Monday, March 30, 2009

We did it!

There's a moment in every dogs' life when they realize the dream of their species. Maybe a lab makes the perfect catch while launching himself off of a dock into a summer lake; a beagle tracks deer for miles and miles, abandoning her owners for the afternoon while she finally gets the chance to follow her nose and all of its magical powers. And then. . .

And then there is the husky.

Sure, huskies like to play in snow. And many relish the opportunity to tie into a team of yowling brethren and race across a frozen lake. This is not, however their raison d'etre. No, as any human living with a husky will tell you, this breed has one--and only one--true reason for being: rampant destruction.

Now, as many of you know, Ari is only half husky. The rest of her DNA is Korean jindo, a dog known for being both serious and sensitive. Think of it as the angel on her right shoulder, the voice of reason in an otherwise devious mind. So Ari had to work extra hard--and extra long--before she was final able to embrace her full husky self. That's why our fellow dog bloggers were so thrilled with our recent soup incident. And why she has finally earned the highest possible honor for any husky: membership into HULA.

Needless to say, we were overjoyed when we received our notification. Here's what Queen Meeshka wrote:

"Dear Ari,

HULA membership requires a lot of dedication, evil plotting and planning, and finally; devious deeds to drive your humans insane. I had to say that when I read the tale of the soup... I piddled in the human woman's chair. It is so fiendish and clever that it would be an injustice not to welcome you into the HULA Hoop.

Display your certificate with pride... or rip it to shreds, whatever makes you happy, and welcome to the HULA Hoop.


Knowing Ari, the certificate will probably be shredded eventually. But for now, we are honored to display it here, along with our pride in a breed fully realized.


Thursday, March 26, 2009

This is just a note to say. . .

Dear Ari,

Just a quick note to tell you I love you. I do. Even though you stole the giant yogurt container of soup that was thawing on the kitchen counter. You know the one—it contained the homemade broccoli soup, that I made from scratch. You might even remember the day I sautéed the leeks, added diced carrot, celery, and potato. That I blended the perfectly caramelized vegetables with homemade chicken stock (which had reduced for a full day until it reached the perfect flavor and consistency). That I added the frozen broccoli—the Ziploc bags full of the veggies I picked with my own hand, then blanched in a scorching July kitchen so that we would have good produce even during the long winter. The soup that simmered all last Sunday, giving me the time I needed to perfect the spices—a little salt and pepper, a little thyme, a pinch of nutmeg. And when I finished that labor of love (and really, it was love that motivated me), I carefully ladled the soup into large yogurt containers and placed them in our chest freezer so that, on a day like today, I could take one out of the basement and know that a wholesome lunch awaited me. Which is why, of course, the broccoli soup (have I mentioned yet that you don’t even LIKE broccoli?) was thawing on the counter near the woodstove today, when I innocently left the house just long enough to run some errands. And, which is also why I am now writing you this letter. Because I want you to know that even though you stole my soup and somehow managed to lug the still-frozen container up to my bedroom, where you tore it open with your wolfie fangs until it looked like it had been a victim of an exuberant target practice, and then proceeded to gnaw on the soupcicle until it was almost gone and you got bored (or full) and thus allowed the rest of the thawing soup to seep onto the lovely Persian rug that Greg’s father gave to us, I still love you. I do—even though I did not have much for lunch today. And even though you feigned innocence on the bed—MY bed, I might add—while I cleaned the carpet. Because, when it comes right down to it, you are worth a frozen container of soup. And, at least I know you got your vegetables.


Sunday, March 22, 2009


High: 28 °F
Low: 13 °F
Conditions: Partly cloudy with a chance of flurries.

This past weekend was Maine Maple Sunday, the one day a year when the entire state turns out to celebrate our favorite sweetener.

On the fourth Sunday of every March, the maple syrup producers open their doors and invite the public in for tours, information on sugaring, and lots of really wonderful tastings. How could we say no?

This year, we visited Kinny's Maple Syrup, one of the larger operations in our area. Each day, 6500 gallons of sap travel from the farm maple stand through this rubber tubing, eventually pooling here, in a 2000 gallon holding tank.

From there, the sap travels inside the sugar shack, where it enters the first of two condensers.

When it leaves the tree, sap registers a sugar level of less than 2%, which means that it must be reduced dramatically before it becomes recognizable as syrup. To achieve a single gallon of syrup, then, the sugar makers must boil down 40 gallons of sap.

Once it is reduced, the syrup enters the second boiler, where it is further refined and darkened.

While inside the shack (a misnomer if ever there was one, given the size and surgical cleanliness of this place), we were able to take a full tour of the facility. We also saw evidence of the struggles between sugarmakers and wildlife, including this warning about Ari's nemesis:

We also sampled the local wares, including twice dipped syrup donuts:

And spun syrup candy:

But by far and away the most illuminating aspect of the tour was the opportunity to learn about (and taste) different syrup grades.

As this file photo reveals, syrups range from light to dark, with the former considered the most refined and, thus, valuable. We humans in the group will clearly never become syrupeliers, since we universally liked the darkest of the group. As for the caninaturalist, her only preference was for the syrup most readily available:

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Here's looking at you, kid.

High: 44 °F
Low: 19 °F
Conditions: Steady showers changing to a wintery mix overnight.

Film and literature are filled with emotionally-wrought farewell scenes. There's the time-honored Casablanaca goodbye:

And Rhett's famous send-off of Scarlet:

Heathcliff broods for years over the loss of Cathy in Wuthering Heights:

Romeo and Juliet, of course, have been forever immortalized because of their brooding over the loss of one another.

And then. . .

And then there is Ari's affair with snow. No story--no matter how heartfelt, torrid, or otherwise gripping--can hold a candle to Ari's love for snow. But like all love stories, this too must end. And so, as the temperature rises above freezing this week, we once again begin our own languishing farewell here at Caninaturalist Center. Like all good romances, it is marked with much emotive fanfare.

Someday, of course, the snow will return. Maybe not today, and maybe not tomorrow. But someday. In the meantime, Ari--like any good romantic hero or heroine--will maintain her vigil.

Here's looking at you, kid.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Here, kitty. . .

High: 35 °F
Low: 16 °F
Conditions: Increasing clouds, with a chance of snow after midnight.

Friends, we don't want to alarm you, but we have an honest-to-goodness infestation on our hands. You may remember our post from a few weeks ago, when we thought we had spotted bobcat tracks in our back yard. And some of our readers might even remember our adventure last spring, when we were tracked by what appeared to be a lynx.

Both of these events were exciting enough, but check out this photo just sent to us by our friend Brent:

That's right: four lynx--hanging out right here in Maine! Not only that, but they're almost the size of huskies! Be careful canines--these wild kitties look they have a few scores to settle (Miss Khyra, we're just sayin'. . . )

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Waldo Revisited

High: 40 °F
Low: 28 °F
Conditions: Freezing rain turning to snow.
Total accumulation: 2 inches.

This picture was taken the second week of March, 2006. Ari was four months old, and we had just embarked upon our very first field trip. Our destination was Mt. Waldo, a 1500 ft granite pluton with stunning views of the coast.

The baby Ari wasn't too interested in those views, but that didn't prevent her from exploring every edge of the mountain top, where--frankly--we were a little afraid her gigantic ears might launch her into orbit. Happily, though, the only thing taking off that day was her canine naturalism. It hasn't touched down since.

This week, we decided to celebrate the anniversary of Ari's field trip by recreating it. None of us had been back to Mt. Waldo since, and we were eager to see how it--and we--had changed.

The view from the top was still lovely, though we had to work a little harder to find it, since this group of beech seedlings have taken root since we first visited.

Once we reached the summit, we tried to recreate our early photo, but a certain someone was too interested in building herself a snow cave (or, more likely, digging for a few fox scat appetizers).

We tried to persuade Ari that what she really wanted to do was pose for a photo, but we didn't have much luck. And, this time around, we had considerably fewer choices, too. The baby Ari weighed in around 20 pounds and, even with the wiggling, could be held long enough to pose for a photo. The three-year-old Ari, on the other hand, weighs in at over twice that. And she knows better than to be caught long enough to be held, let alone picked up. So we had to settle for this image:

Definitely not a perfect re-creation, but probably a fitting one nonetheless. Ari is very much a grown up now. And she has more personality (and will) in one of those ears than most mammals have in their own bodies. Why should our photo do anything other than reflect that?

Happily, not everything has changed. Somewhere in all of this grown-upness is a dog who still values a good romp in the snow.

Not to mention a sunset on the way home so spectacular that, for the first time that whole day, persuaded her to stand still.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Our first book review!

April 2009
$24.95 Hardcover
978-1-60239-638-8 / 6” x 9” /
304 pages
Skyhorse Publishing (distributed by W.W. Norton)

Kathryn Miles is a great writer. From page one, this sets Adventures with Ari: A Puppy, a Leash, & Our Year Outdoors (Skyhorse Publishing, $24.95) above the pack of everything-I-know-about-life-I-learned-from-my-dog memoirs out there. Her premise is to see her world anew through the light-blue eyes of her shelter mutt adoptee, Ari, during their daily walks. This may seem a mundane proposal, and some of the scenarios are well known (and well worn) to anyone who has welcomed a dog (especially a puppy) into their home—books are chewed, floors are soiled, dead creatures are ecstatically rolled upon, dogs reeking of death are bathed, and bathed, and bathed, the peace of other animal companions is disrupted. The twist is that Miles is a naturalist by trade, a professor of environmental writing at Unity College in Maine, or as it bills itself, “America’s Environmental College.” She is no couch potato using the tethered energy of her young dog to get outdoors for the first time; rather, she decides to take this opportunity to see her well-explored and -recorded world through the new eyes (and keen nose, and closer-to-the-ground) perspective of her pup. She refers to theirs as “caninaturalist” romps, and writes about these adventures—and how she invariably applies them to life among her two-legged friends and family members—with humor, skill and beauty, becoming herself the reader’s guide to a freshly discovered rural world. —Jessica Rae Patton, E Magazine

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In like a ?

Hi: 23°F
Low: 6°F
Conditions: Gradual clearing throughout the day.
One day in early March, my second grade teacher handed out cotton balls, tawny string, and blue construction paper. Our assignment was to make three dimensional lions and lambs squared off against one another under what, presumably, was a cornflower spring sky. I was never much of an artist (no attention to detail), but I complied as best as I could with the project. Still, I was clearly distracted.
While the glue was left to dry, we second graders were left to cavort around the playground. My friends opted for the monkey bars, but I had different animals in mind. Where was this lion, said to usher in our month? And what on earth was it going to do to an approaching lamb? No one seemed to know. Worse yet, no one seemed to care. Forget distracted, I was flummoxed.
The meteorological proverb has stuck with me ever since, though it doesn't resonate with me much more now than it did then. Still, each March 1st, I keep an eye out for either creature--just in case. And, if pushed, I'd probably admit I have seen a lion or two start the months of March since second grade.
So, in the interest of weather mythology, Ari and I set out this week to see if we could test the proverb once and for all. The radar seemed hopeful for some sort of visitor:
But, when we stepped out in all the snow, there wasn't a creature to be found. Nor was there the bluster of a lion, or even the supposed tranquilness of a lamb. All there was was snow. Constant, falling, accumulating snow.
So we started to wonder. If this March is beginning as neither lion nor lamb, then what is it? In like a polar bear? Like a penguin? Like a snow angel? None of these seemed quite right.
We looked again for clues, hoping we might find our month's archetypal animal. Still no luck, though we did find the tippy-tops of our lawn chairs, which have apparently seen their shadows and retreated.
We also found a dairy farmer's tractor, which wandered down our driveway after the snow broke (I repeat: BROKE) our plow guy's plow. But still no lion or lamb.
As far as Ari was concerned, it didn't really matter that we were no closer to finding an answer to our connundrum. Being in the snow was plenty for her. And that's when the obvious struck me: this March has come in like a husky.