Wednesday, February 13, 2013


           Two days later the horses still couldn't resist Nemo's playground so how could I?  I grabbed my camera and out I went:

               Firefly and Dolly                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013


   Henley and Dolly                                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

        Dolly used to be reticent with other herd members but no longer:

      Firefly and Dolly                                                  Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

    Dolly                                                                Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

 Dolly spots me sitting below a rise:

                       Dolly                                                   Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

Then comes for a rub and a kiss:

                        Dolly                                            Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

 Then off again!

    Dolly off!                                                                                          Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

     Formerly timid but now so confident!

   High self-esteem Dolly                                 Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

 Firefly and Elementa exchanging a few equine words:

     Firefly and Elementa                                      Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

 And last but not least, here is Juliane later that same day bareback on her beloved Henley:

     Henley and Juliane                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013

       This afternoon Juliane and I went on a long trail ride with Henley and Elementa.   Above freezing and windless, shafts of end of day light turned the snow shades of muted yellow, pink, and gold. The snow was deep so we mostly walked but had a couple of short trots and canters.  Both Elementa and Henley began the ride "on the muscle" but soon settled down.  It made me wish I were not leaving tomorrow for North Carolina, almost that is.  I love the Raleigh Durham area (lots of horses!) and have always enjoyed meeting the gifted and inspiring members of the National Humanities Center.  And last, but not least, our hotel has a jacuzzi, a big, big plus for somehow who's been trying to shovel Nemo away from farm gates and barn doors.

       Remember, starting tomorrow Valentine's Day and for three days afterwards my novel Trophies, An Equestrian Romance will be available on Amazon for free:

       See you when I return from below the Mason-Dixon Line.

Until then and thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly.

     -- Ainslie


Monday, February 11, 2013

Aussie Nasties and Leaving on a Jet Plane

    Cassawary                                              Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013                                                           

Aussie Nasties

       I realize that over the course of my Australian blogs I've mentioned numerous creatures you would not like to meet on your travels.  I hope I haven't put any of you off from venturing to this extraordinary part of the world.  The chances are, unless you go out of your way to do so, i.e., a trip to the zoo, a foolish dip in a remote estuary, you won't.  There are actually very few deaths per year caused by "the nasties." This low number is most likely due to awareness and a high level of emergency response.  Here are a few stats on average deaths per year related to particular creatures and other causes.  I hope they will put things in perspective:

Crocs:                2
Sharks:              2
Jellyfish:            2
Cassowari          0  (though a teen recently died after taunting one)
Horses:              20
Drownings:       300
Car accidents:  1700

However, "a high level of emergency response" tells you that there are a lot of life threatening encounters!  And from what I've learned, they've got to be painful!

       The following are a couple more "nasties" I could have encountered at Four Mile Beach:

The Stonefish

       Named for an ability to camouflage itself by looking like a piece of rock, the stonefish is equipped with sharp spikes all around.  If you step on one you will not die, but apparently people have found the pain so excruciating that they beg to have the afflicted body part cut off.  If you think that this creature's life as a fish prevents an onshore sting, you're wrong!  This versatile fish is capable of remaining alive on the beach over twenty-four hours.  Wear shoes!

The Blue Bottle Jellyfish

     Referred to by Australians as "blueies," they are what I grew up knowing as the Portuguese Man o' War.  Deaths can occur but they are rare.  Annually, it stings about ten thousand Australian beach goers.  A sting usually causes fever, shock and, occasionally, it hampers your heart function and makes a temporary muddle of your respiratory system.

The Lion's Mane Jellyfish

      The Lion's Mane's sting doesn't hold a candle to other jellies I've listed in this and other blogs.  But these are my favorite not only because of their lack of potency in the venom department, but because of the more intimate name the Australians have invented for them.  If I had a photo of one to post here, you would immediately understand why they are called by this nickname.  On second thought, perhaps just seeing the name in print will be enough of a visual cue.  They are known as the snotties.

       I just came across this YouTube, which will give you an idea how aggressive cassowaries can be.  National Geographic ranks it as the world's most dangerous bird:


       As for drownings, they are not only caused by people who simply can't swim, but by notorious rip currents, or what the Australians refer to as rippies.  In 1967 Australia lost a prime minister to one.  Harold Holt, an accomplished swimmer and diver, went into the ocean one morning never to return.  This was the 1960s when Australia and a number of other nations, the U.S. included, had a more than rocky relationship with China.  A number of Australians thought Mr. Holt had been abducted by a Chinese submarine.  But, no, it was later concluded that it had likely been a rippie.

       Of course, rip tides are a world-wide hazard, but Australia's rippies are known to be about as bad they can get.  Here is a YouTube presented by Dr. Rob Brander, professor at the University of New South Wales.  He explains the nature of the beast and how to tame it:

        Salties and freshies (salt and fresh water crocodiles), jellies, blueies, snotties, mozzies (mosquitoes), and rippies--what's with all these diminutives?  You might remember from language class that diminutives reduce an object or person in size but also often ascribe feelings of affection, intimacy, and endearment to the diminutive named.  It's as if all these fearsome creatures and forces have been invited into the nursery and, by being invited, have been rendered less fearsome, even endearing, to the Australians, like stuffed animals.  I wonder if this is a way of coping with the real threat to life they present to Australians.  My guess is yes.  After all, 94% of the population lives along the coast--a very long coast. 

       Leaving On A Jet Plane

    Sydney Airport                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       The next day I flew from Cairns to Sydney--3 hours--but had a wonderful companion sitting next to me, a psychologist from Wellington, New Zealand.  We talked about Aborigine issues contrasted with the indigenous New Zealand Maoris, and also about Australian and New Zealand accents, not dissimilar to the differences between Canadian and American English.  She, too, had just snorkeled the Great Barrier Reef.  Her daughter rode horses growing up.

       Meeting wonderful people (as I did on this trip) is for me one of the greatest pleasures in traveling.  But it also brings sadness.  I would like to get to know those people better, spend time, experience things in their company, but time, distance, home obligations, and the fact that Father Time has it in for me sooner rater than later makes all this unlikely.

       When I landed at Sydney I took a cab to a grubby hotel where I spent the night.  My flight was not until the next morning and my New Zealand friend urged me to take a harbor tour of Sydney.  But no, nervousness about taking that long flight and memories of my miserable DFW airport experience made me determined to stay put.  The only place I went was a local convenience store to buy something to eat.  I walked past shabby houses surrounded by metal typhoon fences.  Most yards contained scraps of errant litter and the occasional unfriendly dog.

       The offerings were slim to none.  I bought a small pack of nuts, a stale Krispy Kreme doughnut, and a beer.  To give you an idea about the sort of place I was temporarily residing, the store's most prominently displayed magazine was entitled "Zoo" but did not feature stories on Jack Hanna or Australia's late lamented Steve Irwin on its cover.  Instead, the banner read, "How To Download Free Sex Apps."  I will spare you a description of the babe on the cover.

       That evening I wrote more notes in my iPad about the trip.  For all that I've written about Australia's somewhat unwelcoming natural environment--those nasties--I really enjoyed my adventure tremendously.  In the early seventies,  just back from Japan, I drove with my mother to Nova Scotia, where she had spent summers as a young girl.  I was fresh out of a frenetic city of millions (Tokyo).  Though I usually loved being in rural areas, I found Cape Breton, with the exception of the Cabot trail, just too pastoral for my blood.  There had to be better things to do than gaze at cows and go to strawberry fests at local churches.  (I probably also wanted to get away from my mother.)  So, I caught a ferry to rocky, hardscrabble Newfoundland and had a lot of fun.  I even attended a fishing exhibition where I was able to translate Japanese for a Canadian concern trying to sell equipment to a Japanese fishing company.  It was strange, speaking Japanese in a Canadian province whose English--vocabulary, and accent--were akin to the English spoken at the time of Shakespeare.

        So, for me, Queensland--with its striking tropical beauty, amazing Great Barrier Reef, and wildness--was right up my alley.  And, as you saw by the stats, chances of death by the Aussie Nasties, in actuality, are slight.  As I read over my notes, I thought of those I was unlikely to see again but for whom I felt attachment and affection, from the baker who wrapped up my Lamingtons to the hunch-backed young man at the small Port Douglas pharmacy who loved to talk about Christmas and scrap booking.  I'd had a remarkable trip, spent quality time with my high quality son, and learned--not enough--but a lot.

       After being by myself for five days after my son left, in another full day and a half I would be back in the company of those I loved and who loved me.  And I would also be with my wonderful horses and dogs.

       When I was in the third grade our music teacher taught us "The Kookaburra Song."  I had no idea what a Kookaburra was or where it lived, but my classmates and I loved that song.  It was written by Australian Marion Sinclair in 1932.  Here's the first stanza, which I am sure many of you--at least, many of you my age--will recall.

       Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree,
       Merry, merry king of the bush is he.
       Laugh, Kookaburra, laugh Kookaburra,
       Gay your life must be.

        I will leave you now with a YouTube of a real Kookaburra "laughing":


       See you soon, and thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly--






Sunday, February 10, 2013

Another Naughty "Jelly", The Indigenous People of Australia, Four Mile Beach


   Four Mile Beach                                                     Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2013 
       One glorious day left--what to do?  There several options.  I could I take that river cruise in the Daintree  that I mentioned in an earlier blog.  Known for its biodiversity, the Daintree Forest is home to an extraordinary array of birds, mammals, and plants--not to mention insects.  There are over 18,000 recorded varieties of insects.  Oh, the cataloging of it all!  

       It's also home to one of the most entertaining and intriguing displays of bird courtship I've ever seen live or on film.  But I couldn't find a YouTube of the Australian Bower Bird, so I've linked us to a YouTube of the Vogelkop Bower Bird of New Guinea.  The extraordinary behavior is similar.  (The snooty BBC wouldn't let me embed this YouTube video, so you'll need to leave my blog--temporarily, I hope!--to see it.  Perhaps your browser will just open it in a new tab.)   I promise that you won't be disappointed but must give fair warning:  for anyone who has endured the sting of rejection in junior high or high school, this video contains scenes that may be disturbing:

        In the end, I decided against going to the Daintree, a decision made harder by learning that the weather had turned just warm enough to view the Physarum polycephalum, better known as the Yellow Many-Headed Slime Mould!  How could one resist?  But I decided on the beach.  The long travel to Australia had been a little stressful, and I'd done quite a bit with Alec.  So, after he left, I really just wanted to relax.

       However, I wouldn't be able to relax totally.  Why?  It was the beginning of irukandji season.  An irukandji is a jellyfish the size of chiclet--you know, those little pieces of chewing gum less than one inch (or  a few cm) square--so it can slip through a stinger net easily.   And what it lacks in size it more than makes up for with lethal venom.  It is one hundred times as poisonous as a cobra, one thousand times as poisonous as a tarantula.

       You can die if you don't get immediate treatment.  In fact, you can die if you do get immediate treatment.  For the first thirty minutes the sting of the irukandji is only mildly irritating.  After that all hell breaks loose inside your body:  hideous muscle cramps, acute back pain, profuse sweating, vomiting, extreme headaches, and the final "symptom" that my source lists:  "a psychotic sense of impending doom."  "Psychotic?"  Really?  It seems to me that victims going through this varied and horrible physical pain are hardly having a break with reality if they think they're about to meet their Maker. 
   I asked one of the lifeguards what they do when someone is bitten by an irukandji:


       Lifeguard:  "We close the beach."

       Me:            "They're tiny.  How do you know they're    

       Lifeguard:  "Somebody gets stung.  Still early in the    
                            season, though.  And the water's got some

                            chop.  Jellies don't like that."

      I did swim but not for long.   Chop or no chop, early in the season or late, I was going to be on that L.A.-bound jet the next day.  After I dried off I went for a walk with a friend I'd made earlier.  Ever since I became a member of the Yonkers Animal Shelter "Save Rufo, the Pit Bull Mix Nobody Wants, Club," I seem to run into pit bulls everywhere.  Meet Angus, a handsome, brindly-black Staffordshire Terrier (mostly) who belonged to the gentlemen who handled beach chair and umbrella rentals:

      Angus                                                                             Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

       Angus happily accompanied me to the water.  And he sat leaning against me--show me a Staffie that doesn't lean!-- and gazed out at the beautiful Coral Sea.  When were weren't physically communing, Angus loved plunging into the water after a stick I broke off from a piece of driftwood.  I was told he would be safe in the water because he carried a stinger suit wherever he went, his fur coat.  When I wore my stinger suit snorkeling, I wore a mask that covered my eyes and nose so I did worry a bit about his.

       Visit to water's edge complete, I clipped Angus back to his leash under the sheltering palm trees.  (Dogs aren't allowed to run loose between the flags marking the swimming boundaries.)  I returned to my chair and umbrella to continue reading Riding The Black Cockatoo by John Donalis.  This is the true story of Mr. Donalis's quest to return an aboriginal skull--kept on his family's mantle as a curiosity--to its original tribe.  It is devoid of moralizing or editorializing, and Mr. Donalis simply lets the straight-forward narrative carry this tale of respect and redemption.   I highly recommend it.


        Here I should tell you something of the aboriginal problems I learned about while in Australia.  And it will just be a little:  I'm really not entitled to speak with any authority about this difficult and sad issue.  Aborigines have lived in Australia for at least 50,000 years.  (More recent evidence suggest they have been there a lot longer.)  They were--and to some degree still are--an animistic hunter-gatherer culture.  Aborigines believe life phenomena can be traced back to the Dream Time, a totemic, complex set of beliefs and moral codes established by mythical beings that preceded mankind.

      At the time of Captain Cook's arrival in 1770, he encountered a people who didn't have words for yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  They had no individual possessions.  All things were shared by the community.  They wore no clothes.  As Cook noted, all they really seemed to want was for him and his sailors simply to get back on their ship and leave.  But, as you know, leave they did not.  Soon, no longer having the American colonies as their dumping ground for convicts, British prison ships headed for Australia.  Again, like our Native Americans, the aborigines were horrifically treated, dispossessed of their land, and murdered outright.  They became the victims of diseases that the British brought and for which the aborigines had not developed immunity. And when they eventually did become employed by whites, they were often paid in the most popular and lethal currency of the day--alcohol.  

       Walkabout, which we all had inadequately defined for us in the film Crocodile Dundee, is a spiritual quest undertaken by young men, not unlike the vision quests of Native Americans.  But walkabouts, as I understand them, are not limited to initiations into manhood.  An aborigine may feel the need to go on one at any time, and it will last as long as it takes for him to feel at one with his environment.  It seems to have expanded to include attending ceremonies, even visiting relatives.  As you can imagine, since walkabouts are unplanned, spontaneous,  and open-ended, they are problematic for employers accustomed to and requiring a more structured and reliable working environment.  This, and other concessions made on behalf of aboriginal culture, such as free housing, vehicles, and affirmative action programs, have angered a number of Australians, a good number of whites and some indigenous people.  They assert that this is simply reverse discrimination and only serves to foster an environment of entitlement and dependency.  
       And then there is The Stolen Generation, familiar to every Australian, regardless of color.  Between 1869 and 1969 several thousand half-caste children--one parent was either Aborigine or a Torres Strait Islander and the other white--were forcibly removed from their homes by the Australian government and church missions starting at age six.  Some argue that the number is much smaller, but a true approximation is difficult because of poor record keeping.   The articulated reason for these removals was to rescue these children from abusive, unhealthy, and Godless situations.  The half-caste children were often hideiously treated by both whites and aborigines.  So, the government thought it best to remove them.  The children were housed in institutions and discouraged, sometimes prohibited, from speaking their own language.  They received an education--usually poor--which would prepare boys to be laborers and girls domestics.  Sexual abuse of the girls--and I would think also of the boys--was not uncommon, though sadly, in a number of cases, that is exactly why some of the children were removed from their parents in the first place. In other cases parents would accompany their children and camp out in the bush.  The were permitted to see them, usually on weekends.

        If you haven't seen it, please get the movie Rabbit Proof Fence.  It depicts the tale of three half-caste aborigine girls taken from their parents in the early twentieth century.  They are sent to a girls' dormitory fifteen hundred miles south of their home.  But they escape--and though one is recaptured--two make it back to their settlement, walking the entire way along the Rabbit Proof Fence.  And while it is true that these girls desperately wanted to return home to their families, the movie does not, from what I have read, accurately reflect the views of Mr. A. O. Neville, who was Chief Protector of the Aborigines in Western Australia.  In the movie he is portrayed by Kenneth Brannagh.

        For the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, Neville seemed to hold quite liberal views, laying blame for the plight of the Aborigine squarely at the feet of the British.  But the quotations attributed to him in the movie seemed to have been intentionally selected in order to characterize him in the worst possible light, an unenlightened British imperialist and racist.  True, he was a man of his times, but the fact is that he truly did care about the safety and happiness of these children.  And he stated that he believed that the white race was not be superior, that all races were equal in intelligence and ability.  The small budget he was given to build and operate facilities to help these children, many of whom truly were in desperate need, was inadequate.  He worked hard on behalf of many aborigines.  In the 21st century you and I would  disagree with some of his comments and with elements of the programs he struggled to enact.  These relocations did help many but only in the short term.  The increased aborigine population and their need for work ultimately provoked strong reactions from the white populations.  And so many aborigines were even further marginalized.

        I saw Rabbit Proof Fence before I knew much of anything about Australia.  I now know a little more, but not nearly enough.  But if it had included a fuller view of the situation, then instead of being a great film it might have been a very great film.  And it would have been a truer one.  Here is the movie trailer:


      Land dispossession, cultural genocide, violence, and certainly many cases of the forcible removal of children, have had terrible impacts on both the aborigines and the Torres Strait Islanders, an indigenous group in northern Australia.  There is widespread unemployment, alcohol and drug addiction, crime, and physical and sexual violence.  Parenting skills are often lacking and absenteeism from school is widespread.  A woman who had been a teacher at a northern school told me that the government at one point paid families a monthly stipend if they sent their children to school.  But the children often didn't go to school anyway, and when the check failed to come the mother would get beaten by her alcohol or drug addicted husband.  He needed that money.

       Another Australian told me that in 2006 the government, among other steps, had to send six hundred soldiers to the Northern Territory to intervene in what was reported as widespread sexual and physical child abuse as well as extreme neglect.  A number of settlements had become almost totally dysfunctional, and many children, some as young as seven, absent from school, were found on streets sniffing petrol.  I was reminded of a program on television that I saw about Colombian street orphans some years ago.  There was one moment I can never forget.  A reporter asked a homeless boy of about eleven or twelve why he was sniffing glue out of a paper bag.  His reply:  "It helps me to forget things."  He paused, then added, "Like the fact that I exist."


        There are many indigenous leaders working to overcome these problems.  Some communities have outlawed alcohol, tobacco, and pornography.  Signs are posted on roads leading into various settlements.  When I was walking along the main street in Mossman, one town north of Port Douglas, I noticed an aborigine woman sitting on the curb drinking out of a bottle.   She was wearing three dresses, one over the other.  The day was hot, in the mid-eighties and humid.  When I returned to Port Douglas I asked the former teacher about this.  As I mentioned earlier, when the British first landed, the aborigines went naked.  They had few possessions and those they had were held in common.  Now, after a couple of centuries of British and Australian rule, the majority of aborigines wear western attire.  But beliefs and customs of a culture at least fifty-thousand-year-old  run deep.  Those three dresses, the ex-teacher told me, were probably the only items of clothing that lady "owned."  If she wasn't wearing them, then anyone else in her community had a right to them. That woman struck me as emblematic of a ruptured, degraded culture that now finds itself sadly caught betwixt and between.


       As I said, I cannot speak with any authority on this difficult and complex subject.  I can only relay what I have seen, heard, and read in all too short a period of time. For further information, I have listed sources at the close of this entry.

       I stayed at the beach until just before the lifeguards left and Angus's papa (remember Angus the dog?) started collecting the chairs and umbrellas.  It was time to say good-bye.  Angus was first on my list:

      Angus and I                                               Ainslie Sheridan copyright 2012

         Dinner that night would not have received the approval of my physician.  Lounging by the hotel pool I had a bottle of beer, a huge mango, a vanilla "slice" (imagine a Napoleon without the middle layers of puff pastry), and a Lamington, which is a square of sponge cake rolled in chocolate sauce and then again in coconut shavings.  It is such a proud Aussie favorite that July 21 each year has been declared national "Lamington Day."  I found it delicious!  And I think it's a great tradition we should follow.  A national "Apple Pie" or "Chocolate Chip Cookie Day," I think, would be great!"

       Before going to my room I paused once again, as I had daily, at the panel of pamphlets in the lobby.  I picked up a few to remind me of what I had missed this trip and what I would like to do and see if I'm lucky enough to return.  And then I saw one that I would not like to experience.  How had I missed it earlier?  Too distracted by more attractive Australian things and places to learn about, perhaps.  At any rate, here it is:

       Dengue Fever, as you can discern from the warning, is carried by mosquitoes, in Australia informally referred to as mozzies.  Dengue Fever is found in tropical areas like Queensland.  While there is no vaccine, there are certain steps to take that will reduce chances of contracting it:  eliminate standing water, wear insect repellent, and cover your body.  Of course, these are the usual steps to take with any mosquito-borne disease (we do this at Windflower Farm regarding West Nile Virus).

       The symptoms of Dengue are flu-like, a fever of 104 to 105 Fahrenheit (40-41 centigrade), nausea, vomiting, and joint and muscles aches.  It is also accompanied by a flu-like rash.  The joint and muscle aches are so acute that it goes by the name "break bone fever."  A field scientist who herself had contracted it three times had this to say:  "You can't die from it but you wish you could."

       And because it was now, in November, turning summer in northern Queensland, the threat, like that of the Irukandjis, was becoming more prevalent.  Time for outdoor-loving me to head home.

       The next blog entry will see me home to the U. S.


Housekeeping Note:

 Before I close  I want to mention that Trophies, An Equestrian Romance will be available for free on Kindle on Valentine's Day and three days afterward.  You do not have to own a Kindle to read it it.  Amazon has a free app so you can download it onto your computer, iPad, or Android.  Here's the link:

       See you soon, and thank you for reading The Windflower Weekly.
               ---  Ainslie