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:  http://www.amazon.com/Trophies-An-Equestrian-Romance-ebook/dp/tags-on-product/B00998J2B2

Another link:  http://www.allhorsestuff.com/


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 (http://windflowerfarmweekly.blogspot.com/2012/10/cozumel-carriage-horses-by-way-of.html) 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."