Thursday, July 16, 2009

All Dogs Considered

Adventures with Ari is hitting the airwaves again. This Saturday morning at 11:30 EST, we'll be appearing on "Dog Talk," NPR's favorite canine call-in show. You can listen live by clicking here or download a podcast once the show had aired. And don't forget: we always love hearing from you on these shows.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Fragaria ananassa

High: 72° F
Low: 54° F
Conditions: Sunny.

I'm not going to lie: it's been a hard-fought summer here in Maine. So hard fought, in fact, that it hasn't seemed much like summer at all. At least, not until late this week. On Thursday, the clouds broke--as if by magic--and the rain abated. Mainers--including those who pride themselves on their staid Yankee reserve--were positively ebullient. Total strangers stopped one another in parking lots and famers markets, just for the sake of celebrating the return of the sun and all those things normally associated with a New England July.

Here at caninaturalist central, those things included a return to our annual agricultural inquiry as well. The subject of our study this week? Fragaria ananassa, or the domestic strawberry. Picking them is big business in our house, where we freeze enough to serve as our main fruit source for the year. We were frankly worried about the effects of the omnipresent rain and cold over the last six weeks. And, in truth, it did delay the season and limit overall yields. Nevertheless, this morning we returned with two full flats of our favorite variety, known in the strawberry world as "sparkle."

Something as simple as a smallish berry is enough to make us giddy this year. So much so that our resident pest, Mouse, couldn't even wait for the berries to be hulled before diving in. Taking the idea of "pick your own" a little too literally, she tried to eat the entire box of berries as soon as they arrived (and by "box" we really do mean BOX):

At the ripe age of three, Ari has learned a certain restraint where culinary matters are concerned. And she's developed a seriously discerning palate at that. As we cleaned and bagged and froze and jammed and canned, she remained aloof, watching the process with the removed interest of a well-worn foodie. It wasn't, in fact, until our last batch of jam was complete and fully set that she was willing to imbibe.

The verdict? Summer has arrived in all its ooey, gooey, syrupy splendor. And thank goodness for that.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

It's a wet, wet world.

High: 66° F
Low: 58° F
Conditions: Continual showers.

The statistic on today’s morning radio said it all: it’s rained 28 out of the last 30 days here in Maine.
Everyone—human and animal alike—is feeling the effects in his or her own way.

Meteorologists and historians are interested as can be. They talk about the unique stalled trough off the coast of New Brunswick that keeps pushing sea air onto the mainland, saturating Maine with omnipresent drizzle and humidity. They note that last month was the third rainiest June on record. It was also one of the coldest, with high temperatures rarely exceeding our normal lows.

The whitewater kayakers in our lives are thrilled, too, since they are able to run hidden creeks and streams normally reserved for winter snowmelt. Probably there are other tiny niches of people—ones with fins and webbed toes, I suspect—who are also happy to be occupying soup that puts even Seattle to shame.

But that doesn’t mean much if you’re a canine naturalist.

Ari is a dog driven by sun: it wakes her in the morning and pushes her outdoors in the evening. Without it, she snoozes in a kind of timeless vacuum. Meal schedules become irrelevant. So too do otherwise precisely timed walks. And why not? The moral imperative for any good caninaturalist is to get outside and observe the world. But, really, that’s only interesting when there’s a world to observe.

Sure, there’s plenty to see outside right now: incredibly lush trees, the first blackeyed susans of the year, armies of slugs and earthworms, those intrepid whitewater paddlers. These sorts of things, though, have never really had the draw other species have had for Ari. This damp and dark has sent everyone retreating for dens and caves--a little bit of cozy dry in an otherwise soggy world.

It's almost as if Ari's favorite creatures—the martins and deer, the squirrels and neighborhood cats—seem to have come to the same conclusion she has: So far, this summer has gone anywhere but to the dogs.

Sunday, June 28, 2009


High: 68°F
Low: 55°F
Conditions: Persistent rain.
Upstate New York has a lot going for it. There are wineries and pastureland, historical sites aplenty, and plump squirrels just asking to be chased by charismatic young canine naturalists.

But what really distinguishes the area is its geology. Thanks to a combination of deep river valleys and the even deeper effects of glaciation, the region is demarcated by steep trenches and troughs measuring hundreds of feet deep. Some, dammed by residual sediment, have formed the Finger Lakes. Others, still freely flowing, created some of the most stunning waterfalls around.

The most famous, of course, is Niagara Falls. And while Ari's naturalism has usually been more of a life, rather than earth, science, she nevertheless showed a keen interest in diversifying her study there. Even more appealing to her that day, however, was the Falls' termination: Lake Ontario—apparently some of the tastiest drinking water around (and thanks to recent environmental initiatives, surprisingly clean water at that).

The real hidden treat of the region for both of us, though, were the innumerable gorges and glens tucked into hillsides and anchoring many a state park. We did our best to hike as many as our days allowed.

There's a certain timeless energy to the constant flow of water--just enough din to make the less savory parts of everyday life sift away. Throughout the trip, we found ourselves standing motionless, taking in the passing of geological time: the power of water to dig through rock and epoch in a way any husky would surly admire. Gorgeous.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

We heart NY, Part I

High: 63° F
Low: 55° F
Conditions: Persistent Showers


Last week the canine naturalist and I took a tour of New York State. Later this week, we'll tell you more about the interesting caninaturalist opportunities we found there. But in the meantime, we want to tell you about some of the wonderful people and organizations we also discovered.

We began our trip at Buffalo's Bidwell-Elmwood Farmer's Market, where we met with many of the wonderful vendors there (including a woman who was spinning malamute hair into wool!). While there, we also gave a reading for market shoppers.

Next, we traveled to "Writers and Books" in Rochester, NY, where Ari had the distinction of being their very first visiting dog.

Finally, we visited the Downtown Writers Center in Syracuse, where we were warmly received by some wonderful people and fellow bloggers, including one of our very favorites, YourFireAnt, who took this photo.

I'm not going to lie: It was a long trip. We drove a lot. And simple things like finding a toilet or a place to eat lunch can be really tricky when you are traveling with a four-footed companion (not to mention one who has a coat that causes her to overheat at the drop of a hat).

Nevertheless, these inconveniences seem a small price to pay, considering how many turly fantastic people we met along the way. Would we do it again? In a New York minute.


Just in case you haven't become completely tired of the Adventures with Ari train, we'll be making another stop this Wednesday on The Blend's "Nature Connection" radio show, which airs at 6:00 p.m. EST. You can learn more and find a link to listen live here.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Shuffle off to Buffalo

Adventures with Ari is hitting the road for a book tour in New York State.

We'll begin with a reading at the Elmwell-Bidwell Farmers Market in Buffalo, where we'll be hosted by the wonderful independent bookstore, Talking Leaves Books.

Next, we'll be appearing at Syracuse's Downtown Writer's Center on June 16th.

Finally, on June 17th, we will be giving a reading at the Center for Writers and Books in Rochester, NY.

It should be a great time. And, along the way, the canine naturalist and I will be looking for our next great adventure. We'll have a full report when we return. In the meantime, happy exploring, all.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Tall Tail

High: 55° F
Low: 41° F
Conditions: Persistent drizzle

It was, as usual, Ari who first found the object. Resting as it was on the driveway to the abandoned camp across the street, I almost confused it for a woman’s wig: the cheap kind you might find in a girl’s dress-up trunk, discarded by a great aunt years earlier. Except, of course, that these coarse curls were attached to a very long tail.

What was it? Stretching three feet long, it exceeded the length of any wild appendage we knew of. And with that singularly moppish tassel, it certainly didn’t resemble the hind end of the usual suspects in our neighborhood: not the moose or bears, the bobcats or foxes. Not even the rumored mountain lions thought to be roaming, perhaps half feral, through Central Maine.

Maybe then, it wasn’t so wild after all.

I speculated cow, if for no other reason than—even in this degraded state—it sparked images of pastoral bovinity. Our friend Carissa, a vet, confirmed the identification.

But that still left other questions. Like how did this tail lose track of its body? And how did it migrate the two miles from the nearest dairy farm.

Carissa thinks it was probably Ari’s friend, the coyote, who did the transporting. As for how it lost track of its body, she say that’s anyone’s guess. Maybe a farmer docked tails, thinking it would make for easier milking. Maybe it was all that was left from a dead cow. Maybe something else entirely.

Ari may know more than she’s letting on, but she’s not willing to say a word. Not about species or detachment. And certainly not how it came to settle on a disused gravel drive. Is it a pact held by canines? A smugness caused by the glee of knowingness? A lack of interest in causality? Or do the details, like so much else about canine naturalism, not matter nearly as much as the unexpected result?

Only Ari can say for sure.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Bangor City Forest

High: 69° F
Low: 43° F
Conditions: Chance of showers

Earlier this year, the Bangor City Forest made the national news after a string of cross country skiers were mugged on the forest trails. Who was the perpetrator? Not marauding highwaymen or punk teenagers. No, this criminal was of the decidedly avian sort:

A great horned owl.

It seems the skiers (and in some cases, their dogs) inadvertantly got to close to the owl's nest. So he responded by clocking them on the head as they went by. The blow was enough to knock down at least one visitor to the forest.

State wildlife officials responded by posting these signs throughout the vicinity--perhaps hoping that, if they couldn't stop the owl from divebombing, they could at least give folks a heads up (as it were).

Earlier this week, the canine naturalist and I visited the forest, hoping we might find evidence of this aggressive flyer. We picked the trail we thought might most appeal to him, and set out to see what we could find.

No owls--assaultive or otherwise--but we did find some lovely spring wildflowers:

And plenty of rodent nesting holes to sniff:

We tried out some great granite benches:

And the forest watering holes:

Best of all, we even found some flora suffering from the same coat condition that Miss Ari is undergoing:

As for the marauding great horned owl, that'll have to wait for another trip. Probably a good thing, since it sounds like we might need to wear hard hats when we finally meet him.

Friday, May 29, 2009

What Not to Wear

High: 53 °F
Low: 48 °F
Conditions: Continual showers. Thunderstorms may be possible.
No one--not even fashion historians--can say for certain from where the rules originate. Even still, any classically-trained fashionista knows them well: no white before Memorial Day. No wool or other winter fabrics from Memorial to Labor Day. No open-toed shoes after that time. And how do these couture mavens feel about such guidelines?

About like this:

I've never considered Ari much of a girly-girl. And certainly I've never pegged her as a Vogue-reading, trend-spotting, rule-following fashion diva. But what else can explain her decision to wait until Memorial Day to begin blowing her coat?

And when I say blowing, I mean it. Check out a photo of today's progress (Complete with mangy bald swath across her lower thigh.)

It's hard work keeping up with antiquated fashion rules. Looking at this much-suffering dog, I'm reminded of W. B. Yeat's poem, "Adam's Curse," in which the poet opines:
. . . . And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There's many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, 'To be born woman is to know-
Although they do not talk of it at school-
That we must labour to be beautiful.'

And so labor Ari shall, until she's at her summer best. In the meantime, I'm collecting her efforts for my own fashion project.

In case the scale is lost in the photo, that's a gallon-sized Ziploc bag. And it's filled with Ari hair. I'm hopping to spin it and then maybe knit a scarf or hat.

But one important question remains. If my project works, will I be able to wear it before Labor Day?

Monday, May 25, 2009

Ari is a Lucky Dog

Lucky us! This week, we will be the featured guests on "The Lucky Dog Show." Hosted by Lisa Woody, the show is a 45-minute call-in program featured on Sirius and Animal Talk Radio. You can listen live (and even call in) on Wednesday at 9:00 p.m. Central time by clicking here. If you miss us, you'll also find the episode archived at the show's homepage.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nursery Tails

High: 77 °F
Low: 41 °F
Conditions: Increasing Clouds.

Signs of spring are all around us. Our neighbors report that the local fox family has given birth to three kits, and rumor has it that mom is letting them spend their early mornings romping in the hay field.

Just this morning, Ari and I found remnants of avian newborns as well:

What I really wanted, though, was to find out what's been happening with our local amphibean population. We've seen them as adults:

And as eggs:

However, our knowledge of what happens in between has always been more theoretical than practical. That is, until today.
It was Ari who found the tadpoles on our morning run. And, in truth, hers was more of an accidental than a deliberate discovery (read: she simply wanted a drink of water).

But once she got past the simple need to alleviate thirst, the canine naturalist was transfixed by what she found: a whole puddle full of these guys.

Left as eggs by their parents (who return to their home ponds), these tadpoles have to weather all kinds of threats to their wellbeing, including porcupines and raccoons.

Those that make it will eventually sprout legs and, driven by primordial DNA, will seek out their elders in the home pond. That is, of course, if they manage to weather a gregarious canine naturalist's doggy paddle first.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wildlife Prairie Park

High: 59 °F
Low: 38 °F
Conditions: Showers likely.
Friends, last week the Adventures with Ari book tour took us to Peoria, IL. While there, we toured Wildlife Prairie Park, a really wonderful animal sanctuary that features indigenous prairie animals (including several extirpated or endangered) in spacious natural settings.

Here are just a few of the residents we observed while there.

Pretty great, huh? But here's the thing: one of Rod Blagojevich's last act as governor was to slash$828,200 from the park budget, leaving them unable to function as a refuge and education center.
We here at caninaturalist center feel strongly about the importance of places like Wildlife Prairie Park, and we hope you do too. Please consider supporting WPP, either by making a donation or sending a letter in support of the outstanding work that they do.