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Archive for the ‘Animals’ Category

Horses are amazing creatures. They represent power and speed, usefulness, companionship, and a wild freedom that appeals to humans even today.

Our relationship with Horse goes back to pre-history.

Yes, we used to hunt them for food. But eventually we caught on, hey, these big, strong creatures sure do know how to run. Hmm. How to make that work for us? In exchange for protection, grass, shelter, a good brushing, some oats and the occasional carrot, Horse has been a good friend.

HORSE HISTORY—The Short Version

Horse has figured in human spirituality and mythology for millennia. Featured in many prehistoric cave paintings in France, were they regarded as Spiritual guides? A link to the Other world? A plea for good hunting?

The majority of Horse species developed in North America, and spread to other continents over time. Ironically, horses disappeared from the Americas around 10,000 years ago—and only survived in Eurasia and Africa. Which meant they were reintroduced to our side of the Atlantic by the Europeans.

All domesticated horse species are thought to be bred from the tarpan, or European Wild Horse, extinct since 1919 (and isn’t that a shame.)

When did Horse go from food to friend? Anthropologists think domestication might have first happened in the Asian steppes around 3500 BC. Possibly people kept herds of horses, most likely at first for food & milk. Around 2000 to 1500 BC humans began using Horse for pulling things, carrying things, then for riding.

We have used them in War (until WWI), for Work, as Status, for Trade & Transport, and in Sports. World horse population is estimated to be around 58 million. Today, most horses are kept for recreational purposes. And while there are populations of horses running wild, they are not true ‘wild horses’, they are descended from horses that were domesticated. More feral horse than wild horse.

HORSE TALES

Horses are beauty and strength in motion.  Horse shaped much of our history, and naturally, Horse has figured strongly in our stories, legends and mythology. There is enough horse lore to fill shelves and shelves of books, but I find this Horse myth particularly poetic.

ArabiansAccording to Bedouin legend, Allah created the horse from the four winds. He endowed the animal with SPIRIT from the North, STRENGTH from the South, SPEED from the East, and INTELLIGENCE from the West.

Real horses are pretty outstanding, of course. Below is a (short) list of some Famous Horses:

  • Comanche was General George Custer’s Horse and the sole survivor of the Battle of the Little Bighorn in 1876
  • Alexander the Great’s horse named Bucephalus. The story goes the king (dad) got the horse as a gift, but no one could ride or even handle him. But boy prince Alex tamed the horse and rode him to fame and conquest.
  • Man O'WarFamed race horses: Man O’War, War Admiral, Secretariat, Citation, Dan Patch, Seattle Slew, Sea Biscuit, Affirmed last horse to win the U.S. Triple Crown (1978)
  • Famous TV horses: Trigger was a Golden Palamino stallion and co-star with Roy Rogers in many of his movies and TV show. Silver (Lone Ranger) Mr Ed the talking horse.
  • Traveler was the name of the horse that Mel Gibson rode in “Braveheart”. Also the name of Gen. Robert E. Lee’s horse.
  •  BABIECA: Spanish name meaning “a simpleton; stupid” The white Andalusian  belonging to El Cid. According to legend, Babieca was frail and wild and when El Cid chose her, his godfather named her “Babieca!”  But Babieca grew into a  great warhorse, much beloved by El Cid.

HORSE in Fiction

ShadowfaxSAragorn, Legolas & Gandalf a-horsehort, short list—Horses have been the subject of books, the main characters in books, figured prominently in books, and been allegorical subjects.

Famed Fictional Horses:

  • Black Beauty
  • the Black Stallion
  • Misty of Chincoteague
  • My Friend Flicka
  • The Lord of the Rings trilogy has some mighty fine horses, including Bill the pony who found his way home, and ShaWraith Horsedowfax, chief of the Mearas, whom only Gandalf could ride. Of course, there were some mighty bad horses in LOTR—the ringwraith mounts. Ugh! Scary beasts.

BIBLICAL HORSES

Famous Scary Horses: The four horses of the four horsemen of the Apocalypse. Shivers.

Horses in Legends and Mythology:

Arthurian: Gringolet is Sir Gawain’s horse; possible King Arthur Horses: Llamrei, Hengroen, later French sources call his horse Passelande; Sir Caradoc’s horse: Luagor.

 Medieval Romance:  Bayard: a magic horse from the legends of the chansons de geste (“Songs of Heroic Deeds”). It belonged to the four sons of Aymon, and had the ability to grow larger or smaller as one or more riders mounted it.

EponaEpona is Gallic-Roman goddess of the horse & fertility

The HIPPOI ATHANATOI were the immortal horses of the gods. The majority of these divine steeds were offspring of the four Wind-Gods who themselves were said to draw the chariot of Zeus in the shape of horses.

 Horses have been combined with many other creatures, mythologically speaking—hippalectryon (horse-rooster), hippogriff (horse-griffin, itself a mythological creature), centaur (man-horse)

PegasusPegasus  & other Winged Horses Tianma (Chinese Winged Horse) Tulpar (Central Asian Mythology)

Sea Horses (hippocampi)–Poseidon has a few drawing his charriot

Xanthus and Balios—immortal horses given to Achilles, featured in the Illiad

Horses of Doom: Cheval Mallet—a black horse that would lure the unwary to their doom (French) or Gytrash (England) the Kelpie (Irish, with a watery twist), the Night Mare

Sleipnir, Odin’s eight legged horse (Norse mythology)

Mares of Diomedes—flesh eating horses, one of Hercules’s Labors was to capture them.

Liath Macha  and Dub Sainglend are the two chariot-horses of the hero Cúchulainn in the Ulster Cycle of Irish mythology.

Enbarr or Embarr (meaning “imagination”) in Irish mythology is Niamh’s horse. He can run across sea and land without touching the ground or water.

UnicornThe Unicorn—legendary one-horned creature, symbol of purity and grace, white, horse-like with a single horn and a goat’s beard, sometimes with a lion’s tale and goat’s cloven hoof. Supposedly has powers of healing, and can only be captured by a virgin.

 Swift WindSwift Wind combo pegasi and unicorn from She-Ra: Princess of Power(1985). Hey, why not?

Awesome websites to explore:

http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/horse/

http://www.horse-races.net/library/links-famous.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Mythological_horses

http://www.20000-names.com/pet_names_horse_names_equine_names.htm

http://www.giladorigami.com/PG_Horses.html some extremely cool origami horses

http://www.artema.com.au/Boyd/ancient_antecedents/bayard.html Bayard legend

http://www.theoi.com/Ther/Hippoi.html

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Any favorite Horse Tales to share? Have a My Little Pony collection? Horrified by pink and purple horses? Always wanted Swift Wind as a friend? Love to ride, love Horse from afar?

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How alien do you find that slithery creature, the snake?

Those lidless eyes, staring, staring at you, the way they curl, coil and undulate, the speed of their strike, the forked tongue, the fangs. It’s so, so, ssssso inhuman! Mammals, even the oh-so-dangerous tiger, at least have a cuddle factor (when they’re small).

Snakes have…scales. Venom. Their own agenda.

Found on every continent except Antarctica (and conspicuously absent from Ireland, Iceland, & New Zealand, and some other islands), the Snake figures prominently in mythologies around the world and throughout human history. In the West, we’re a little prejudiced against them, but in other places and times, the snake has symbolized fertility, rebirth, protection, wisdom, healing, cunning and flat out god power.

Back to those lidless eyes and that unblinking stare. Anything that can stare us down, well it has to know something we don’t, doesn’t it? Yes, it’s just the way it’s made, and yes, it’s probably thinking more about dinner than the secrets of the universe, but you can see it, right? It just looks smart.

In Western lore, Snake has a bad rap as the Garden of Eden dweller who lured Eve into disobedience.  Snake = Evil = Satan to many Westerners.

St. Patrick drove them out of Ireland, St. Columba banned them from the island of Iona (he also reportedly had a bit of a talk with the Loch Ness Monster and forbade the creature from eating humans—Nessie’s been scarce ever since, probably sulking), and statues of Mary Queen of Heaven have her bare foot firmly on the neck of the Serpent.

Now, there are those who say, in St. Patrick’s case, the banished snakes in question symbolize the Pagan Druids he conquered through the spread of Christianity. And St. Columba, descended incidentally from Irish Kings, had a more practical aim in mind—protecting the livelihood of his flock (the people as well as the cows) from pesky snakes. And the symbolism of the snake in Mary’s case is the triumph of Christianity over Adam and Eve’s original sin.

And you’ve probably seen this on TV, because, heck, it’s fairly weird and wild, there are Christian sects that practice snake handling as a part of their worship. Yes, with venomous snakes.

But snakes have had their place in myth and legend well before the Christian era.

Quetzalcoatl in Mesoamerica: the feathered serpent, a god of learning and knowledge, possibly fertility, possibly involved in the creation of mankind. Does anyone REALLY know? No. But there are lots of depictions of the feathered snake god, so we know he was important. Today you can find lots of New Age Quetzalcoatl lore. Was he an Ancient Alien come to earth? Or maybe as some Mormons are said to believe he was JC visiting the Americas after His resurrection? We know just enough about the Big Q to intrigue and not enough to be definitive. This makes him a tantalizing mythological creature.

Vulture on L, Cobra on R, Symbolizing Unification of Upper & Lower Egypt

Wadjetthe Cobra Goddess: The Cobra in Ancient Egypt was an important symbol of strength and power associated with the pharaohs. The Pharaoh wore a hooded cobra on his crown—which would spit fire at his enemies. Not too shabby! You want that serpent on your side. And of course we all know the story of Cleopatra and the Asp.

Moses—since we’re in Egypt, or leaving it—had a staff that could turn into a serpent. And God gave him the power to cure the Hebrews of snakebite. Very useful on a desert trek.

 Nagas, or snake deities in Hindu mythology— represent death and rebirth, fertility, wisdom, and knowledge. Shesha, king of the Nagas, is said to hold all the planets on his hoods. He floats in the cosmic ocean, his massive, many headed body forming the bed where Vishnu rests. Manasa is the queen of the snakes. Nāg Panchamī is a snake-worshiping festival still celebrated in parts of India.

Greek Mythology—you’ve got Medusa & her sisters, whose writhing snake locks gave new meaning to the term ‘bad hair’ day. The Hydra with its many snake heads, Apollo’s fight with the god PythonApollo won, a snake guarded the Golden Fleece, the Minoan Snake Goddess held a snake in either hand probably symbolizing knowledge and wisdom, Asclepius, son of Apollo, is the god of medicine and his snake-wrapped rod is used as a symbol of the healing arts to this day. Hermes’ Caduceus with its wings and entwined snakes is a symbol for commerce and negotiation (the two staffs are often confused).

  Ouroborosthe snake eating its tail—this symbol dates back to the ancients. Many creation myths feature a snake encircling the world. It symbolizes eternity, eternal renewal, immortality, and can be found in alchemy, Masonic seals, West African religions, and has been adapted by modern people around the world. For a surprisingly long list, read the wiki here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ouroboros#Modern

I think I have a broach of him somewhere.

JörmungandrNorse Mythology— is the World Serpent who encircles the earth and can grasp his own tail. When he lets go of his tail, the world will end. His arch enemy is Thor. When those two go at it at Ragnarök, watch out! Well, that’s not going to be a good day for anyone.

The Hopi of North America perform a Snake Dance to influence the weather.  After the ceremony, the snakes are released so they can carry the prayers of the priests to the underworld where the rain gods live. Rain ensues.

Garter Snake--very common, non-venomous

Those are just a few of the many, many snake tales.

So, how did the snake come to mean so much and so many different things to us?

“Red to Yellow, Kill a Fellow; Red to Black, Venom Lack” Coral Snake, venomous, L, Milk Snake, non-venomous R. Only ‘good’ in North America! When in doubt, walk away and call a professional.

This reptile has traits that lend themselves to our anthropomorphizing. The way they move, curl-up and coil is so different from our own methods of locomotion-exotic and fascinating, maybe even frightening. Their scales come in all different colors and patterns.  They are good at camouflage, like to hide in rocks and underbrush. Some climb and live in trees. Some swim—including the venomous sea snake (warm waters of the Indian Ocean among other locations).

They are carnivores, they do NOT like milk (not even milk snakes). Non-venomous snakes are great at keeping down rodent populations. Venomous snakes are as well, but you don’t want them hanging around your house or barn.

Snakes molt their skin as they grow (Eternal Renewal). They do not have teeth that can chew, only grab and hold. Most snakes are not venomous. If they possess venom, they will stun their prey with it before digesting them. They can NOT hypnotize their prey. They will strike an enemy in self-defense. Some will even play dead until you go away.

They have jaws, skin and a flexible rib cage that can all spread wide enough to accommodate prey much larger than their resting diameter. Yes, they can swallow prey whole, alive. Pit vipers—rattlesnakes, copperhead, cottonmouth—have heat sensors on the sides of their faces which help them locate prey at night.

Snakes are NOT slimy, they are in fact dry to the touch. Their forked tongues, which they constantly flick, test the air for smells.

Snakes can be enormous (like the anaconda and the reticulated python—30+ feet long, and hundreds of pounds). The smallest is the size of a worm, and is often mistaken for one. The python, the anaconda, and the boa are constrictors, wrapping their considerable selves around prey until they suffocate and can be swallowed. Of course whole.

The gentle rosy boa is one of the most popular snake pets in the US.

GENERALLY humans are not snake prey (we are much more dangerous to them then they to us), but hey, they are opportunists. You wouldn’t have to worry about a three foot long snake, but a thirty foot one, yes. Fortunately, they don’t live in the suburbs (unless someone is keeping one as a pet.)

A snake would rather run than fight, but some are more aggressive than others and will go at you if disturbed.

Most snake bites happen by accident (or stupidity). You want to watch where you put your foot or hand in snake country—most likely reason to be bit: you step on/near one you didn’t see.

Place you are most likely to get bitten by a venomous snake: India. They have a lot of snakes in general, and many species are venomous, like the cobra, krait, and viper. An estimated 250,000 people a year are bit by venomous snakes in India—and of that, an estimated 10,000 die each year. Compare that to under 20 in the USA.

COMMON SNAKE SAYINGS

You Snake! (a sneak, deceptive, sly, devious, untrustworthy), Snake in the Grass (traitor, betrayer), Nursing a Viper at Your Breast (being good to someone who turns around and harms you), Speaking with a Forked-Tongue (liar), Lower than a Snake’s Belly (how low can you go?), A Snake-Oil Salesman (selling a cure-all that doesn’t work), Snaking Through (go through a twisted course), Snake Charmer (a person who has a way with dangerous things, or a charming facade hiding a dangerous person).

For more pictures of snakes: http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/photos/snakes/

And videos from Animal Planet: http://animal.discovery.com/search/results.html?focus=site&query=snakes&search=+

“How sharper than a serpent’s tooth is a thankless child!” Shakespeare, King Lear

SOME FAMOUS SNAKES (can you tell I have kids?)

Kaa (L) from the Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling (Mowgli’s mentor in RK book, not so much in Disney movie)

Jafar(R) from Aladdin, the Disney Movie (turns himself into a giant cobra during the final battle)

Viper, character in Kung Fu Panda movie

Nagini from the Harry Potter books and movies

Snake Plissken—Kurt Russell played the one-eyed ex-special forces agent in Escape From New York

The Gadsen Flag, one of the flags of the American Revolution

COOL CARSwhat the heck?

Dodge Viper (L) & Shelby Cobra (R)

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So, do you have a snake-opinion? Love them, hate them, fascinated by them?  Feel they are much-maligned? Get the heebie-jeebies when you see one? Have a snake story to share?

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I’m a big fan of observing life in your own backyard.

My favorite kid project was Signs of Spring where we did a backyard journal of all the different ways nature got ready for the growing season. We drew pictures, wrote observations, scouted through the leaves for the first hint of greenery pushing through the soil, noted what birds were around, what the squirrels were doing, all that fun stuff, over 5 weeks.

polyphemus moth catepillarThen there was the Poozey Project—we’d found this really fat caterpillar in fall and my daughter fell in love with it. So we brought it in and ‘fed’ it, plopped it in a cage with some twigs, and lo, it spun a cocoon, and unfortunately for it, but fortunately for her fourth grade science project, the temperature in the house had it emerging in the winter into a beautiful moth the size of your hand.

It was female, because it dropped like a hundred eggs. It was short-lived, maybe a week. There were many tears involved. See what happens when you interfere in nature? There were lots of lessons to be learned there, but she got second place in the science fair.  (We did find out that adult moths don’t eat and only live about a week, FWIW)

Then there was the bat ball that landed on our back step one morning. Yes, that’s right, a ball-shaped brown mass of bats.

I have to say, after the initial OMG, it was pretty interesting. The dog didn’t eat them, they weren’t dead even though they had to have dropped a good 30-40 feet from a tree (I’m fairly sure they weren’t living in my house, and I’m going with that no matter what), and I ended up picking up the living mass of them, with a plastic bag.

We put them in a shoe box with some leaves and left them on the potting bench. Day one, still alive, still in a ball, day two—freaking adorable, they had unfolded themselves into 4 little bats and were hanging upside down on the lid of the box. Day three, gone.

But my favorite wild in the suburbs moments this summer were all about the hawk.

When I tell you I live on a busy street in a fairly populous suburban town, we’re talking squirrels as the dominant non-domestic life form. Lots of birds, rabbits, field mice, occasionally we’ll get a raccoon cruising through, and an opossum, but no deer, no turkeys, and nothing scary. Well, Canadian geese do act as if they pay property taxes, waddling across the street with an arrogance that begs the question, do they know about the law that says humans get fined for running them over?

But I digress.

So spring, early summer, I hear this squealy squawk shrilling across the park that’s opposite my house. I’d never heard the sound before, and it does have a tinge of screaming-in-park kid. But it wasn’t. A hawk had nested somewhere in the trees that surround the park (a play ground, baseball field and soccer field, so mostly open space, trees around the edges, and then homes).

I was so excited to have this exotic visitor come to our neighborhood. For weeks, you’d just hear it. It was noisy. Your classic mama-feed-me call. Then it was time to leave the nest.

Well, the squirrels must have been preparing, because they went from bold owner-of-the-yard to scarce. Rabbits, haven’t seen one since spring—could be a few reasons for that. And then baby hawk did some test flights. We saw it in our trees a few times, hanging, figuring out how it was going to get back across the street. Sometimes you’d see flashes of it and mama or papa dashing in and out of the tree tops across the way. Magnificent.

The adult hawk (I think they are red-tails, possibly red-shouldered hawks) has that more mellow call, and you would hear it now and again, not like the noisy child. And as the summer went on, you could hear a little voice-crack where the young one’s call was starting to stretch into what its adult cry would be.

Eventually, baby hawk (baby—the thing is as big as my arm!) will learn. Screeching while hunting, not a good strategy.

I worried about them during the hurricane/ tropical storm Irene. All the birds were sooo quiet just before. How do they ride these things out?

But they managed. Hawk baby was out and screeching after, flying around. Eating something in the park. I didn’t go over to see what.

And the human kids sort of adapted the hawk’s cry—I kid you not. Young things have a lot in common.

Now, though, it’s been a week, and I haven’t heard parent or child around. Don’t see them. The squirrels are back out of hiding and busy making holes in the lawn, stuffing their acorns in. The cardinals are free with their calls. Where did the hawks go? With their wide beautiful wingspans, they could be anywhere.

Hope they do well, wherever they went. I don’t know how the rest of the neighborhood feels, but I miss them. Someone said, chances are, spring will see a new fledgling born. Red Hawks return to their nesting sites. Maybe. I hope so.

We share the world with so many interesting non-human neighbors, even in congested suburbs. Pretty wild, right?

For more about Poozey Moth (in actuality a polyphemus moth) see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antheraea_polyphemus

For more about red-tail hawks or any other kind of bird, check out Cornell’s bird ID site: http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Red-tailed_Hawk/id You can  hear them screech as well.

Anybody have critter stories to share? Intriguing back yard visitors? Ever gotten attached to a creature or had a child get attached to something exotic or unusual? Or weird? Anything uncommon ever show up in your backyard? Love to hear about it!

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