by Darlene Denis-Friske, 2009

The Muskoxen are large creatures with curved, crumpled, sharp horns. They form family herds of a dozen or so adults, living closely together as social pack animals. They are filled with instinct and ritual, structure, order and hierarchy. The calves browse closely alongside their parents and shelter between them from the cold winds of the Arctic. When Muskoxen are born, they don’t have the crumpled horns so necessary to their survival from predators. To protect the babies, adult Muskoxen form a tight circle with the young calves tucked safely and securely in the middle. This forms a circle of sharp horns facing outward to the predator: a match for any wolf and even, a match for the fiercest of polar bears.

As the calves get bigger, so too do their horns, beginning to grow and curl day-by-day like those of an adult. They are maturing, getting stronger; they are becoming more capable of fending for themselves. As the young Muskoxen grow, they reach a point where they cannot be contained within the tight circle space anymore. It makes no sense to place them in this protected area… they have horns now. The young horns are not fully developed, true, but budding horns signal a time when the young are to begin assuming their part in the circle.

The adults know to move them in the direction of the larger circle, even when young are precious few in a given season and the instinct to protect is great. To contain them would only jeopardize their health, and the health of the entire herd. The young Muskoxen would be too big in the centre now, and the adults would no longer be able to form an actual circle around them. In their excited push to be part of the outside circle, contained young might buck to the point of hurting the adults and thus compromise the integrity of the circle. Indeed, an effort to contain them might make them want to do something extremely foolish in their rush of excitement and growing protective instincts. They might stick their young horns out too far and purposefully push ahead of the adults when they finally get the opportunity. In their dangerous demonstration to prove they are brave and strong, the young might render themselves easy prey to greater forces of nature outside of the protective circle.

And so begins the age-old circle dance of the Muskoxen. This is not a dance led by the young, but a dance led by the adults in response to the movements of the young. Although very large, these youthful Muskoxen do not fully fill their space in the circle just yet, and so there is room for forward and backward motions as they grow into the space. For the adults, this means instinct, gauging, positioning, intuitive posturing and constant readjustments in response to the freedoms of movement afforded to the young. They are growing into an understanding of the circle and this takes time. The adult Muskoxen won’t allow the young to place their horns completely out to the wolves, instead ensuring to be ever-so-slightly ahead of the often foolish youth who sometimes want to buck a little too wildly in their excitement to be part of the bigger circle. Within this dance, the adults will protectively turn themselves inward towards the young, again ever-so-slightly. The integrity of the circle must be maintained in this dance. The young probably aren’t even aware of the slightness of adult movement in response to their own; they are too busy living and breathing the new tensions of the defensive circle formation.

There are other times when the adults allow these young to inch backwards, closer towards the centre again, accepting that the excitement and tensions can be overwhelming. The young are not yet ready to fill their place fully just yet, and in these moments they are moving back towards the securities they once knew. This is all part of it. Within these supported backward motions the young Muskoxen are slowly coming to their own realization that they no longer fit inside the circle in the same ways. They are growing to intuitively understand the necessary adjustments they must now make in order to uphold the integrity of the circle.

From these places of motion, positioning, rocking and reckoning, the young Muskoxen begin to move solidly forward of their own accord, growing into their space to assume their rightful place in the circle. It is only from these movements of supported growth can the young fully realize their intuitive placement in the circle, and truly be able to participate in the intricate circle dance of the Muskoxen with their own young, when that time comes.

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