Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Years with Treats

High: 43° F
Low: 24° F
Conditions: Sunny with wind gusts up to 50 mph.

Nope, it’s not another heat wave in Maine. Instead, we’re coming to you from Winston-Salem, North Carolina: home of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons.

Not an animal mascot, but we think it's pretty gosh darn cool nonetheless.

We humans are celebrating the New Year with a 3.5 mile road race at midnight. And what better way to prepare for a race than with a double scoop of frozen custard. And what better place to get custard than at this, quite possibly the best ice cream place anywhere:

That’s right: WOLFIE’S!

Our good friend Tubey has been keeping track of mascots for some time now. And he’s always quick to point out when stupid humans try to substitute another dog for a husky. Now, we may be wrong, but we think this ‘wolfie’ looks pretty husky to us.

PLUS, Wolfie’s trademark treat is the SCREAMWICH. And we’ve been around you wooing dogs long enough to know that sounds like an apt description for you, too.

If they’re still open, we might just have to get another scoop after the race. Maybe we’ll see you there. In the meantime, Happy New Year to Woo You All!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

'Twas the Night Before Christmas

And all through our house
Not a creature was stirring,
Not even our Mouse.

H A P P Y H O L I D A Y S ! !

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Black Diamond Blemish

Low: -4° F
High: 11° F
Conditions: Blizzard conditions with gusting wind and snow accumulation of 15 inches or higher.

The solstice hike is one of our family’s favorite traditions. We wake up first thing in the morning; the humans bundle up and stuff their pockets with dog biscuits; and then the three of us head out for an epic hike. Along the way, we see moose and birds and eat snacks. Then we stop for breakfast, and the resting canine naturalist gets the bacon from one of the human’s plate.

It’s an all-around great day. One of our collective favorites on the calendar, really.

So what do you do if you’re a dog looking forward to a solstice walk who is then disappointed when one of her stupid humans falls down a mountain a few days before?

You sulk a little. And you sigh deeply each of the million times you have to listen to her recount the fall—the death cookie she’s sure her ski hit (after all, she wouldn’t just fall, right?). You hear her talk about the daring tumble—about how it would have been a complete yard sale if her right ski hadn’t stayed on her right foot. About how said ski was responsible for bending her leg in a hundred different directions, none of which nature intended.

You sigh some more. You look at the front door longingly. You get bored and chase the cats around the house.

And then you settle for a consolation walk.

The other human—the less clumsy one—agrees to be your walker. This is unusual. And irritating, since he insists on eating an orange and everyone knows you hate the smell of citrus. Meanwhile, your human—the gimpy one—tries to make do with a knee-brace, ski poles, and a lot of Advil. You can see that glazed, ibuprofen look in her eyes. And you don’t like it. But you walk anyway, and pretend not to laugh because she looks like a goof. And really, it’s not all bad.

The hike is more of a shuffle, but it is awfully pretty.

And you get to growl at mallards.

And, okay, you even see a bald eagle.
And even in your crabby state, you have to admit that’s pretty impressive—especially today, which is the solstice after all. And even though there’s no bacon for you, there are biscuits. And they are homemade. And the humans are smiling—even the gimpy one—so you decide, okay maybe, you’ll have a good day, too.

And so you do.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

4 Calling Birds, 3 French Hens, 2 Turtle Doves, and a Partridge in a Pear Tree

High: 27° F
Low: 18° F
Conditions: Increasing cloudiness and wind. Winter Weather Advisory Takes Effect at 11:00 p.m. tonight.
It wasn’t an ideal day for a bird count—not with the spitting precipitation and gusts of wind. Still, that didn’t deter the dozen or so individuals in Central Maine who took part in the Audubon Society’s 109th Christmas Bird Count. The 12 of us spanned out over a good part of Waldo County from sunrise to sunset, logging every feathered creature who crossed our path.

Ari seemed particularly excited about the count—mostly, I suspect, because it meant six hours of walking the woods and roads around our house. And, for once, it also meant that I did not demand a speed-walking pace with few stops for sniffing.

As I kept my eyes peeled towards the tree line and sky, Ari focused hers on terra firma. This struck me as an incredibly naïve posture for a bird count, and I made no bones about telling her so. I pointed out that while this was only her second Christmas bird count, it was my eighth, and the extra six years had surely taught me a thing or two about where birds like to hang out. I started waxing about air currents and good perching branches when I was interrupted by this band of waddling birds:

That’s right. They’re on the ground.

This is the face of a smug dog.

Not to be out done, I reminded the caninaturalist that domestic fowl are not eligible for our avian census. I pointed out she would know that if she had read the instructions from Audubon. And then I remembered aloud that dogs can't read. She pretended not to hear me, then looked around for the stinkiest thing she could find—also on the ground.

This is the posture of a vindictive dog.

We called a truce and agreed to keep counting.

By 3:00 p.m., the wind was making further counting difficult, so we made our way back home. While I left for the pizza party hosted for biped birding volunteers, Ari completed our tally:

7 Juncos:

1 Pileated Woodpecker:

2 Herring Gulls:

12 Redpolls:

13 Goldfinches:

37 Chickadees:

8 Blue Jays:

1 White-Throated Sparrow:

5 Common Crows:

7 Nuthatches (5 red-breasted; 2 white breasted):

And yes, Ari, I won't forget about the neighborhood guinea hens and ducks (or that delightful aroma of dead things insinuated in a soggy dog coat).
Friends, be sure to mark your calendars! The 2009 Great Backyard Birdcount will take place on President's Day Weekend (13-16 Feburary). Once again, we'll have daily tallies from our participating blogging friends and a prize for the most birds counted. Don't forget DWB members, last year's winner was a GOAT (we're just saying. . . ).

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Deck the Boughs

High: 32° F
Low: 11° F
Conditions: Snow showers throughout the day

We’re big fans of holiday cheer around here, especially during these, the darkest days of the year. December in Maine means that the sun rises a little after 7:00 a.m. and sets before 4:00 p.m. That’s a lot of darkness. So much so, in fact, it’s also the one time of year I can count on not being awakened by an eager caninaturalist before 6:00 a.m. (thank goodness for small favors).

But the darkness can also get a little taxing. That’s one reason we really love our annual outing to pick out the household Christmas tree.

We humans love the ancient ideas that an evergreen tree might have the ability both to woo the sun back our way and, in the meantime, to weather whatever winter has up her sleeve. Meanwhile, the resident cats get to tap into their primordial, tree-dwelling DNA, (which gives Ari something to tattle about). Along the way, she also gets a great walk, lots of attention from kids bored with their own tree search, and some mighty impressive treats, too. And then there are those incredibly alluring horses to bark at. . .

Once we've told them a thing or two, it's time to get down to brass tacks. In our family, selecting the perfect tree is a delicate dance of compromise.

Ari, for instance, soon latched on (literally) to this little specimen:

So much so, in fact, that she not only refused to leave, but she had strong words for anyone who suggested we move on.

We considered harvesting the tree as a nod to Charlie Brown's Christmas choice, but couldn't quite bring ourselves to do so.

In the end, human preference trumped dog, and we chose this fabulous tree for our new housemate:

And then remembered AFTER we had cut it down to see if it would fit in our house.

This is a crucial step, particularly for two people with little spatial appreciation. Decking the halls in our house has turned tense more than once--particularly after we discover, while standing in our dining room, that the tree we just lugged inside will never, ever, fit there. Happily, this year we got it right.

Piper Mountain is a great place to get a tree. There are acres of evergreen forest to walk, friendly workers turning trees into something out of Dr. Seuss and this--my one donut of the year. Which also, coincidentally, is Ari's one bite of donut as well. (a reward not only for relinquishing her tiny tree, but for guarding our big one while we went to pay).

Back home, we used a dichotomous key to confirm that we had, in fact, purchased a balsam fir.

I was hopeful that this research would interest the canine naturalist--it is biological study after all--but she had moved on to new projects, like guarding the house from an assault by chickadees and red squirrels.

Meanwhile, we humans set to work rediscovering the decorations that had been tucked away in our basement for the past year. Ari's pesky housemate, Mouse, offered to "help."
That meant it took us about five times longer to finish the decorating than it should have, but Mouse tells me that's part of holiday tradition, too. Ari doesn't care one way or the other: she's just worried those damn squirrels are going to figure out a way to steal this tree--or, even worse, our donuts.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Fly the Friendly Skies

High: 37° F
Low: 18° F
Conditions: Increasing clouds with dropping temps

I’m the daughter of a private pilot. As a young child, though, I was terrified of my father's plane. I was an impressionable kind of kid (still am, probably), and when I overheard my grandfather retelling a story of two pilots who crashed into the side of a mountain, I was convinced the same fate awaited me. Did it matter that we lived in Iowa—thousands of miles away from any such natural feature? Absolutely not.

As I grew older, I came to understand the safety of this nifty little vehicle and its very steady pilot. And, in turn, I also learned to love a life in the air. It was a thrill to fly friends to Chicago for pizza on my birthday or to play around in the clouds on a hot summer afternoon. And to this day, I am the only holiday traveler I know of who grows absolutely giddy at the prospect of a busy day traversing major airports.

I was particularly excited, then, why my dad sent me the following story about members of the Airplane Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) who are offering up their planes and flight hours to help out dogs in need.

The story originally ran in AOPA’s newsletter, and it details a new partnership between two really wonderful organizations: Pilots N Paws and Animal Rescue Flights (ARF). This new relationship is a great example of mutually beneficial ideas: homeless dogs get first-class transportation to their new homes; private pilots get a great excuse to log the mandatory flying hours they must undergo each year to maintain their licenses.

Dogs are provided with protective earphones to prevent auditory damage and are usually secured in crates so that they don't wander around or become a projectile in the air. Even with these precautions, not all of them seem like enthusiastic participants in the program:

We've learned enough about stress and calming signals in dog school to know these little guys are less than elated. And based on the one disasterous adventure Ari and I had on a simple ocean ferry, I doubt the caninaturalist will try this mode of transportation anytime soon. Still, we're awful glad to hear this new program exists and that dogs in need are meeting their new familes that much quicker. A freaky mode of transportation seems like a small price to pay for that kind of new life. And think of all the stories these little ones will have to share at the dog park!

We just have one question, though. What do they get to do with their frequent flyer miles?