Ardath Whynacht and Foxfyr, Relational Listening with Companion Species
Relational Listening with Companion Species
February 25th, 2012
A sound walk with Ardath Whynacht and Foxfyr
He spends an awful lot of time in the pasture- especially since I’ve been away. The thought of taking a walk without him filled me with guilt. A walk with him is not a relaxing affair. Bred for endurance racing, his cardiac capacity is extreme- he does not tire. Horse people would say, he runs ‘hot’; meaning that his dynamic intelligence and kinesthetic abilities render him terribly obnoxious for those equestriennes who’d prefer a relaxing wander through the woods. He would rather run than walk. When offered a choice, I usually opt to run, as well; which is why we are a great pair. He is razor sharp; curiosity often outweighing the cautionary reflex of a prey species. He can tell by the way I approach him whether or not he has a lesson scheduled. If he senses business-like intentionality, he evades me turning the ‘catching’ into an exhausting game of cat and mouse around the field. I have learned from him- he has learned from me… Weaned early from his mother, we’ve been companions (12:00) for 7 years. The day we took him from his mother, he ran blindly through a wire fence, snapping wires off of fence posts as he fled down a PEI highway trying to escape us. He finally hog-tied himself into a bony, terrified and thrashing nightmare- as I sat on him, trembling, while 2 other tiny, trembling women tried to cut the steel from his legs. His mother had seen- by the way we approached them- our predatory intent- predatory intent so characteristic of homo sapiens sapiens.
He is equus ferus caballus; (6:20) of Arabian lineage, descending from an Egyptian strain of race horse and was born in a run down breeding barn perched on the edge of the North Mountain near the shores of the Bay of Fundy.
I walked with him as a way to figure out what relational (22:30) listening might feel like. By relational, I mean that we are two companion species having grown together/through each other over time; both subjects formed as organisms (18:24), with very real but distinct social histories (20:53). It is through our bio-capabilities and our social histories that we listen together/through each other on a cold and grey February afternoon logging road in South Rawdon, Nova Scotia.
It was grey. As I waited, stiff black rope in hand, to safely walk across the Ashdale Road, he pawed and snorted behind me. His hot breath against my back, the rustling and shuffling of his restlessness, blissfully unaware of the dangers of the road.
The swift swish/swish of my snow pants floated atop the arrhythmic pattern of his barefoot hooves up the asphalt- he was simultaneously trying to look behind him to his beloved pasture mates and ahead of us to where we were headed- stepping on the backs of my heels in the process.
The quick HISS-snap of the rope silenced us both for a second in the middle of the road.
He softened, waiting, watching me for the first time, telling me he is ready-
my shoulders strong- an exclamation point to the vocal outburst I had unleashed moments before.
We reached the shoulder- our footsteps enveloped by the softness of the snow- it was dry- had no time yet to settle into the wet crust so characteristic of the tumultuous North Atlantic winter landscape.
Percussion of each step wrapped in velvet-
The drawing out of time- slowed chronology of impact/concussion/compression
the whole forest wrapped in velvet;
a sonic landscape of trickling, slow diffusion of presence
breath… (through whiskers/ on woolen collars/ softly across my shoulder/)
I could feel the hesitant trembling of his prey-listening slowly give way to impatience behind me. I relaxed- turning to him silently- telling him with my easiness, my softness- my predatory listening assures him that this a safe place.
Wide-eyed nervousness and constant swiveling of his ears slowly gave way to the desire to move forward- his hot nose hunched down toward the snow-
I laughed- breaking the crystalline form of trickling-water- the highest structure of the sonic landscape/architecture … Bubbling laughter rose above us- rooted in the muffled shuffle of our steps through the carpet of snow.
(the silliness of such a huge beast trying to appear small and creep like a hound dog or a frightened rabbit through the woods)
I motioned for him to move ahead of me, allowing him to explore his surroundings, resting my arm up gently across his back as we walked side-by-side down the buried trail. The brush of my nylon coat against his winter coat- layers of diffusion, friction and the pop of static.
My stomach rumbled loudly. We have been gone for some time.
I pause- he stopped, keeping me at the edge of his peripheral vision, he senses my hesitation to keep moving forward.
I drop a shoulder in the direction of home, he struggles to turn himself (with no cue from the rope) listening to my body, orienting himself in the direction he senses I am about to go. He lowers his head, following by scent now, his ears relaxed, pointing forward to where he sees my body move- he is a master of anticipating our directionality through my body- he listens to my posture in ways that anticipate vocal or intentional physical cues.
In this way, he seeks to keep us safe. He hears what I cannot hear miles ahead of where he senses I am taking us.
As we leave the protective circle of the woods and approach the road once more- I feel him stop- breath/suspended
I turn to face him- listening to his body with my eyes- his eyes frozen open- suspended blinking- both ears firmly swiveled backwards to the space behind us that neither of us can see.
Tension/suspension- I strain to hear what he is hearing- but cannot.
As if something has snapped (that I could not hear, but through him) he exploded like a train off the rails- lunging forward toward me.
I stood my ground, snap/hiss/snap/hiss of rope.
He is panicking- I cannot see/hear/feel what it is that caused him to flee our quiet wilderness/ his barn across the road/ 1200 pounds of sinew and bone / thrashing at the end of a frozen rope/ a tiny woman draped in layers of nylon and wool/ feet planted in the snow /shoulder of the road/
Somewhere behind me I can hear the unmistakable sound of A.J. and Sons trucking heading home from the quarry- wet wheels spraying sand and slush- rushing down the blind hill behind us.
Unable to force me to run with him- he rears above me – his front hooves pawing the air- 100 feet tall- (if he could not get past me- he would go over me)- he does not see the road- only home on the other side-
He now hears nothing but fear. I can hear the truck and know that he cannot so-
rising up on the tips of my toes I
at him – waving my arms- I threaten to kill him with my intent- a bigger threat than the silent stalker that first alerted him to the danger of the woods
Driving him back off of the road
(he retreats from me)
The truck sucks by
wind dragging our faces
the tunnel of catastrophe
a sonic vaccuum
He has forgotten I am predator
and must be listened to.
now quietly crossing the road
This time in rhythmic step
his hot nose buried in my back
We safely cross
I make him pause, before inviting him into the barn.
It is dark.
Ducks softly chatting with each other, munching of hay, neighbourly gossip of chainsaws and diesel, the rustling of sawdust, hard hooves and gumboots on worn barn board.
machine, companion chatter and breath.
We are home.