled, the captain or ground crew remembered that because a number of passengers had deplaned, the cargo had to be rearranged so that the weight was evenly distributed.  By the time we landed at Brisbane I had been on that plane nearly 21 hours.   Economy class.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that during the flight, two of the passengers behind our seat became angry at the Australian couple--who were heading home to be married--for (horrors!) daring to lean their seats back.

    But what were they do?  The row ahead of us had leaned theirs back!  The man's fiancée moved her seat forward a bit, but she remained very cramped.  Not happy with that concession, the passengers behind them started kicking the couple's seats!  And finally I started to get my seat kicked by the person behind me who up till then had remained out of the fray.  So, since I was in the aisle seat, I got up and and told the two flight attendants about what was going on.  They immediately informed the seat kickers that we were entitled to have our seats back and that the kicking must stop.  I have witnessed road rage a few times in my life, but this was my first experience with plane rage.  And I'm embarrassed to say  three American women had been the culprits.

       We landed in Brisbane at ten a.m. but my flight to the city of Cairns and northern Queensland was not until nine twenty that evening.  I no longer had any idea what hour my body clock was registering.  I can't sleep in planes, so I knew it had been a very long time.  But I had neither the mental energy nor the desire to calculate how long I'd been up.  So  I camped out in a local restaurant for a number of hours, bought a few gifts for family and friends, then camped out at yet another restaurant.  There was wi-fi so I checked e-mail, entered some notes about my trip (you're reading them now) on my iPad, and started reading an incredible Australian travel tale Tracks by Robyn Davidson I picked up at an airport bookstore.  Throughout the book Ms. Davidson refers to herself as an ordinary person.  She is anything but.  After traveling to the Outback and learning to train camels and live in the harsh climate--that took two years--the author, together with her four female adult camels and one calf, travel the harsh Outback, from Alice Springs to northern Australian a distance of seventeen hundred miles.  Do read it.  You will learn much about the outback, the indigenous people who live there, and one incredibly humane but determined young woman.

       A word about Australia's feral camels.  I knew that they exist in great numbers and that they periodically must be culled because of the damage they cause and the competing interests of cattle ranchers.  (Sound familiar, mustang lovers?)  But after reading Tracks, I had to learn more.  Camels were imported during the nineteenth century in order to carry loads into the Outback.  The going was way too tough and dry for horses.  However, once autos and trucks entered the picture, these "ships of the desert" were released into the wild.   I had no idea that at one point their number reached nine million, an utterly unsustainable population for a continent even as large as Australia.  (If you read Tracks you will understand how dangerous feral bull camels can be, especially if you are in the company of female camels.)  I can understand they must be culled, but the two methods used aren't humane.  The first is this:  to be shot outright from helicopters and four wheel drive vehicles.  They often die a lingering, painful death.  The second is this:  to be crammed into cargo holds on ships bound for India and the Middle East, where they are slaughtered for meat and hide.  I hate to imagine the facilities and level of "care" these poor camels get while awaiting their mortal end.  And who ultimately is to blame for this excess in camels anyway?  Why little old us, of course.

       Before I move onto Port Douglas, kangaroos wallabies, crocodiles, and jellyfish, I'll leave you with a couple more facts about the camel:  camelids, their ancestors, were even-toed ungulates originally indigenous to North America.  One group migrated into Asia and beyond via the Bering land bridge and evolved into camels, the other group migrated to South American and there evolved into llamas, alpacas, vicuñas and guanacos.

       By the time my flight landed in Cairns, Queensland, it was just before midnight in Australia and I was pretty well shot.  When I got to the baggage claim area thankfully I saw a woman holding up a sign with my name on it.  The hotel I was staying in overnight had sent a car and driver to pick me up, something I hadn't expected.  But that was the only thing I found in the baggage claim area with my name on it, at least, initially.  I waited and waited for my bag and knew I was in trouble when the carousel was completely bag-less for nearly fifteen minutes then ground to a halt.   I glanced over at my driver who was having an animated conversation with the woman at the Avis desk about a particular chakra of hers.  One of her energy channels had apparently gone awry.

       There was no one else left in the baggage claim area save a large group of Chinese men who were busy loading their many bags onto a dolly a good hundred feet or so away from the carousel.  When they started to roll the dolly towards the exit, I saw my bag exactly where they had been. They had obviously taken it by mistake and, just as obviously, had no intention of returning it to the carousel.  I walked over, grabbed my bag, and growled, "Thanks a lot!"  Their response:  unabashed giggling.  Now, I don't know if these fellows were Chinese from China, Taiwanese, or "overseas Chinese," but I do know that they were Chinese.  My fatigue did not prevent me from feeling absolutely furious.  When I told my driver about it she simply averred, "I'm not surprised."

       When I picked up my rental at the airport next morning, I asked that it have a GPS.  You drive on the left in Australia and since I hadn't done that since I lived in Japan, well over thirty years ago, I thought it best not take my eyes off the road.  I own a Garmin and have found it a godsend when getting to big horse shows in small New England towns, or dinners and receptions at new addresses that must be found on dark winter nights.  But have any of you had a GPS go haywire on you?  Well, sadly I have, and wouldn't you know it, it just had to be on this particular trip.  When I headed out the airport for Port Douglas, my Garmin sent me completely in the wrong direction. 

     "At the next roundabout go straight," the robo woman with the English accent advised.

      Okay, easy enough but there was no roundabout for at least two miles.  I waited to hear the familiar--"recalculating"--but nope.  It simply repeated itself:  once again I was to go straight at the next roundabout.

      But again no roundabout.  Robo Brit repeated this at least three times.  Could a roundabout in Australia be any different than a roundabout in England or a rotary in New England?  Perhaps it was simply an intersection?  I'd gone straight through any number of those. Or was this simply a southern hemisphere sort of thing I should know about.  As I pondered these questions for the next hour, I drove past two "Frenchmen's Creeks," one "Chinaman's creek," and lots of open pastures and sugar cane fields.

                Aged Male Kangaroo                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
                        Cairns Zoo, NSW

       A dead kangaroo on the road confirmed that my plane had truly landed in Australia.  I later learned that whenever you see a dead kangaroo on the side of the road you are supposed to stop, check if it is male or female, and if it is female put your hand into her pouch to see if she is carrying a joey.  If you find one--and I'm told if it's female there usually is one--you need to take it to a local zoo or rehabilitator.  I felt badly that I hadn't stopped.  Now that would have been something:  lost in Queensland with a tiny baby kangaroo hopping all around my car's interior.  Well, hopefully the poor creature was a male, or if female, had already  been rescued by some Australian who had known what to do.  A joey is but an inch or so long when it migrates into the pouch, which is Mother Nature's superior version of a neonatal unit.  I saw just such a creature the next day at the Port Douglas Wildlife Sanctuary when I signed up for their behind the scenes animal care tour.  (This one had been taken out of the pouch and tossed onto the ground by her mother.)  Here is a picture that will give you an idea about what might have been had I stopped and found that the struck kangaroo was a joey bearing mommy.:

     Rescued Joey                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       By the time I crossed "Slaughter House Creek" (one can only guess what that flowing water flowed away with) I was pretty sure I was in trouble.  However, I continued on until the Garmin lady said:

       "In .4 km turn left to your destination."

       Well, in .4 km there was no left and certainly no destination intended for me.  I continued a bit more but when the face of the Garmin turned blank and the voice of robo Brit was no more to be heard I decided to turn back.  I stopped at a little house that advertised tea, scones, and fine art. 

        "Port Douglas?" she asked, with amazement. 

       She drew me a map that directed me back--over one hour--back to and around the city of Cairns to the coast road and ultimately to Port Douglas.  Her little pencil sketch worked!  After an hour, I actually began to see signs for Port Douglas and my road--very curvy--looked out onto the Pacific and one amazing stretch of beach after the next.  I checked in at the beautiful Verandah apartments, bought a meat pie at the bakery next door, then slept twelve hours.  Oh, and before that happened, I picked up a pamphlet from the lobby rack that advertised
"Horseback Riding On Wonga Beach."


        Eighteen foot Elvis here is an esteemed citizen of the Cairns Zoo but there is no shortage of Elvis impersonators swimming in the waters of northern Australia.

               "Elvis"                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012


Tales to come:

     --  Australian creatures, great, small, big, and sometimes not so beautiful

     --  The run up to the Total Eclipse with my scientist son

     --   More Australian creatures

     --   Snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef while my son scuba dives thirty feet below me

     --   A venomous beach

     --  A ride along an aborigine-owned, crocodile-infested beach 


    Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly---

         Ainslie Sheridan.


Tuesday, November 27, 2012


    Totality                                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012
    Tablelands, North Queensland

To Australia--and A Total Eclipse of the Sun

       Those of you who are already regular blog readers know that my son Alec, a solar astronomer, asked me to join him--and a load of other scientists--in Port Douglas, Australia, to view a total eclipse of the sun.  You also know that I'm a reticent traveler, but the prospect of being with my far-off son (he currently lives in Bozeman, Montana), coupled the prospect of seeing our sun, Earth's nearest star, completely obscured by the moon, was impossible to refuse.  To go "down under" requires many hours of travel, but if your ticket is purchased using frequent flyer miles and Mother Nature in addition decides to kick up a typhoon over the Pacific, it takes many, many, many hours.  Such was the case with my trip.

      The flight, scheduled to leave Boston at 5:40am, meant I needed to be at Logan Airport at 4:00am (in the case of this international connection, no boarding pass available online for printing).  So, my husband Jim thought it best for us to stay the night before at the airport Hilton, 300 yards away from check-in instead of the 30 miles distance to our home.  Knowing that this venture was emotionally and geographically a big deal, Jim stayed with me until the TSA security check.  I'd tucked my passport, ticket, and itinerary safely into a little canvas envelope slung about my neck.  I felt a bit like one of those English children who, to escape the WWII bombings of London, were sent by rail to live with families in the countryside.  They, too, carried their identities around their necks.  Well, so do soldiers and sailors.  

      Sadly, I left my set of dogs tags hanging in the closet of the house I lived in  while serving in Japan.  I'd had them since Officer Candidate School.  And, yes, they did have my name rank and serial number but also there was room at the bottom for religion.  When I filled out the paperwork under religion I wrote "Druid."  My OCS friends thought I was going to get into trouble but miraculously, when I got the tags they said "Druid."  (If I ever needed last rites where on earth would the Navy have found a Druid priest?) 

      The first leg of my journey was not to verdant English lands, but to the Lone Star state of Texas, specifically the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport.  I had twelve full hours before I was to board my Qantas flight to Brisbane, Australia, so I became a day member of the DFW airport club.   There I could rest, perchance to cat nap.

       But that was not to last.  First, a gentleman in a cowboy hat sitting in an "information" booth urged me to take a shuttle tour that ran directly from the airport.

       "It'll take you straight to the largest mall in Texas!"     

        He was so enthusiastic, his eyes so bright, that I tried to register interest but obviously failed.  He hastily added that the shuttle also went to Grapevine, a restored 19th-century town.  That sounded better, but with so many thousands of miles to travel ahead of me I felt reticent to leave the airport.  And, watching the national election returns and then getting up at 3:00am, I'd had barely three hours sleep the night before.  But that was not to be.  After learning that I would be staying at the airport many hours, the two women attending the DFW lounge also urged me to take the shuttle, adding that Grapevine was "adorable."  Maybe I was just being too careful.  And, after all, once aboard the plane there would be plenty of opportunity to snooze.  They confirmed that I could get back through security with my ticket, and that they would be glad to keep my knapsack--it contained my iPad, Kindle, camera, lenses, and considerable cash--behind their counter while I was gone.  So I stepped out into the warm Texas sun and caught the shuttle.  Here is Grapevine:


          As you can see, Grapevine was not going to wait for Thanksgiving to pass before its Christmas kick-off.  The stores, most of them gift shops, were loaded to the gunnels with all manner of Christmas items, the majority of which seemed to hail from China.  There were, however, some charming, locally made crafts.  And there were Christian crosses a plenty--home decor crosses of metal, leather, and wood for walls, necklaces, brooches, and bracelets, and many other Christian-themed items including bed covers, stationery, and Biblical exhortations to post on your wall.  But my favorites were the gold and silver plastic tiaras with crosses made up of fake rhinestone plastic jewels, in other words double fakes.  Next to the tiaras stood a rack full of princess dresses for toddlers, all made of shiny polyester and tulle.  Here you see that one can imbibe in some religion in Grapevine:


Coffee and Religion                                           Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       I didn't go in, but it seems there would be no surveillance by either human or electronic camera.

                   Signboard                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       As you can well guess, I had no desire to linger in Grapevine, so I hopped on the shuttle and returned to DFW.  I handed the agent my trip itinerary, which had my ticket n number on it.  He immediately handed it back and stated that he needed my boarding pass.  I fished out my Boston to DFW boarding pass and handed it to him.

       "I need the boarding pass for the flight you are going to take."

       "But I don't have any others.  American Airlines didn't give me one."

       He advised me to go over to the American counter and said he was certain they would take care of it.

       Not a chance.  An unsympathetic woman said I would have to wait until the Qantas ticket counter opened, and since my flight (leaving at nine p.m.) was the only Qantas flight there would be no staff available to check me in until seven-thirty, at least four hours.  My throat began to tighten and my heart began to pound.  The DFW lounge closed at seven and I needed my knapsack!

        Me:  "Look, you have to let me back in.  Call the DFW Lounge and they'll tell you they have my bag.  There's a tag on it with my name and address."

        Ms I-Could-Care-Less:  "Sorry, your flight with American finished here."  So much for Oneworld ticketing.   She concluded, "There's nothing I can do."

       Me:  "The TSA agent said you could help me.  I want you to walk over with me and tell him exactly why you can't!"

       Ms I-Could-Care-Less would not deign to do this but had an underling (very nice but oh-so-inexperienced) walk me back to the TSA agent.  The agent said he would fetch his supervisor, who appeared within minutes.  And as soon as he smiled and asked what the problem was I burst into tears.

      Me, half in tears, half joking:  "I'm not a terrorist.  I was in the Navy for fourteen years.  I'm wearing a Boston Red Sox cap."

      TSA agent:  But you need a boarding pass.

      Me:  "Okay, don't let me through.  Just get someone to bring my knapsack down to me."

      TSA agent "An unsupervised bag would cause even more of a problem."

      Me:  "It isn't unattended.  Two ladies in the DFW lounge are supervising it.  I have to go to Australia but I can't go to Australia without that bag."  Tears were now streaming down my face.

     TSA agent:  "Give me your itinerary and wait here.

      In ten minutes he was back and beckoned me through the X-ray machine.  He stayed with me until I'd picked up my little canvas bag and cell phone.

       TSA agent:  "You know, you were a big little problem for us.  In all my years here I have never let anyone through without a boarding pass."

      Me:  "Sorry, thank you so much."

      One of ladies handed me my knapsack.  "Well, how did you like Grapevine?"

      Me:  "I'll tell you after I have a drink.  Make that two drinks.


        I'm sorry this entry leaves us still in Texas, but the next blog will get us to Australia, the eclipse, and, yes, even horses, I promise.

Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly--

      Note:  Next Saturday, December 1, as well as Sunday, December 2, as part of a Holiday promotion, Amazon Kindle is offering my novel Trophies, An Equestrian Romance for free.  You don't have to own a Kindle.  The Kindle application is free and may be downloaded on your iPad, computer, or tablet.  You can also send it to a friend as an e-gift.  Here's the link:

Another link:


Monday, November 5, 2012

Dressage School For Tica, Carriage Horse Update, Going to the "Land of OZ" and a Remarkable Love

What's my Andalusian mare Tica been up to?

       As I mentioned in a previous blog entry, Tica has been in training with Linda Parmenter at her Pinehaven Farm in Hubbardston, MA.  I do miss her and her imperial ways, but I have three other "greenies" to keep me busy.  Linda has invited me to come see her progress though I've delayed doing so.  Of course, seeing her would make me happy, but it would also underscore how much I miss her.  However, when Linda told me that she had scheduled a lesson with renowned trainer, rider, and judge Kathy Connelly at nearby Elysium Farm in Harvard, MA (no relation to the university), I couldn't resist.  Here are Linda and Tica:
   Tica and Linda                                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

                                 Tica and Linda             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

                        Tica and Linda                            Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

                          Tica and Linda                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       I am very excited about Tica's progress.  Relaxed and balanced, she executed two perfect flying changes--her very first--due to Linda's systematic, patient training and the professional eye of Kathy Connelly.  We are hoping that Tica will be able to show second and third level next season.

Update on Montreal and Cozumel Carriage

       Within twenty-four hours of posting the blog entry about my trip to Montreal I was contacted by Mirella Colalillo.  She heads up  that city's "Anti-caleche (carriage) Defense Coalition."  What she had to say and the photos she sent convinced me that the carriage horse you saw in my blog entry ( had been an exception.  This poor boy in Montreal is not feeling at all well and he's obviously not being fed!

    Undernourished carriage horse                       Genevieve Allard Penas copyright 2012

       There are any number of the following both in Montreal and Cozumel (and no doubt in most every city that has horse carriages):

                                                          Runaway CTV copyright

       And here is their squalid reward for all those hours spent ferrying people around in often over-loaded carriages, many hours at a time and frequently in inclement or very hot weather:

           Manure stained and damp standing stalls--what filth!  The horses spend all day between the shafts of the carriages unable to turn and get to flies bothering their flanks and it is the same in their stalls.  These are called standing stalls.  And that is exactly what they are .  Unless at death's doorstep, a horse will not--basically cannot--lie down in one of these.  That center stall is wet and filthy.  A place this miserable is seldom cleaned.  The horse's legs are dirty from six to eight inches above their hooves.  Shame on the City of Montreal for allowing such conditions to exist.  Starving, sick horses pulling overloaded carriages--how quaint is that!  Once again, the horses lose out to the power of the mighty dollar, in this case the Canadian dollar.  Here's the Coalition's flyer:

                                                                                      courtesy of Mirella Colalillo


       I also received an update from the anti-carriage point person in Cozumel, Mexico, who asked, for reasons of personal safety, not to be identified.  There has been some progress but the horses are still pulling obese tourists from the cruise ships to the city of San Miguel and back again in temperatures that can hit 115 degrees F.   There are now rest areas for the horses.  The drivers are required to utilize them but seem perfectly willing to risk the fine by failing to do this.  There have been accidents:  one horse pulling four tourists spooked and the carriage crashed, resulting in serious injuries for everyone including the driver.  Another frightened horse crashed his carriage into a truck loaded with butane.  

       The good news is that the citizens of Cozumel, increasingly aware of the suffering of these animals, have become significantly more vocal.  However, acting against the carriage owners and the monetary interests of the island can result in having your job threatened and funding cut for what you care about.   When I was in Cozumel there were nine--count 'em--nine newspapers.  One, and only one, prided itself on not taking bribes.

        So, please spread the word.  Commercial tourist carriages are cruel and dangerous to the health and safety of horses and humans alike.   It needs to stop.

Hurricane a.k.a. "Superstorm" Sandy

       Hurricane Sandy has come and gone and Windflower Farm got off very lucky--only one fence board broken by a falling branch.  Part of our town was without power for several days and we had one friend over so she could shower and work on her computer.  But many other New England towns went without power and suffered damaged homes and eroded beaches.  However, we don't hold a candle (I resist making a bad joke here) to New York and New Jersey.  My brother, who lives in Long Island, wrote that he was sitting in the darkness with a whole basket of tempting Halloween candy.  No power = no trick-or-treaters.

       I saw some online photos of the damage to iconic Coney Island, which appears leveled but for one sad looking ferris wheel and one Nathan's hot dog stand.  And of course there's that view of Manhattan on the evening news--the top half of the island lit but from 39th street down it was eerily dark.  And poor Staten Island!  I hope and pray that their circumstances improve in a hurry.  As a former marathoner (Honolulu 1978), I'm glad that Mayor Bloomberg yielded to pressure and canceled the NYC Marathon.  I know a lot of charities lost money in the way of pledges, but who in their right mind would like to run amidst that devastation and human misery?

       The day after Sandy cut its destructive swath through the northeast, I was standing near my barn.  It was raining with mud everywhere.  My farm was a monochromatic palette of grays and browns.  I heard a little crack behind the fence and in the woods.  It was a young fox.  He was a sub-adult now on his own.  I don't have a picture of that fox, but try to imagine what one looks like who is halfway between this winsome little one--

       Fox Kit                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

 and this grand lady:

   Fox vixen                                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright  2012

       The young fox didn't see me at all and continued to come closer.  A fence post and pine branches obscured most of my 
body.  When he was within seven feet I thought I should let him know I was there.  No sooner had I uttered "Oh, sweetie--" than he vanished, a sudden stunning flash of orange energy on a dreary gray day. 

Off to the "Land of OZ"

       In a few days I take off for Port Douglas, Australia, a town near the city of Cairns (pronounced "Cans") in Queensland, for two weeks.  It's spring down there and the temperature will be in the mid to high eighties and humid.  I will love it.   Port Douglas is  where a total eclipse of the sun will be best seen.

       I have been enlisted to take photographs of the assembled solar scientists as they record and measure many things I've yet to learn about.  It should be fun.  Everyone is wishing for clear skies.  There will also be a marathon going on, as well as a rock music concert with the eclipse as its theme.  One of the scientists was actually invited to give a speech prior to playing of the music.  For logistical and scheduling reasons he had to decline.  I myself will not attend but hope they'll be willing to go a little retro and play the Beatles song "Here Comes the Sun."

       My son Alec and I, as well as some of the other scientists, are planning a day out to the Great Barrier Reef which, I'm sure, will be amazing.  (Sadly, global warming and sea acidification are already degrading it.)  There are other things to do but what I'm most looking forward to is spending time with Alec, swimming in the ocean, and lounging and walking on the beach.   I'll try to find some horses to take pictures of but I think it will be tough in this tropical resort area.

       In my short time learning about total solar eclipses I've learned that groupies attend each and every eclipse and that there are also a variety of cruises and tours dedicated to those few minutes that the moon obscures the sun.  Next year the total eclipse will be best seen from the African country of Gabon, apparently an amazing place.  Gabon is a mineral rich country and has incredible biodiversity, so if Alec is going, count me in.  There are six official languages there including one called "Fang."  I'd like to be able to say I'm fluent in Fang.  I wonder if Rosetta Stone has lessons for it.  

Spoiler alert:  Just this morning I received an e-mail from the head scientist who is already in Port Douglas.  The ocean is home to many terrible man o' war jellyfish and crocodiles.  Hmmm, that decadent infinity pool outside our lodgings is now looking significantly less decadent!

Missing My Family, Animals, Friends, and Farm

       In an earlier blog you have read that I am not a good traveler.  But I used to be, when I was single and thundered all around the globe while in the Navy.  I've flown in all sorts of helicopters, a variety of planes, and been aboard carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and amphibious craft.  At that time I really wasn't invested in much of anything so I figured an accidental loss of me wouldn't count for much.  But that has all changed now and I don't at all care for the prospect of leaving my life here to fly alone for nearly two days.  The exception is that I love traveling with my husband Jim.  When I am with him, no matter where we are, I am home.  

       And yet now I cannot help but at the same time feel a rising sense of excitement.  I'm going to see Alec operate for the first time in the field and environment he loves, as well as observe top astronomers from around the world.  Solar astronomy is new to me, as is Australia, so I'll be experiencing  the equivalent of a double header--daily and simultaneously.

A Touching Canine Experience

       My son's dog did something last week that I must relay, but bear with me while I give you a little history.  Ten years ago, when Alec was seventeen, we drove up to the Lowell Humane Society to adopt a dog.  This is who Alec chose:

    Bella                                                                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       Bella is part Springer Spaniel, part something(s) else.  She had been left at the shelter that same day by her former owners.  Bella was very sweet but seemed puzzled about why she was in this metal cage with a cement floor.  The little card on her kennel stated the reason for her surrender:  "No time for her."  Well, Alec had time for her and by the time we'd reached home she was already his, and he hers.  They did so many things together:  When Alec went to the local gun club to trap shoot, Bella went.  When Alec had a Lacrosse match Bella sat in the stands with us.  Ball-mad Bella met her kindred spirit in Alec.  He threw her tennis balls with his lacrosse stick.  She was off like a shot before it was in the air.  When she got too hot she'd suddenly trot off, ball in mouth, jump in the pool, tool around until cool, then return to Alec for more.  When he walked over to our neighbor's house to use their gym, Bella would follow his scent and find him there.  It was too dangerous for her to be admitted into the gym and she made a general nuisance of herself outside.  So we had to be certain she was in the house while Alec was over there.

       A year and a half later, in 2003, it was off to the University of  Delaware for Alec.  The first trip--all that stuff!--there was no room for Bella.  She was bereft and depressed for a good couple of weeks.  But we took her with us when we went down for Parents Weekend.  Here they are at a Delaware Beach:

       Bella and Alec                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       After freshman year Alec transferred to Harvard and though he lived in Cambridge he was home frequently.  After graduation he worked at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics for three years, so he was still nearby.  Last year Alec went to Montana State University to study for his doctorate.  (They have a top program in solar physics.)  His trips home now are few and far between.  Every time he arrives, his Bella explodes with joy.

       She is now twelve, her hearing almost gone and her eyesight fading.  A few days ago I found some dirty clothes of Alec's that needed washing.  They were in his room, which is usually opened only when Alec is in town.  Bella came into the bathroom, sniffed the clothes, and got hugely excited.  As she thrust her nose into the various garments, her tail made rapid, sweeping circles.  With excited yips she then ran into our bedroom, which looks out onto the driveway, jumped on the bed, and looked out the window, tail still going a mile a minute.  No Alec, but convinced he was here, she ran to the front storm door, certain that her best friend would show up at any minute.

       He didn't.  Sitting with her on the front steps until she understood, I gave her a few of her favorite liver treats.  She accepted them but without her usual gusto.  I was deeply touched--and, of course, saddened--by her excited reaction and belief that Alec had come home.  He will return at Christmas, so in a little while but only for a short time, she will have him back.  Alec will throw her some balls, but not very far.  He will raise his voice so she can hear him, and he might need to give her hips a little support with his hands as she climbs the stairs.  Bella will sleep at the foot of his bed once again and--since like all dogs, she lives in the now--Bella will believe he is here to stay.

    Bella                                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       Thank you for reading the Windflower Weekly, and I'll talk with you again when I come up from "Down Under."











Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fall Foliage and an Oktoberfest

                    Dolly                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

     It's almost over.  Today has been a sunny, breezy day, the air filled with  red, yellow, and orange leaves.  I know I griped about this very time of year in my last blog entry, but I'm determined to be like our dog Clem and live in the "now."  I will banish all thoughts of sleet, dark days, muddy and unwieldy horse blankets and will pray for another snowless winter, that is, except for the one week before and the one week after Christmas.

     Dolly heads up this entry since the color of her coat is in keeping with the season.  She is what is termed a "red" mare.  And there is an axiom about red mares:  they are temperamental and oppositional.  But that's not the case with Dolly, who is sweet and eager to please.  That's why our local vet declared her not red but "pumpkin," an even more seasonal appellation!

Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue

       This past Saturday I took a break from the farm and drove down to Haddam, a charming town in southern Connecticut, to attend the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue's Octoberfest.  Some of you will remember that I bought Dolly for sixty dollars over the phone with a credit car from a wholesale auction house in order to prevent her from going to slaughter.  I didn't want to drive down to New Jersey to pick her up.  An equestrian magazine was interviewing me that afternoon so I wouldn't have arrived in Jersey until well after dark.  A more compelling reason was I didn't want to drive down there with a four-horse trailer:  if there were other horses about to be shipped out to slaughter I didn't trust myself not to plunk down $180 and take three more.  Fortunately, I was put in touch with Debbie and Jeff Blaschke of the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue.  They were going down that morning to pick up a little Haflinger mare.      

         The Blaschkes immediately discovered that Dolly was semi-feral:  she'd had never been handled other than to be corralled into a stock trailer along with her emaciated herd mates.  It took Debbie and Jeff over three hours to get the terrified Dolly into their trailer.  The original plan was for me to meet them at their place in Connecticut, but they decided it would be in Dolly's best interest (and mine)  to drive her all they way up to Windflower Farm.  This added five more hours to what had already been a long and difficult day.  So, when I saw on their Facebook page that they were having an Oktoberfest I jumped at the opportunity to re-connect with these wonderful people and to get an up-close and personal look at some draft horses. 

       Haddam and its sister town of East Haddam are charming but complicated little towns.  Cell phone reception is sketchy, and my Garmin GPS navigator decided that this was the place to totally pack it in.  Add to this mix a Map Quest printout that not only baffled me but also every person in Haddam and East Haddam who had it thrust in front of his or her face by an increasingly desperate me.  I was in trouble.  I stopped at a service station whose only attendant waved me off with a disinterested dismissal:  "I have no idea.  I can tell you where you are but not where you should go."  I stifled an impulse to tell her where she should go.

     I  pulled over when I saw two teenage girls wearing t-shirts, shorts, and walking along the road in bedroom slippers.  Haddam is not only complicated but apparently quite informal as well.  They said they could help and the one in lambskin slippers dialed her mother.  Here are snippets of what I heard:

      "Mom, how do you get to Moodus Road.  I'm near Sharon's house."

     "No, we're not going to Moodus Road.  There's someone here who's asking directions."

     "Mom, it's a lady."  Pause.  "I said we aren't going down to Moodus."

     "No, we're nowhere near her car!  She just needs some help."

     "Mom, she's nice--she's got a puppy with her!"

      Gender, their lack of proximity to my car, as well as Clem's presence, finally put Mom at ease and directions were relayed via her daughter.  I was to turn around, go straight until I came to a 7-Eleven, then turn left.  That would be Moodus Road.

      But that was not to be.  I ran into a road block and a detour!  I stopped (despite a number of cars behind me) and told the policeman there that my final destination was Rock Landing Road and the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue.

       "Never heard of either.  And I've lived here twenty-six years.  You're in the wrong town." 

      Argghhh!  After I insisted that I was in the right town, he did give me directions to Moodus Road.  However, following his directions to the letter I soon found myself right back at the service station with the disinterested attendant.

      As a last resort I managed to place my cell phone in a spot that received slight reception and called Juliane back in Acton.  After multiple, crackled repetitions I had some sort of number.  I dialed but no answer, just Debbie's friendly recorded voice promising to get right back to me.

      Actually there were even more twists to my crazy search--but I'll spare you.  I was just about ready to surrender and return to Acton when I saw a couple walking a Golden Retriever.  Between Clem's excited barks--he'd been in the car way too long and wanted to play with their dog--they told me I was in East Haddam and that I wanted to  cross the bridge to get to Haddam.  Been there, done that about ten times I declared.  But then came this interesting bit:  there was piece of Haddam, like a kind of island, that was actually encircled by East Haddam, and there were a couple of horse farms there.  All right, one more time.  A horse farm would likely have heard of the Draft Horse Rescue.  And after the husband and wife settled their argument whether I was to turn right at the second light or just after the second light, I reversed course and gave it one more try.  I turned onto Haddam Neck Road, a name unbeknownst to me and Map Quest.

     Settled in 1712?  Well, you'd think that the inhabitants would have had ample time to become familiar with their own roads.

      As Pope said, "hope springs eternal" and after a half mile or so I saw white fencing, a barn, and lots of parked cars.  My hope was springing!

And then this--yay!!!

       That policeman who redirected (or misdirected) me hadn't lived in Haddam long enough!  

       Meet Jeff and Debbie Blaschke holding the picture of Dolly I brought them.

              Jeff and Debbie Blaschke                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       And now amazing Grace!

          Grace                                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

           Grace is a ten-year-old Percheron mare that the CDHR rescued, along with her four-month-old foal, from the New Holland auction house in Pennsylvania.  Those of you who have read The Eighty Dollar Horse already know about this place.  It is run by the Amish, who along with the "killers" constitute the greater part of the bidding audience.  "Killers," who buy the bulk of the horses, mules, and donkeys, cram them into stock trailers and drive them to slaughter houses, the majority of which are in Canada (miserable death) and Mexico (horrific death!) 

        As was the case with Grace, many of the horses who go through New Holland are skin and bones, aged, lame, or have open sores from the ill-fitting harnesses they have worn doing years of farm work.  When people hear the word "Amish" many conjure up bucolic images of a simple, God-fearing people who eschew modern conveniences and serve up great traditional fare at their numerous restaurants that cater to tourists.  They are pacifists who believe it wrong to hurt a fellow human even if they hurt you.

       But many Amish are cruel to their animals.  After years, often decades of hard work, when the animals are either too old or too lame to pull farm equipment or buggies, it's off to New Holland or some other like-minded enterprise.  I myself have seen a number of lame horses--mostly Standardbred track discards--trotting down unforgiving pavement driven by unforgiving Amish drivers.  Why does it count as a sin to have a telephone or a freezer in your house but it's just fine to mistreat your animals?

      Fortunately for Grace and her foal, Debbie and two other founders of the rescue, Stacey and Elyse, were there and able to outbid the killers.  Had they not been in attendance, mother and daughter would have been sold individually and ruthlessly pulled apart before being loaded onto the trucks.  Rescued and in  Connecticut, they lived happily together until the filly was old enough to be adopted into a loving home.  Here are two more shots of the majestic Grace.  The first I took from the seat of the carriage when it was my turn for a ride:

                   Grace                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

                       Grace                                        Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

Another Draft Pick

                    Lacey                                       Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       This is Lacey, a twenty-one-year-old Percheron cross mare saved from the killers.  I haven't spent much time with draft horses, and when I did, they were either being exhibited or in harness working or about to work.  This was the first time I was in their company when they were at home and at rest.  They are so gentle, so kind, and there is such a nobility about them.  I hope the above photo of this magnificent mare conveys these qualities.

More Draft Picks

                      Sally and Belle                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

         Meet Sally and Belle, affectionately known by the rescue volunteers as the "Goldie Girls."  They are both Belgians and in their mid-twenties.  They were pulled from two different auctions but, as you can see, they seem to have been friends from way back.

       Both mares were amenable to being photographed, though I had to wave them back or you'd just be seeing photos of an ear, an eye, or a few whiskers.  When I tried for a more "artsy" shot and lay down on my back, they both hastily repaired to the inner sanctum of their run-in shed.  Sally and Belle had obviously not come across many supine humans.  And they were not about to come back out.  Debbie could not stop laughing when a couple of volunteers tried and failed to coax them forward by calling them their names.  No dice. 

                 Sally and Belle                              Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

                                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

        At first I thought I'd just walk in and get behind them.  On second thought, no.  I'd be putting myself between two enormous hindquarters and the back wall of their shelter.  Of course, they were friendly and sweet but they had already declared me a person of potentially malevolent interest.  And I'd broken more than my quota of bones this year, so I left it to their good friend Joe to come to the rescue:

          Joe and the Goldie Girls                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

Still shy but not fleeing:

             Shy Goldie                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

Better, but the retreat option is still on the table:

                                                                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       I'm sorry to have caused Sally and Belle even the slightest distress.  After what they have been through they deserve nothing but days filled with hay, oats, security, and kindness  as well that occasional extra streak of purple in the mane that a volunteer  lovingly applied (see the photo above, "Shy Goldie").

Final Draft Pick

     Faith                                                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       Last and least--in size only--is Faith.  She came to the rescue by way of a local auction that usually limits itself to cows, pigs, sheep, and goats.  She is part draft and part something else, perhaps paint.  She is five, just beginning her training, and, as you can see, a lovely mover.  Her canter is a lofty three beat, so she is going to make  a wonderful sport horse.  


       There is seldom a horse lover who isn't a dog lover as well.  So, when you meet a horse rescuer chances are you're meeting a dog rescuer, too.

         Brindle Greyhound Girl                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       This girl is an off-the-track rescue I met at the Fest.  Those elegant and gentle eyes should never have had to focus on "Swifty" the mechanical rabbit, nor be kept in a cage for twenty plus hours a day--for years.  At last she has what she needs:  food, freedom, and a family who loves her, not for how fast she runs, but for who she is.

                Civil Disobedience from Clem!          Ainslie  Sheridan copyright 2012

       Those of you who regularly follow my blog will recognize the above pup.  Yep, it's our own little rescue Clem who I brought along for company.  He and I obviously hail from the same family since he, too, believes lying on one's back is the thing to do when in the company of draft horses.

               Passive Resistance                            Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

            In his patient non-violent refusals, Clem must be a disciple of the dog world's version of Ghandi!   Despite verbal encouragement and commands, coupled with gentle tugs on his leash, Clem demonstrated--passively, of course--that he had no intention of following me into the barn to see the draft horses.  The last time he entered a building--other than his own house, that is--it had been an animal hospital where he experienced unpleasantness in the form of two shots.  But civilly disobedient Clem got lucky.  He found a wonderful friend in Hayley, who happily dog-sat while I got a barn tour from Debbie:

       Clem and Hayley                                                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       After the tour I lingered with Clem and his new best friend.  Hayley informed me that she herself had a dog like Clem except he was dark brown.  She asked me to guess his name.  Not surprisingly I struck out three times.

       "His name is Cocoa, and guess what he's going to be on Halloween?"  After my having failed to guess her dog's name, Hayley excitedly supplied the answer without so much as a pause: "A cocoa bean!!"

CDHR Trips to New Holland

     The New Holland Auction takes place weekly, so thousands of horses do not get rescued.  Surprisingly the horse that the killers prefer is the Quarter Horse.  That breed has a better meat to bone ratio than all the other breeds that come through, including the drafts.  Quarter Horses are often backed at the ridiculously young age of two when their bones, ligaments, and tendons are not yet developed enough to sustain the sliding stops and spins, the constant rocking back on their hocks in reining and cutting,  nor the bursts of speed required in racing.  And when their young bodies give out, off they go!  There is no shortage of them at the auctions.  If you look at the lists they are often only five or six years old.  

       Rescue groups attend these auctions but only when they have the money and space to bid.  The Amish are the principal buyers and sellers.   On a good day they can purchase the replacement for the animal they have just brought in, to use their term, to be "beefed."

        The Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue can only return to New Holland when they have placed enough horses in homes that adopt them and as a consequence have more available stalls of their own.  They make the trip down to Pennsylvania with an eight-horse gooseneck trailer several times a year.   (On occasion they have squeezed ten draft horses in the trailer in order to save two extra.)   The average bid they must make to beat the killers is three hundred dollars though on one occasion there was one horse so sick and so skinny the killers didn't want him.  The Draft Rescue bought poor Curly for $25.  The rescue intended to make him comfortable for a few days before humanely euthanizing him.  But damn, if that old boy didn't rally! He has since been adopted as the contented pasture-mate to another horse.  He does have cancer and will have to be euthanized when it incapacitates him, but right now he is enjoying a wonderful life. 

        At any one time the Connecticut Draft Horse Rescue houses eleven to fourteen horses.  Each consumes between a bale and a bale and a half of hay a day, plus grain and vet expenses.  The monthly costs of the Draft Horse Rescue average six to seven thousand dollars, so they are always in need of donations and volunteers.   If you have time, money, or would just like to see some beautiful creatures click on here:

Note:  Of course, not all Amish are cruel to their animals.  I know of two who are excellent Natural Horsemanship trainers and very kind.  I'm sure there are many more.  Unfortunately, they seem to be the exception rather than the rule.  Additionally, I must add that none of the information contained in this entry about New Holland or the Amish was provided by the New England Draft Horse Rescue.  I have known about Amish cruelty to their animals for decades.  I have, however, recently learned something new:  The Amish are now known for maintaining hideous puppy mills.  They are found in barns and kept out of sight.  Many of these dogs don't see the light of day until they are sold to some pet shop or an Internet buyer who thinks he is getting a deal  And though their religion prohibits them from using the Internet the Amish happily engage the "English," i.e., us, to post these pups online.  They employ the same third party hypocrisy with a number of horses they breed for sale, particularly Haflingers.

      I will close with another fall foliage girl.  This is Firefly on a crisp morning:

        Firefly                                                              Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

         Thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly.  See you soon--

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