Playing With Words: Is It Going To Rein-deer?
I am going to start it all with a riddle as most of the riddles involve a game. And since I am planning to play a game with you it comes to be of great help. So, riddle, riddle tell me what shall I riddle to you now? You shall riddle the following riddle: “My antlers tower above my head. Where I live—it’s cold all year. I can pull a sled or pack a load. You call me a …..(dots, dots)”. Which can be the answer to this question? Is it dear to you or perhaps just another deer? In case you have not guessed it by now I have to clarify it all for you and say “It is a reindeer, dear!”
Days keep going by, we keep on tearing each new calendar leaf until there will be none left for this year. Yet, till that moment comes, each day left brings us new, either unique, special or usual experiences and one of these experiences may be the one related to Christmas. I know this last month of the year tends to be considered a crazy period by some and a month of gifts and frenzy shopping by others, yet it also comes to have been endowed with a whole variety of symbols or better said things associated with this period of the year or if not with this period only then at least often mentioned these days.
What if someone mentioned to you that he happened to witness a sled being carried on by some flying reindeers? Would you believe him or would you call him crazy? This is just the game I intend to play. So, just to play it I will need a game, meaning that “animal placed under pursuit or taken in hunting.” Now do not worry! I am not going to hunt any reindeer but instead I shall spare its life and ask it to share us something about its daily routine businesses. Does he keep an agenda, does he like to dress casually or he prefers wearing snickers? What is on his daily meal? What he likes or dislikes at his partner? You know…things like this!
You must think I am crazy stating all the above mentioned things and probably I am! Yet even so, there must be something on their agenda that makes them so cute and interesting, looking appealing even to Santa (at least this is what most stories pretend to be true), don’t you think so? You must be thinking of them as either being amazing, interesting, quite imposing and majestic animals that posses the rather strange ability to see through life on the tundra or as just some actors playing their part in certain songs, legends or stories meant to entertain us in this period preceding Christmas. No matter the side on which you position yourself, reindeers happen to be outstanding or as some would say ‘zero-cool’ animals, animals that have the benefit of being caught in quite a riveting saga.
If only one thought about Dancer and Dasher, Comet and Cupid, Donner and Blitzen, Prancer and Vixen and of course the already famous Rudolph The Red Noised Reindeer, that would certainly make enough to write a journal, or if not a journal then a poem for sure. Unless reindeers living in real environments happen to be fascinated by the idea of writing things down and keeping journals, which I suppose they do not plan on doing in the near future at least, I shall now refer to the real Rudolph Reindeer, the one which needs a portrayal that would depict him and his style of life in all its splendor.
How did the reindeer become such a famous animal, being often mentioned if not during the whole year then at least in this period of the year for sure? Deem it for yourself when reading the already famous lines once written by Clement Clarke Moore: “When, what to my wondering yes should appear, / But a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny rein-deer, / With a little old driver, so lively and quick, / I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick. / More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, / And he whistled, and shouted, and called them by name; / “Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! Now, Prancer and Vixen! / On, Comet! On, Cupid! On, Bonder and Blitzen! / To the top of the porch! To the top of the wall! / Now dash away! dash away !dash away all!” / As dry laves that before the wild hurricane fly, / When they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky; / So up to the house-top the coursers they flew, / With the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nichols too. / And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof, / The prancing and pawing of each little hoof.”
What would be a reindeer’s answer to these lines? He’d probably say that even though he’d love to master the art of flying too and that by the way this would certainly make him even more skilled than he already happens to be, he feels rather contented to carry on with its life in the rather brutal environment he calls home. “I happen to feel at home on ground and in water as well. I have been well equipped to face any environmental harshness and I am pretty proud of it. Wouldn’t you be if you were in my place?” Now you can say that I am a polyglot. I have just learned the language of reindeers too. Just kidding of course since despite all my almost superhuman efforts I managed to understand little close to nothing from what they say. Even so, I can always speak off the cuff, can I?
Not dreaming up this time I can tell you that reindeers happen to be the only species of deer that could and actually was domesticated. It is all estimated to have taken place in Europe and Asia some 5000 to 7000 years ago. Not only were they the first species of deer to be domesticated but they also happen to be, out of the clear blue sky or not, the largest type of reindeer. I am referring here to the wild reindeer prototype, namely the so called caribou. Yes, you heard me well! There is a wild and a domesticated variant of these animals. Does this make them dualistic in nature? I’d say that it makes their much invoked history more interesting, and not only their history but themselves too. Of course there are some differences between these two variants, yet I will postpone talking about these differences right now, mainly because I intend to focus on the tamed ones.
Shall I name them properly? I am not planning to rename them now but rather to tell you that when referring to the genus and species of reindeer one will normally utter such words as Rangifer tarandus. Being indigenous to the tundra, namely those brutally cold plains barely covered by vegetation of Canada, Greenland, Alaska, Scandinavia, Iceland and most often of all Siberia, their survival endowments and skills come to be even more appreciated.
In case you happened to be unaware of it, the tundra of Europe and arctic Asia is generally characterized by such terms as rough and brutal coldness. When hearing this one cannot but wonder how and by what means can these animals survive in this rather extreme habitat. And much like you would do if you were living in such a natural habitat where low temperatures and cold feel at home, they too have put on their best thick and furry coat. I guess in their case this coat turns into a hide which can come in such colors as brown or grey, and a little bit of white for the hind and the tails. What is certain is that the wooly fur is at home on our animal (I tend to think that with all the wool there he could even start carding it. And perhaps he even does this, yet away from our greedy looks ready to catch any movement he makes. I am joking of course…). And not only that it is at home but also one may say that the poor reindeer doesn’t love going to the barber, letting his hair grow pretty hollow inside. Is there anyone to blame him with all that frozenness out there surrounding him? After all they may need some insulation too and they get one for which they have to pay nothing. I’d call this pure bargain or pure luck!
The lands inhabited by reindeers usually turn white in the winter, being covered by snow (a lot of this one!). After all they need to pull a sleigh and since it would be almost impossible for them to do this up there in the sky (or not, as stories come to tell us), they have to do this on the snow. As such they’ve come all well equipped to perform their duty, a duty which rather involves living their lives or helping the others carry their burdens through their lives. Either way it is this very insulation I mentioned above that permits them to lay in the snow without smelting it and turning it into a huge plash. Not only that they do not do this, but they also manage to remain warm and dry. How do they manage to go through the summer days with all that fur? Here comes the tricky part: in the summer, their fur lessens just to aid them stay cool. Isn’t this world of animals just amazingly and skillfully built?
And as reindeers needed just the perfect snowshoes to travel across all that snow, Mother Nature endowed them with just the perfect such shoes. If you ever happened to see one reindeer then you probably managed to notice that they have very wide hooves, hooves which ward off the reindeer from plunging into the snow. If you ever tried using some galoshes when traveling across snowy lands then you probably know what the poor reindeer feels like. And here I cannot but quote a very nice poem I happen to know, a poem entitled “Galoshes”: “Susie’s galoshes / Make splishes and sploshes / And slooshes and sloshes / As Susie steps slowly along in the slush. / They stamp and they tramp / On the ice and concrete / They get stuck in the muck and the mud: / But Susie likes much best to hear / The slippery slush / As it slooshes and sloshes, / And splishes and sploshes / All around her galoshes!” (Rhonda Bacmeister)
I am not sure if the reindeer’s galoshes “sloosh or slosh”, yet what I can tell you is that it is said that the tendons in their hooves make ‘music’ for our ears, that is a snapping sound when they walk. And what is also cute about them is the fact that they come equipped with a nose completely covered in fur. In fact, when referring to reindeers there happens to be a lot of facial hair (and surprisingly enough they do not feel the need to wax it!). This hair has its own well established role, namely that of protecting the muzzle when embarking upon such activities as grazing in the snow. Mentioning the face, one cannot leave unnoticed the nose part, namely because their nose is said to have been bestowed with some rather unique nasal turbinate bones. How can one translate this? It all comes down to the fact that reindeers have the ability to warm up the inhaled freezing air just before this air reaches their lungs. To put it as a joke I could say that this way they avoid getting a nasty pneumonia!
What about growing some antlers? Much like in the lines of the following song “You put your antlers in. / You put your antlers out. / You put you antlers in, / And you shake them all about. / You do the Reindeer Pokey, / And you turn yourself around. / That’s what it’s all about!” the reindeer decides to “put its antlers in or out” whenever he or Mother Nature considers this to be appropriate. No discriminations are being made between male and female reindeers when it comes to bearing these rather fleeting antlers, antlers which both sexes wear proudly. Yet, when it comes to shedding these antlers, the situation comes to be somehow different. I say this having in mind the information according to which males let go of their antlers at the beginning of winter, to be more precise somewhere in this period, whereas females postpone this moment until after giving birth in the spring. The funny thing here is that even though the already famous Santa’s reindeers carry masculine names; there is no way (according to the above mentioned information) that these ones could have been males. They had to be girls, since they had their antlers pretty well fixed on their heads, had they? And as I found it written somewhere and I happened to find it pretty funny too, this comes as no surprise when thinking about the fact that only women could and would be disposed to show around or better said escort “an old man in a red velvet suit” around the world. Surprisingly enough this is said to take place during one night only and it involves a pretty broad dose of what people generally label as spirit of orientation.
You may have never envisaged deer as being some ‘beasts’ and admitting that you ever did this I cannot but wonder who happens to be the beauty in their case. The story of the beauty and the beast certainly managed to conquer many hearts and so do these ‘beasts wearing antlers’. In case you have never been interested in finding out the origins of the word ‘deer’ then you should perhaps find out that all this dancing around the beauty and the beast started from this very point. Surprisingly enough the word ‘deer’ has its origins in the Middle English word ‘der’ meaning beast. Is really the deer such a beast, a beast which comes in disguise? If only this one wore a mask, then for sure I’d say ‘Bring the beauty over!” As for the origins of ‘rein’, it is said that it all goes back to the Old Norse word ‘hreinn’.
As for the beast and beauty part, each beast out there, regardless if it happens to be wild or domesticated (Despite all my almost superhuman efforts, I still haven’t managed to picture a domesticated beast! Yet, I think that there must be some left out there and certainly not all of them wear antlers, don’t you think so?) has its beauty. I may be referring here to the husbandry part or to beauty like in beauty contest. I prefer the first part now, the flirtatious part if I may say so. When it comes to reindeers and their mating habits, the male reindeers can for sure wear the etiquette of lady-killer. You most certainly happened to hear about harems and if you happen to be a man you certainly found the idea of having one such harem pretty appealing to your senses. This appears to be the case of male reindeers too. Rumors say that a bossy male can mate with as many as 20 females in each season. Not hard at all some may say! But since I do not indent to approach the hardness part, I am just going to restrain myself to saying: What a life!
Even so, in order to be labeled as ‘bossy’ males have to fight their way towards the heart or any other anatomical part of the female. How do they strive for females? They could do this either verbally or by making use of their antlers, meaning to literally push the rival away. No matter the case, they are said to be pretty aggressive when it comes to mating issues. Do reindeers happen to have their own language? Those listening to them managed to discover that even though mostly silent they may at times start vocalizing and as such start making use of some rather glottal, inarticulate groans and bellows. Males seem to have been granted some extra features that aid them in doing this vocalizing job as best as possible. After all they need to overawe other males during mating season, do they? As such nature endowed them with some rather large pockets of skin placed right under their throats, pockets which are not meant to hide any money as some may think, but instead serve to increase the volume of all those bellows and grunts being released out into the freezing, Siberian air. And all this, just to win control over a greater, significant number of females! Quite a lot of work I’d say! And if it were for me to make a joke I’d say that men out there at times do even less and get even more! So, do I hear any hurrah for reindeers? Or perhaps you prefer men to reindeers!
In both cases, mean women can say that even the world of humans is populated by both the “domesticated” and the wild male variant. I’d go even further and say that this could be applied to women as well and by saying this I have in mind the so called taming of the shrew. And talking about wild I promised at some point that I will try and outline the differences and similarities if any, between the wild reindeers or caribou as they are called and the domesticated reindeer. When talking about differences I will state the following facts: first it is said that Caribou carry on with their lives in North America whereas reindeers will be most frequently met in parts like Scandinavia and Russia. Secondly, it is said that caribou happen to be bigger than reindeers. No comment regarding this last aspect, namely because living in wildness, caribous need to defend themselves against predators. As for the similarities between the two of them one could mention such things as the fact that they both belong to the same species and that they both migrate and have been well equipped to live with the rather extreme and harsh weather conditions.
Reindeers happen to be quite sociable animals, gathering in sometimes huge herds which can at times number several thousands of them. Even so, I cannot fail to mention that it has been discovered that males tend to be more solitary. (Probably they try to deem new ways to conquer females! Can it be a flower, a mushroom or just a kiss on the muzzle?) One of their hobbies seems to be related to traveling across the lands and constantly trying to deem the possibilities offered by new lands. Rumors say that reindeers happen to be placed under the sign of an almost constant migration, a migration upon which they embark either to escape the harsh weather conditions or to play hooky on predators or perhaps just to find food in an area where this one happens to be rather scarce at times. It must be really, really interesting to see such a herd migrating, don’t you think so? Taking into consideration the fact that according to the voice of majority reindeers happen to be just excellent swimmers too, it can be stated that rivers do not constitute any impediment in their almost constant thirst to discover new territories. Even though they appear slow (appearances may prove to be wrong!) they happen to exhibit at times an almost incredible turn of speed. Amazingly enough a day-old reindeer has proven its ability to even outrun a man. Just imagine how a race between an adult and a one day-old baby girl or boy would look like and this image will probably manage to speak thousands of words. It would clearly show you how amazingly and almost intriguingly interesting these animals can be.
What do these animals, Santa’s helps fancy having in their daily menus? It is said that reindeers generally thrive on a special lichen, lichen which came to be known as reindeer moss, but even so they also happen to enjoy feasting on leaves of willow and birch, sedges and grasses as well. They may as well include in their diet lemmings and even bird eggs. And, just in case you happen to notice that your reindeer behaves rather unusually or in a rather awkward manner, then you should be sure that he just served his meal of mushrooms. Numerous jokes have been made trying to account for their mushroom love. Some say that all those stories depicting reindeers as Santa’s helps, flying ones, have actually hailed from the devouring of hallucinogenic mushrooms. Could this be true? You can either prefer believing in all these nice stories or you may as well prefer displaying realistic beliefs and come with all sorts of aiding explanations. What I can tell you for sure is that either flying or with their feet on the ground, reindeers happen to be equally majestic and interesting.
They can be interesting or better said they can arouse the interest of people living in northern territories such as the indigenous people known under the name of Lapps or perhaps the so called Chukchi and Tungus tribes located in eastern Siberia, people who have been using them for centuries now to either supply their food needs or their clothing needs, or just to pull a burdened sleigh. How about going on a diet that would include such things as butter, yogurt and cheese, all made out of the supposedly rich reindeer milk? This may look quite delicious to some, yet when envisaging the poor reindeer being sacrificed for all these things…the yummy criteria disappears! Yet, it all comes down to just a matter of taste or survival! You may prefer riding a reindeer and they are just there tamed to listen to you and surrender to your needs. You may prefer using them to carry goods equaling their own weight (and they can do just this for you, without openly complaining!) or you may as well ask them to carry your sleigh. They can be silent companions and aggressive mating partners! They can be the animal you watch from afar or the one which you choose to exploit in your interest. They can be either envisaged as having red noses, like the already famous Rudolph or they could be pictured as they happen to be in real life. The question can be: “Where can one find a reindeer?’ The answer to this question will certainly make you smile: “It depends on where you leave them!” Evidences say that such countries as Sweden, Norway and Finland are reindeer countries. So, perhaps one should start looking there first!
“I bet I can lift a reindeer with one hand. I bet you can’t, most of you probably say. Well, you find me a reindeer with one hand and I lift it!”- I came across this joke and ever since this happened I have been constantly searching this reindeer. Have you seen it or I should place its image on a sheet of paper and write ‘Wanted’? Reward offered!
Yet, before doing this I should perhaps be looking for the ones carrying their hooves and antlers, for those vast herds of reindeers moving across “Miles and miles of golden moss, / Silently and very fast.” as W. H. Auden wrote at some point. Or should I be saying “Good morning to the presents / Good morning to the elves / Good morning to the workshop at the pole. / Good morning to the reindeer / Good morning to the sleigh “? And as it all started with a game I shall now end it all with another game, a play of words this time. As such I will play with words and say that reins reign this dear (or should I say deer?) planet of ours and pull our sleighs through the snowy paths of December. Just trying to be poetic, my apologies if I didn’t succeeded!
And just in case I happened to lack poetry I shall now quote a poem I came across and which I find quite funny and appealing, much like the real reindeer happens to be to me. So, here it is: “I came wide awake when I heard Santa call. / “Dash away. Dash away. Dash away all.” / Grabbing my robe, I ran out to the lawn, / but reindeer and Santa were already gone. / So with my shovel I started to scoop, / all of the droppings—gourmet reindeer poop! / I thought, “Oh My goodness!! I’ll put them in bags, / and then I’ll attach a cute, colorful tag! / My friends will just LOVE them, / they’re good as can be!” / Merry Christmas to you from the reindeer and Me!”11