The snow is gone. With a 40 degree shift in weather during some weeks – from -26 to +15 – our icy kingdom becomes, for a few hours, a dripping, sodden expanse of mud and poo. Oh! the poo. For month after frozen month it has accumulated steadily, immovable and inoffensive, in rings around the hay feeder, in piles in the barnyard. Now I wait with bated breath, manure fork in hand, for the thaw to complete itself and let me start shoveling, but I’m thwarted again and again as the air drops below zero every night and the ground refuses to relinquish its prize just yet…
The idle days of deep winter have surprised me. I’ve never before been so compelled to sleep. It’s delicious and awful – we all wake guiltily each morning, listening for the rooster, burrowing gratefully back into layers of quilts and dogs when he, too, seems unwilling to call in the day just yet.
After the initial shock of plummeting temperatures, we have grown accustomed to the cold, become smarter about our systems, and have realized how little work it actually can be, day-to-day, to spend the winter on the land (when you’re cheating with one foot still in the modern world).
Your world becomes smaller as the ice sets in, your days less ambitious. A day’s necessity is to keep everyone alive, fed, and watered, keep the pipes from freezing, throw another log in the furnace. Goals and timelines slow to a crawl, then a shuddering halt, on the days when your face hurts and your fingers freeze into unhelpful, burning claws. If you remember to write or sing or sew or philosophize, good on you.
The horses suffered visibly only when a sudden melt and re-freeze left them with a thick layer of ice to navigate. I watched them tottering carefully back and forth from hay to water and could feel the aching in their joints and muscles, the quivering exhaustion of constant tension. I spread wood chips and let them freeze into pathways, which they scorned or distrusted, preferring the certain uncertainty of braving the ice rink one hoof at a time. Nothing could be done – about this, or with them, or to them. I almost avoided them, as the growing list of requirements that I couldn’t get to in the cold set my anxiety alight every time I looked at them: hooves to be trimmed, manure to be moved, yearlings to be tamed, burrs to be removed, and so on.
So we waited. And in the waiting, we found something invaluable.
It took this crippling cold and a couple very potent pieces of permission for me to stop Doing and remember to Be. One of our readers, Mary Walby, and I were corresponding about the phenomenon of “less is more” in healing ourselves and others, and especially in interacting with horses. I must have mentioned my own impatience with myself, with the war between intuition and practicality. My intuition told me to stop trying to do anything, to let my horses be, adapt, and integrate into this new life while I did the same. My practicality or conditioning demanded that I do something, useful or not, simply to say that I had.
Mary suggested I give myself a set amount of time to Do Nothing and observe my findings, and to re-evaluate at the end of that time, thereby structuring the Nothing for my busy mind and relinquishing said mind’s grip on my soul. Besides, she encouraged me, so much can happen when you resolve to do nothing.
The second piece of permission came from a good friend, who explained that in permaculture theory, one is encouraged to wait an entire year to observe the land, weather, water and seasons before getting too busy with planning and designing. She legitimized my urge to be still as a way of observing, of respecting what is, and of ultimately being more effective when the time does come to act.
I took it all in and quit harping on myself. I resolved to do nothing – and allow myself to do nothing – until spring came.
Of course, as many of you know, doing nothing with horses is a truly astounding venue for discovery. So as I stepped back into relationship with them, offering nothing but my presence, I was instantly rewarded. I brought myself back to stillness, surprised at how far I’d strayed, and I went back out to the herd. It’s now a daily practice, whether I have an hour or 5 minutes.
Sometimes nothing seems to happen, but we all relax and I get some sun on my face and listen to the ravens and the rest of my day flows inexplicably more gracefully. Other days the horses drop, one by one, into the dry straw all around me, curling their beautiful furry legs and leaning against my body for the firm joy we exchange pressed back to back. Beyond us, the second orbit of dogs and goats and sometimes chickens luxuriate in the collective nothingness. Now and then, Firefly and I wander off away from the herd, away from her mother, not speaking or playing but caught and held in a silence we share like womb twins, up into the trees and through the empty forest, skimming like spirits over the rock hard snow crust, attached by nothing but the moment, and the next one, and the next. When I let my mind wander, she wheels and gallops home.
The change in all of us is subtle, but palpable, outside of these short ventures into presence. I witness less and less aggression and competition between the horses. The new guy, Falcon, a young rescue with no kind memories of humans, grows braver and more intrigued with everything around him, sniffing me with a new fascination and letting me slowly work on trimming off the long ski-tip toes on his hooves. Firefly calls every time she hears my voice outside, whether I am hollering at dogs or welcoming human guests or actually on my way to visit her. Each herd member is more attentive to my movements, as I suppose I am to them. They move aside more often than not with a look or a gesture from my hand, and seem less demanding, more contained in their horse-ness. Likewise I don’t feel the urge to touch or ask anything of them if they don’t offer. I feel more dignified, less scattered. They seem to smile more. As though all they really wanted was for me to be completely in my boots, with them here and now, no matter what the weather or the worries on my mind. As though I had actually managed to forget this one essential thing.
The morning sun on frosted treetops is more than my heart can bear; this land we’ve happened upon and taken into our hearts stretching out wide around us. I remember how precious it all is, the finality of every moment, and how much I want to be here now. Even when it’s uncomfortable. Even when I have no idea what I’m doing. Practicing in the stillness of the winter allows for these small noticings and bigger shifts. And this too will change, I know. Just as I begin to make peace with it, this stillness will slip away and melt back into life and movement; the seasons will march ever forward; the busy world will tug my sleeve and I won’t resist the pull. But I do hope I can carry a little of this grace and steadiness into the fray.
Click here for Part 10 in this series.
A barefoot hoof trimmer, a singer/songwriter, an amateur farmer – these are some of the hats Kesia Nagata wears when she’s not full to bursting with wondrous equine co-creation.
24 thoughts on “Rewilding the Herd – Being Here”
Another great read Kesia,
Love❤️ The part about taking a year to let the land unfold in front of you…it’s all so powerful.
Keep the stories coming for us who would love to slip off into the wilderness(what’s left of it) & never come back to civilization again ( even if it’s just a romantic fantasy) ….like you said in the tele summit podcast….our dreams & fantasies are always amazing. ??✌?❤️?
Thanks buddy 🙂
If you ever want to disappear into the wilderness, come camp in my back yard! We did a bushwhack around the perimeter (kind of) and man…you could get lost in there. We joke about calling search and rescue on our own land…
Yes, I love that part too (about waiting a year) I have inadvertently been forced to experience this due to boarding on other people’s land, where I can’t change very much! And as the seasons have rolled by – each resulting in different consequences and ‘notes to self’, I too have realized that it’s best not to do too much until you have experienced the full impact/results/consequences of each season on the land, drainage, footing, pastures, shelters and how much impact your herd (size and number) make on their environment.
Kesia and I both boarded at the same place; she had her herd there first, then she left and mine moved in and WHOA mine had a WAY more destructive impact on the land (and fences) then hers did. So even from herd to herd, different solutions may be required.
So yeah, much as I will be just itching to organize and arrange things on my own place (whenever that happens), I will discipline myself to wait a year first. And not just to see the impact and different parameters of the seasons, but to see WHAT THE LAND WANTS.
Because that’s another thing I’ve learned, mother nature is SO much more resilient and powerful than any human systems. So if I can wait and observe what wants to happen and work in alongside that; rather than in opposition, that also makes my life a whole lot easier and less labor intensive. So often we humans locate things where it would be pleasing to our eye, or close to resources (the water tap, for instance). But if we take the time to study what the land is already doing, supporting, wanting – and collaborate with that, it will likely be cheaper in the long run. And eminently more satisfying 🙂
It’s so interesting how you’ve been held there on that acreage. It’s a magical place, that one hold out of wild land in the middle of sprawling urban development. It isn’t yours but it isn’t anybody’s, really. And maybe it is filling you and your herd up with something before it faces the eventual bulldozers. Or maybe that will never happen and it will be all the more resilient for having had you and them there, the layers of manure and the hard grazing, the meditation and the learning, all feeding and returning life to the land…
It’s actually amazing, sometimes, how little needs to be done when you watch and wait. I am constrained by finances and manpower but the more I wait, the more expensive and exhausting projects I talk myself out of 😛
Waiting to see “what the land wants” is a giant subtext to this whole chapter. We’re here on logged and pillaged and stolen land, and it feels like it’s been sleeping and healing for many years. As it wakes up and realises we are friendly and listening, I feel it gradually unfolding for us… Just like when you wait and sit with a horse and let them direct how the relationship will grow. You end up constantly surprised and intrigued and humbled and honoured. This land is so much more than Where we are. It has preferences and needs and trauma and resilience and so much mystery. And learning to be with it is as much a journey as anything else…
It’s like a whole new lesson on domination and relationship…I’m just realising this properly as I reply. It’s like: do you want land that you control and force into submission and usefulness, or do you want a friend who you work with to fulfil both your needs? So exactly what you’re saying, letting the collaboration yield far more than you can imagine for far less input if the time and space is made for such things. Baby steps for now. Waiting and learning and listening. xoxo
Yes, well who do you think put the idea of that whole concept into my head o dear one?? And so much can be learned even in the minutiae. This year I’ve been learning so much about culverts and water flow. After digging and re-digging various culverts I’ve realized that bigger/wider is not always better. And slope gradient is THE most important thing and can render a 2″ wide culvert far more effective than a foot-wide one with imperfect slope. And don’t trust professional excavators who specialize in drainage, because they will only do what their equipment makes easy. They won’t get out and dig where their bucket can’t reach – or even ask you to do it – they’ll just leave it. And so on.
This Spring I’m going to close off half the pasture, seed and fertilize, and keep the horses off it for 2 months. Last year I just seeded only and then watched $180 worth of seed yield bupkiss. But I’m watching the land for WHERE to seed. I figure there’s no point seeding/fertilizing in the areas that are already completely overrun with fast-growing, invasive plants (aka inedible/poisonous weeds). I can’t spread chicken manure (due to the smell) and I can’t bring in goats or sheep (due to the fencing). So I will focus the seeds on areas where the grasses/forage at least has a chance. And then hope the rains balance out so the seed can sprout and not rot. Did you see this video?
Pretty great goals to shoot for there – I mean in terms of the soil and mixed grazing.
And I do love this bit of yours:
that one hold out of wild land in the middle of sprawling urban development. It isn’t yours but it isn’t anybody’s, really.
Yes, very true! And whenever I get in despair about the trees (when the townhomes come), they remind me that only part of them is above the surface, they have an entire life under the soil too. And who knows, maybe a miracle will occur and that land will be designated parkland. Or they will not be allowed to chop down the tree elders. At the very least, I can video and photograph and preserve it that way. It helps to remember that even when mightier creatures than humans were wiped out (dinosaurs) the trees remained.
And btw, LOVED your tree-breath meditations you led us through in your Tele Summit talk and the symbiosis of it. That helps when enviro-despair threatens too. Muchas gracias amiga.
Great video!! I had meant to watch it but forgot. Thanks! Definitely gets me excited on many levels – including community revitalisation! Though we might aim for 100 beating hearts max :)…well, who knows. I wonder when caring for the soil (ha, auto corrected to soul) will become the obvious solution to global food security…
I’ll be interested to hear about your grass experiments. I wish I knew what the point of buttercup was…we have acres of dandelion which are at least edible and medicinal! That’s great info about culverts too – again, so much time and money can be spent doing what we think Should be…only to be thwarted by the powers of water and gravity… I love your attention to detail and patterns, it’s not my strongest suit so I always glean so much from your research and observations. As you know. 🙂
Enviro despair…I once read something by Ran Priers which more or less said: tend a bit of infertile land and make it vibrant again – that’s true resistance and radicalism. I hope he’s right. Glad you enjoyed the meditation, my dear!
it fills my heart to watch and listen as you make these discoveries, and make them again with more and more nuance.
Can’t wait til you’re home and we can make more of them together ?
Thank you so much for your beautiful and inspiritional story. Reading this, in my bed in a small apartment in the grey city of Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Europe. Traffic noises and polluted air around me. But your story just teleported me to your place and it felt amazing, thank you!
Oh Annemarie, reading your comment transported ME to a friend’s apartment in Paris years ago, laying awake listening to garbage trucks crashing through the streets at 4am, feeling lost and distant and disconnected and far from the natural world…Until the birds began singing their little hearts out and doing their best to sound like an entire jungle and reminding me of the persistence of life and its constant tie to me and everything else and giving me the strength to keep navigating the human world…
I’m so glad the land and the herd could touch you and bring you closer to us that far away 🙂 come and join us any time.
Really enjoyed the article and the discussion. I am the steward of a hayfield on an old river bed that was never meant to be a hayfield. They planted alfalfa and fertilized and irrigated. Then it was left for a time before we came and intitially we did as we were told and fertilized and cut every year. I stopped fertilizing years ago, once we had our own equipment and I wan’t answering to the person cutting the field. I cut half the field a year now. I pull A LOT of weeds. I watch the weed cycles come and go, spread my bits of manure and walk in it and love it and graze the horses on it when it’s not too rich. Re-farming it feels monstrous and we risk having to mine huge boulders out and rock pick for years. It also just feels wrong. So we live with it and care for it as best we can and hope it rebalances itself and shifts into what it is meant to be eventually. We talk about letting the poplars creep in and then bushwack them back to the perimeter, unwilling to let the dream of the past go until we do or some greater clarity arises. Meanwhile, we tend and feel grateful for what we get from it and watch and learn not to worry.
Beautiful, Thea! We too have old hayfields that we’re wondering about. The local guys say to burn it (!!) which I understand is a legit way to restart and return nutrients to the soil. But it feels alarming. We could mow and mulch and try to grow hay but…I keep wanting to wait and see. The horses are eating and pooping, soon we’ll graze chickens through, maybe our pig will get to range and root… And all the while I’m wondering what the land wants to be. It certainly didn’t start off being a hayfield…
And for now we have no equipment anyway so like you put it so lyrically, “we tend and feel grateful for what we get from it and watch and learn not to worry.”
Wow ladies so so very cool for me to read how much that part of Kesias story resonated with all you also. I love Mother Earth so much and am so inspired and in awe of her complete simple ways and yet powerful strength. I grew up in suburbia but got to visit my aunty Barbara’s house every summer for a couple of weeks and I just felt so at home on the farm and acerage that surrounded them and basically just lack of houses, it was so cool to me.. …I always asked if I could just stay & live with her. Then when I was gifted with horses in my life at 39 we moved to an acre & I thought it was so amazing. Now we are on 12 and of course would love 12000…but it is the most beautiful place to me because it’s our home. The amazing Big Pa Pa oak tree ( who some of you will have seen from Jinis wonderful tree blog) is here & also many other majestic old oaks. The trees and the land are so precious and they help put so many emotions in play. My new land is ever changing, as we moved here in the middle of California’s worst drought and now have had record breaking rains. The land is a constant changing entity and I feel so humbled by the chance to absorb and flow with it. I try and listen deeply and let it guide us. We have had to make big decisions early regarding shop (for my husbands business and horse shelter and hay/feed/tack room …( as it was not previously a horse property) but my husband and I sat and pondered and reflected off each other & tried to make sure the land was a major part of our decision making. The good thing is so far those big decisions turned out ok & I think we had luck and intuition on our side and I think we definitely” went with the land and not against it…” love that Jini. The land gives to me everyday something I can not describe. I hope I give to it and let it be , enough that we both are in peace
. Kesia , also , that tree mediation struck me deeply it was profound and pure nature. Thankyou all again an again an again for the like mindedness. ✌?️❤️?
I bet your land is grateful you’re there. Did you feel drawn specifically to that place or did it just come about by circumstance? Sometimes I feel the land picks us as much as a horse might. 12 acres is a lovely amount. My front field is that size and we spend most of our time (critters and humans) in that and the house and barn yards.
What a change with the drought and then the floods. We’ve been following the weather there a bit (it makes headlines often) and I bet it’s changing the land… When we had drought for just one year, the following rains were brutal as the soil was so parched it couldn’t absorb it and everything ran off the top!
Kesia, yes I did feel drawn to the land. We knew the area we wanted but looked at many properties & none felt right. When we drove by this one my husband and I fell in love & that wasn’t easy to do , because the prperty was a casualty of the economy and had sat vacant for 2 years. There was so much trash and stuff everywhere & especially in the back. It took 3 days with 7 men & myself and the very generous donation of a huge forklift & dumptruck that my new soon to be neighbors( they had never even met us..how’s that for neighborly) let us borrow, to help clean up all the blight. But My one big thing right from the start was seeing Big Pa Pa…& all the trees…all I could think was could I ever be lucky enough to share space with that beautifully old and strong tree. Then after 90 days & all the clean up and so many repairs $$$$….that had to be done in order to fund the loan we purchased this amazing land. It was a real leap of faith doing it all even though we didn’t own it. I know nobody really owns Mother Nature, I just look at it as being a steward of the land & I sure hope the land had a role in picking us because I feel we really all mesh together like a good stew.
Also wanted to mention that farmer video that Jini posted ….wow wow wow…doesn’t that just give so much hope for what could be in the future, for all food production and what a wonderful example of going with the land instead of against. Wish I could purchase all my food right from him. A truly inspiring man❤️✌?️?
They do ship, but you’d need to buy bulk to justify the shipping cost!
I’m pretty sure you can find a farm with similar standards in CA though – westonaprice.org probably has a list/database you can search.
Did you read, The Hidden Life of Trees yet? Lots of specific info in there about oaks that will lead you even deeper with Big Pa Pa.
Another way we try an go with the land is we try an repurpose alsmost everything we can , instead of have it end up in land fills. This is wagon cart my husband made ( he’s crazy talented at anything) We were going for the O K corral look to hide the well and electrical box. It’s all Repurposed materials, railroad ties that were left at our property when we bought it, old fencing we had to replace to make it horse worthy and my ol farmer friend gave me the wheels off an old piece of farm equipment, they are hay rake wheels with the nobs taken off….its yard art at its best. We even hung the chain fall I found buried in the dirt when we were cleaning up the property on the side of it. He also repurposed the tops off the posts we used for the new horse fencing and made planter boxes for all my veggies so we don’t have to fight the ground garden eating varmits. Love to recycle and repurpose it feels like giving Mother Nature a hug✌?️❤️??
Super cute!! We “inherited” endless stuff with the place so we’re always doing recycling building…though not always quite so handsome as that! I come from a long line of repurposers and my mother won’t let me throw anything out!
Enjoyed the article. Loved the Alpine!!
Hey Chuck!! Good to see you here! Do you mean the Alpine goat? Or the Alpine mountain? 🙂
Just “met” you through the Healing With Horse tele seminar–glad I signed up for your newsletter and got to read this article. I appreciate the description about intuition vs. practicality and Mary’s advice. I have always prided myself on being a “do-er” but for the last 15 years or so have been aiming for “being” more and doing less, about experiencing more and knowing less. I, too, am playing with how to “be” even if it’s for only 5 minutes, instead of waiting for that perfect retreat, or day, or afternoon. Thank you for sharing your experiences and painting such vivd word-images.
BTW, I loved the meditation you shared in your HWH segment, about breathing with the trees. I’ve been playing with it and sharing it with friends. As you said, it’s a great reminder that you can’t NOT be connected with other life on Earth..
Lovely to meet you back! Thanks for signing up and for jumping into the conversation… We live in a DOing culture and while doing is, well, essential and awesome a lot of the time, it’s so fabulous to me that there is more and more support for those of us who want to remember how to BE….”even if it’s for only 5 minutes, instead of waiting for that perfect retreat, or day, or afternoon,” as you say!
I’m so glad you got something out of the meditation, too! Another way I’ve learned it is to let your “dense” energy out to the trees and take in their “light” energy, effortlessly letting go of the denseness and breathing in all the light. That can really help when I’ve got a particularly bad case of Atlas syndrome…
This is a beautiful piece, Kesia. I was busy with the young cougar last month, so I didn’t keep up with the blog. I’ve been wondering since December how you managed the horses and the cold. I’m struck by your courage, strength and fortitude. I’m equally impressed with that of your critter allies. All of you are doing what the rest of us crave to the marrow.
We humans have aligned ourselves so thoroughly with our self-referential thought patterns that we’ve managed to alienate ourselves from our life-support system. I is designed to help us all survive, procreate and feed or tend others. That appears to be true for everybody from a carrot to a horse.
We humans have gotten so tangled in our dominion delusions that we’re on course for eminent extinction. It looks to me like one of the functions of this is to reawaken us to reality. We desperately need models of reintegration. We also need opportunities to access venues where reality is being given a chance to bloom. In as many ways as we can design, the earth is calling all who are able to hear to contribute whatever wisdom we have to facilitate a world-wide reawakening. Clearly, you got the memo.
Aw Pat. One day I’ll be able to own it I’m sure. For now it takes the outside eye and heart to remind me what’s really going on here. Our last few visitors have been so struck by the place, and have felt so grounded. All I can see sometimes is the mud and the poop and the endless to-do list of dogpatch fix-its… But yep, these critters just keep pulling us in, pulling us away, pulling us deeper. I dearly hope you can make it here one day…