Sunday, August 31, 2008

State Park Sabbath

High: 80° F
Low: 55° F
Conditions: Sunny and breezy
The fall semester began this week, which means the two bipeds in our house are spending a lot more time at school and a lot less time at home. When we are at the house, our noses are almost always buried in a dusty book. That’s mostly fine with Mouse and Leila Tov, who are content to curl up on our laps, whether or not we’re paying them any real attention. But a certain caninaturalist objects strenuously to the new arrangement and our renewed love affair with literary tomes.

Said caninaturalist likes to find interesting ways to express her disapproval, like shredding a bag of bread left on the kitchen counter or eating a leather-bound book, especially if the latter was published in 1867. And was on special loan from the library. Because it was so valuable. (Hey, look! Somebody glued rawhide to this set of old papers. Neat!).

Greg and I both hold all texts as sacred, so there isn't much else that evokes quite the heartache as a destroyed book. I would like to suggest that Ari knew this was not an appropriate demonstration of her feelings, but the gleeful way she brought me the remaining tattered pages suggests otherwise.

To make matters worse, replacing extremely rare books is not something that the salaries of two professors at scruffy little colleges can support. So, after a family meeting, we all decided that we need a new approach to the craziness of the academic year. Our solution? The State Park Sabbath.

We humans have sworn a pledge to take one day off a week. That means no work for which we get paid, no talk of jobs, no reading for anything other than pleasure, and no time spent on the computer for any purpose whatsoever. Admittedly, this project has been tried before and didn’t meet with great success. But this year is different.

In the spirit of substance recovery programs, we have finally admitted we have an addiction problem. We’ve also decided we can’t be in the vicinity of our addiction triggers (e.g., books and computers) if our resolve is going to stick. So we’ve decided to take each Saturday and visit a different park or hiking trail in the state. There, we can't be taken in by the allure of grading student responses to Thoreau. Or the siren-song of answering emails about committees and exciting new policies regarding the transfer of credit hours.

First up? Our very favorite swimming hole in the whole wide world: Lake St. George.

This fantastic park has plenty of hiking trails and beaches, along with a great old homestead seen in the title shot of this post. We really like to stroll and sit and read here. But what we really, really love is a secret swimming spot just past the state park at the southern end of the lake.

There, a series of granite outcroppings form the perfect ledges for lounging. And the water is so perfectly clear and cold in the lake that you feel like you’ve taken a very expensive mineral bath after you've gone swimming in it (we actually know people who drink from this pond). It’s the perfect place for a destructive dog and two work-addicted humans to spend a day.

It also doesn’t hurt that Lake St. George is right next to what could arguably be the best ice cream stand in the entire world.

John’s Ice Cream uses all local cream and fruit. And they have groovy flavors, too, like chocolate with candied orange peel, peach-ginger, Grapenuts, and two of our favorites: pumpkin and apple pie.

We may disagree with Ari about the sanctity of books and the allotment of weekday time, but the three of us are in perfect agreement: there isn’t a better way to spend a late summer day in all the world.

Friends, as Gustav bears down on New Orleans, folks are evacuating the region--and this time, authorities are letting them bring their animal friends with them. We found an interesting clip on about evacuations for the canines in New Orleans and a similar story on Check it out, and consider donating to the New Orleans rescue associations.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Bay of Fundy, Part II

High: 78° F
Low: 55° F
Conditions: Unlimited sunshine

We spent a good part of last week camping at the Fundy National Park in New Brunswick, home of the highest tides in the world. It's also home to some great flora and fauna, including this pernicious little creature who took great delight in tourmenting one caninaturalist in particular:

Since lounging isn't much of an option when rodents are yelling at you, Ari agreed to join us on a 10-mile hike that looped through the southeastern most part of the park.
We began just above the confluence of this stream and the bay. The covered bridge is a recreation of a 1902 bridge that once stood on the site, a time when this locale was dominated by mining and timber camps. Both did a fair amount of environmental damange, but in the last 10 years, the area has seen the return of Atlantic salmon and eels, along with bald eagles (we counted five!) and the original upland forest.
The trail took us up a steep ridgeline, where we had several miles of fantastic ocean views. We were particularly taken by the halo of sandstone floating just off-shore.

From there, we descended to this fabulous (and completely empty) pebble beach. Unlike our first park, this one didn't prohibit dogs on the beach, so the three of us had great fun taking a cold swim, having a picnic lunch, and lounging as we watched the tide engulf this expanse of land.
From there, our trail turned us back towards our temporary home at the campsite. We passed through this lovely meadow, which was positively blanketed in goldenrod and Queen Anne's lace ,before it returned us to the shadow of a hardwood forest:

Hugging both the ridge and the ocean shore, these woods existed as a micro-rain forest in the otherwise temperate region. We found scads of ferns (good for sniffing) and moss (great for rolling):

Best of all, we confirmed a simple yet beautiful truth: where there is rain and quick elevation loss, there is much moving water.

I think all three of us fell in love with the Bay of Fundy on this trip (though it took awhile for one of us to realize that we were not going to be eaten by squirrels, bears, or dinosaurs). We return refreshed, revitalized, and ready to embrace the new semester.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Bay of Fundiplomacy

High: 72° F
Low: 55° F
Conditions: Mostly sunny and breezy
As many of you know, our good friend, Professor Huricane Akara Turbofire (PhD) is running for president. He recently announced his running mate, the very lovely Khyra. This got us thinking about other cabinet positions, and how Ari might get involved in this growing braintrust. To our minds, a caninaturalist is a perfect Secretary of the Interior, since that will give her access to some of the best parks and wilderness areas in the country. But just in case that position is taken, we thought we'd practice our best international relations in the hopes that we might be considered for a diplomatic position.
Ari is resolute about not wanting to fly, and Mexico is a REALLY long car trip for us. So we packed our bags and headed north of the border to the very wonderful province of New Brunswick. Below is the first half of our photos from this ambassadorial envoy expedition; we'll post the other half later this week. What do you think, Tubey?
The lovely seaside town of St. Andrew:
One of several 19th-century Irish cemeteries. New Brunswick was a popular destination for famine-era immigrants. Most of the grave stones included the person's hometown in Ireland as tribute to this ocean crossing.
While Irish cemeteries are fascinating to the two humans on this trip, the caninaturalist favored shoreline inquiries of marine vegetation, including dulse, the sea vegetable this area is famous for:
From St. Andrew's, we drove to a provincial park called New River Beach. Here's the long shot of the lovely beach, which has some of the highest tides in the world:
Here's the reason why we only have a long shot of this beautiful beach:
Happily, chicken fajitas cooked over a campstove is enough to placate most people denied access to lovely shorelines:
So too are areas further up the coast, like these sea caves carved out of local sandstone:
This is some of the tenacious vegetation that has made a home out of the cave walls:
And these, of course, are the slightly less tenacious (but still enthusiastic) naturalists enjoying said vegetation!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Meet Zeke

High: 75º F
Low: 58º F
Conditions: Partly cloudy and continued breezy.

Everybody needs a friend. That’s especially true if you are an extremely social canine naturalist. We received rumor that a new candidate had just arrived in the seaside town of Boothbay Harbor, where Greg’s sister and brother-in-law live. This news was all the excuse we needed to hop in the car and find out more.
We started off by admiring some of the lovely coastal gardens in the area. Ari seemed particularly taken by the hydrangea, but not enough to want to linger—after all, you can only look at a bush for so long, even if it is a blue one.

Keeping with our color theme, Ari next tried very hard to befriend Blue, our persnickety cat-in-law. Here’s how that project went:

Apparently, Blue isn’t quite as keen on caninaturalists as Mouse and Leila Tov are.

While Ari tried unsuccessfully to woo this enormous cat, we humans had a great time getting to know the region’s famous bivalves.
The Damariscotta River estuary is a particularly rich spot for plankton and algae. This, coupled with its pristine waters, result in some of the best oysters in the world.

Shellfish is slightly more appealing than bushes and mean cats for Ari, but they still aren’t entirely satisfying. After much impatient sighing, she finally got to meet the main attraction: Zeke, rescue dog extraordinaire.
Zeke was on death row at a Tennessee shelter when a golden retriever rescue center learned of him. They swooped in and saved him just hours before his execution, even though he is neither golden nor much of a retriever. Then he and 150 other inmates were transported up to New England in a giant horse trailer (what a racket that must have been inside!), where they were met by their very excited new families.
Zeke is 8 months old and a total goofball. We've nicknamed him Pinky, from Pinky and Brain (which suits Ari just fine, so long as she gets to be the Brain.). Still, we’re delighted to count him as part of our extended family. And Ari’s more than happy to claim him as her new best friend. She’s even enrolled him in an advanced caninaturalist seminar. They should be out tracking foxes together any day now--if they're not plotting to take over the world first.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sugarloaf, Summer.

High: 82° F
Low: 61° F
Conditions: Mostly sunny with a steady breeze.

It was a busy weekend at caninaturalist central. Ari and I served as mistresses of ceremony at the grand opening of the Belfast Dog Park (we’ll have pictures of the event later this week). We also were running the finals of the title contest for our forthcoming book (scroll to the bottom of this post to find out who won!).

With all this socializing—both real and digital—going on, we needed to balance the activity with a little quiet contemplation and good old fashioned physical exertion. And so, we decided to head to one of our very favorite winter haunts, Sugarloaf Mountain. From November to April, Sugarloaf is a kind of second home to us. Greg and I love the downhill skiing; Ari loves the fact that there’s always another dog or two around. And, when the lift lines are too long, she gets a nice ski-jore on the cross country trails just off the mountain.

Sugarloaf is no slouch. At 4237 feet, it is the second highest mountain in Maine. This is what Sugarloaf looks like nine months out of the year:

But this is what it looks like (halfway up the mountain) in the middle of August:

The caninaturalist and I were intrigued at the prospect of exploring this foreign summer-scape. Or at least I was. She was more distracted because I told her there was a really good chance we might run into a moose on our hike:

Unfortunately, that turned out to be just one more bait and switch in the mind of Ari. Although we saw plenty of signs of moose, the cause of these signs remained allusive:

Luckily, what we lacked in fauna, we made up for in flora. Like these late summer blossoms:

And this vibrant alpine meadow near the top of the mountain:

We also found scads of berry bushes. I thought these raspberries were just about perfect:

But Ari seemed to prefer the blueberries (must be that color thing again!):

It takes about 7 minutes to get to the top of Sugarloaf by chairlift. It took us just over 70 by foot (not counting much-needed rest breaks). The view from the top was hazy, but that's okay: the journey made it all worthwhile.


Congratulations to our friend, Marigold, Goat Philosopher! Marigold's title, "No Stone Unturned" won our title contest with 8 votes. Second place went to "Outside with Ari", and the other three titles tied with 3 votes each. Marigold will get a very special gift of thanks, and we'll forward all of the titles to our editor for consideration.

You all may remember that Marigold also won our Audubon Christmas bird count for the most birds counted. Now, dog bloggers, we don't mean to be speciest, but we are aware that twice now you have been bested by a goat. To quote our good friend Khyra, we're just saying. . .

Friday, August 15, 2008

Title finalists!

Thanks to your creativity and time, we received over 60 possible titles for Ari’s forthcoming book! We’ll be sending all of them to our publisher, but in the meantime, we have to pick a winner from all these great suggestions. Greg, the Caninaturalist, and I sat down last night to review the submissions. We discounted any suggestion if there is already a book with part of that title and, in the interest of fairness, removed any title we had previously suggested. In the end, we still had a great list—and some tough choices. Here are five of our favorites. Now it’s your turn to vote. Tell us which of these main titles you like the best, and we’ll announce the winner early next week. And stay tuned to hear what our friends over at Skyhorse Publishing ultimately decide.

Ground Scents: Life as a Canine Naturalist
Dogs Outright: Twelve months off the leash and in the wild
Tracks: The year of living off-leash
No Stone Unturned: Experiences in Canine Naturalism
Outside With Ari: One Year as a Canine Naturalist

PS- We'd still love to hear new suggestions. But don't forget to vote for these favorites, too!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Dear Friends,
We need your help! As many of you know, Ari’s book will be published by Skyhorse Publishing and distributed by W.W. Norton in early Spring 2009. The manuscript includes some of our earliest blog posts (you can read a few of them by clicking HERE and then scrolling to the bottom of the page). These and other entries tell the story of the caninatuarlist's first year with us: her doggy antics, observations on the natural world, and more.

The book is almost done. We’ve finished the chapters; we’ve tentatively settled on cover art. All that’s missing now is the title.

Originally, we had intended to call the book Out With Ari: 12 Months as a Canine Naturalist, but the editorial staff at Skyhorse didn’t think it was descriptive enough in terms of the book’s content. Other possible names include:
Dog in the Woods
The Year of Living Off Leash
Lessons from the Field

We think they’re okay, but we’re not super crazy about any of them. That’s why we need you! What do you think we should call this book? It needs to be the kind of title that both makes people pick up the book in a bookstore and also says to the world, “hey, everybody, this is a book about a dog growing up in the natural world.”

We really want to hear all of your suggestions. We’ll even have a special prize for the title we like the best. And if the publisher selects your title, we’ll include you in the acknowledgements page and send you an autographed copy.

We can't wait to hear your ideas.

Thanks so much for your help.
Untitledly yours,

Friday, August 8, 2008

Blueberry Hill

High: 62° F
Low: 50° F
Conditions: Showers continuous throughout the day
It has been surprisingly wet and cold here in Maine this week. Last night, we started up the woodstove to chase away some of the damp. Even still, by early morning we needed an extra quilt and one very fuzzy caninaturalist to keep warm in bed. It’s a sign, I think, that our short-lived summer will soon be retreating.

Before it does, however, the entire state of Maine is pausing long enough to enjoy one big blue rapture. It’s blueberry season: a week or so rivaled only by end-of-the-year holidays in terms of expanse and just plain jubilation. Wild blueberries (vaccinium pallidum) are the iconic symbol of Maine, and not without good reason. The scrappy little plants adore our hardscrabble landscape: from the exposed boulders and heart-dropping winter cold, to the long summer sunlight and thick ocean fog, this place was custom built for blueberry production. In fact, the state produces an average of 75 million pounds of blueberries each year.

Maine blueberries can be an acquired taste, though—especially if you have to harvest them yourself. Much smaller and more intense than those you find in a grocery store, these berries are almost feral. They don’t like to be cultivated or transplanted, and they’d sooner die than let you prune them. That means you don’t pick blueberries here in Maine; you rake them. On your hands and knees. For a very long time.

This is a handheld blueberry rake, which is used to comb the small bushes. Mostly, just the berries come off from the effort. Sometimes a few leaves, twigs, and multi-legged critters do, too. So most farms use winnowers like this one:

The machine gently rocks the berries while sending air from a powerful fan over them. The heavier berries tumble into a waiting box or basket while the lighter leaves (and hopefully most of the critters) flutter out.

Each year, we rake about 40 pounds of blueberries for our household. It's a fantastic outing for two humans and a canine naturalist. We drive to an old farm over on the coast, where we have great views of the Gulf of Maine and Bluehill. Afterwards, we stop for breakfast before working our way home to a day of blueberry processing. Some will be canned as preserves, but most will be frozen for the coming year.

The two cats don’t care all that much about these repeated trips down to our chest freezer, but the rest of us do.

Nothing gets the caninaturalist running downstairs like the tiny clink of a frozen blueberry hitting her bowl. Nothing, that is, except for the smell of Greg making blueberry pancakes. After all, what could be better than just frozen blueberries except for blueberries mixed with egg. And milk. And butter. And maple syrup. Greg and Ari agree: that combination is just about perfect.

As for me, I’m something of a traditionalist. I like to wait until fall, when the blueberry barrens light up the landscape with their red hue. Then, on frosty nights when we really, really need our woodstove, I pull out an old notecard printed in my grandmother’s cramped hand. It’s for her favorite blueberry crisp recipe. She never got to visit Maine, and I don’t know that she ever tried a wild Maine blueberry either, but the recipe is perfect nevertheless. Even Ari agrees—especially when she gets to lick the bowl.

Betty’s Blueberry Crisp
2-3 cups blueberries
½ cup butter
1 cup old fashioned oats
½ cup flour
¾ cup brown sugar
Dash of cinnamon
Dash of salt

Preheat over to 350° F. Spread the blueberries in a lightly-greased pie plate. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt. Gently work in the butter with your fingers until it forms a coarse meal. Drop meal evenly over blueberries. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, or until oatmeal topping is golden brown. Serve hot with vanilla ice cream.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The Year of the Fox

High: 72°F
Low: 55°F
Conditions: Partly cloudy with a chance of isolated showers later today.
According to Chinese astrology, 2008 is the year of the rat. The United Nations proclaimed 2008 the year of the potato. Both of those designations are all fine and good, but around here, we’ve decried 2008 to be the year of the fox.
It started in late spring when, each night right around midnight, we’d be awakened by ghoulish shrieking in the woods outside our house. Initially, I thought the banshee chorus was coming from a fisher cat (Martes pennanti) or porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum). Greg speculated it was bobcats (Lynx rufus). A resurgence of distinctive scat soon proved us both wrong: our woods had become make-out mountain for a pair of amorous red foxes (Vulpes vulpes). We’ve been waiting for the kits ever since.
In the meantime, we've come to love the hoarse bark of these wild canines. If you're not familiar with the sound, you can listen to a variety of calls here.
Throughout the summer, we've heard warning cries, mating cries, fighting cries, and just plain crying cries. But we still haven't seen the new family. That is, until recently.
Last week, Greg and the caninaturalist were out walking early in the morning. They heard a fox barking as it went racing by—just beyond their reach (unfortunately, neither thought to bring the camera). Following close behind was not only a large bobcat, but also another fox chasing the cat. The latter managed to tree the former, then screeched out at its mate, who had crossed the road and was lurking in our ash grove. The all-clear sign was enough to also bring out one of the season’s kits, who rendezoused with mom and dad before retreating into the pine grove.
Today, Ari and I went for our early morning stroll through the neighborhood pasture. There, just over the rise was not one, not two, but four fox kits engaged in a battle royale cagematch. They pounced and boxed and leapt and nipped and didn’t mind at all that a blue-eyed dog and singularly amazed human stood by and watched.
When one of them finally did notice us, he alerted the others. They all turned their attention towards us and, instead of scampering away, crouched low enough to scuttle closer for a better look. Ari stood on her hind legs and chortled her best greeting; much to our delight, the boldest of the litter returned it, albeit with some trepidation. Here was a wolfy-looking creature who seemed a whole lot like them (not to mention someone who would probably be great fun to play with), but why on earth was this wild looking dog standing next to a HUMAN? They were understandably stumped.
The four kits studied us for a long time before finally deciding that Ari must have very bad judgment to keep such company as I. Or perhaps their parents had warned them about canines who have fallen in with the wrong crowd. The most moral of the group issued the call of the cavalry, and off they went—too reluctant for inter-species play.
Not so further to our west at the Sugarloaf Golf Course. There, golfers have been plagued throughout the season by a particular clever fox who has taken to stealing balls on the fairway—often right out from under the noses of human players. That’s our kind of mulligan--especially this season, which we've dubbed the Summer of Fox.