Calling All Horses: And other favorite essays and poems
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Perhaps because she grew up in remote parts of California—the San Joaquin Valley and the Mojave Desert, far from the coastal metropolises—Ryan has a pronounced sympathy with those who approach poetry with a sense that they are entering a foreign country. In her essay in Poetry , she describes listening to panelists talk about how teaching creative writing fuels their own creativity, and feeling the same kind of guilt a four-star chef might feel at a church potluck:.
They have to juggle these competing demands upon their souls and it is hard and honorable. I agree and shoot me now. Now that literature is largely a profession and an institution, it is hard to imagine how D. All things conspire to close up this space. Thoreau would have understood it perfectly.
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It may seem like a paradox that a poet who makes much of her independence should turn out to be one of the best contemporary poets of marriage. But the paradox is only superficial: it is because Ryan values true companionship so highly that she scorns its easy simulacra. Robert Lowell was a poet. People who cut a dramatic swath. Lots of medication. Who is the tender water in this relationship, and who the needle? Compared with the way many poets write about sexual or romantic disappointment, this sounds almost like indifference.
Here it is easy to recognize the classic complaint of the writer usually, however, the young writer who finds her self-consciousness inhibiting her instincts, especially when it comes to sex. But her most startling discovery is that melancholy, with its tendency to brood and spread, is best contained in a form that is tight, witty, almost sprightly sounding.
But the real point of the poem is what happens to that proud signature:.
The sea seems to be doing homage to the bird-emperor, but in fact it is effacing every trace of his passage—just as, Ryan does not have to say, time and nature do to all our imperial ambitions. A poem like this helps to explain why Ryan would choose to write an elegy for the German writer W. Eventually, bleeding and bruised, the dark stallion breaks and runs.
The grey makes a show of chasing, then canters back to the mares, arching his neck, prancing with lifted tail. This is one of many times I have seen horses, called brumbies in Australia, in the mountains. While cross-country skiing in the south I have watched them in the snow - ragged manes flying, galloping through a mist of ice crystals - and many times while driving and bushwalking in both the north and south of Kosciuszko National Park.
I have also watched them cantering in clouds of dust in central Australia, and grazing in the swamps of Kakadu. Each of these wild horse encounters has been deeply visceral and emotional, elemental expressions of life in dramatic and beautiful landscapes. Horses are large, powerful and charismatic animals, and humans have ancient connections to them.
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Wild horses are dominant among the 13 species painted on the caves of Chauvet in France 30, years ago, and while there continues to be debate, archaeologists suggest evidence for horse domestication is at least 5, years old. And like the oldest human-animal relationship outside hunting - with dogs - the horse relationship is unique because we now mostly do not eat this animal.
Like dogs, horses now occur on every continent except Antarctica, and humans have been the primary agent for their dispersal. In North America, where the first true horses evolved and then died out, they were reintroduced by Columbus in Horses are the most recent of the main species humans domesticated, and the least different with cats from their wild counterparts. Australia has the largest wild horse herd in the world, maybe , or more horses, spread across nearly every bioregion from the tropical north to the arid centre to the alpine areas.
That sounds like a dramatically large number, but Australia also has around one million domestic horses, about million cattle and sheep, maybe 20 million feral pigs and 25 million kangaroos. But the presence of wild horses here is deeply controversial. Six thousand of these horses are in Kosciuszko National Park.
Ongoing controversy around these wild horses encompasses debate about their impact and their cultural meaning.
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There is very little systematic research and a large amount of emotive and anecdotal argument, from both sides. There is circularity and self-referencing in government wild horse management plans , very little reference to studies from Australia and almost no peer-reviewed research on horse impacts in the Snowy Mountains, despite decades of argument that they cause environmental degradation.
And Kosciuszko is right next to Canberra and the Australian Capital Territory, which has the highest per capita horse-ownership of anywhere in Australia. Several enterprises run horse-trekking trips into the Snowy Mountains, often interacting with brumbies. The Dalgety and Corryong annual shows on the boundaries of the park highlight horse skills, including catching and gentling brumbies. In many places mountain cattle properties are increasingly using horses instead of motorbikes to handle stock.
The Kosciuszko wild horses are also tangled within the embedded idiosyncrasies and contradictions of the largest national park in New South Wales.
Here there are protected populations of two species of invasive fish brown and rainbow trout that are demonstrably responsible for local extinctions of native fish and frog species ; a gigantic hydro-electric scheme with dominant infrastructure across large areas of the park; and expanding ski resorts where it is possible to buy lodges.
The United States has similar controversies over the management of mustangs across large areas of the west.
New Zealand has the Kaimanawa horses , a special and isolated herd on army land. In both of those countries, as in Australia, there is a unique history of horse interactions with Indigenous communities. The great Native American horse cultures are well known and extraordinary, as Indians had no introduction to equestrian skills from the Spanish invaders, they learnt extremely quickly from scratch.
The first horses in New Zealand were a gift to Maori communities from missionary Samuel Marsden in , and a Waitangi Tribunal Claim has been brought to protect the Kaimanawa horses as Maori taonga treasures. Aboriginal stockmen and stockwomen were the mainstay of the pastoral industry all over Australia until the equal wage ruling of resulted in the wholesale expulsion of Aboriginal stockworkers in north and central Australia. The wild horses of the Australian Alps are arguably the strongest cultural icons. The enduring legacy of The Man from Snowy River , both the iconic Banjo Paterson poem and the s film, but also the Silver Brumby series of novels by Elyne Mitchell, still in print after nearly 70 years, idealise the strength, beauty and spirit of wild mountain horses.
This is not at all implausible — there is much documentation, as well as strong oral histories, of Aboriginal men and women working stock on horseback across the Snowy Mountains. The Aboriginal mountain missions at Brungle and Delegate both have many stories of earlier generations working as stock riders and also mustering wild mountain horses.
David Dixon, Ngarigo elder , says. Our old people were animal lovers. They would have had great respect for these powerful horse spirits. Our people have always been accepting of visitors to our lands and quite capable of adapting to change so that our visitors can also belong, and have their place.
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While the iconic figure of the cowboy and stockman is masculine, amongst Aboriginal stockworkers women and girls were likely as common as men and boys. In contemporary times, women far outnumber men in equestrian participation, and brumby defenders are equally represented by men and women. Four Australian horsewomen generously shared their knowledge and skills in the research that backgrounds this essay. In the mid s, I worked as a ranger in Kosciuszko National Park.