About trees and ants

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I heard on the radio the other day that scientists have mapped the largest genome to date, eight times larger than the human genome, and that it belongs to a certain species of pine.

The size of a genome is often measured in so called base pairs. A human has 3.2 billion base pairs, a horse 2.7 billion. A common ant where we live is the red wood ant. These little fellows has only about 0.3 billion base pairs. It is tempting to believe that the size of the genome is proportional to complexity and intelligence of a species, when thinking about these numbers. However scientists say that there are a lot of so called junk DNA in a genome; only a minor part of the base pairs are actually doing anything useful. It seems a little evasive, but since the now measured pine has 25 billion base pairs, maybe it is so.
Windflower Dancer and our youngest daughter often go out riding on ancient trails thru the woods around our farm. Trails that were made by the deer and the moose, long before humans first ventured this way thousands of years ago. Windflower is a fresh mount, a Nokota and a very special horse. She is curious and self-aware; it is a good thing to let a horse choose the path. She easily maneuvers the difficult pathways, always evaluating where to best place her feet. In time she will be a trusty trail partner in a way that only Nokota horses can.
I walk behind at a close distance to be at hand if needed. As we ride along the trail I begin to ponder; what if we are wrong, maybe every base pair of a genome actually means something… something we are not yet aware of. The ants are very clever as they build complex societies, but what does an ant know about human intelligence and what we can accomplish in terms of communication, technology and philosophy?

My brain seems to work best with numbers, so in my mind I list the size of different genomes and ponder on;

Ant 0.3
Horse 2.7
Human 3.2
Tree 25.0

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Suppose an ant cannot possibly even imagine the intelligence of a human; how can a human comprehend what a tree can do?

If trees were eight times smarter than we, would we ever know about it?

At first glance a tree seems very simple in its design compared to a human, but isn’t it true that simplicity is significant of smart solutions, rather than complexity?

Isn’t the shortest mathematical formula, E equals m c squared, the most genius one?

A human would destroy its own habitat without a second thought, but a tree never would.

What if trees uphold the highest level of knowledge in philosophy?

I stumbled on a twig, but quickly regained my balance and thought; Well, maybe it is just junk DNA after all…or maybe not.

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Happy Valentine’s Day

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May you all have a nice Valentine’s Day and remember to give the horses an extra hug. We give you this video as our way to remind you about the greatness of horses in general and especially the three Nokotas who share their lives with us, please watch:

http://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtube_gdata&v=b2klgxWR7Zs&desktop_uri=%2Fwatch%3Fv%3Db2klgxWR7Zs%26feature%3Dyoutube_gdata

And please do stop by at The Nokota Horse Conservancy  to make a donation, the horses need your help to get through the winter.

The Horse Dance

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Fragments of a legend since long forgotten tells of a sacred lodge, painted with pictures from a vision.

Four by four horses, in four different colors; blue roans in honor of the chinook, white horses for the icy northern winds, grey horses for the sunrise and red roans for the south.

A circle on the ground with two straight lines drawn across, one maiden in each direction holding sacred things; a bow and arrow, a holy pipe, healing herbs, a white goose feather and a flowering stick …

A dark cloud emerges from the west and all looks up in silence. A singer sends a voice to the spirits of the cloud. Then a blue roan pricks his ears, raises his tail and paws the earth, neighs long and loud to the west. All the other horses join in, then all horses in the village …

Lightnings and thunder comes from the cloud, strong winds sweeps over the lands. Hale and rain falling, only yonder but not near. The thunder spirits are joyful, has come to see the dance and hear the sacred songs …

The four maiden hold up the sacred things; offerings to the thunder spirits.  The grandfathers beat the drums and the dance begins, the horses prancing and rearing …

The sad are happy again –  the sick are healed.

Blackthorn

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When we first got here in 2006 this was an abandoned old bull pasture. The hill on which we were to build our house and stable was covered with an impervious blackthorn grove. Since it stood in the way of our human exploitation, we spent days chopping down and dragging away these bushes. The thorns made them tangle up like nothing else. The thorn needles themselves can easily penetrate any fabric and rubber boots are no exception. To chop down the bush trunks you must reach far in under the thorn covered branches and when all trunks are cut you must drag away all of it in one big heap of tangled up bushes.

We quickly decided to leave bushes that were not immediately blocking our construction project. The way these wild blackthorns resisted our relentless conquest not only saved them from local extinction, but they also taught us a lesson.

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Most time of the year the Blackthorn (Prunus Spinosa) is a dull bush with strong pointy thorns, leafless in winter and plain green during summer. Its berries are bitter and seem useless. Then a few days in May the Blackthorns steals all attention from the landscape as its fragile white flowers completely covers the bushes. One heavy downpour of rain and the flowers are gone, but this year we have had several dry hot summerlike days and the flowers are thriving. The berries that come at the autumn are very similar to (European) blueberries, almost twice as big but not nearly half as sweet. The trick is to wait until the first night of frost, which magically enough transforms the astringent tannic acid to a sweet flavor. The tradition is to make sloe berry juice (slånbärssaft), but the uses are many; from sloe gin, tea and jelly to various medical uses, as well as ink made out of the sap. The hard wood is known to be used for teeth of rakes, walking sticks (i.e. for officers at The Royal Irish Regiment) and different works of turnery. A hedge of Blackthorn traditionally worked as a natural fence for critter. It is also said to be an excellent fire wood, if you have the patience to gather enough of it.

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The Blackthorn is widespread in Swedish coastal areas south of the 60th latitude, primarily in the open landscape at the edge of the forest. The usual name for Blackthorn is Sloe (Slån in Swedish) which sounds similar in most European languages and gives a hint about its ancient origin of use. It is known here at least since the Middle Ages, but sloe has been found in remarkable places like in the stomach contents of a 5,300-year-old human mummy nicknamed Ötzi, discovered in 1991 in the Alps along the Austrian-Italian border.
Sloe is native in Europe, northwest Africa and the Middle East but also appears locally at the North American east coast as well as in New Zealand. It is hardy and grows in most soils, preferably alkaline soils. Sloe is an important food source for butterfly caterpillars and the bees like the flowers. The roots are shallow but far reaching making it difficult to move or remove. We have noticed that several species of birds use the bushes for protection and nesting. The berries are a good late season food source for some of our wintering birds.

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So the lesson being; Blackthorn is actually a very important plant and it is well adapted within a complicated ecosystem, despite (and maybe even because) of its apparent recalcitrance. In our civilized ignorance we sometimes tear up and destroy whatever does not cooperate with our own immediate interests. Not unlike other wild flowers, the Blackthorn shares some of the characteristics of a Nokota horse; beautiful, important and a real survivor.

I conclude that it is by the most elusive of signs that the greatest of paths may be found and one step on that path must be to preserve the Nokota Horse by supporting The Nokota© Horse Conservancy.

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The Serpent

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A Common Viper, common in every meaning of the word, bit Rosie in the nose last Monday. The viper, or whatever it was, must have been resting all dizzy and newly awake in the winter corral and surprised by the curious young horse poking around. Rosie had two clearly visible tooth marks above her right nostril.

Luckily the vet was only three miles away when she got the call and came at once. Rosie walked into the barn and lay down on the side. She was in great pain, shaking, sweating, breathing hard and her nose was swollen. She was given pain killers, liquid and cortisone by intravenous therapy.

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During the night we kept Rosie in a separate stall box, while Bluebell and Windflower shared the big stall next to her. We wanted to keep Rosie as still as possible to prevent the poison from spreading to fast and to give her time for recovery from the chock.

It was the first time ever the horses were locked up for the night; otherwise the stable doors are always open, for the horses to choose freely where to go. We did not sleep much the first two nights. I wished I could take her place, why didn’t that common viper bit me instead? If Ireland have no wipers why must we, what are they good for anyhow? Why is it that when your children (and your animal children too) hurt it is worse than when yourself hurt?

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Our concern proved unnecessary. The horses did just fine and in the morning they all greeted us, with their heads sticking out of the open upper door halves. Rosie recovered amazingly fast. The third night we left the stable open, but we could see by the marks in the bedding that they had at least spent some part of the night inside the stable anyway.

Bluebell carefully groomed Rosie’s mane and Windflower was also very sweet to Rosie. Four days after the snake bite Rosie was just as good as before, but the incident has affected her in a way. She is even more affectionate now and it seems that she fully understands that we tried hard to help her. Her bold curiosity has hopefully turned into a slightly more mature and careful kind, much like Bluebell’s.

These wild Nokota horses are strong in both body and soul, so if we can’t save them what can we really save?

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The Sharpie sisters

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Watch closely, do you see both of them? Both of them are by Sharpie, who belongs to the Zeigler family. Wild Prairie Rose is the youngest of the two, she likes her big sister very much. Bluebell is a very cool and extremely polite horse, but she can also teach Rosie some maners as she sometimes gets overexcited playing with Windflower Dancer, our red roan Nokota.

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When its time for hay up at the barn, we alway sweep the front porch before we serve their meal. Rosie is usually fooling around and standing in the way for us, but Bluebell helps out, by kindly keeping Rosie off the porch. Bluebell knows that the sooner we can finish sweeping the sooner the hay will be served!

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The spring is still waiting around the corner, half of our pasture is still covered by snow, must be some record. Funny how the horses seem to prefer to stay on the snow. Rosie spent some time this morning chasing a couple of crows who were trying to find some food in the field, they both got away.

We’ve all been busy the latest weeks. Our oldest daughter has been attending the finals in the national exhibition of high school science projects. She won a scholarship for the Research Science Institute at MIT in Boston this summer! While our youngest daughter will begin high school this fall at a special horse program! So there is much going on even off pasture.

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A Bright Vision

Alexandra Werner (C) 2013

If we would see the world through eyes like these,

No one would hunger, no one would freeze.

We would travel the earth over unshod feet,

And no one would tremble by her heartfelt beat.

If we would feel the warmth of her red roan coat

We would grasp the idea; we are sharing the boat.

I guess this world would be saved alright,

We would see our future prosperous and bright,

If we would see the world through eyes like these.

Inspiration provided by Windflower Dancer – Nokota Horse

Photo by Alexandra Werner, Words by H.M. Werner