Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

On the fierce green fire - one for Big T

Last night, I came to understand the famous Leopold line “the fierce green fire dying in her eyes...” in a most peculiar way. 

Ten days ago, we were wondering if it was time to put my horse down, and friends who knew more than I said "When it is time, you will know." He responded to our care, and I learned more about the bond of trust between an animal and human than in all of my 50 plus years of pet ownership over those next several days. (I will spare you the details.) By this past weekend, he was back out to pasture and while thin and certainly an old horse, I began to think that he might have another spring season left in him.

In 2009, a paper published in the journal Science reported that new archeological findings provided evidence that the horse (Equus ferus caballus) was likely domesticated about 1,000 years earlier than once thought.  The researchers traced the domestication back to the Botai Culture of Kazakhstan circa 5,500 years ago and their findings strongly suggest that horses were originally domesticated, not just for riding, but also to provide food, including milk.

Then in March, 2010, the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities began site survey and exploration at a newly discovered archeological site known as Al-Magar.[1] The 9000 year old culture is named al-Maqar after the site’s location.  Amongst the artifacts found were various stone figurines of horses causing some to hypothesize that equine domestication goes back even further in time.

The dog (Canis lupus familiaris) is believed to be first animal to be domesticated with some estimates ranging back as far as 30,000 B.C.  The first domesticated livestock came after the domestication of grains -- with sheep (Ovis orientalis aries) probably being first in the timeframe of 11,000 and 9,000 B.C.   Pigs (Sus scrofa domestica), goats (Capra aegagrus hircus), and cows (Bos primigenius Taurus – don’t you just love Latin names) likely joined the herds of our early ancestors around 8,000 B.C.  I wonder if those early pastoralists and farmers noted any changes in the eyes of the animals that became their possessions.  Did they learn anything new that had previously been known only to the animal and the mountain or the desert or the rainforest?  Or were our ancestors from long ago still wild themselves with fire in their eyes?

As I was taking care of my big ol’ grey gelding Tusker (named after a Kenyan beer with an elephant as the company logo), I thought of domestication and of our responsibility to care for the animals that we have been entrusted with.  Late nights in a cold barn do weird things to you.  Animals have given us food, clothing, protection, modes of travel, and companionship for thousands of years.  We now even share pathogens and new diseases with each other.  For all of this, we have a responsibility to take care of not only our pets and livestock, but to protect the habitat and well-being of all the other animals that we have not managed to tame (thank goodness).  It is the least we can do in return for all that we have been given on this planet.

Last night, when we came home, Tusker was down in his stall and I knew it was time.  I don't know what happened since he was fine in the morning when we left.  We called the vet and I went into the stall to give him some calming head and ear rubs -- something he loved.  He strugged to raise his head to nuzzle me; he did, and then he fell back.  He tried to stand, especially when he heard Corey and my voices, but couldn't.  

Then I saw the flash of light leave his eyes.  There was a strange glaze that I had never seen before and I knew that he was leaving us.  He died before the vet could get there.  I can't explain it, but I swear that he waited on dying until we got home so that we could all say our goodbyes. 

The human-animal bond is strong and basically unexplainable in terms of the science that I am most familiar with.  But it doesn't really matter, does it?  Regardless of whether horses and humans forged that bond 16 or 5000 or 9000 years ago, the union is deep and real and quite a gift.

[1] See .
Tusker - the Big "T"

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