Thursday, July 31, 2008

Two in Love

High: 66° F
Low: 60° F
Conditions: Showers
Several of our blogging friends out there have asked about Ari's two housemates, Mouse and Leila Tov. We thought we'd take this mostly wordless weekend, then, to show you how the two rescue cats exercise their own version of natural inquiry (felinaturalism?) over the course of a lazy afternoon.

Saturday, July 26, 2008


High: 81° F
Low: 60° F
Conditions: Partly cloudy this afternoon with a chance of thunderstorms developing this evening.
The caninaturalist first spied the two fawns this morning. Usually, Mouse and Leila Tov lay claim to the open kitchen window, but today the sisters were too busy sunbathing in my office. That was good news for me and Ari, when a slowly moving blur of red caught our attention.

The two paused just long enough to browse in my overgrown flower garden before disappearing back into the woods. We’re guessing that these fawns are about two months old. We didn’t see Mom, but given their young age, she must have been nearby.

Even Ari, who doesn’t think twice about yodeling at most deer in our yard, seemed to understand that these two kids needed a little extra consideration, so she stood quietly by my side and behind the window screen. We stood as still as we could so that the fawns wouldn't see us. That means our pictures turned our pretty blurry, but at least we didn’t startle the fawns.

The summer Greg and I moved into this house, we watched a pair of fawns grow up together.

That was five years ago, and we’ve had several summers marked by twins. This is not an uncommon occurrence among white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus)—in fact, nearly 50% of all spring deliveries result in the birth of two fawns. Still, we can’t help but wonder if these twins have some older siblings roaming these woods. Life expectancies for white-tailed deer can be as high as 16 years, but more normal ranges are about 4-8 years, due largely to hunting pressures. That means these generations might all share the same mom, if she's clever enough to evade hunters.

That’s an appealing idea, and one that we’ll mull over as we wait for them to wander across our yard again soon.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


High: 76° F
Low: 60° F
Conditions: Chance of showers. Thunderstorms this evening.
It’s been a great season for fruit here in Maine. Strawberry yields were the highest they’ve been in years; blueberries and beach plums are just about ripe; and our raspberries have arrived a good week ahead of schedule. That’s good news for the berry-loving caninaturalist.

Most of the time, Ari tends to be a very accommodating, easy-going dog (unless Mouse is trying to steal her food. Or a red squirrel has ventured onto our porch. Or the utility guy comes down our drive to read the meter. Or. . . )

But seriously, the only time I can definitely count on the caninaturalist to be something of a princess is where her fruit is concerned. She’s very particular about how it should be served: blueberries must be frozen and served in her dish. Bananas should be sliced and handed to her in the kitchen. Watermelon can only be eaten if it is still attached to the rind.

When it comes to raspberries, however, she insists on none of these formalities. She’ll eat them off the road. Or nip them from a bush. Or dig them out of the compost if I’m not watching. I'd like to say I disapprove of the last of these behaviors, but in truth, I don’t really blame her: they really are that good.

So far, we’ve gotten about eight pints, and our back patch hasn’t yet ripened. Still, we took last night to get a jump start on our annual jam project. This is serious business: raspberry jam is a mainstay where our holiday gift-giving is concerned, and I know of at least one reader of this blog who might bar my entrance at the family Christmas celebration if I don’t arrive with raspberry jam in hand (hi, mom!).

I’ve been experimenting with some new recipes this year. Maybe it’s the heat and humidity around here, or my recent trip to Dominica. Either way, I’ve been feeling a tropical influence lately, so I decided to go with a raspberry-lime recipe this year. Ari agreed to supervise, though she was more than a little leary of the lime (caninaturalists hate citrus).

Checking the consistency using the “cold plate” test: if the jam congeals on the plate, it’s ready to be canned.

The even more important caninaturalist test: if she scarfs it down, it’s definitely ready to be canned. Lime be damned, the new recipe passed the Ari test with flying colors. Phew!

Our first batch out of the water bath. Success!

Okay, mom: does that mean we can buy our plane tickets now?

Yours in preserves,

Saturday, July 19, 2008


High: 83° F
Low: 62° F
Conditions: Humid with a chance of afternoon thunderstorms
Ari didn’t believe me when I told her that a young garter snake (Thamnophis s. sirtalis) has moved into my aging Honda.

Greg and I watched him for the better part of an hour yesterday morning, marveling at the way he extended himself like a branch from my headlight and wondering how on earth he got inside.

Greg speculated that the snake had crawled up through my radiator.

“But how?” I asked. “they don’t have legs.”

“Snakes climb trees, don’t they? They don’t need legs for that.”

He had a point, though in truth, how snakes can climb a tree makes no more sense to me than how they could slither up my radiator. Or my tire. Or however else he got himself wedged in there. But that just made his unexpected appearance all the more appealing.

This particularly wily—not to mention nimble—specimen let us stare for quite some time. And he didn’t even flinch when we went inside, collected the digital camera, and got up close for a shot. But when we returned with the caninaturalist, the snake made himself scarce. I pointed to the spot above the light where he had recoiled, leaving just the nub of his snaky nose.

Ari just didn’t get it. She probably couldn’t smell him. And I doubt she could really see him, either. When he finally revealed enough of his head to warrant notice, she gave him a quick sniff and quickly ruled him decidedly un-interesting, then turned to me with a huff. That's it?!?! She seemed to ask me. You brought me out here for that?

This is a dog who wouldn’t think twice about selling me to a band of gypsies if it meant she could have one good roll on a dead snake. As for this living specimen and its unusual habitat, she clearly couldn’t care less. In fact, she seemed much more concerned over the fact that her human friend seems to have developed a preternatural—and utterly inexplicable—fascination with a not-very-interesting part of the car.

The look she gave me when I took her—for the hundredth time—to visit the headlight could only mean one thing: pleeeeaasee. As in, give me a break. Or, gee, mom, let’s go stare at some gravel while we’re at it. That’s pretty interesting too. Eventually, I relented.

Back inside, I showed her some of my favorite Richard Scarry tomes, thinking the character I remembered as Mr. Snake might entice her. And why not? Greg and I both agreed we saw a very distinct resemblance. Here's our snake:

Here's Richard Scarry's driving a genetically modified apple car:

And one of him being carried by a cat servant (an idea that probably appeals greatly to Ari).
Even still, these images didn't resonate with her, either. Maybe that's because, as our friend Farmgirl patiently explained, that's not a snake at all, but rather, a lowly worm. Damn. I guess it doesn't matter all that much: the caninaturalist has never been one for book learning. I tried reading aloud, but she just slinked off to her crate. If she had a cell phone, I’m sure she would have called some of her other adolescent friends to complain about what a weirdo I’m being. If we drove our snake-infested car to the mall, she'd probably make me drop her off a block away so that nobody knew we were related.
Not that anyone except for Mr. Snake will be driving said car in the near future. He's laid claim, and I know that occupany is 9/10ths of the law. Or something like that.

So now I have a dog positively brimming with teenage dismissal and a car I cannot drive, for fear of cooking its new resident. The whole weekend could be a wash. Good thing I have some children’s books to read instead.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Land, ho!

Back on Terra Firma and once again united with the caninaturalist after a whirlwind trip to England and Ireland.

I began my adventure in the greater London area at the National Archives and National Maritime Museum, which is guarded by these very fierce hybrids:

It's a good thing one of them is half-lion, since there were tons of cat facts to be found inside including this one:

Polydactyl cats like Ari's housemate, Mouse (seen here balancing on her massive lobster claw-like paws), were considered good luck by sailors because they were so adept at catching mice. As a result, they were often the only animals (other than stowaways, of course) allowed on tall ships.

These are called catheads. They were located on the sides of tall ships near the anchor chain, which sometimes was raised or lowered out of their mouths. The caninaturalist is no expert on charismatic megafauna, but she thinks the first one looks a heck of a lot more like a baboon than it does a cat--even one as silly looking as Mouse.

The Maritime Museum is located in the same park as the Royal Observatory, which is home of the Prime Meridian. It's also an afternoon playground for Greenwich's dogs, including this very regal looking wolfhound:

And this slightly-less regal looking, but no less charming hound named Shovel, who lives at the bed and breakfast where I stayed:

After biding farewell to Shovel and his human friends, I made my way to Dublin, where I boarded the Jeanie Johnston, a recreated tall ship and subject of my next book project.

The salty sailors on board would have made my friend, Maverick, proud, and there was plenty of pirate talk on board. We were also accompanied by a particularly friendly group of dolphins who swam near the bow for a good part of our trip. Rumor has it that they are friends with Fungi, the famous Dingle Dolphin who has been greeting visitors to the Fenit port for nearly 20 years (long enough for sailors to speculate that, like most celebrity animals, Fungi might actually be three or four different individuals). Fungi had other marine engagements when I sailed by, but I'm sure he'll make time for me next visit.

This trip ended far too soon, but I am glad to be back amongst my Maine pack. They had more than their fair share of adventures while I was gone, and I'll let them tell you about them later this week. In the meantime, it's good to be back--and back on-line!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Anchors Away

Out With Ari will be on holiday for the next week. I'm traveling to Ireland to sail aboard the Jeanie Johnston as part of my next book project. The JJ is a truly remarkable ship, and you can read more about here by clicking here. In the meantime, Ari promises to scout out some new adventures for us to undertake back at home when I return on the 15th. See you then!
All our best,

Friday, July 4, 2008

Independence Day

High: 74° F
Low: 52° F
Conditions: Mostly sunny and dry.
When I was growing up in the Midwest, we celebrated each Independence Day by checking the veracity of the “Corn Is Knee-High By the 4th of July” adage. It usually proved accurate. Here in Maine, our extended frost season means that corn barely reaches the knee of a caninaturalist, let alone a human this time of year. Nevertheless, we still see an important correlation between the summer holiday and our food.

For the second year in a row, July 4th signals the start of our “Food Independence” project with another year of local eating. The timing is deliberate, since this is the first week we have a real bounty of crops to pick from. Most notably, of course, are the first summer berries to ripen in Maine.
Yesterday, we picked just under 40 pounds of strawberries. A good number (almost 20 quarts, to be exact) went into our freezer so that we can make it until next July without buying fruit (we'll add blueberries, peaches, blackberries, raspberries, pears and apples by September). The rest went into a community jam making project I launched this season. Ari isn’t a big fan of strawberries for strawberry’s sake, but give her a spoon with some leftover jam on it, and you’ll have a friend for life.

There are plenty of other local eating opportunities to be had by an enterprising young dog. Ari loves blueberries and snowpeas; she’s also a big fan of steamed carrots and zucchini. As for the local poultry and salmon, let’s just say I wouldn’t be surprised if she channels her desire into an all-out assault on a closed fridge sometime soon. (Her predecessor was a champ at pulling chicken off the grill without 1] us noticing or 2] managing to burn his tongue. I still don't know how he did that.)

We’ve also been experimenting with all-local biscuits recently. I managed to adapt a few biscuit recipes to our local ingredients, and a great new company in Maine called Barkwheats recently opened with a wonderful selection of Made-in-Maine cookies almost too pretty to eat. At the farmer’s market this week, they gave us this fabulous pin in recognition for our eating achievements:
We plan to wear it proudly.

We’d love to hear it if you have any secrets or best-practices for eating local (roadkill doesn't count, blogging doggers). In the meantime, happy independent eating!


Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Soggy Adventures

Low: 62°
High: 81°

Conditions: Humid with daily chance of thundershowers. Flooding in the western mountains.

Here we are, embarking upon the start of July, and nary an extended outdoor adventure for the caninaturalist to speak of. An embarrassing oversight, to say the least. And so, worried that Ari's naturalist education might be lagging, we humans spent the weekend trying to rectify this neglect with a trip up into the Great North Woods.
There, we camped at the base of Maine’s highest mountain, Katahdin, with our best little friend Olivia and her parents.
It was a dodgy camping weekend filled with thunderstorms and a surprising amount of bear scat around the campground. These are just two possible reasons why the caninaturalist chose to make herself scarce for most of the weekend, evidently preferring the cave she created under our picnic table to any adventure around our campsite.

In fact, we might not have recognized this dog at all, were it not for our daytime adventures in the woods.
This is Gulf Hagas, often called "The Grand Canyon of Maine." Part of the 100 mile wilderness known to all Appalachian Trail hikers, it's also a great place for a day trip, filled as it is with history as one of the country's oldest ironworks. This ore oven is a vestige of that mostly-forgotten history of the region.

Even a kiln of this stature would have had a hard time staying lit with all the rains this weekend. Still--and undaunted by the weather--we set out on Monday to explore this, one of our favorite northern haunts.

The streams were up considerably from the weekend rain, which means the three of us had a very wet stream crossing early in the hike. Ever the champion, though, the caninaturalist was not deterred by a mere flood-stage stream.

Maybe it's because she knew what kind of natural wonders were awaiting us, like this loaded boulder, a veritable ecosystem onto itself:
Or these loons, caught as a blurry image across the pond (but still noticed by our cunning, blue-eyed dog):
Or this garter snake, taking advantage of a dry moment or two (before being snouted by a equally-curious cunining blue-eyed dog).

All of this, I think, is proof positive that a true caninaturalist attitude can overcome any conditions--so long as there are new friends to meet and trails to explore.