Sunday, January 6, 2008

Apple of My Eye

The tracker has become the tracked!

We struck out this morning to check on the progress of our snow-bound friends out in the woods. Ari led, while I stumbled behind on my snowshoes and tried my best to dodge branches (note to self: wear lab goggles while following caninaturalist).

Ari’s progress was ambling for the first fifteen minutes or so of our hike: a cynical sojourner might have thought she was deliberately picking a route too tricky for creatures more than 3 feet tall. But it’s a beautiful morning and I’m feeling charitable, so I’ll believe she was just following an invisible path that looked amusing.

She became all business, though, once we met up with the path we had laid a few days earlier. There, much to her delight, we saw that several whitetail deer (Odocoileus virginianus) have been using our trail as their own thoroughfare through the woods.

We decided to follow. Ari tried valiantly to make sense of the smells: the scent of deer made perfect sense to her, but she seemed perplexed by the residual smell of the two of us from several days ago. An existential conundrum too much for a husky brain: but how on earth can I be tracking me when I’m standing right here? I could see the cognitive dissonance in her eyes.

We followed our tracks for a mile or so. Ari kept popping her head up every few steps, as if to confirm that we were the ones right here and not somewhere up the trail. Eventually, she either figured it out or grew weary of the philosophical dilemma. Or maybe the scent of deer was more interesting.

Our travels eventually led us to a tree on the edge of a neighbor’s apple grove. We walked past it blindly just a few days earlier. But the deer didn’t. This was their destination all along. And who could blame them? Still hanging on the trees were dozens of shrunken apples, over-ripe and ready for the taking.

Most of the commercial varieties of apples fall to the ground and rot. But several heirloom varieties common to the boreal forest (Ida Red and Northern Spy are two of our favorites) hang to the trees and even improve with aging.

Ari couldn’t care less about this fruit fact. Instead, she wove us around and around the tree, recreating the movement of the deer (and no doubt looking for scatological rolling opportunities). I looked upward, trying to figure out how in the world a whitetail deer could reach apples eight feet in the air. It didn't make any sense. I leaned against the tree and reached high, but couldn’t touch a single fruit. I gave a tentative leap or two, but to no avail. So how in the world were the deer getting these apples?

We stood by the tree for a long time, contemplating this question. When we were just about to give up: the answer alighted on the branches. A boisterous group of purple finches (Carpodacus purpureus) settled into breakfast, working hard on the high-hanging fruit. For such small, fluid animals, they were surprisingly rude eaters. As they noshed, an apple or two was shaken loose and cascaded down to lower branches or even the ground.


I don’t know about Ari, but I find some unspoken comfort from seeing these accidental relationships in the wild: dogs, deer, finches, and humans have little to do with one another most days. And yet, without even realizing it much of the time, our lives depend upon these occasional connections.


Sid the Dog said...

Looks like a fascinating stroll. As a cerebral animal myself, I live by the mantra of "no smell is unimportant." My new gentleman caller is not quite as fastidious in his sniffing, but I hope to instruct him in my own approach to the scientific method, which is to collect as large of a sample size as possible.

-Sid the Dog

Gus and Louie said...

It sounds like you had a very nice walk full of excitement.. I am betting that those purple finches knock the apples down for those deer!!

Big Sloppy Kisses
Gus and Louie

Cody, THE Fussy Pot Pants said...

Sounds like a wonderful walk in the forest! must be cold out there... My Mumsy will def die in such a weather! Heck, she has resorted to wearing sweaters to slp when the temperature hits 23 degrees Celcius!

What other animals do you have there?

Crikit, Sparky & Ginger said...

We haven't been by since Christmas so Happy New Year! Wow we want snow and golly you sure look lovely in it. Have we ever said what beeuutiful eyes you have?

waggin TX tails barking loud

Katherine and Pippa, said...

I like the smells in the countryside. And I like the ones in the city too. Usually and happily they are cats. The smells in the countryside are different.


rpf said...

Did you ever try skijoring with Ari?
If not you should do it. It is the most fun.

Princess, Tank and Isaac: The Newfs of Hazard said...

Wow that's a lot of snow! We'd frolick endlessly!

Lacy said...

woofies Ari and Kathryn, fank u fur coming to c me...watt a wonderful walkie u had,..all dat snow, wood make most of the dogs at dwb verwy happy...

b safe,

Farmgirl_dk: said...

This is a fun post to read - funny and informative. You're an excellent writer.

Demitri said...

In the apple world, Northern Spy rules!

Hi Ari--Ginger and Sparky are right: you do have bewootifull eyes.

Bonnie said...

Yes, I've been noticing accidental connections as a native plant gardener, too: I was grumping at myself for failing to trim some dead branches off of a bush in my garden... until a family of the tiniest, sweetest birds came by and had a feast on the dry seeds! Ecology: another excuse for procrastination...