AAVSO Day 3: The Trip

No Spring/Summer AAVSO meeting would be complete without a field trip. Over the years there have been trips to the VLA, Star Parties, Yerkies, Mauna Kea – All manner of modern astronomy marvel has been oogled at by bus loads of sleepy, cheerful astronomers who have spent two days doing too much science and drinking to much (there is always a conference bar and I was actually introduced to Tequila by Phil Plait at the Las Cruses meeting several years ago.) For this year’s adventure we decided to take in a new type of astronomy site (or sites). We went to Stonehenge and Avebury.

There are plenty of URLs dedicated to these two World Heritage sites, so rather then give you my take on the history of the sites, let me instead give you my impression.

First off, baby sheep are really cute. Yes, that’s right, sheep. They are everywhere. There is an electric fence ringing the human walkway that rings Stonehenge, and beyond the fence are sheep sheep sheep sheep. As far as the eye could see in all directions were fields of sheep.

The rocks themselves rise out of emerald grass (It really is a slightly different color then I’m used to). They are coated in lichens and black birds rested on their peaks, ducking their heads close to their bodies against the rain. The tourists were thick at both sites, and varied from quiet picture taking maniacs to manic children that dashed noisily among our legs.

The majority of today is actually being spent on a small tourist bus driving from place to place. We are currently passing fields lined with hedges and I have this terrible urge to go home and plant a hedge. Daffidils are everywhere in wild clusters of yellow, and people have them scattered in their lawns the way one might normally see dandelions. I have a terrible desire to go home and plant daffodils all over the lawn. I think my rather pathetic current attempt at restoring my Victorian house’s English gardens is going to get more energized and inspired when I get home.

As we drive, I have seen a random castle or fort on a hill. I have seen a chalk horse on a hill, where the grass had been removed to reveal the whiteness beneath. I have seen thatched cottages and ancient churches. What I haven’t seen are trailer parts, McMansions, or half collapsed shanties with completely collapsed satellite dishes beside them. I know there is poverty here, it just takes a less ugly form, and doesn’t hide behind aluminum siding in quite the same way.

I like sheep. They are much cuter then the cows that decorate my native New England landscape. The babies are just big enough that they are starting to romp and play. I just saw one calmly bounce toward an adult sheep and get gently headbutted away. There are also geese and chickens in the side-yards, and mole mounds that make me feel much better about my personal mole problem. Several of us who’ve lived in the Mid-West were confused by what looked like prairie dog mounds and I asked some Brits what they are. Mole Hills. Giant, 1 per square meter, giant mole mounds. I’m glad my moles just make the ground, um, over aerated.

If I seem to be not talking about the rocks of Avebury and Stonehemge as much as I should, it’s probably because after a lifetime of reading archeoastronomy books in stolen moments, the actually sites were so touristy that it hurt. In books, the pictures don’t show you the 100s (1000s?) of tourists that pack the sites, and there aren’t the little kids playing tag using the Avebury markers as the safe place. It’s like the Grand Canyon – sure it’s pretty, but there are too many tourists and tour buses and noises to enjoy it. The much smaller Zion has always been my favorite.

I do want to go to Avebury again though – the ring walk was closed to protect it from spring rain erosion, and we only got to see one small field of stones in our rush to get back to the bus on time. Next time perhaps I’ll get to walk the stones and measure the size with my stride.

For now though, I am on a bus being amused by sheep.

On a side note, I did stick my head in the gift shops at both these places to see if there was anything I felt my husband cannot possibly live without. The Avebury gift shop was surprisingly identical to the gift shops on Cape Code or along the coast of Maine. While lacking fake scrimshaw and whale things, they had the same Celtic this, and Irish that I’m used to in New England, and the exact same tools designed for women (covered in flowers and anodized pink) that are at every tourist trap in America if you look hard enough. I giggled and moved on. I’ll get my next pair of Celtic knot earrings at Dragon*Con from some starving artist.

For now though, we drive on through bursts of rain and shine. Tonight I’ll be in London and I’ll do a bit of shopping I think. I’ll shop while plotting my planting of dandelions and hedges.

1 Comment

  1. Syed Moin Doja
    Aug 26, 2008

    what a beautiful article. you should write a book someday and so us all a favour. thanks.

    10.10 p.m
    Calcutta,Insia

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