Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Rites of Passage

There are many opinions of Nature's way of being...many figure she is flawed: she is cruel, she is merciless, she is apathetic. Others see her as: perfective, benevolent, merciful, empathetic...

I see her as mysterious, energetic, transformative, volatile, harmonious, disruptive and always, always flowing. Heraclitus thought of her as the tension of opposites, and I believe this is so. Nature is yin and yang, not at all the same as the human preoccupation with good and evil, which hinges upon subjective judgmentalism. There is that which is edifying and that which is unedifying...that which is expedient and that which is not so, and then there is sheer expression which the human mind either accepts with a certain awe, or condemns as "that which ought not to be". It's my feeling that Nature deals in expediency, edification and sheer expression with no preoccupation with what "ought to be" or "what ought not to be". Besides human beings what other creature in the universe proclaims, "That ought not to be!" and so wages wars bent on complete annihilation of plants, animals, insects, germs and each other?

But wait...I want to speak of rites of passage.

In the opening photo of today's entry in the Journal of Ravenseyrie, you see me at the "Top of the World" spot at the edge of the bluff overlooking Lake Huron's North Channel. The pups and I frequently hike to this place to see the view from above. Sometimes I sit and contemplate topics which have preoccupied my mind, sometimes I bring a journal and write, other times I just go to repose and melt into the landscape (though for this magic to happen I find it is best to leave my chair and sit directly on the ground.) I think the dogs do some of these meditative things too as you can see in this photo:Ganja, enjoying a timeless moment at Ravenseyrie's "Top of the World" spot.

Rites of passage--certain observances and ceremonies undertaken at precise times to usher individuals into a new phase of their lives, do you think these are only human constructs?

Living here at Ravenseyrie, I have been swept into the many rites of passage which Nature engages in and for me they have as much ceremonial elements as do institutionalized traditions. I'd like to share a few with you.

We had a peculiar winter here on Manitoulin Island. After that first frightful mauling winter gave us last December, our weather was milder than usual and with much less snowfall than we typically receive. Lake Huron was not held hostage by ice until mid-January and already even though it is only March, it has begun the process of breaking up.
The view above
and the view below:

The Ravenseyrie beach area shows a mosaic of floating ice with open water further out. Looking to my right, I noted that a large mass of ice has jammed up against a portion of the shore to the east.
Spring break up of the lake is always an exciting rite of passage into the warmer seasons, and is a bit different each year depending on weather conditions. The process is initially gradual, with the sun and rain softening from above and the swelling and heaving of the water working from below. Sometimes there are moaning sounds and strange sensations of some slumbering creature beginning to awaken. Then the high winds come, violent cracking noises can be heard and pressure ridges explode, forming long narrow rivers of open water which abruptly break into large and small individual planes of ice that are moved by the wind and water and thrown into the shore with a grinding force that causes significant alteration of the beach, shifting around even huge boulders on a whim.
There are three phases typically in any rite of passage:

Something as seemingly common place as an apple falling from a tree demonstrates a rite of passage. Like the spring break up of Lake Huron, when an apple falls from the tree it's separation is abrupt and the process is violent. The apple falls, thudding resoundingly as it hits the ground. Bruised and perhaps even split open, the apple goes through a transition period, losing its integrity as a solid orb which once dangled among the family of other apples and leaves and branches--now it exposes its inner fragrance, auto-macerating, enticing itself to be eaten by some passing animal. Later its seeds are consumed, carried further afield, expelled, covered by debris and await germination, after which they reach tentative tendrils upward, re-integrating with growing kingdom once more, though not as fruit this time, but as the tree itself.
Kevin with a Ravenseyrie apple tree in 2008

"But...oh, dear Altamrio, she is only ten months old!"

We are very pleased that Altamiro has grown into such a fine stallion with incredible expressions of instinctual protocol. We were very impressed at his innate wisdom when last year he banished his colts Animado and Interessado from the family band once his new foals began to arrive. Later, as well, when he made no attempt to hold Fada back when she determined for herself that she wanted to leave we applauded Altamiro's fantastic fatherly qualities...but we did not expect this past Sunday that he would expel his 2009 filly, Encantara, on the very day that Bella (who is not Encantara's dam) delivered her new foal!

We remain pleased, yes, with our stallion's sense of duty, but it was difficult to see Encantara thrust so early into a forced change of circumstances...

Here again, we have Nature showing us a ceremonial rite of passage, replete with violent abruptness to facilitate separation, with a period of transition, followed by re-integration.

Would you like to see how Encantara's rite of passage transpired, effectively putting her life as a nursing foal behind her and presenting her to the world as weanling and soon to be yearling?

When Kevin and I were heading out with our food laden toboggans to the far northwest sector where the family band was absorbed with the excitement of Bella's new foal, we could see and hear Encantara calling from the edge of the central wooded copse. After taking care of the family band, we immediately set about making Encantara as comfortable as we could.
I dropped off her pan of oats and cubes, while Kevin took the toboggans back to the house, promising to return with hay. While Encantara was eating her breakfast, I checked her over for injuries and found two places where Altamiro felt it necessary to use harsh means to impress upon his filly that she would do well to leave the family band. She has one bite mark on her abdomen and one on her thigh, neither of which required any doctoring:

Kevin, true to his word, came back with hay. And, can you see in the photo who has appraised the situation and come to lend his own brand of support to the displaced filly?
Uncle Jerry first checked out to see if there were any goodies left in Encantara's pan and then settled in to graze while she ate her hay:
Soon, she left her hay and went over to graze aside Uncle Jerry:
After an hour or so of grazing together, it was time for a nap:
Thanks to the thoughtful care-taking of Uncle Jerry, I was free now to take the dogs for their usual morning hike. When we returned, (I didn't have my camera with me), Doll, one of the molly draft mules, had joined Jerry and Encantara. Encantara was laying flat out now, napping and processing on a subliminal level the unusual events of the morning. I made lunch and Kevin and I watched from the kitchen table as first Jerry decided to wander over to the east sector where Mistral's group was grazing, and later was joined by Doll. Before she left, Doll prodded Encantara with her muzzle, "Get up, kid, we're leaving now." Encantara's answer was to raise her head and sleepily look at Doll briefly, then she flopped her head back to the ground and resumed her nap. "Suit yourself!" Doll's expression seemed to say, and in no time she too wandered off to the east.

When Encantara arose from her nap (imagine how tired she must have been!), she looked longingly off to the northwest where the family band was, and she looked off to the east where Mistral's group were now filtering further east to slack thirsts from the creek. I thought she would maybe join them, but instead she quietly went back to work on her left-over breakfast hay, only briefly, for soon she was ambling up to the house. I went out and gave her a few more alfalfa cubes. She ate these and then wandered while grazing off to the southwest, until finally she slipped into the woods.

Having a feeling that she was planning to clandestinely work her way northward to slip back into the family band, I wanted to be on hand for what might transpire. I was just in time to catch a bit of how things went for her on video:

Encantara was damp from running, but not breathing too heavily and had no new wounds, only a few burrs catching a ride on her fur. She looked back to where her mother, Belina, and the rest of the family band remained, watching her even as she was watching them:
I heard a whinny from the Cedar trees and zoomed in to see if it was Belina calling for her. I was surprised that it appeared to be Ciente who was calling, while the others were already moving on to other things:
"C'mon, Encantara, it's time to go," I said. She paused for a minute or so, lost in thought:
Soon she decided to follow me back to the house, where I assured her we could convince Kevin to bring us some afternoon cookies:
Along the way, Encantara appeared to want to take a shortcut through a small copse of Cedar trees:
It was a good idea, saving us from having to walk all around this copse. But I misread what Encantara was doing...what she actually wanted was a drink of water, and she knew there was maybe some standing water in this copse. And there was:
While Encantara was drinking, I weaved through the copse and waited for her on the other side so we could resume our walk together back to the house:

Once back by the house, I called to Kevin, who was busy organizing his workshop attached to the sorry, shabby structure we have been using as a garden shed and feed room. Kevin brought out some hay cubes for Encantara to munch on and took some photos while I gave her a little grooming:

Kevin thought I should look at the camera and give you all a smile, so I did:
After this attention from her human friends, Encantara went off to the knoll at the edge of the "barnyard" where Kevin had put some more hay out for her. While she ate her hay, I laid down nearby and let the sun lull me into a very peaceful state of bliss, so peaceful that I fell asleep! I awoke to the sound of Kevin's voice. Encantara was gone and Kevin hadn't noticed which direction she had taken leave to. After scanning the landscape, we finally could see that she was grazing among the Trembling Aspen trees on the south fence line. She remained there by herself until that early evening.

While we were having our dinner, we could see Encantara crossing over to the far east where Mistral's group was grazing. Soon she was among them! There was much excitement, but no hazing and within fifteen minutes or so, they were all grazing again...little Encantara had been officially accepted into Mistral's group. What a brave and decisive filly. I felt so proud of her!

Separation. Transition. Re-integration.

Abruptness, violence, sense of loss, disorientation, acceptance of the situation, awareness of change, a seeking of new horizons, finding a place to belong--these were all part of Encantara's rite of passage, and all in one day!

It may not have been necessary for Kevin and I to dote upon this young filly to help ease the transition she was forced into experiencing, but it felt good to us to be able to support her and it provided us with a greater appreciation for the ways of Nature.

To so violently and abruptly force the separation between mother and child seems at first to our human oriented senses to be a cruel thing...and yet, neither Belina or Encantara have been crying for each other, and both have smoothly transitioned into new phases of their lives, almost effortlessly. I cannot call it cruel, I must embrace it as a beautiful rite of passage, which is easy to do seeing how readily a part of Mistral's herd Encantara is. I feel honored to have been able to participate in it!

Encantara shares breakfast oats and morning hay with Mistral's group.

Encantara's dam,Belina is likely pleased to have a month off of nursing a foal at her side, while she prepares to deliver her new foal in late April. She appears in good spirits, robust health, and very appreciative of me helping her itch away some of the winter coat she is shedding.
Belina, moves in to push Zorita over to a different pile of hay.

Altamiro with he perhaps the next to be weaned by his father?


June said...

Fascinating story! Why do you think Altamiro expelled Encantara sooner than he might have?

JEN-SKA said...

This was so interesting to read! Thanks for reporting this (with your insight as added value) <3

Hilary Lohrman said...

Thank you for sharing this experience with us.

Lynne Gerard said...

June, I don't have the answer to your question, except to say that Altamiro must have his reasons, which are important to how he manages his harem. I always thought that young horses in the wild did not get banished from their family bands until one to two years of age. There are many variables that potentially inspired Altamiro to do it sooner than later.

Jen-ska and Hilary, thank you for reading and for leaving your comments. I do find these herd dynamics a very interesting thing to follow and I'm glad you do, too!

Sandie G Hucal said...

I finally got a chance to go back and read this great post. I am also fascinated by herd dynamics and horse/donkey behaviour. Your discussions of rites of passage was very interesting. I find it so inspirational to see how horses fully experience what life brings them, enabling them to release and move forward, something I think us humans often struggle with out of fear of the potential intensity of our emotions. Thank goodness for Uncle Jerry.