Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Feels Like Spring

Kevin Droski and the young stallion, Capaz (Interessado x Pinoteia)

There is an altered angle to the sun now as it lifts out of the tops of the easterly trees, possessing an enhanced quality of light, arousing a lust for spring.  The wind over Ravenseyrie still has the teeth of winter gnashing, but there is something vernal to the way it smells making the bite feel less painful.  "Feels like Spring!", says my Kevin even as frost fringes his eyebrows, moustache and beard.  It may be we are delusional, but if so, then the crows are as well, having migrated back to the bluff with great activity and vocalizations that sound more like an echo of Kevin's declaration, "Feels like Spring!" than a complaint for how unseasonably cold it is for mid-March on Manitoulin Island.

It was -24°C at dawn on St. Patrick's Day when Kevin said those three words.  That bitter air that dipped the thermometer was the lingering effects of the so-called "Polar Vortex".  I don't believe in my 53 years I have experienced such a prolonged deep chill!  The ground has been frozen and under snow since late November fact for the past three months we haven't been walking on the ground, but on varying layers of "snowpack".  Of course, other regions of Canada are accustomed to such arctic temperatures over a period of them we must seem like whining babies...

On Sunday I brought hay to our mares who have been living on a range an hour's drive from Ravenseyrie since last April.  It was again very cold up on the East Bluff of Gore Bay when Kevin unplugged the engine block heater so I could drive two days worth of hay to the southwest sector of the island.  It was equally cold at Twinravens alongside the Manitou river in Tehkummah...but thankfully just as clear and sunny.  How much the sunshine helps this time of year!

This hay delivery to Twinravens is something we do every-other-day, and because I have the gallery to look after, most of these trips are carried out by Kevin.  This was not something we anticipated having to do!  Not at all, for it comes as a burdensome expense of time and money, and is not the best way of providing winter fodder for wild mares on a limited range.  Such a responsibility arose from our unfamiliarity of how winter locks up that particular range making it inaccessible except by snowshoe or snowmobile (we've the former, not the later).  And we have no tractor at that location to plough a path to move round hay bales even if we could get a trailer-load delivered.  Likewise it caught us off guard how early winter resolutely encapsulated the island and has given no midway reprieve (like a January thaw) for us to continue to deliver (one by one with our pickup truck) the full inventory of hay we had planned would see the mares through until the green kingdom awakens from dormancy.  Next year, you can be sure, we will have our inventory of hay in place before winter even thinks of overtaking Twinravens!

Until the the snow recedes and the ground settles we have a routine we fell into that has managed to keep the mares' range supplemented with good fodder.  This routine is very similar to how we get hay placed out for the bachelors here at well-loaded toboggans and human labour.  It's work for sure, but it has its pleasures also...and a healthier activity for me than the time I am putting in sitting in front of the computer tapping out this journal entry.

Mark and Michelle's drive is a two track of snowpack the width of their small vehicles and not navigable for our truck just now (lest we bury the axles in the deep snow off the ruts) so when we make hay deliveries, we park on the road, unload the toboggan and drag it up their drive and into the range where the mares are.

We park on the road

We pull the toboggan up the drive.  The entrance to the range is up on the horizon line left of can see the mares there

There is so much snow over the landscape that most of the fencing both at Ravenseyrie and at Twinravens is buried in drifts or nearly so.  The horses avoid drifted places when possible and cut trails through their environment, packing them solid by repetitive use.  Nice for the deer and for us, for once a trail has been well packed, there is no need for snowshoes and one can fairly skip along.  Woe be ye, however, if you attempt an off-trail excursion sans are likely to find yourself dropping through up to your waist and struggling to get out of that deceptively deep snow!

Sometimes Michelle (the gracious landowner of Twinravens) comes out to chat with me...she's marvellous!

I've been quite fortunate that on most of the days I've made hay deliveries, the weather has been fairly stable (rather than the frequent "snow & blow" episodes, like we are having today!).  I've found that once I have the mares set up with their hay, I can usually find a suitable, somewhat protected spot to sit nearby.  With my black woollen cape, my "mad bomber" hat entwined with a scarf and my back to the wind, I stay warm enough to enjoy a little winter picnic lunch while the ladies make a beautiful melody munching their hay.  

After I finish my lunch, I lean back on my elbows (sometimes even lay prone almost napping as the sun soaks into that black cape!) and receive information, via "heart entrainment", on the state of being of each of the horses as well as the environment I am blending in with.  While eating my lunch, my mind was busy making mental assessments of what my eyes were perceiving, most of which I noticed my analytical/linear mind registered as being "good".  Some things my eyes saw, however, were registered by my mind as "not good"...for example I am concerned because Belina has lost all her reserve weight and begins to look bony, and Bella's hooves are as flared and cracked as I've ever seen.  

So noted, I let the judgment of the linear mind pass through me and breathe in the chill air, hold it in and breath even deeper before exhaling, long and slow and full.  I repeat this several times and grow quieter within, less critical, less anxious.  High, very high above me the "Roark, Roark, Roark!" of a raven passing seems to drift down and settles around me like soft touches.  I hear the curious sound of a large creature walking on the snowpack - crunch of snow on top and dull sub-snow thuds resounding a fraction of a second after each step.  I didn't know before the snowpack had a voice and I am delighted to have experienced it!

Fada comes over and nuzzles my hat, pulls a little on my cape, then seeks out a new pile of hay.  Esperanda and Pinoteia are eating from the same pile of dried summer with far away, drugged-like expressions...nice to see, since typically these mares are brutish and unfriendly toward Esperanda.  Bella walks by, steady, stable, not in the least bit concerned about how atrocious her hooves look.  She smoothly strides over to move Zorita off a pile of hay she herself fancies.  Her bodyweight is perfect and there emerges an immediate understanding how much more of the deep, crusty snow those splayed hooves can scoop away exposing edible old grass, roots and low brush.  She is putting them to good use!  Every year her hooves flare and crack before self-trimming to more "normal" looking shapes.  I do not know what it is about her that causes this to happen, and though I don't like the looks of them she is wonderfully sound.  Her hooves have served her well for ten winters...and will likely serve for ten more or better.   

Bella's funky feet..."I'm Funky, I've always been Funky"...after Christopher Walken...

Zorita comes to me, requests I itch her chest and neck, shows me how splendidly she is managing a very rough winter.  Her eye is soft, her attitude, carefree.  She leaves the hay area and climbs the slope to see if any oats might be gleaned from a special treat Michelle had put out for the mares earlier that morning. 

Sovina's Zorita (Sovina x Tia)

Belina a.k.a. Popo

It is hard not to notice Belina (affectionately we call her Popo).  Popo is just up the rise from where I am sitting.  She is allowing Altavida to eat with her.  Both mares look serene.   Thin is such a different "look" for Popo!  Though very angular now - she emanates contentment...evokes a promise to me that I will see her rather corpulent, rounded form again soon.  For now she is keeping up with providing for Rija at the expense of her fat reserves, which is part and parcel with being a wild-living equine.  I am reminded that most of the time I worry Popo is too round!  Her absolutely normal attitude toward motherhood and life in general tell me it is good I am monitoring her, but I need not worry.   

Rija (Altamiro x Belina)

And of course, probably the best indicator that all is well with the "ladies" (as Michelle likes to call them) is to take in the robust form of little Rija!  Popo gave birth to this intrepid filly on November 24, 2013.  She was born in the snow and has only experienced the cold, white landscape.  She has no idea that one day that snow will melt and in no time at all everywhere she looks will be something to eat!  Rija means "strong", "tough", "stalwart" in Portuguese, and surely this filly is personifying the meaning of that name splendidly!

Rija is almost 4 months old, and eats hay like a big girl now...with her full sister Fada nearby

And what a dense and appropriate winter coat this baby has!

On this eve of the Spring Equinox as I look out my window and see nothing but a landscape diffused by falling and blowing snow, I rekindle that contented, serene feeling that the mares presented to me this past Sunday during my visit with them.  They take each day as it comes, find the good in it and use it to their best advantage. 

"Whatever is agreeable to you, O Universe, is so to me too.  Nothing is early or late for me that is seasonable for you.  Everything is fruit for me which your seasons bring, oh Nature.  From you all things proceed, subsist in you, and return to you."  --Marcus Aurelius


Before I took my leave of the mares, Popo (Belina) came to me softly...pushed her head into my hands for a cranial itch and then presented me with her rump for a goodly massage there...and of course, I obliged, with great satisfaction for both of us!

Popo (Belina) what a wide dorsal stripe, eh?
Not to be is baby Rija's bum!

Last look before I leave, until next week!

Though we have been having another bit of winter storm, though the wind blows and the snow falls and the drifts form yet again...Kevin is quite right..."Feels like Spring".

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Ondas do mar de Vigo


Just in time for St. Valentine's Day, I have put together a video slide show which, in essence, is all about love for the amazing landscape of Manitoulin Island, for our "wild" horses and for the music I wish to share.  

My the video first, and only after that, come back and read the rest of this journal entry.  (the embedded video does not seem to be centered nicely and won't view properly like that.  click on the title within that embedded video or click here to go directly to YouTube for the best viewing)

Ondas do mar de Vigo is a "cantiga de amigo", a Galician-Portuguese medieval love song.  In this particular song it is more a lamentation, - a pleading for the return of the beloved - an aching like no other, in rhythm with the swelling surf…

Many musicians performing medieval music have recorded this cantiga, some with great feeling, most with an stiff, academic duty.  Only Evo, a quartet from Valencia, has infused a palpable authenticity that transcends 800 years of time passing - so honest in delivery that such passionate yearning we all recognize as a very current emotion in our modern lives. hear the ancient aspects of the music, yet you feel its resonance as something living and breathing - inside you! 

Evo's version of “Ondas do mar de Vigo” has been so adeptly arranged by band leader, Efrén López its sound is as richly archaic as the time in which it was originally composed by Martin Codax in thirteenth century Galicia - yet it vibrates also with a present-day sensitivity, exceptionally portrayed in the vocal artistry of Iván López.  The spare accompaniment of Efrén on the hurdy gurdy and Miriam Encinas on the recorder is so intuitively played one hears not so much the sound of period instruments, but rather slow incantations of elementals that inhabit the seaside.  This is not mere interpretive music…it is soul music, steeped with "duende" and contemporaneously in the "now".

When I first heard the music of Evo and watched a video of a live performance of "Ondas do mar de Vigo" I knew it was just the type of music I wanted to accompany the collection of images I was assembling for the video slideshow of our horses at the beach.  It is SO emotive! and seems to express in sound all the love I have for the horses and the type of freedom we can offer them here at Ravenseyrie.  The joy of that love is often bittersweet, being always overshadowed by the realization there is not enough human desire worldwide to allow wilderness spaces to be populated by "wild" equines (and in fact in Canada and the United States feral mustangs continue to be persecuted and exterminated).  That reality and the concomitant limitations of our personal resources (which forced us last year to limit further natural breeding by relocating all the females to a separate range) has me often sitting on our rocky shore, pleading with the waves of Lake Huron for the return of a time when we humans were not manipulating the natural world in such deleterious ways that day by day push plants and creatures toward extinction.

It is for these reasons, I chose Evo’s recording of “Ondas do Mar de Vigo” (©2013 Songsurfer® Records), over all others, to pair with photos taken of the nearly extinct Iberian horses that live on our Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve.  An additional bonus to the music of Evo and their recordings of Galician-Portuguese song poetry is discovering that the ancestors of our horses were known to medieval troubadours!*  While the connections with the ancient past are worth mentioning I should point out that like the musicians of Evo, in our conservation efforts with these horses, we are not under the illusion that we are replicating the past but rather have assembled what has survived from those times and allow it to express itself in accord with the dynamics of the 21st century.    

The images you see in the video I have captured from the years 2007 to 2013.  The horses' have 360 acres to roam and only rarely make the descent down the East Bluff to access the lakeshore - something they do when trying to escape the annual plague of black flies of springtime and when the drought of deep summer has evaporated all the upper water sources.  It is always a huge excitement for me if I am able to catch up with the horses when they are down by the water and I have wanted for a long time to share a video slideshow of the many photos I have taken of those special times over the years.  

The musical accompaniment of Evo's recording of "Ondas do mar de Vigo" would not have been possible without the support from Claus Altvater of Songsurfer Records (who granted me a special "synchronization license" for this video project) and also the approval of Efrén Lopez.

I hope you enjoy the video!  And if you fall in love, as I did, with the music of Evo...please support their efforts with a purchase of their recordings!

*One troubadour in particular, Lopo Lias, includes references to the zebro in his songs, using the words "zevrões" and "zevrom" which in the glossary of the website chronicling these songs is defined as a "wild horse"...we can take this as another reference to the striped wild horse that also is spelled as "zebro", "cevro" "encebro", etc.

Additional information:

The words to "Ondas do mar de Vigo" in Galician and English - from the European Heritage website.

Ondas do mar de Vigo
Ondas do mar de Vigo,
se vistes meu amigo?
¡e ai Deus!, se verra cedo!
Ondas do mar levado,
se vistes meu amado,
¡e ai Deus!, se verra cedo!
Se vistes meu amigo
o por que eu sospiro,
¡e ai Deus!, se verra cedo!
Se vistes meu amado,
por que ei gran coidado,
¡e ai Deus!, se verra cedo!

O waves of the sea of Vigo...
O waves of the sea of Vigo,
if only you´ve seen my lover,
and, oh God, if only he´d come soon!
O waves of the heaving sea,
if only you´ve seen my darling,
and, oh God, if only he´d come soon!
If only you´ve seen my lover,
the man for whom I´m singing,
and, oh God, if only he´d come soon!
If only you´ve seen my darling,
the man for whom I´m pining,
and, oh God, if only he´d come soon! 


Saturday, December 28, 2013

How Beautiful Bleakness Can Be!

I'm layered in wool - head to foot - and can feel the sting of the elements only on my face, only when walking into the wind.  The blessed fur-lined "Mad Bomber" hat buffers the bitter wind making that fierce winter element almost a friend.  Around my waist I wear the rope attaching me to the toboggan, a walking stick provides additional stability and traction as needed.  I advance, like a mule in harness and the load slides along behind me.   I'm leading, breaking trail in the deep snow, Kevin follows in my path.  Soon we will need snowshoes for a task such as this.

Your author, in a photo from a previous winter at the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve

The horses knew we would come...there they are!  At the edge of the forest, shapely equine shadows move, anticipating the delivery of dried summer.  How beautiful the snow! much gentler on the lee side of this particular wooded region of the Ravenseyrie Sorraia Mustang Preserve.

Kevin gathers up the empty toboggans

One last cookie delivered to the young Sorraia stallion, Sedutor, and Kevin turns to head back to the house in the wind and snow

The horses often move from pile to pile...if the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, maybe the next hay pile is, too!

Sorraia stallion Altamiro, showing striping made of snow and skin folds...I daresay seal skin isn't any warmer a pelt than Sorraia fur must be!

The light in the window of our little home in the welcoming in a storm!

Through the trees, Kevin follows the trail back to the house
Hay distributed, muzzles deep into it, on this morning, I ask Kevin to take my toboggan back with him and leave me to this place for a while.  Under my cape, I unzip my bag and bring the camera out, taking photos while mindfully protecting it from the snow filtering down.

In no time, my hands grow numb...but I have a simple, reliable remedy.  I gather my cape around me and sit in the snow, leaning against a tree trunk.  I fold my arms over my chest and slide hands up sleeves, left to right, right to left, skin on skin, under knitted warmth.  Some of the horses look at me, quizzically.  The sounds of wind gusting in the open seem far away.  Snow melts on my nose, undisturbed.  Somewhere deeper in the forest a Chickadee song rides over the masticating sounds of dried grasses being consumed by our bachelors.  In one sense the world shrinks down to this and nothing more, with a blue shimmer one feels more than sees...yet at the same time my body expands as if it has assumed the width of the entire bluff and beyond.  And my hands tingle with heat.

How beautiful bleakness can be!

 Look there!  What a fantastic composition that is!  The camera and I return to the pleasure of documenting how beautiful bleakness can be.

Not everyday has a wicked winter wind.  On calmer days the horses prefer their hay in the open regions.  And they continue to graze and browse.  No matter how deep the snow, these elemental Sorraia horses (and Jerry the mule and Zeus the Thoroughbred) find extra things to eat.  If no fences existed and the entire bluff were available to them...they would have no need of hay at all.  The landscape provides for all their needs, and while wintertime is not lush with green edibles, it does not leave its wild inhabitants without resources for survival.

When not eating hay, the horses dig for forage beneath the snow

Snow, but no wind, breakfast in the open

Ousado and his herd mates are perfectly outfitted to enjoy breakfast with the snow falling

Some winter days yield up the kind of beauty that can only be found because of the brittle cold, the bleak austerity and challenges of the season.  Yesterday, as the dawn touched the bluff, my camera sought out more scenes of life at Ravenseyrie to share with you...a desire to shift the perception of those readers who feel little but fear and loathing when winter comes.  I want you to see what I see, feel what I feel...winter is a fabulous time of year!

It is -23°C as dawn comes to Ravenseryie

All the colts know Kevin keeps cookies in his pockets for them

Four Ravens in the Zen Elm seem to wait, just as I am, for the sun to come up over the east tree line


And just then, the Ravens take flight!

Frost, yet untouched by the fingers of the sun

Then the sun reaches out, like a burning fire!

Hawberry bushes covered in frost become something "other" when touched by the winter sunrise

Morning sun casts a warm glow on the horses

Zeus, the twenty-something domestic Thoroughbred wintering well alongside his wild herd mates

Legado, on the move to steal someone else's pile of hay

The amazing Altamiro, glowing golden in the morning sun


What a place to be!

And if you are still not convinced that winter is not just a time of challenging elements, but is filled with joy and a sublime lightness of being, have a look at a video clip of Interessado, Silvestre and Legado bursting with the pleasure of being young and free!

Silvestre and Fidalgo

Altamiro erupts in animation too!

Altamiro showing off among his many sons

Altamiro conversing with Interessado

Blow, blow, thou winter wind.      Thou art not so unkind --William Shakespeare