Today, my heart aches. It feels full of love and full of pain, in thinking of animals, their lives, and how they are negatively impacted by us. This was caused by the juxtaposition of my day yesterday watching the Palomino Buttes wild horses and seeing a video about animal abuses in an “organic” manufacturing plant on Twitter today.
Yesterday I visited the wild horses over near Burns. I just did a day trip with the drive being 4 hours each way, so I only had time to visit the Palomino Buttes Herd. What I have come to love about visiting this herd, is that there are a few individual horses that I follow. Each time, I see just a day in their life and it may be 2 or 6 months since I saw them last. Sometimes, a family member is missing. Sometimes a new foal has been born. Sometimes bands have interchanged mares and foals – that is the way of the herd. It is different than watching a wild animal in a national park, because the chances are that in a national park, I will never see that individual animal again. Also, with many of the wild horse herds, they are somewhat used to having people watch them. They are still wild, still feral, but more habituated to people. Some bands are more at ease and will tolerate people at smaller distances. I’m not going to discuss the cons of that, though there are many, but for me, as an observer it is a blessing, as I’m able to watch these fascinating social animals without them immediately running away, although some still will, especially if they have a newborn foal. I don’t try to interact with them and for the most part I stay some distance away, although they can go by me, or I them, where the distance becomes closer to my exhilaration. They are aware of me, they tolerate me, but even that in itself can change their behavior, and if I feel they are too hyper alert I will pull back. Often they become acclimated and just ignore me.
Photographing horses and wildlife in general, is a far different cry than photographing landscapes. It is imperfect. It is split second decisions, continuous shooting, trying to remember to adjust ISO to get the best exposure while keeping a high enough shutter speed to capture movement. In landscape photography, I compose my scene, set my settings, wait for the right light. The light may fail me or not, but the components of the scene are not constantly shifting before my eyes. When I am photographing wild horses, versus a wild animal in a national park or wilderness, I have multiple potential subjects. Some are drinking at the waterhole, while one is rolling in the dust, and in the background a foal runs in circles around its mother (this example taken from yesterday). Great photographs opportunities if I can capture them in the maybe 3-5 minutes that the horses are near me. Also, often I am in my car since the car acts as a blind , so I am stretching and contorting myself to get the best composition I can. Sometimes I do stealthily approach by foot but many times the horses will allow a closer proximity when I’m in the car. Once I come out of the car, the animals are more aware of me and my presence may startle them.
Often I will continue to photograph even though I know the horses are too far away or the composition isn’t that great. I do this, because with the horses, I am interested in have the photographs as a record to learn from; later I will review the band make-up and if it’s a band I’m familiar with, the differences in the band make-up or to try an identify certain horses since I saw them last. Later review also often brings about behavioral observances that can be overlooked in the moment. There are also periods when I’m just watching the horses and enjoying their presence and feeling a bit left out as part of me would relish being part of their camaraderie and really being able to know how they feel.
I was pleased to see my favorite horse of this herd, Traveler, yesterday. (These horses are sometimes named by locals). In May, Traveler was still with his family although his elder brother, Pallaton, had been kicked out from the herd, but later this past summer I read Traveler too was kicked out. Yesterday I did see Traveler with his new bachelor band yesterday. I read a blog where the writer had watched the eviction of a colt from its family herd, a natural event, take place. First the band stallion started chasing the colt away (usually 2 or 3 years old). The colt was surprised and kept wanting to return. Then the mares also started to chase him away until he got the message. It is a part of the natural world that is difficult and breaks one heart, but it is needed for the colt to gain independence and necessary for the stallion to maintain his band from possible competition from the colts whose hormones are kicking in. Perhaps in the future, the estranged colt will have his own band. It is what I hope for Traveler. Usually these colts join bachelor bands until they are mature enough to challenge another stallion for its band or a mare. Nevertheless, it is hard to witness the real love and affection between the parent horses and their offspring and to see the joy and energy of a young horse, and then to see that horse have to go out on its own and take on the responsibilities of fending for itself.
Another thing that I saw yesterday that filled me with love and pain, was a very young tiny foal for this time of year. This was the one that was running circles around its mother. For October, the foal was very small and I worry that this little one might not be sturdy enough to make it through the winter. Foals born later in the season are more at risk as they have less of a chance to gain the weight and strength they need for winter.
Each morning on most days, I have a twitter routine, in which I retweet fellow photographers and artists’ work who I follow and try to respond to some of those who have tweeted to me. I often try to retweet things about issues to do with protecting our animals and natural places. This morning I saw yet another video about factory farming in which workers were intentionally and sadistically bringing more pain to animals in what is already a torturous process. Why do we have to be so inhumane? When I say we, it is because we are complicit if we eat meat whose source we don’t know. I count myself among the guilty. Why can’t we have laws that require our food manufacturing to be done in a way that respects each and every life. Many animals kill for their food, but generally they don’t go out of their way to make it more horrifying than it has to be. Seeing videos like this always affect me deeply. On one hand I don’t want to see them, but on the other hand I feel I need to as it reminds me to try not to eat meat, and to be more conscious about what practices I may be unconsciously supporting.
Anyway observing the joys and hardships of the horses yesterday and my feelings after watching this video this morning put me into a very thoughtful and sad mood full of conflicting emotions, and I felt like writing about it. I haven’t felt like writing in a while being so overwhelmed by what has been happening lately in this country politically. And there is so much is at stake. More and more animals species are threatened by loss of habitat, and though some would deny it, we are beginning to see the impact of changes to our climate. Wild horses have been mismanaged for a long time, but there has been a recent push by this congress to kill the horses that are in the holding pens and to lower the numbers of wild horses in the interest of ranchers and other powerful monied interests that want the use of our public lands. While many in any government (past and present) are not usually there for love of animals or ethics, this current administration and congress are even more blatantly for profit at the expense of animals, natural places and even safety to humans (e.g. getting rid of regulations, allowing drilling or mining, etc). So much so, they are willing to cut science out of all deliberations concerning climate change and environment protections. Most Americans profess to love our wild horses. I doubt anyone would say that it is okay to allow pesticides that we know are harmful to children, or to our water, or that end up in our food. Most of use even believe in climate change, but what I find horrifying and incomprehensible is why many can find this current administration acceptable in light of their appointments of people who seek to dismantle years of work to create laws that protect that environment. We cannot count on corporations to self-monitor.
One new Twitter follower commented that since many of my photographs are horses, I guess you love horses, or something like that. This struck me in a wrong way. As if it was the same as liking ice cream. I know that wasn’t that his intention. In a way it has nothing to do with my love. My animal photographs are striving to show that animal as a living, conscious, feeling, experiencing being. Yes. I have always loved animals, but I love them even more deeply now that I’ve come to more fully realize their aliveness which I feel is the same as mine. What do I mean by that? I don’t even know fully what I mean myself or at least not in a way to put into words. I don’t profess to know their consciousness or to understand as much about them as say, Jane Goodall understands about chimpanzees, but when I watch and photograph animals I feel them as living beings, I feel their life force. And I respect it as much as my own. Sometimes they are joyful, at times they look worn out, at times they are tender and at other times fierce. They have love and they have pain. Life is not easy for them in the wild. In many respects it is harder, but it does seem to be a life more fully lived. And I feel that for us, as human beings to dismiss their life as a thing that can be tortured for convenience’s or profit’s sake is a desecration of a sacred thing. For us or our elected, therefore chosen, representatives to trade their freedom, to monetize animals or just think of them as as a menu item, to threaten their future as an individual life, let alone as a species because we don’t like the inconvenience of actually having to share the planet, or because someone needs a campaign contribution from a special interest party, or because we’re promised a fucking tax break and are willing to overlook the price of that (because the drive behind doing away with regulations and so called “hand-outs” is really all about money, isn’t it?) is profane. I want to live in a world where love will help to heal the pain of life and where it is extended to all living creatures. That nearly half of this country wants to avert its eyes from the not so nice things that are being done in the name of progress and can accept politicians who are willing to sacrifice our environment and the living creatures who dwell there to the highest bidder, well, that indeed is sad.
To learn more about protecting Wild Horses: https://americanwildhorsecampaign.org/
Recommended books: Rachel Carson – Silent Spring