Monday, December 29, 2008

Pleasures Amidst Wretched Weather

The gods cannot make up their mind what type of weather to sling down upon us here at Ravenseyrie.

As I've relayed in prior entries, the weather here has been unsettled since late November when winter came early and has presented us with one storm after another, with nary a break in between. On Christmas day, you saw photos of our deep snow and the blessing of a bit of sunshine and non-brutal temperatures. Even into the first part of Boxing Day, we had a reprieve from winter's capriciousness. But that was soon to change as more heavy snow came falling down only to be shortly followed by a rapid rise in the temperature.

With the air temperature now above freezing, all that snow began to melt and the high wind assisted the transmutation. The effect yesterday was as if our bluff was entertaining a host of visiting fog entities.

With the snow vastly reduced and the mildness of the air (even with the stiff winds) the pups and I felt a trek out to the "Top of the World" was in order. When we first began our hike, the fog was low and rode the wind in a horizontal ribbon through the forest at the bluff's edge. I filmed it, because I wanted to show you how "alive" this fog was, with personality and obviously some place to go...but I couldn't hold the camera steady and the footage is no good.

When we got to the "Top of the World" there was a break in the fog, slightly, and I was able to get a few photos that were not so diffuse as the the others.Tobacco looks majestic as he, too, observes the world from the bluff's edge.

Through the telephoto lens we can see that the thaw and the wind have broken up the freezing mantle that had been forming over the North Channel.

Then the rain came...

We were ready this time...ready to convince the melt water to not flood our poor natty shed which is our only "barn" like structure and is where we keep garden tools, breakfast oats, several day's rations of hay (the rest is under tarps in the yard) and Kevin's smaller tractor. This very weather pattern--heavy snow, with a day of above freezing temperatures and copious amounts of rain was experienced just over a week ago on December 15th. Then it all flash froze! Out came the pick axes as we chipped free doors, gates, wheel barrels, etc. This flooding happens each spring, and is messy as can be, but doesn't freeze and soon is drained off.

A photo from a year or so ago, showing how our large round bales of hay are stored.

To avoid another freezing up of our flooded shed, Kevin managed to dig a hole in the frozen ground inside the shed and rigged up a sump pump with flexible piping fed through the back wall to drain out behind. And its working beautifully! Which is good, because within an hour the temperature was dropping and the wind and snow returned.

Did you know that one of the key elements immigration officers look for when someone applies for permanent residency status in Canada is the applicant's potential for adaptability. Both Kev and I scored well in this regard and its a good thing, because with such harsh and rapidly changing weather conditions, were we not adaptable, we'd have to sell our place and move to the city. That would be much more difficult for us to cope with than toughing it out on the East Bluff on Manitoulin Island!

Let's compare now some of the photos taken just in the last two days:
A scene from 26Dec08

A scene from 28Dec08, mid-morning

A scene from 28Dec08, early afternoon

Our two geese were very pleased with the rain and melting.

Here they are later that same day, with the snow falling, again.

Jerry nibbles on old Tansy stalks, mid-morning 28Dec08

But the scene soon changed, in just a few hours!

Morning, with a vast seasonal lake forming

Just hours later

The melt water lake, was mostly over compacted ice, effectively cutting us off from our usual routes to places in the woods where we can feed the herd protected from the elements. We had to settle for a section to the west, which was an amazing struggle for all of us to get to, since we had to go straight into the wind and driving snow, with tricky footing beneath us. The horses and mules are amazing to watch at times like these--the care they take in finding the best route, and then when they know they are on more stable ground how they take off bucking and running to the shelter of the woods.

It felt really mild there, at this particular woodland edge, and as we went in a little deeper, it we hardly felt the weather at all. This spot isn't as snug as some of the others, but we were sure happy to be able to reach it and get the herd out of the wind. With a plastic bag over my camera, I tried to take a few photos. I would have loved to get photos of us all bent into the elements working our way across the open land to get to the shelter of the woods, but it was just to wild to manage. Coming back, with the wind at our backs was wild, too...and several times Kev and I nearly got blown off our feet! How exhilarating it is here! I love being out in the elements!We've almost made it to the windless side of the woods, but still have a little ways to go.

This spot is not yet fully protected, but some of the herd preferred to stay at the edge, rather than go deeper into the woods...maybe because of the way the trees were wildly swaying?

This spot is much more protected, and its one that Mistral surely appreciates.

Okay, there have been quite a few questions in the comments section of recent journal entries. Today is a good day to revisit these queries and share an answer or two.

Kris inquired: "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. :-) "

I'm impressed with this camera, too, Kris! I reread the instruction manual the only cautionary comments it gives regarding temperature is to make sure the camera isn't left sitting in the hot sun and when moving from a warm to cold environment, one should take care that there is no build up of condensation by exposing it to rapid changes of temperature.

Eva wrote: "-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."

Eva, minus 5 (°F) isn't extreme gets much colder than that in January and February...but thankfully not for more than one or two days. It's much colder out in the Canadian mid-western provinces.

The lake does freeze, typically not until sometime in January. It looked like it was going to freeze early this year, but with the melt, the rain and the high winds, all the ice that had been forming was broken up. Once it freezes, we won't see Lake Huron again until sometime in late April.

The horses don't go to the lake in winter, they eat snow, and also there is a curious depression in the land, not too far from the house where the water pools up and never freezes. Even with several feet of snow over the top of it, the horses paw through the snow and the water is right there for the taking. I have a photo of it, but don't have it on this computer.

It rarely gets so cold that it hurts to breathe. It often is cold enough to cause little icicles to form on our noses hanging down.

We heat our house with two small wood stoves. One in the kitchen, which is in constant use, and one in the basement that we only fire up when their is extreme sub-zero weather. Last year we only had this stove fired up twice! I have a lovely photo of the kitchen stove, but not on this computer, though I did find one of the basement stove. We stay plenty warm, just ask Tobacco and Siamese:
Eva asks: "OK here is an idea: have you considered feeding the horses closer to your house, so you won't have to haul the hay all the way out? Wouldn't the horses figure out where the food is and make the trip?"

When the weather isn't wicked, the horses come up to the house for meals. The problem is that we are smack in the middle of an open prairie, high up on a bluff...when the temperature is frigid and the wind is up (quite a frequent thing!) it would be deadly to spend any length of time exposed to the elements. We have quite a few locations that the herd goes to depending on the prevailing winds, and we bring their hay out to them there when the weather is wretched. Some of the cattle ranchers out here tell us that we are doing things the hard way and should just put one of our round bales out in the woods as needed. But this isn't how we like to do it--its too hands off, makes it difficult for everyone to get a good meal and creates too much wasted hay. Even though it is truly hard at times, we love bringing the food out to the herd and feeling how nice it is to be in the woods out of the elements and it gives us opportunity to interact with them two or three times daily.

Annemiek asks: "There was a discussion going on about Natural trim and snow. I was very surprised to learn that several horses with a natural trim had the same problem Rudolf had. Snow and ice forming under the hoof so it seems the horse walks on high heels. Have you ever seen such a thing on one of your horses? There were offered all kinds of theories on this subject, from the temperature of the hoof to the concavity of the hoof. I was just wondering about your horses, and mules. You have different breeds over there, are there any differences in the horses hoofs and their ability to adapt to the snow that you know of?"

All the mules and horses will from time to time form snowballs under their hooves. They adjust their movements accordingly, and the snow clumps fall out when they are moving around much, and they move around a lot, no matter what the conditions are. The only thing that slows them down is ice. Snowballs under the hooves are more of a problem in traditional stable situations and for people who are riding their horses in snow. But for a semi-wild herd, snow clumps are just part of winter and something that doesn't appear to slow them down a bit.

Yesterday, we lost power for much of the day, and when this happens, we again discuss our desire to put up solar panels or maybe a wind generator--wind is something we have lots of, so this is something we do plan to get set up for in the future. The contraptions are still so expensive, and we're hoping in a few more years the prices will come down. We went about our day with little thought to not having power, (though it meant we couldn't do any interneting) and with the small kitchen wood stove, I had dinner nearly made, with a wonderful aroma filling the house. I was just getting the oil lamps ready to light when the power came back on--I was almost disappointed! But as rugged as we are, we, too, like our creature comforts. I like them all the more for having to work as hard as we do to live here at Ravenseyrie. This life brings out something noble in each of us, I think...I find myself continually admiring the strength and positive attitude Kevin has, no matter what kind of day faces him. It is the same acceptance that I see in the animals as well. There are elements in each of them that glow greater because of the extra effort the demands of living in a harsh, remote environment require. This makes me absolutely love it here! It is maybe a bit easier for me to be happy here...I seem to have a resonance of belonging to some ancient ice age group of horse-loving feels like this is right where I am meant to be. How can one not be thankful for a feeling such as this?

To end this long entry, two videos, one that let's you hear the wind as I pan over the landscape while standing on the north deck of the house. The other, taken also from the deck, shows how Altamiro and Zeus enjoy passing time, even though the weather was so weird and wild.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Beautiful Winter's Day

It's a beautiful Winter's day here at Ravenseyrie...and it just happens to be Christmas, too!

The extra time and effort to go on about our daily chores on the farm have left me feeling too fatigued this month to put together even a brief entry for this blog journal. But since we seem to be in for a long, hard winter, I am trying on a new attitude that recognizes the difficulties, but is strengthened by the hardships instead of worn down by them.

Wish me luck!

Today was a combination we haven't had in a long while...moderate temperatures, just a light wind, no snowfall and a sunny sky. As so often has been the routine these days, Kevin and I were out in the pre-dawn darkness to shovel away the most recent snowfall, and dig key areas out of the drifts the nighttime winds created.

Because it was a still and mellow morning, the herd was up to the house for breakfast and we were pleased to not have to haul our toboggan-loads of hay out to the forest. After consuming their light portions of whole oats, each horse and mule enjoyed copious piles of hay as bit by bit pink tinged the sky and gentle light began illuminating the day.

After about an hour, I had completed my shoveling chores and before strapping snows shoes on, I fetched my camera and walking stick from the house with the intention of putting in a bit of a walk before it was necessary for me to busy myself in the kitchen making a few tasty dishes to bring to a Christmas dinner among friends in the village.

The dogs thought this was a very fine idea, and to make it easier for them, I followed alongside a nice trail the horses had cut through the snow. Shelagh and Maeb especially have a difficult time walking through deep snow, so it was very handy the horses had already made a nice path:
The pups were very patient with me as I was stopping frequently to take photos:

I wanted to take some photos of the horses and mules as they were finishing off their breakfast. What I also captured in this next series of photos, is my wonderful Kevin, busy at work on the Kubota, clearing the drive and yard with his front-end loader and the large snowblower which runs off the back of the tractor.
As I got farther away from the house, Dee and Doll decided to make their way out to where we were walking. Dee stopped by a small, lone Cedar tree and plucked off a few mouthfuls of Cedar leaf:

The rest of the herd began to lose attention in those last bits of hay and were soon making their way out to where we were as well. What is curious in the first photo, is how close the south woods looks to our house, when really we have a bit of length to our driveway and the woods are across the road! This photo makes it look as we have large fir trees in our yard--what a strange illusion.Altamiro



Zorita and some of the others stopped by the same tree Dee had been nibbling on, and decided to remain there, rather than come the rest of the way to the woods.

I went out to the manege, which was under deep snow, but not as deep as what was just outside of the woods. With the horses coming out, and the day so mellow, I would have really liked to spend the morning playing with the horses, one at a time, in our woodland manege--but I had to go back to the house and get ready for our later engagement. Phooey!

I took these photos as I began to head back to the house. The herd had split into several groups and were settling in for enjoying a good nap time.

I took this photo so you could see the difference between a snowshoe trail and a horse & dog trail:

When I got back, Kevin was just about finished with his task. It's difficult for me to imagine what it must have been like for folks who lived up here on the bluff before power equipment allowed for snow removal.

To those who left comments in my first entry this December, I promise within a day or two to put together a journey entry answering your questions, which deserve more than a quick response.

I wish for each of you, those near and those far, very happy holidays!

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!