We had some lovely, cool weather here in the Valley this Spring. Normally, that would make it an excellent time to get some riding lessons in. Unfortunately for me, the best weather coincided with obligations to work on Fridays or Saturdays, kind of obviating the lovely compressed work week I signed on to two years ago. Oh, well. We've been hiring something like 35 new instructors at the college and everyone who is certified as an equal employment opportunity officer had a heavy schedule. And it is a part of my job I enjoy.
In addition to that, there were several opportunities for training, which all seem to happen on Fridays. Early last month, it was an introduction to training trainers for cultural awareness. Later last month, it was a SafeZone Train-the-Trainer Certification workshop. Finally, there was a workshop for ADA electronic communication compliance. As the co-chair of the campus Diversity Committee, all of these programs were relevant and I learned a lot. But I had little doubt that the end of these obligations for a while meant the temperature would rapidly tick upwards and the Arab prince--no, really, it will just be me--would be sweltering on Friday mornings in Chatsworth this summer.
The temperature has hit triple digits this week. I don't mind, because I now have control over the temperature in my office, which makes things easier for me. I've been trying to spend a bit more time walking during the day ever since I got situated in an office at the center of the campus, rather than being located in the hinterlands. I love looking out of my window to see students walking by, or hearing them argue the finer points of DC v. Marvel through the thin walls. It took 10 years, but I believed I was on a college campus.
It's a big campus--420 acres or thereabouts, but most of the academic buildings are clustered on the northeast part of the land. More than half of the property is farm--a throwback to the days when it was founded after World War II as a mens' agricultural school. Having a huge chunk of undeveloped land in the middle of a city is amazing. The horses for the riding classes have gone back to their much harder lives as string-horses in the Sierra Nevada, and that always makes me sad, but the sheep, goats, and cows are still grazing on our rolling hills. I try to drive through the farm at least once a day, because it is so peaceful. (I didn't realize goats climbed trees until the day I saw this, below.)
Like much of the Valley, we've been plagued by bark beetles, and we are going through the process of cutting and replacing infected trees. As I look out my window, I can see a number of pines which are slated for removal. It will take time for the new trees to grow to these heights. The campus has been here for 67 years, and many of the trees must go back that far or longer. There's a new break of pepper trees along our northern boundary. They are, perhaps, two inches in diameter. The good news is they grow very quickly. Horses like mine love to nibble the clusters of pink peppercorns and the leaves. At his ranch, Ace does an excellent job of keeping two large pepper trees trimmed. (The day I quit eating beef, below.)
I barely noticed this campus for the first ten years I lived in the Valley, even though we lived less than half a mile away. One day, I read the mailer for the Extension/Community Service classes and everything changed. I took my first riding class here, and then signed up for a number of the classes in the Horse Science division of the agriculture program. My son graduated from high school and started classes here as well. I boarded my horse here for four years, until we were kicked out on a pretext, and now the beautiful barns are empty except for the occasional show or clinic, or more frequent evacuations during fire seasons. The school horses live in paddocks, six to each of three of them, quite happily. And the covered arena, which makes it 20 degrees cooler in the summer, is used for school riding classes. Most of the time, it simply isn't used. (Fire season 10 years ago, below.)
The horses have gone to the Sierras for their real jobs--taking tourists into the mountains. They will be back in September, but for now, it is sad to drive through the farm, past empty corrals. The cattle, goats and sheep are sometimes in fields adjacent to the road to the south, but the north is just lonely. (Some of the boys observing a training class during the academic year, below.)
Ace went to the CalNet Horse Show on Sunday, where he was ridden by two of the girls in the Total Equestrian Experience riding program. This was his first official dressage show. It was a schooling show and he competed in Training Levels 1 and 2. Unfortunately, the videos are too large to post. But I do have stills.
Team Ace prepares the boy for competition.
One of the mothers got jammy bottoms to cover white britches before the show. Then she added the Prince's name in green.
Training Level 1 with Abby in the saddle.
Training Level 2 with Jillian.
I love the little bow at the end. So cute. And he's almost square.
Two of the other horses I sometimes ride at the barn competed as well. Sapi is a pretty mustang (as you can see from the brand) who came to the barn with a bunch of issues. She's about the same height as Ace, but her movements are very different.
Neesa is a fjord pony who's enough shorter than Ace to really make a difference when I get off. The first time, I jarred my back pretty hard.
Like Ace, she's lost the vision in one eye, but it was a much more gradual loss. Unfortunately, it is her left eye, which can make leading her a little challenging.
Everyone had a good time and a massive number of ribbons were collected for the day. I'm still waiting to hear how Ace scored, since I couldn't stick around for the rest of the show.
The show was at the Equidome at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center. It's a big, scary covered arena, with flags hanging from the rafters and strange sounds. Right after Ace started his first round, a wail of sirens went off nearby. He was amazing. He never reacted. He just stayed with his job.
My friend Melinda Snodgrass bred him to be a dressage sport horse, but she moved up to warm bloods when he was a baby. So I got him. He has a lovely personality. Melinda called his mother, Rocky, "The Ayatollah of Rock 'n' Rolla," for her attitude, but she was a queen in the show ring. Ace is definitely to the manor born when he enters the ring. I was so proud of him I wept.
Last night, we went to the premier of Avengers II: The Age of Ultron. I don't have photographs, because the invitation said we were to check any cameras or phones with cameras and it always takes forever to get them back. I wasn't interested. Also, we usually get shuffled behind the screens while celebrities are getting their photographs made. Last night, I rather insisted that the Creator of Wolverine was entitled to walk the red carpet, so we did.
And, Len was recognized by people with cameras along the way. Yay us. Eventually, I expect I will find one.
It also gave him an opportunity to talk with his old boss, Stan Lee, basking in the glory that a 90+ year old legend is entitled to. As Len says, he's one of the few people Stan actually remembers, even if Stan is so blind he has to hear Len's voice to recognize him. Stan has a handler, who also recognizes Len, so that went well.
Several people along the rails reached over to shake Len's hand and tell him how glad they were to see him up and about. A guy cosplaying Wolverine gave him a shout out, too. It made me smile.
Len had quintuple bypass surgery two months ago. His determination to get to this premier played heavily in his recovery. I asked him what's keeping him alive now. The next X-men film, he replied.
Last night, my husband and I braved the rain and headed across the valley to catch a screening of The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank. We left hours early because we knew the traffic would be awful, and it was. A trip we could do in about 20 minutes on a Saturday took us over an hour, but because we left early, we had time to catch a nice dinner at a place called Mo's and got to the studio an hour before the screening started.
These things happen a lot, but I still find it amusing: the security guard went all fan-boy on Len when we gave his name. "Len Wein of Marvel fame?" he asked. I pointed out he had plenty of DC cred as well (a part of Warner Bros.) but the guy was just THRILLED to me the writer of his favorite run on The Hulk, which pleased Len a lot, because it is one of Len's favorite runs on any book (rivaled by his stint on Batman.) It was a pleasant interlude in the evening.
We parked and walked to our building, which I realized was the first building I ever visited at Warner Bros. when I had a meeting with Barry Meyer who later went on to lead the company. Barry had graduated from my law school, so I contacted him when I was looking for a summer clerkship after my first year. He was lovely, the head of legal not so much, so it didn't work out. But I remember wanting to take the huge still from The Adventures of Robin Hood with me when I left. There was one hanging in the entrance last night, which Len said I could not take home. Sniff.
We liked the movie, but it has too many orcs and I don't recall sand worms being a part of the original story. These looked a lot like the ones on my original paperback of Dune. A mistake. Other than that, the material picked up from the appendices of The Lord of the Rings played out well, there was good use of the 3-D material, and I needed the tissues I brought with me. At less than 2.5 hours, it's the shortest of any of the films, all to the good. I look forward to the edit (which will not come from Peter Jackson, I am sure) which turns the three films into one lean 3-hour movie, which is what should have happened in the first place.
The Hobbit Part 3 opens in two weeks. I plan to see it and enjoy popcorn.
And, in a little bit of circular story-telling, we got home last night to find Len's complementary copy of Len Wein's Tales of the Batman had arrived. This hardback collects many of the Batman stories Len wrote which are much beloved of the youngsters who grew up on his work. He's pretty proud of the collection. The book releases on December 24 and will make an excellent Christmas gift for the comic book fan in your life.
There's a new face at the barn. His name is Star and he was born very early Tuesday morning. He won't be at our barn very long--his owner intends to move him and his mother to a pasture--but we are all just gaga over him. Ah, the young of any species.
Long and wobbly legs at about 18 hours of life.
Ooops, tired. Nap time.
Mama's a percheron cross, dad's an Arabian, Appy, quarter-horse. I expect he will be tall when he grows. Gayle had to cancel lessons on Tuesday because all of the horses were going nuts with excitement. Even if they weren't in a position to actually see what was up, Gayle says they all just knew something was going on.
In the process of pulling up drafts to finish, I found the following partial blog, which I think has to be from the summer of 2007, when I came off Ace in a longe-line lesson and had the experience of having the wind knocked out of me. It was ugly, especially the bruise that lasted forever, and the difficulty I had sitting and walking for a while. We even got an x-ray to make sure I had not broken my hip.
Last night, I went channel surfing while the remote was briefly in my control because Len was grilling dinner. TMC was running National Velvet for the millionth time, and for the millionth time, I tuned in somewhere other than at the very beginning--actually much closer to the end than that. For all the books in my life, I've never read this girls' classic. At least I don't remember it. I have read Black Beauty, and I can't even think about that one without choking up all over. The British film with Nightcrawler--well, Alan Cumming--as the voice of Beauty has me sobbing buckets. I love King of the Wind but I've never been able to get through The Black Stallion. Many young girls read these and more. It's all part of that horse obsession. 12-year-old Elizabeth Taylor is so beautiful and wonderful in the film, but several things bother me: 1. The horse is called "The Pie." I assumed (correctly, when I checked) that's because in the book the horse is a piebald and this is short for "The Piebald." A piebald is a horse with big splotch black and white coloring. A scewbald is a horse with chestnut and white markings. In the U.S., we call them pintos (grade horses) or paints (when they have Thoroughbred or Quarter Horse bloodlines.) The horse in the film is a copper-penny chestnut with a big blaze and white socks. Quite pretty, and I am partial to that color since my Prince came dressed in it. I suppose they couldn't find an appropriate piebald for the film. 2. There are scenes where Elizabeth Taylor is clearly riding, and others where the stunt rider is far too big to be her. Ooops. 3. I can only assume that riding styles have changed dramatically since 1944, because the riders are leaning back as the horses take off over jumps. Their legs are pushed way forward. I don't jump, but I've photographed quite a bit of it, and these days the riders are practically prone along the horses' necks as the go over jumps. Legs are bent, so the ear-hip-ankle alignment stays in place. Heck, it was that leaning back with my legs forward that got me out of the saddle last month. So many of the horses are upside down, with their noses in the air and backs hollowed out--bad on the horse--indicated some pretty bad riders and extras. I think I read that Louis B. Mayer gave the horse to Elizabeth Taylor for her birthday. She earned it. The movie was a financial success and the actress who played her mother won an Oscar (the film won two and was nominated for several more.) I tried to find out where the film was shot, especially the steeplechase, but that's not clear. I found a blog, apparently by someone who served in WWII, which mentions seeing the film being shot at Pebble Beach, which does have an equestrian center. The Wikipedia entry on the film mentions the light poles in the background, pointing out that would not be seen if it was shot in England The last (and only) time I saw a steeplechase in the flesh was probably 30 years ago in the hunt country of Virginia, where the course covered lots of farmland. I don't recall seeing as many horses in the field at the same time as are in the movie, but it was certainly exciting to watch.
Melinda Snodgrass walking Ellie at Brookside Equestrian Center.
I now know that part of the film was made at Brookside, a lovely facility east of Los Angeles that fell into disrepair and was revitalized by the couple from whom my friend Melinda Snodgrass bought her two Lusitanos. It was gorgeous, with beautiful barns and covered arenas. I visited several times: once to see Vento before he was shipped to New Mexico and once to watch Melinda ride Ellie (then known as Ebony) before buying her when the barn was being disbursed. I expect the land will be turned into housing developments, if it hasn't started already.
Ellie. She's quite the princess.
It is harder and harder to find places to keep horses in the Los Angeles area because of the ever-expanding need for housing and business parks. Griffith Park was given to the city with express condition that it remain open and for horses, which is fortunate. In Chatsworth, where my boy lives, horse properties disappear every time something is sold. Melinda's moved her two horses to a nice facility out in Somis, but the auto ride out there can be challenging.
I wonder what little girls will do when they can no longer easily access these empowering animals which play such a large part in hopes and dreams when growing up. Playing with Breyer horses just isn't as good as giving a favorite pony a good grooming. Horses make girls taller, faster, stronger, braver, and give them leadership skills. What a shame to lose that.
I love a sunburnt country,
A land of sweeping plains,
Of ragged mountain ranges,
Of droughts and flooding rains.
I love her far horizons,
I love her jewel-sea,
Her beauty and her terror
The wide brown land for me!
from "My Country" by Dorothea MacKeller
The people were friendly. The first afternoon, as we left our hotel to find lunch, my feet went out from underneath me on the wet sidewalk and suddenly there were three handsome young men helping me get up (fortunately, I fell on my butt, and not face-forward) and dust off wounded pride.
Sydney was far more vertical than I imagined.
I suppose that's because when I started writing to my pen pal, Sharyn, in 1964, the skyline was not so developed in post cards. The Opera House wasn't even built then. We walked down to the Circular Quay (pronounced Circular Key, which still takes effort for me to pronounce correctly) every day, easy because it was a downhill trek, not so easy coming back. We discovered a shortcut through an office building that included escalators that made the trip back a bit easier, but it was closed on the weekend and on holidays (of which there was one during our visit.)
We had sticker shock from food prices (minimum wage is $15, even at fast food joints), and a bit of discomfort over the tipping customs (generally, no tipping, because people earn a living wage even in restaurants.) The special price for the breakfast buffet at the hotel was something like $40, but the selection was amazing. There was always complementary fresh fruit in our hotel room, which I thought was a lovely touch.
I enjoyed every view we got of the Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a massive structure that we went over, under, and around. We saw them on foot and we saw them from boats. We saw them in the rain, at sunset, and at night. We watched fireworks on the Bridge and all over the Harbour from a patio on the Opera House. Magnificent.
Prince Harry was on one of the boats in the Harbour. Probably not on this tall ship, though.
The fleet was in to celebrate 100 years of something, so there were ships from 40 countries involved in the festivities over the weekend. It wasn't all because there was a celebration of comic arts at the Opera House.
A nice young man named Paul Mason did a lot of research in preparation for doing a career retrospective interview with my husband, Len Wein. I hate that hat.
In addition to his spotlight, Len did a couple of panels and taught a master class on comic book writing.
Len, left, next to Francoise Mouly, art director of The New Yorker Magazine, on the editing panel. Francoise Mouly is the kind of woman who makes all women yearn to be French.
She is an amazing talent and intellect and I only wish I had been able to spend more time speaking with her.
Grant Morrison, Dave McKean, and Len Wein discuss their work for DC Comics on The Creation Myth panel, above. Len during his workshop on comic book writing, below.
Len kept running into depictions of Australia's favorite Canadian mutant. The one above was drawn by a workshop participant.
Dave McKean, Len, and Grant Morrison after their group signing.
Clare and Dave McKean, the Morrisons, Len, and Gerard Way (of My Chemical Romance and The Umbrella Academy.)
After Len's obligations to the conference concluded, we had five days to ourselves and the friends who came to see us. Angus Ledgerwood, who was part of the Sunday Super Supper Squad during his sojourn in Los Angeles a few years ago, came down from Queensland to be with us during the conference.
We are looking forward to his return visit in May. He's been producing music videos while he's been back home, but his hope is to get another working visa for here.
We had a late lunch in a restaurant that had kangaroo on the menu, but I didn't think my first experience eating 'roo should be carpaccio. (Thanks to the waitress who used Angus' camera for the photo.)
Before my pen pal Sharyn and her husband Shane Murphy could get into town, Len and I spent time at the Darling Harbour Aquarium and Zoo. Once again, we ran into the reason the Australians so wanted Len to visit.
The aquarium had one of the things I wanted to see in Australia: a platypus. It's rather like a fat, fur covered duck and about the same size. Not particularly easy to photograph, because they are nocturnal and their pools are kept dark, but rather fun to watch. The aquarium also had an amazing collection of sea horses and the exhibits included large magnifying glasses, because the sea horses were so small.
Some of the sea horses looked like swimming plants.
I was rather taken with this sea anemone. So beautiful.
I have no idea what this blue fish is in the coral reef, but he sure is pretty!
I did not expect to see penguins, but the zoo had a pretty large population of these cute little Fairy Penguins. Native to Australia, they are the smallest species of penguins. They are adorable.
The second native animal I wanted to see in Australia was in the Darling Harbour Zoo.
Almost wolverinish in its apprearance, this little Tasmanian devil is part of a threatened species. The animals are suffering from a virulant form of cancer and zoologists are hoping to save them with isolated colonies at zoos around the world while they try to find a cure for the cancer. There use to be a much larger variant of the species, but it was killed off a long time ago. They look a lot cuter than the Warner Bros. cartoon, but the zoo keepers carry large shovels to ward them off. They are cranky and will charge the keepers who are cleaning their display. I did spend a long time watching this one.
This is a cassowary. I have no trouble believing that dinosaurs still live after a good look at it. The eyes see back through the ages. That crest is not feathers, it's a shell of something. The claw on that middle toe can grow to 5". They can top over six feet and weigh in excess of 100 pounds. And run over 30 miles per hour. I hear they can jump pretty high and having an artery sliced by their claw would be an unpleasant way to die. Just a warning, in case you are ever in northern Australia or New Guinea.
And just what would a trip to Australia be if you didn't get to see kangaroos?
I did not know they climbed rocks. Actually, I think this is a rock-wallaby, a.k.a. ring-tailed wallaby. Wallabies have different shaped heads from kangaroos, and are smaller.
This little marsupial is enjoying a carrot and what looks like alfalfa. Yes, I thought it would love living in our back yard, giving the dogs some needed exercise.
The same zoo also had the first koala we saw in Sydney.
Unfortunately, they spend a lot of time doing just this: sleeping. If you are lucky you might catch one in motion, eating. I really, really, really wanted to hug this one. I couldn't.
We kept running into the giant snails all over Sydney.
I asked if there was a particular reason for snails (Los Angeles has angels, Chicago has cows, and New Mexico has Painted Ponies), but I did not get a definitive answer. It's not like there are giant snails living in Australia. At least, I do not think that there are.
The pink one was about a block away from our hotel, at the Museum of Sydney. One yellow snail was down by the Quay, the other was at the Westfield Shopping Center.
We saw some blue ones as we drove by a park. Unlike the Painted Ponies, they were all just painted flat colors, not theme-decorated. I think I'd like to see a paisley snail.
Sharyn and Shane Murphy arrived on a Tuesday and checked into our hotel. The last time I saw them was in Vancouver in 1975. They were on their way back to Australia after a two year stint at a university in Ontario where Shane did his post-doc work. Sharyn was a bridesmaid in my first wedding, because the timing just worked out that way. They had an infant when they arrived in 1973, and she was a toddler when they left. They had two boys after that and now all their children are married and one has a baby of his own. They are also scattered. The older boy is back in Australia, but the younger boy lives in Canada and Jenny lives in London. Sharyn became an attorney and they are now both happily retired.
Len, Sharyn and Shane on the ferry to Manly Beach.
When Sharyn and I started writing in 1964, we had being the eldest of a large family in common. And we were both Beatles crazy. We wrote regularly for years, then sporatically. And, somehow we got back in touch via the Internet, which is a much easier way to communicate. Eventually, I hope that she'll give social media a try.
Sharyn grew up in a suburb of Sydney called Fairfield. She and Shane made their home in the Blue Mountains while they raised their children. Now they live in a home they designed somewhere 3-4 hours north of Sydney, but they did drive us out to Katoomba in the Blue Mountains to see some beautiful country.
This outcrop is called the Three Sisters.
The area around Katoomba area was part of a 1500 mile firestorm front just a couple of weeks after we were there. Fortunately, the Murphy house, which had been on the market for over a year, survived and Sharyn and Shane closed on the pending sale in November.
Our last full day in Australia consisted of going to Taronga Zoo, a short ferry ride to the northeast of Circular Quay. Janis Ian had put us in touch with a friend of hers who is the zoologist in charge of the great apes there, Geoffrey Kidd. Geoff met us at the gate, comped Len and I, and spent quite a bit of time showing us around the zoo and suggesting things we should see while he was at work. We even got up close and personal with some very tall critters who were as happy to take carrots from us as my horse is.
Trust me, that tongue is very long.
Len even got photobomed by a giraffe later in the day when we were pretty much the only people left at the zoo except for the attendants.
You can see Sydney in the background across the harbour. It is no wonder that my friend Bob Harris calls Sydney his "someday home town."
Here's a better view of Sydney from the zoo. We were waiting for a program of an amazing display of some of the birds who live at Taronga. There were a number of school groups visiting, and you could tell them apart because they wore their school colors. It was great.
I was very excited to get a look at this Andean condor, which was impressive in flight and landed on her perch for all to see. Taronga is helping to fund projects to save birds, including the condor.
At the end of each performance of the bird show, visitors can hand a donation to one of the birds, which then drops the money into the box. Who could possibly resist emptying their pockets?
The zoo has several koala exhibits, and while this one was sleeping, Sharyn and I did manage to catch a couple eating eucalyptus as the afternoon wore on.
This koala actually moved around quite a bit while we watched.
At Taronga, we were able to walk inside a corral where kangaroos and wallabies and emus had free range. Some of the videos I've watched make it quite clear that you don't want to irritate a big red kangaroo. They may not be able to back up, but they can turn on a dime and land a kick which can burst your internal organs and shatter bone. Zookeepers were constantly warning about the danger.
This female chimpanzee is in heat. Obviously. I can't say I had ever seen such a display before. The chimps had a huge play area, with lots of trees and climbing platforms and ropes. And they made good use of them as I sat and watched at the end of the day.
Geoff took us backstage to see a couple of orangutangs and then let us come and watch the bedding down of the chimpanzee house. All of the apes come in to be counted, fed, and, where needed, medicated. We had to be careful to keep a safe distance from the cage, because if you got too close you might be grabbed by one of the chimps. They were curious and they probably would have been happy to get extra treats, but we weren't there to give treats, just watch.
Geoff was kind enough to drive us back to the hotel, which gave us a different perspective on the city. Parts of it are built on hills like San Francisco. And we got to drive across the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The Sydney Opera House as viewed from the Sydney Harbour Bridge near sunset. So pretty.
The non-official days in Sydney are the longest Len and I have ever had that approaches a vacation. We never travel unless it is work related, especially now that he's on dialysis three days a week. It's a good thing we've got a house at which I'm happy to stay home and receive friends.
I would go back to Australia in a New York minute, which is pretty amazing for someone who hates to fly. It was worth the travel time to get there and I would so love to go back and see more of the country. I'd like to take a train across the outback, I wouldn't mind seeing the Gold Coast or the Great Barrier Reef. I'd like to visit my friends in Melbourne. And I'd like to visit some more of the places of which I read in Bill Bryson's hysterical book In a Sunburned Country. I wouldn't mind seeing an opal mine. I never got to see brumbies or kangaroos in the wild, so that is still on my bucket list. Nine days in Australia was just too short.
After a final dinner with Sharyn and Shane, we went back to our room to pack. In the morning, I ran out to find some English candy bars that a friend had requested we bring back to the states. I also stopped in the chocolate shop and picked up a gift of premium chocolate from his home town to give Hugh Jackman when we saw him at the Dolby Theatre the night after we got back.
How appropriate that we saw this reminder of Len's influence on pop culture in a chiller at the airport while we waited for our (delayed) flight home. Pretty cool.
I did a post about some of the wonderful food we ate over on the Valada Kitchen blog. You can check that out here.
I'm a professional photographer, a recovering attorney, an adjunct instructor of photography at a local community college and a four-time Jeopardy! Champion (Season 26.) Much of my spare time is spent learning to ride horses, an activity denied to me when I was a child. I love to cook and entertain and I am a passionate reader. I am married to an "old god" of the comic book world, writer Len Wein. He's the one who created Swamp Thing (with artist Berni Wrightson), the Human Target (with Carmine Infantino), Wolverine (with artists John Romita and Herb Trimpe), and Colossus, Storm, and Nightcrawler (with the late, great Dave Cockrum.)