Low: 17° F
High: 38° F
Conditions: Unbelievably variable.
There’s an old saying in Maine: if you don’t like the weather here, wait a few minutes. That’s a little folksy, I know, but it’s also true. Today was a perfect case in point. It was also a great opportunity to study caninaturalist behavior in variable meteorological conditions. I’ve been working under a hypothesis that Ari’s weather preferences match my own: in other words, temperate and sunny = good; cold and rainy = bad. In a day when almost every possible weather condition comes and goes, it’s easy to log some data about how a rowdy young dog feels about the day. 6:00 a.m. Thick, heavy snows. The wind gusts in disorganized stutters, and the entire landscape feels a little more dynamic than normal. I think it’s meditative. The caninaturalist, on the other hand, is a bundle of frenetic movement. She flies on and off the snow banks, then launches somersaults and enthusiastic rolls in the snow. But her heart isn’t really in it. She seems distracted and more aware of her surroundings than usual: she leaps up and out of a roll with ears flattened, then surveys the horizon. Nose up, she tries to catch the direction and contents of the wind. Only the stalwart chickadee is out this morning, but the world is moving and Ari wants to understand how.
10:00 a.m. Snow has changed to what our weatherman euphemistically calls a “wintery mix.” That might seem to suggest something pleasant, like a cocktail or a salty snack or even an adolescent dance. A novice might think that these conditions are a lovely time to be outside. But if that novice is a human walking a dog, he or she would be very, very wrong. These conditions simultaneously sting and soak; they make even a paved road unpassable, and send our brave chickadee back to her hidden nest. The caninaturalist turns surly, leads us outside just long enough to pee, and then skulks back into the house. I am not-so-secretly relieved.1:00 p.m. Wintery mix has become intermitten rain. In spite of my complaints last week, I have to admit I find these conditions preferable to late morning. So does the caninaturalist. We venture outside, where she sniffs at the evaporating snow. Still no sign of animal traffic, but the precipitation has created a small pre-vernal pool filled with swamped timothy grass. An omnivore through and through, Ari sucks the grass out of the water and eats heartily. I wait impatiently, and play innocent after giving her leash a tug. When we return inside, there’s a bounce to her step I can’t really understand. All I feel is cold and wet. But she’s satisfied, and back home makes a point of shaking out the rain onto me and the cats—just to show off. 3:00 p.m. The sun has returned, and the landscape has taken on a decidedly spring feel. We strap on snowshoes and head out to brave the heavy groundcover. Several species have beaten us outside: Ari leads us first to the meandering tracks of a red fox, either out for a stroll or looking for a quick rodent meal. The caninaturalist flings snow behind her, looking for leftovers. No such luck, and she soon tugs us forward, hoping to find other activity. I comply and enjoy it for a good hour, but receive a dirty look when I finally turn us back towards home. 5:00 p.m. Dusk—usually the stillest part of the day. But this evening, traffic is increasing. Two crows chatter their way overhead, startling the pup and causing us both to pitch our heads backwards and towards the sky. From this position, we can also see the recent work of the downy woodpecker, who has been stealing hibernating insects from a rotting tree. Winged activity is soon overshadowed, though, by a herd of deer picking their way through the grove. Ari is frantic in her interest: she rises to her hind legs, then hops up and down while chortling at the herd. She spins back and forth, barking at me to follow. When I don’t, I get an even dirtier look. It’s time for both of us to eat, but I'm more interested in casserole and kibble than I am venison. Ari doesn’t even bother with her biscuit back inside: it's small consolation when we could have been chasing giant, musky creatures across the forest. 8:00 p.m. The winds have risen sharply, turning our log cabin into a kind of harmonica as the gusts force their way through chinked logs. The cats look concerned, and hunker down under my desk. The caninaturalist is oblivious, snoring loudly in her dog nest. I wake her gently to go outside one last time. She pretends not to hear. I give her a nudge, and she rises reluctantly, make a great show of shaking her tags and stretching before making her way to the front door. Outside, it’s all starlight and mystery. I want to explore, but Ari is on high alert. She checks for porcupines, pees quickly, then pulls us back inside. This time, she gets the dirty look.