Saturday, June 28, 2008

BFF


Low: 58° F
High: 82° F
Conditions: Humid with a chance of thunderstorms.
Growing up, I had a “best friend” named Cathy. I put this term in scare quotes deliberately: while our moms were convinced that Cathy and I were destined to be lifelong confidants, the two of us were often less certain of our BFF status. Sometimes, we got along famously. Other times, we pulled each other’s hair and chased one another around the house with kitchen implements (I still maintain this is because Cathy would never share her toys with me. I suspect she would disagree).

Cathy was very pretty and very, very proper (except for when she was chasing me around the living room with a potato masher). She always wore her hair in pigtails with pink ribbons and she knew about lip-gloss years before I had anything other than a milk mustache for adornment. I, on the other hand, wore tube socks with sandals and preferred pillow-time snarls to anything more coifed. Cathy played Barbie and went to gymnastics classes; I built go-carts and was the worst soccer player on an otherwise all-boy team. These may be just a few reasons why our friendship was a little hot and cold.

Meet Ari’s Cathy:This is Sylvie, the gorgeous rescued pharaoh hound. Sylvie’s human housemates are good friends of ours, so the two get to spend a fair amount of time together. Sometimes, they are thick as thieves. Other times, they’d just as soon bite off one another’s snout than share a rawhide.

Still, like doting parents, Sylvie’s human Julie and I believe in the prospect of their friendship.

That’s why we took the two dogs to Moose Point State Park this morning for a grand day out. Moose Point is a lovely bit of land settled by Scotch-Irish immigrants during the late 18th century. It was claimed by the British during the War of 1812. Once the colonists got it back, nobody was all that keen on living where Red Coats had just been, so the land returned to forest and, eventually, a state park.It’s a lovely patch of land on the edge of a bio-rich estuary, where eagles and osprey regularly come to feed. It’s also a favorite place of both Ari and Sylvie’s, so Julie and I were certain it was the perfect place for an outing.That, of course, assumed that we could get the dogs out. We had planned to take Julie’s larger SUV so that the dogs would have more personal space. But Ari wasn’t about to get in any vehicle claimed by Sylvie. We tried putting Sylvie in the very back and Ari in the very front, but the caninaturalist wasn’t about to have any of it. After a good 10 minutes of trying, we gave up and opted for my diminutive Honda. Ari was okay with this, provided she got to sit on the top of the hatchback, where she could lord over Sylvie. Miraculously, Sylvie was fine with her bossy friend’s demands.

Once we arrived at the park, there was a minor altercation when a ranger offered the two dogs two biscuits (both pups agreed this was absolutely the wrong ratio of canine to treat) and when I tried to offer Sylvie some of Ari's water (which the caninaturalist believes is a highly limited resource, all drinking fountains to the contrary). It's a good thing neither one of them had access to rolling pins of the opposable thumbs needed to use one as a weapon.

Even better, both dogs were willing to call a truce long enough to enjoy a good nature walk and to remember that they really do enjoy one another's company.

This white spruce (Picea glauca) is over 70 feet hight and 100 years old. As such, it is one of the biggest and oldest in the state of Maine. It's also the highlight of any hike for most humans at the park.


The caninaturalists gave it a dutiful glance or two, but neither experienced the reverence shared by their human companions.
Like any good adolescents, they were far more interested in what their peers had been up to around the trail. Would we have liked a little more transcendent awe from both of them? Maybe. But if good gossip prevents a blood letting, we're willing to make a few concessions now and again.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Lepidopterist

Low: 58°
High: 76°
Conditions: Sunny and crisp.
Ari really loves watching butterflies, which is what she’s doing in the above photo. In fact, given a choice there’s few other ways she’d like to spend a warm summer afternoon like this one. I’m always perfectly content joining her in this pursuit, but lately it’s occurred to me that I have no idea what I’m really watching. Sure, I know what a butterfly looks like. But how many kinds are there? And how are they different?

The caninaturalist may not care much about such things, but I do. So I recently enrolled in butterfly school, sponsored by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. This seminar is training for citizen scientists interested and willing to participate in the state’s butterfly count, which is currently underway.

I reported for the start of my training on Saturday morning and was soon immersed in a lecture that rivaled any I remember from college. As the scholars conducting the training took us through the basics of butterfly anatomy, metamorphosis, appendage evolution, and dietary exclusivity, I took page after page of notes and wondered how I had managed to forget every shred of basic biology gleaned during my formal education.

After lunch, training switched to the more pragmatic considerations of how to catch, identify, and preserve a butterfly for census information. With every butterfly encountered, we volunteers were instructed that we would either need to kill and dry the butterfly before sending it to a lab in Canada or, if we preferred, to take a picture of the butterfly with wings both extended and clasped above its body. We were issued standard butterfly swag, including a conspicuous-looking net, a menacing sounding “kill jar” and more forms and envelopes than is required for even the most elaborate tax form. The day ended with an optional butterfly netting practice session, which I summarily skipped, thinking myself too learned to require such remedial training (remember this detail for later).

And so, as the day drew to a close, Ari and I were cleared for duty, which namely consisted of proving we had seen the butterflies we thought we had seen.

I’ve done other animal counts ranging from peepers to owls and back again, so I didn’t understand the formality of this collection process. Didn’t they trust us?

I got my answer as soon as I returned home and discovered this guy, a victim of a hit-and-run accident on my road.

Aha, I thought. My first specimen! Identifying him shouldn’t be a problem at all. That is, until I pulled out my Kaufman Focus Guide to Butterflies of North America and found this page, the first of about five, all featuring nearly identical butterflies. After an hour of counting spots and lines, I felt fairly certain I had found an Anise Swallowtail (Papilio zelicaon), but who could really tell for sure?
No wonder they ask us to pack up these guys in envelopes and ship them to the lab. In my mind, this lab is filled with a little colony of gnomes working tireless to make positive IDs (this, in turn, is probably why scientists don't often ask writers to help with research).

Because Ari and I aren't too keen on killing the butterflies, that means we need to send our imaginary gnomes photos instead of carcasses. We went out for our inaugural butterfly-camera-safari this afternoon.
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Here’s a monarch we found lurking in the milkweed across our road:
A pretty good ID, I think. But what in the world do you make of this photo?
Is it even a butterfly? I doubt anyone could tell for sure. I'm not certain, and I'm the one who took the lousy picture. From a long way away. With a mediocre point-and-shoot camera.

That’s where the net comes in handy. Not to mention the practice. By catching a butterfly and temporarily transferring it to a clear container, I could get the photo op I needed for my ID. At least, that's what my very encouraging instructors at Butterfly School told me. But here's the thing. For every 10 times a swung my net, I caught a butterfly about once (and managed to terrify my dog about 8 or 9 times in the process). When I’d finally get a butterfly in my net, I had this terrible tendency to open it up to see if the insect really made it inside. Big surprise: he’d take that opportunity to fly right out again.
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After another dozen or so tries, I was hot. And tired. And maybe even a little frustrated.

I’m not going to mince words here: the caninaturalist was no help at all. Once she got over her terror of the lunatic swinging the net (aren’t butterfly nets supposed to be swung at lunatics, rather than the other way around?), she became more interested in pouncing on grass than helping me. When that grew tiresome, she decided she’d rather roll on warm moss (where, I might add, there were clearly no butterflies):
And when we came upon these two clowns, you can forget about our new career as lepidopterists, not when good caninology is at least as good (and probably ultimately more rewarding).

We were flummoxed.

So we did what any frustrated caninaturalist would do: we called in reinforcements.

Greg has a lot more coordination and patience than I do, so Ari and I both agreed he was the solution to our heretofore unsuccessful study. And we were right.

Here’s a picture of Greg seamlessly weaving the net through the air as if it and he were one. No surprise, there was a rowdy little butterfly still inside the net when he was done.

Between the three of us (and many, many painstaking tries), we coaxed the butterfly to the edge of the net, then eventually transferred him to a Ziploc bag where, presumably, we could get a clear enough shot to send to the lab. At least that’s what they told me at butterfly school.


But here’s what they didn’t tell me: if you’ve spent an hour wrestling a caninaturalist, straining your shoulder muscles, and cajoling your husband to leave the European Soccer semi-finals long enough for another hairbrained mission, all with a thin plastic baggy in your pocket, said baggy becomes far more translucent than transparent. And, should that be the case, any photo you take will look a whole lot like this:

What is it? I have absolutely no idea. I doubt the scientists will either. As for the caninaturalist, she’s too busy burying my net in some hidden location in the backyard to care.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Launch

High: 68°
Low: 52°
Conditions: Partly cloudy with gusty wind and sea fog
Summer arrived this weekend, and we decided to celebrate by attending a historic boat launch in our equally-historic neighboring town of Belfast. The occasion was the rechristening of three Buzzard Bay 30 sailboats. These boats, originally built as a small fleet of racing sailers in 1902, underwent a massive, 3-year, multi-million dollar overhaul led by nautical historians and boat-builders.

Greg, Ari, and I met up with our friends Candace and Dennis for the event. Candace is a freelance photographer who also runs a fantastic dog walking business called Boneheads (You can visit her website here). She’s also the author of a fabulous blog detailing her victory over Hodgkins Lymphoma called "Hodge Podge." Dennis, her soon-to-be-husband, is a true salty sailor who has crewed on tall ships, including the very beautiful Angelique, where he served as first mate (and where I first met Dennis and Candace while writing a travel article on the windjammer industry). Dennis was one of the wooden boat carpenters who restored the three boats, so this was an exciting day for him.

It was also a great day for the caninaturalist. Even though Dennis and Candace’s dog, Sadie, had to stay home that day, there were plenty of other dogs for the caninaturalist to meet, like this Jack Russell terrier, who was too busy watching the boats to pose for a picture (or maybe he's just a graduate of Stormy's Posing School?)


The beach plums (Prunus maritima var. maritima.) are finally in bloom, and they filled the scene both with their garish color and classic summer scent, which even Ari (who usually prefers the smell of rotting snake carcass) seemed to appreciate:


The real highlight of the day, however, was watching the boats return to the sea after generations away.


Once they were christened, the boats were launched along with their owners and many of the carpenters and builders who have spent the past several years restoring them. A bagpiper added harmonic gravity to the scene:

On Thursday, they'll undergo their first sea-test under full sail. In the meantime, the crews took all three out for a few quick turns around the harbor before docking for the night.



Ari wasn't nearly as excited as we were to hear about the sea-test, but she was plenty thrilled when the humans decided to celebrate the day with ice cream, which meant that she got more than her fair share of ooey-gooey cone.


I don't know if it was the resulting blood sugar from the ice cream, or all the excitement of the day, but the caninaturalist fell asleep the minute we made our way back to the car. In fact, we even had to wake her up to get her up to bed at the end of the night. That, in our opinion, is a sure-fire sign of a great day.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Lupine

High: 62°F
Low: 50°F
Conditions: A stalled low pressure system brings more rain and possible thunderstorms today and through the weekend.
It’s been a week filled with cold rain here at caninaturalist headquarters. Daytime temps haven’t risen out of the 60s in over a week, and pervasive damp is making everyone a little cranky. Our usual animal visitors—the hummingbirds and phoebes, whitetail deer and red squirrels—have been scarce this week, which may be one reason Ari has been truncating her walks every day.
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When she gets back home, she likes to curl up with her cat friends for warmth and empathy. When that doesn’t prove an effective panacea, Ari tries some of her old puppy tricks, like unmaking our bed.

As this picture indicates, even the exuberance of untucking blankets and sheets can’t really placate the caninaturalist on these dreary days. Frankly, I don’t blame her.

We're trying to find consolation in the fact that there is one group of organisms really benefiting from these conditions: our local plants. After a dry start to the summer, they can really use the rain.


Our favorite perennial enjoying the precipitation is the bigleaf lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus). This gorgeous perennial grows on both coasts of North America, but it seems to favor the rugged landscape of upland forest and northern coasts. This time of year, it is blooming absolutely everywhere in Maine, and many a field are lit up with its rich colors.

It’s hard for a caninaturalist not to love a plant with a name like lupine (especially when she wears a collar by the same name). We’ve read a few different accounts of how this flower came by its moniker: one source says that it’s because the individual flowers look like dog teeth. Another says its because their silvery appearance glows in the moonlight (which may be why there is a werewolf named Lupin in Harry Potter). My favorite explanation, though, comes from a book called Wildflowers Worth Knowing by Neltje Blanchan. There, Blanchan writes:

Farmers once thought that this plant preyed upon the fertility of their soil, as we see in the derivation of its name, from lupus, a wolf; whereas the lupine contents itself with sterile waste land no one should grudge it--steep, gravelly banks, railroad tracks, [and] exposed sunny hills. . . . It spreads far and wide in thrifty colonies, reflecting the vivid color of June skies, until, as Thoreau says, "the earth is blued with it."

The lupine is another of those interesting plants which go to sleep at night. Some members of the genus erect one half of the leaf and droop the other half until it becomes a vertical instead of the horizontal star it is by day. Sun dial, a popular name for the wild lupine, has reference to this peculiarity. . . . "That the sleep movements
of leaves are in some manner of high importance to the plants which exhibit them," says Darwin, "few will dispute who have observed how complex they sometimes are."

Sleep—and drink—on, lupine. We’ll join you in the sunshine next week.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Robin's Egg Blues

High: 72° F
Low: 46° F
Conditions: Sunny and very breezy.
Ari has always had a soft spot in her heart for robins. Maybe it’s because her eyes are just about robin-egg blue. Or because spotting an early flock of robins was one of her first acts as a caninaturalist. Regardless, she always seems to give these lovely birds more than their due each year.

I wasn’t all that surprised, then, when she found a nest of robin eggs earlier this week. What did surprise me, though, was where she found that nest: namely, on the forest floor.

Initially, I assumed that the nest had somehow fallen from a nearby tree. But after taking a closer look, we both discovered that it had been built here—deliberately wedged into a rotting log just off one of our favorite walking trails.

We’ve passed by a few times since first discovering the nest. Each time we do, we flush mom, who nevertheless hangs out nearby and returns to her nest as soon as we are a safe distance away. By all accounts, she seems like an attentive mother. So what we can't figure out, then, is why on earth she would pick such an awful place to try to raise a family. She and her eggs have already had to endure the curious muzzle of a young dog. I suspect more expert predators will find it as well—particularly once the kids have hatched.

Without any answer that we can see, we thought we’d throw the question out to our readers. Have you ever seen deliberate ground nesting by a robin? Is our new friend on to something and taking a page from upland ground birds like the grouse, or is she just a na├»ve first-time nest builder?

Yours in caninaturalist inquiry,
K&A

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Oasis


High: 86° F
Low: 64° F
Conditions: Humid with a chance of thundershowers

It’s hot. Really hot—for Maine, anyway. Whenever possible, the animals have spent the day sprawled out over table tops and cool floors. For most of the afternoon, Ari has occupied herself begging for frozen blueberries (her favorite snack--especially this time of year). Even the carnivorous cats seem interested in these chilly little snacks--though Ari's having a hard time remembering how to share. Still, the two felines persist, albeit it that cavalier, I'm-a-cat-so-I'm-too-cool-to-really-care kind of way.

The unexpected hot weather might reasonably deter many a canine from stepping outside, but not a true caninaturarlist. As far as Ari is concerned, it’s perfect conditions for visiting our neighborhood watering hole.

This is one of the town’s five fire ponds. Dug fifty years ago, It’s still used by our volunteer fire department to refill its tankers after a blaze. Since that doesn’t happen very often, mostly it just serves as a great wildlife refuge in miniature. During the early spring, we can catch the salamanders and peepers here. By autumn, a single blue heron will have moved in for a brief layover before heading further south.

This time of year, the pond is a great place for Ari to get a slimy, free-range salad before her proper dinner. It’s also wonderful bullfrog and turtle watching, which is what she’s doing here.
When they’re on holiday, we make do with a little mucky wading or swimming: the only things that can possibly compete with frosty blueberries and a cool tile floor on a day like today!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

To Market, To Market

High: 62° F
Low: 38° F
Conditions: Variable showers with high humidity
We got a rainy start to our first farmers market of the season, but luckily most people were not deterred. Ari certainly wasn’t. Saturday farmers markets are her favorite event of the weekend: not only does she get to try all kinds of tasty cheese and vegetable samples, but she also gets to check in with her favorite vendors. The farmers at the market really like Ari, and she really, really likes them. She has a hundred yodeling dances she performs for each one, and she knows who is most likely to drop everything to give her a belly rub or who won’t mind if she sticks her nose in their basil.

Ari also loves the market because it’s a great place to meet other dogs, and no one really cares how loudly she WOOs at them. Most Saturdays, she meets Spike, the temperamental Pomeranian who has a real soft spot in his heart for the caninaturalist. There’s also the Boston Terrier and the German Shepherd mix, who both love a good, leash-tangling greeting each weekend. And, of course, there’s Sylvie: a Pharoh-hound mix and the love of Ari’s life.

None of the other dogs made it out this Saturday—probably because of the bone chilling rain. Normally, Ari would be disappointed by this absence, but this weekend we were too busy to notice.

Our neighbor and historian, Judy Rock, has launched a new stand at the market. She sells traditional New England foods ranging from steamed brown breads and biscuits to baked beans and chowder. We’ve offered to work with her this summer, and Saturday was training day for both of us. Ari’s big training mostly involves not licking the baked goods (or reluctant customers). Mine comprised memorizing prices and recipes and how to make change while talking about potato beetles.

Neither of us had a perfect run as far as our new skills are concerned, but we did have a lot of fun—and we sold a lot of rhubarb muffins, too. We can’t wait to see what’s on the menu next week.

Yours in food,
K&A

PS-Thanks for all the kind words about our forthcoming book. And rest assured, it will not mean the end of Ari the Blog: we’ve met too many wonderful people, dogs, cats, goats, and teddy bears to stop now!!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Ari in Print


Dear Friends,

Good news! Out with Ari the blog is soon to become Out With Ari the book. Just recently, I completed a manuscript about the Ari's first year with us and her development as a canine naturalist. Rights to the book have been purchased by Skyhorse Publishing, which is distributed by W.W. Norton and Company. Look for Ari in a bookstore near you in Spring 2009!


Thanks for your friendship, and for supporting the caninaturalist in all her adventures.

K&A