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".