Wednesday, April 29, 2009

'Tis a Puzzlement

High: 63 °F
Low: 29 °F
Conditions: Sunny and calm.

Being a canine naturalist--especially a springtime canine naturalist--can be really confusing sometimes. We thought we'd illustrate this conundrum with the help of some file photos.

This is a lamb's ear:

This is an Ari ear:

This is a dogwood:

This is a dog's wood:

These are catkins:

These are cat kin:

See what we mean?

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Reading in the County

High: 69 °F
Low: 54 °F
Conditions: Ahhhhh, springtime.

If you take I-95 North, past Katahdin . . .

. . .and up towards the Canadian border, you will reach the greater Presque Isle region---an area perhaps best known for these:

That's right. Spuds. In fact, Arostook County (known simply as "The County" in Maine because of its enormity) rivals only parts of Idaho when it comes to per capita potato production. If you've ever eaten a Frito Lay potato chip or McDonald's french fry, there's a pretty good chance it originated here.

Presque Isle has plenty of other attractions, too. Like this, the launch site of the Double Eagle II--the first transatlantic balloon.

Or this, a 40-mile long model of the universe, built perfectly to scale.

But the real reason Ari and I made our way north this weekend was to visit the wonderful people at the Turner Memorial Library.

Library staff members invited us to join them this weekend for an Earth Day reading of Adventures with Ari. We had a wonderful time meeting the residents who joined us (and eating the biscuits graciously provided by the librarians).
We also met two of our youngest--and brightest--fans.It was a perfect day. And we thank all those who made it possible, particularly Sonja Plummer, the chief librarian and fabulous host of our event.

We hope they invite us back soon.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hug a Tree

High: 54 °F
Low: 34 °F
Conditions: Showers with gradual clearing across the region.

Happy Earth Day, friends. It seems that, with each passing year, there are more ways to celebrate this all-important event. Today was certainly proof positive of that trend.

Our local legends, the Red Sox, commemorated the date with special pro-recycling uniforms:

If a complete wardrobe change is not quite your cup of tea, you can also head to Sunnyvale, California, which marked the occasion with a special thermometer exchage: for every mercury thermometer (oral or other oriface) brought in to the town office today, Sunnyvale citizens received a brand new, heavy-metal-free digital one in its place.

Looking for something a little less . . . pragmatic? Then you could always try one of Hallmark's brand new Earth Day e-cards:

As for us here at caninaturalist headquarters, we opted for something a little more traditional:
a walk in the woods.

On this grandest of days out, we humans were particularly thrilled by the appearance of wildflowers slowly taking over the monochromatic landscape:

Miss Ari, on the other hand, was for more taken by the discovery of fox scat:

And, true to Rule #1 of canine naturalists worldwide, she celebrated this discovery in rich form.
(namely, by rolling in it).

(and everything else in the vicinity)

Because, really, why hug a tree when you can wear one? Especially, I guess, on Earth Day.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Good to See Green

Fearless by Tim Siebles
Good to see the green world
undiscouraged, the green fire
bounding back every spring, and beyond
the tyranny of thumbs, the weeks
and other co-conspiring green genes
ganging up, breaking in, despite
small shears and kill-mowers,
ground gougers, seed-eaters.
Here they come, sudden as graffiti
not there and then there--
naked, unhumble, unrequitedly green--
growing as if they would be trees
on any unmanned patch of earth,
any sidewalk cracked, crooning
between ties on lonesome railroad tracks.
And moss, the shyest green citizen
anywhere, dreaming between bricks
on the damp side of a shack.
Clear a quick swatch of dirt
and come back sooner than later
to find the green friends moved in:
their pitched tents, the first bright
leaves hitched to the new sun, new roots
tuning the subterranean flavors,
chlorophyll setting a feast of light.
Is it possible to be so glad?
The shoots rising in spite of every plot
against them. Every chemical stupidity,
every burned field, every better
home & garden finally overrun
by the green will, the green greenness
of green things growing greener.
The mad Earth publishing
Her many million murmuring
unsaids. Look
how the shade pours
from the big branches -- the ground,
the good ground, pubic
and sweet. The trees -- who
are they? Their stillness, that
long silence, the never
running away.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Advice for Bo, The White House Dog

Dear Bo,

Congratulations on becoming the first dog. Frankly, we have no idea what that must feel like. But we do know a few things about being a rowdy puppy. Forgive our hubris, but we thought we might offer you a little advice.

First, you're going to need to figure out where the humans keep the snacks. Probably, that's going to involve a fair amout of subterfuge on your part, since we suspect there are several layers of paid humans working to keep you separated from the really good stuff. But if Ari can get catfood off of the top shelf of a locked closet, we know you'll be able to figure it out. And when you do, don't forget to gorge. Dainty grazing is totally over-rated.

Secondly, the best way to get attention is by taking things the humans really like or need. In our house, that's usually books or wool socks. In yours, it'll probably be more along the lines of Mideast peace accords. Anything with a national seal on it will probably subsitute in a pinch.

Third. Work on your best winsome stare. You'd be amazed how effective it is--even on steely world leaders. Rubbing your snout with your front paws or flopping onto your back with a sigh works, too. Don't underestimate the importance of learning cute well: once you've mastered #1 and #2, you're going to need this extra skill.

Fourth. Master the art of timing. As any good actor knows, it's positively crucial. Decide you need to pee just after the State dinner has begun. Be sure to yowl during the climax of the important speech. Wait to race around the White House lawn until the military helicopter has landed and your humans have boarded.

Speaking of that White House lawn, don't forget to explore every single inch of it. And remember the most important rule of all: if it smells bad, eat it. If it smells really really bad, roll in it.
Good luck. We think you have the makings of a great caninaturalist.


Saturday, April 11, 2009

Click and Treat

High: 45 °F
Low: 24 °F
Conditions: Mostly Cloudy

It is a simple yet brilliant premise: behavior + click = treat. You can call it postive reinforcement or operant conditioning. You can call it bribery for all we care. Here at caninaturalist central, we know it as only one thing: the best way to achieve harmony within our home.

Although she might not always act like it, Ari has graduated from multiple dog school sessions--multi-week courses ranging from basic behaviors, to "clicks and tricks," even to (my favorite) "manners for the real world." Did we pass with flying colors? Definitely not. Did we need extra credit whenever we could get it? Absolutely. We're probably never going to pass our canine good citizen test, but we at least internalized the basic premise of each of these courses: do something good, and you get a treat.

These are words to live by at our house.

But what if you do something and your human isn't there to see it? Say, you resist the urge to chase a feline housemate. Or you bark at the UPS guy who has the audacity to leave a package on your door. Or you achieve a perfect sprawl across the bed that really, when it comes right down to it, is nothing short of art. No one was there to click that behavior. But you're sure--no, make that absolutely certain--that the human would have done so if she had seen it. And you also know perfectly well that a click is always, always, always followed by a treat.

The human's not there to do that part, either. But you're a good dog, right? And good dogs get treats, right? And if you happen to know where those treats are kept (and your HULA membership is still all new and shiney), then who could possibly blame you for doing a little self treating? Just a biscuit. Or two. Or ten. It's like homework, right? Or maybe even an independent study. And you know for a fact that it was well deserved.

Surely any reasonable human can't argue with that kind of logic, right?

Monday, April 6, 2009

The Launch

This past week was the launch of our new book, Adventures with Ari: A Puppy, A Leash, and Our Year Outdoors. Sponsored by Unity College, the event included a reading and book signing, plenty of time for the canine naturalist to mingle with her guests, and great food (including bone-shaped cookies for the humans). Here are some photos from the event:

Friday, April 3, 2009

canis familiaris?

High 53 °F
Low 35 °F
Conditions: Rain likely.

The fox appeared mid-way through the play session. It was late afternoon at the dog park--an acre or so of fenced in area bordered on two sides by busy roads, one by a small private airport, and the other by brush, bog, and a few trees. It was from the last of these that he appeared. Slinking and low on his haunches, he lugged his enormous tail (longer than his body in fact) through the tangle of raspberries and towards the dog park fence.

The three humans froze, mid conversation. They watched him creep along the length of the fence, then stop. “Will the dogs notice?” asked the man. We turned to see. The cocker spaniel and lab were oblivious to the visitor. So too was the canine naturalist—at least at first.

Maybe the winds changed. Or the hair on the back of her neck rose like it does when you know someone is watching you. Something like that, anyway. She whipped her head around in the direction of the fox, took one sniff of the air, and raced towards the fence.

We’ve written before about the fox family that lives in a pasture near our home. We’ve told you before about how Ari and the kits have a confused—but friendly—relationship. They look similar and sometimes even behave the same way. That makes them think that maybe they could be friends. But it never works, since she is hooked to a leash (and a human) and, in truth, they are very different species.

That seemed to be the way we were heading at the dog park, too. When Ari raced towards the fence, the fox began to bolt. But instead of retreating to the bramble and the trees, he stopped about 50 yards from the fence. He sat, ears erect, and watched Ari. Ari smiled and gave her best yodel.

That’s when things got interesting.

The fox responded with one of his own. Ari pawed at the fence. The fox rolled in the snow. Ari yodeled louder. The fox returned the greeting. And so it continued: one clowning move, met by another.

It was only the arrival of another human, along with her car and dog, that broke up the session: sending the fox back into the wild world he normally inhabits, and leaving us to wonder what this chance encounter might mean.