High: 23° F
Low: 7° F
Conditions: Sunny with unlimited visibility
Ari has started blowing her coat. It doesn’t matter that we still have at least two full months of winter here in Maine, or that it’s super cold outside, or that she’s blanketing the house in fur. She’s a giant, molting mess. She looks terrible, and I think she knows it.
This makes her irritable. And when she’s irritable, she does bad things. Like stealing food out of a backpack. That was zipped. And hanging on a wall hook. In the basement.
To make the caninaturalist feel better (and to save my house from further damage), we’ve set out looking for similar shedding phenomena in nature.
Here’s a sugar maple (Acer saccharum) that’s losing its bark. It looks surprisingly like Ari’s coat. But this is not a great example, since the tree is dead.
We next consider the staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina). This plant is distinguished by velvety covering on new sprouts, which protects them from the elements. The staghorn also keeps its furry seedpods through a good part of the winter. This time of year, hungry birds pull apart the flowers, eat the seeds, and then deposit them, undigested, where they will later sprout. This process doesn’t appeal to the caninaturalist, who clearly doesn’t care for the idea of a bluejay stopping by to lunch on her coat. So we moved on.
Our third candidate is the cattail (Typha latifolia). Initially, Ari seems resistant to this comparison as well, especially since the only cattails she knows of are attached to the two cats who like to steal her toys and take food out of her dish. Upon further consideration, however, the caninaturalist softens her resistance. Like Ari, the cattail keeps its fur until late winter. As temps start to fluctuate and the sun returns, it loosens its fur-coated seeds and lets them blow out onto the snow, where it will be carried away by melting waters and grow in settling ponds. We’re getting closer. but Ari’s coat problems aren’t about reproduction. So we move on once again.
The winner of the flora molting contest seems to be our last contender, the white birch (Betula papyrifera). Trees like the maple and oak have a corky bark made up of an accordion of texture and grooves. When the sunlight warms the bark and causes it to expand or, conversely, when the temperature plummets and causes it to contract, the pliability of the bark accommodates these changes. Birch doesn’t have this functionality. So instead of shifting, weaker birch bark splits and then sheds the forfeited pieces. New bark grows in its place. This is not an exact match to a shedding dog, but it’s close.
Ari loves birch—ever since a Passamaquoddy medicine man gave her a piece of the bark to chew, she seeks it out and takes a piece for herself whenever we pass a tree. Now that she knows it is blowing its coat too, I wonder if birch bark will still hold the same metaphysical sway.