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Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Politics of Dancing

An interesting dance of sorts has been occurring in pastures and paddocks all over the valley for the past couple of weeks. The steps go like this: the gentleman takes a deep breath, puffs up his chest and struts a few steps. Then he stops and slowly raises his arms up and out. Finally, he turns in a circle so that his dance partner can get the full effect of his burnished, bronze figure. The lady’s role is simple: she is to stand there nonchalantly watching this display, pretending that it has no effect on her whatsoever. Is this the latest performance of Max and Karina on “Dancing with the Stars”? No - it’s the annual spring mating dance of the wild turkey.
Unlike the Arctic penguin, who must display his ability to produce and care for an egg by finding and presenting the perfect egg-shaped rock to his beloved, or the North American loon, who apparently mates for life, the wild turkey of Eastern Ontario is rather shallow and promiscuous. (At least, that’s my take on the situation. My friends at the Ministry of Natural Resources may beg to differ).
The male turkeys, or Toms, gather around the female (I’ll call her Tina) and display their lovely feathers – much like a tanned, muscled male in a too-tight t-shirt at a beachside bar after midnight. They look rather desperate and quite foolish, if truth be told.
Tina chooses the best of the bunch (or perhaps it’s the one who makes her laugh the hardest?) and then goes off to lay an egg. The next day the dance continues, and she selects another male from the group. A second egg is laid in the nest.
This complicated process continues until there are close to a dozen eggs in the nest. Finally, Tina is satisfied that she has achieved the right mix of genetic material in her future brood, and settles down on the eggs. The warmth of her feathery bulk brings all of the patiently waiting eggs out of dormancy, and they begin to develop. They will all hatch at the same time.
In a few weeks, the dance will change. Many of the Toms will disappear in the hunting season that begins at the end of April. Some of them will end up in my freezer and on my dinner plate, after being lovingly prepared by my skilled hunter-gatherer.
The females will not be lonely, however, as they will have several chicks to lead around the fields and meadows that are their dance floor. Many times I have had to stop the car to wait for the congo line to make its way across the road.
The animals on the farm will occasionally engage in their own style of dancing.
Cody, our Gordon Setter, does a mean cha-cha. He paces back and forth (one, two, cha-cha-cha) in front of the patio door, asking to be let into the house.
After spying me crossing the barnyard with a bucket of some unknown substance (it is probably water but they aren’t taking any chances – it might be corn), the sheep rush in front of me and form barriers with their bodies in an attempt to trip me so I will give up the goods. This rather clumsy form of break dancing is very popular after a long winter with nothing to eat but moldy hay.
The barn cats can be found dancing cheek-to-cheek in a slow waltz in the waning sun on the back porch every evening.
Our promenade with Misty and Ashley across the barnyard every morning and evening started out as a bit of a square dance: greet your partner. Turn to the left. Now promenade.
Now that the ‘girls’ have settled in, however, they are taking turns being difficult to test us. Their latest trick is to walk halfway across the yard, then put it in park.
It is very difficult to get a Belgian horse to move when they are unwilling. We have researched on the Internet, consulted local experts, and tried every trick in the book. If the horse halts, I am instructed to glare forcefully at her hip in a predatory manner. Expert thinking is that the horse will sense me staring at her hip, and move the stubborn back legs to divert my gaze. This never works for me. I don’t take myself seriously enough to effectively dance the tango – not even the equine version.
Our most successful move so far has been the turnaround. If the horse won’t go forward, you pull her head back toward her tail until she turns in a circle. Once moving again, it is easier to direct her. And so the dance continues.

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