Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sun, After Many Days of Heavy Snow

Zorita, posing prettily in the Ravenseyrie woodland manége

How long has it been since we have had a day without snow falling here at Ravenseyrie?

It's been at least two weeks, I should say, and I've lost track of how much snow we have.

A lot...this much is obvious!

Probably, this is the way winter is supposed to be here on Manitoulin Island. This is our fourth winter here and it seems that the prior winters were slower to arrive, milder (mostly), and not as much snow as you would expect for our area.

Manitoulin Island is renown for its excellent sailing waters, romantic pristine bays and wilderness camping--things that bring tourists from all over the world. These folks come in the summer months, and typically wouldn't care for the splendor (and hardships) of our winter wonderland, favoring destinations more tropical for their winter season vacations.

But Kevin and I love winter, and so, too, do most of the year 'rounders here on the island. Having been born and raised in Michigan, I surely am no stranger to the cold harshness of wintertime, but the overall attitude on the island (and perhaps other areas of Canada likewise) is that winter is one more terrific season to enjoy.

Most of the people out and about back in Michigan were hatless, bootless, and oftentimes sporting only the lightest of jackets to ward off the cold. For them, winter was a horrifically bothersome season that one must put up with as they shuffle as quick as possible from their over-warm homes to their over-warm automobiles to get to work and to go shopping. Any other out-door activities are simply not pursued, and the over all mood is one of weary cantankerousness.

Here it is entirely different. Everyone dresses for the conditions of the season and they whistle cheerfully while they walk their dogs, run errands, putter around their snow-covered yards and keep on living their lives inside and out. Surely there may be a few that hibernate until gentler weather returns, but I continue to be delighted how this is the rarity, not the norm.

So, its been beautiful here, absolutely stunning, but never so much as today when the sun returned after so many days of greyness. The price to pay for this is some pretty cold air and high winds. The thermometer read -5°F most of the day, but now that the wind has abated a bit, I see that it reads 10°F...a veritable heat wave.

The horses and mules had the good sense not to come up for breakfast oats this morning as the high winds made the open areas around the shed ridiculously unpleasant for man or beast. Kevin and I both trekked out toboggan loads of hay to the woods before sun-up. We fed them near my new crudely constructed woodland manége. Knowing that after they've finished their hay they typically take up the fine art of dozing, I planned to return to the manége and work on looking for appropriate cedar branches with which I intend to make more attractive "walls". I hoped that while I was out there maybe one or more of the herd members might be interested in what I was doing, and I could invite them to join me.

Since our move to Ravenseyire, because we have no barn or paddock, I have had to do all my training outdoors among the entire group. This has worked well enough for initial gentling and ground work, but more and more I've realized that in order to consolidate and build upon the basics, I really needed a space where I can have some "one-on-one" time with each horse (or mule) without the usual interruptions that happen when working in a loose group of thirteen equines.

As I was coming out to the manége late morning, some of the herd came out half way, thinking probably that I was bringing them some more hay. When they found out I had nothing but my camera, they dashed off to the house and shed, where they could see Kevin busy working. Maybe he would give them some treats.

When they got there, however, the wind was especially gusty, blowing snow around them and making them turn quickly to head back up to where the rest of us were in the lee side of the cedar forest soaking up the sun.

First they ran to a nearby copse of cedar, and then they came running back to where hay had been fed this morning. Would you like to see?

While the others remained somewhat dozy, this group was all stirred up and made many circuits through the edge of the woods before realizing that I was busy in the manége. Zorita and Altamiro came by for a quick look at me, then they went back off again.

By this time, Jerry had begun to come around and I was quite certain he was going to be my first official visitor to come through the "gate" of the manége. But he stopped at the wrong pole (not yet knowing that one was a gate and the others are "walls"). As I went around to open the gate, I began to gesticulate to him that he was welcome to come in, but must come through the gate, he gave me a bored look and walked back to the rest of the group. But, Zorita came back and with only a slight hesitation, walked under the gate pole I had raised up. She walked in turned and looked at me expectantly:

I was so pleased that she had decided to be my first official visitor that I spent a bit of time taking photos of her from different angles, until she discovered my camera bag and went over to see if it had some treats in it.
I let her explore it a bit with her muzzle, but when she began to use her teeth, I had to get her attention diverted, which I did by stepping back, whistling slightly and asking her to come over to me. Which she did and then she got a good long itching session, which seemed to help her forget that I had no treats. (I'm going to have to find a way to cache some in the woods, so that when I do have a one-on-one schooling session, I have gustatory expressions of my appreciation to hand out from time to time.)

I finger groomed Zorita's mane, pulled burrs out of her tail and asked her to follow me to the left and to the right and then I called our "schooling session" over. I was getting a bit cold (taking too many photos with bare fingers!) and I knew Kevin would be looking for lunch soon.

All the time that Zorita was with me in the manége, no one else was interested in what we were up to...they stayed in the sunshine, dozing. So I hadn't needed to close the gate and when I began to put my things together to leave, I expected Zorita would walk out and join the others. But she didn't, and so I walked out and asked her to come out too. She came near the entrance, but then decided to play a bit with my Maine Harbor Bell hanging in the tree:

Rubbing my fingers together inside my mittens and wishing I could get moving so that I could get warmed up, I asked Zorita to please follow me, and I walked a bit further away from the manége in the direction of where the rest of the herd was. Zorita then followed and began nibbling at left over bits of hay. I went back to fetch my camera bag and close the gate. I had to hurry, because Zorita was already following me back to the manége. I quickly lowered the "gate" pole before she could come back in.
If I had any worries that living a semi-wild existence on a wilderness island with a group of other equines would cause Zorita to eschew human companionship, she certainly showed me today that she is happy to keep a hoof in both worlds. I think she looks good as she experiences her first Canadian winter...and I hope when Bonnie sees this blog entry she will feel the same way.

Would you like to see what some of the other herd members were doing?

Yes! That's Fada, dozing near Dee...what a furry darling!

Here is Ciente and Interessado, soaking up the December sunshine.

How can Doll possibly nap in such deep snow? And yet she is!

Mistral dozes near a cluster of grullas, Bella, Animado and Altamiro

Lots of snow, lots of frigid air...but what a simple and pleasant day was had at Ravenseyrie!


Kris McCormack said...

You winter lovers are such a hardy breed... :-) My own preference in weather is for moderation -- temperatures somewhere between 30 degrees F and 80 degrees F and gentle breezes rather than stiff winds. Of course, the weather here in southern NY state is usually outside those parameters in winter and summer --

A technical question -- does your camera manual specify minimum temperature at which the camera will function the way it is supposed to? Mine does -- it's 20 degrees F. I shoot in weather colder than that by keeping the camera inside my jacket, next to my body when I'm not actually taking photos. Just curious... and impressed that your camera seems to be as hardy as you are. :-)

Annemiek said...

Ooow Lynne, it looks like a fairytale over there. I love the way the horses run through the snow. And it being quite deep too! When I think of my own adventure in the snow two weeks ago, it is hard to imagine there are horses (and humans) that actually enjoy this running around in knee deep snow. I do enjoy the photo’s. Your manége looks very nice Lynne. ‘t will be quite a challenge to knit those twigs with these temperatures :-)
I am really happy for you that Zorita came in to “play”. There will come a time they will stand in line, waiting to be invited in :-)

eva said...

Oh this looks mighty cold. I do miss the snow, and i remember how invigorating it can be moving around in the glistening white and blue. the world is transfixed, repainted, and totally clean. But when i wake up to 35 degrees in La Honda (like this morning), I shiver and feel foolish.

-5 does seem a bit extreme. Does the lake freeze? How are the equines getting water? Does it hurt to breathe, and do little icicles form on your nose hanging down?

How do you keep your house warm?

I can think of nothing more desirable than a thick, natural fur coat.

Anonymous said...

We used to live in Northwestern IL USA in the mid-to-late '70's and the winters there were rather tuff such as -35 and -40 actual temps; we purchased an old Mercedes sedan since it was the only car we could get to start in the morning (no garage in those years).

Winter does have its own special beauty. My favorite are the cold, moonlit nights when the snow glitters and the wind is still.

Anonymous said...

OK I am sure the temp went at least -25 but can't find proof. However, here's a link about IL in 1977/78 that is interesting: (was I thinking of wind chills in my prev. comment?)

Janet Ferguson