Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rainy Day Poem

I heard the fox
calling in the distance
stark black night
her howl carried
pierced the air
since the early morning
not that long ago
when miraculously
righteous on the boulder in the lawn
beckoning her mate
gathering her kits
howling for the pure joy
of being alive
making herself

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Dog and Park

Bindi and I went to the first of the Canine Good Citizen classes today, and we didn't do too well. In fact, the trainer said we should take the beginner class again, because I HAD FORGOTTEN SO MUCH, and Bindi was confused by my commands. So I guess it's a good thing that we're back in school.

What was amazing is that there was an older man there with his golden lab Max, and we were doing an exercise where two people with dogs walk up to one another and greet and learn to have the dogs not interact with one another until we allow them to. This man's voice was SO familiar, and it hit me: "Bob?" I said. He looked puzzled. "Dr. Bob?" I repeated. He said, "Yeah." I said my name, and he said, "Oh, hi!" He was my vet for a long time, but I stopped seeing him 7-8 years ago. He had a stroke when I was still taking my animals to him, but recovered sufficiently to continue practicing. Today I asked him if he had retired (we're about the same age). He said he was managing the practice, but not doing clinical work, that the tremor in his right hand had become much worse, and although he had "worked" on it, he felt it was no longer viable for him to practice. The woman he had worked with for 25 years killed herself a little over a year ago, and since I had not seen him since that terrible event, I gave my condolences. He said, "She was like my daughter," they had worked together so long. So today's meeting was bittersweet, to say the least.

I went to the country fair in the park after class, the one held every year at this time, where my community garden is. It was such a beautiful day, and my eyes took in the atmosphere and interest of plants for sale, a scarecrow-making booth, some Morris dancers with their 'kerchiefs a-flying, a rock climbing wall, a bungie jumping machine, a petting zoo, snow cones, the food tent, the tag and book and bake sales, the Bonsai exhibit, the silent auction, the community garden sellers, and the Clydesdale horses taking people for rides in carriages. It was all so festive.

Except for Bindi. She was out of control. She would bark ferociously at other dogs, and especially the Clydesdales. She pulled on the leash, and would not do anything I commanded her to do. I guess she had had enough stimulation for the day, and I probably should have just taken her home after class, but I wanted to stop in the park. I spent $2.50 at the tag sale, and several more bucks on food. Although I did not take photos in the park, here are some other photos from my day.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Woke up to Camilla having diarrhea on my white bedspread and then the carpet, after having had her pee on it twice before in the past two weeks. Took her to the vet on Thursday, and she obligingly peed in the cat carrier so the vet was able to find out very quickly that she has a bladder/kidney infection. So he gave her this new antibiotic that is an injectable, and is supposed to last two weeks. The substance makes a kind of pill under the skin after it is injected and then time-releases the antibiotic. I'm sure that's why she has the diarrhea. She's now sequestered in the utility room, with water and almost no food. She had this same thing just a few months ago, so it must be something with her age, which is 13. Vet told me to put down another litter box, cause if a cat doesn't like the current litter box, she can "retain" urine until she can't hold it any longer, and that's bad. Anybody got any Scoop Away coupons?

Since I was up, I went out tag sailing. Got a small bird feeder for a buck, a reflecting dog leash for a buck, cupcakes to take to dinner tonight at M's, and a really nice London Fog raincoat with a winter lining in excellent condition for five. I thought I was very good at not buying anything useless, although tempted.

Came home, took the dog for a walk. I'm up to about 15-20 minutes now, hoping to get to 1/2 hour soon, at least that's what I told the physical therapist my goal was.

Am meeting a friend at a dessert cafe here her husband is giving a talk on the globlization of the coffee trade, or some such. This place is advertised as the "only listed science cafe in CT." Who knew.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Grrr, Sniff, Arf


What Dogs See, Smell, and Know
By Alexandra Horowitz
353 pp. Scribner. $27

September 8, 2009, New York Times

The literature about dogs is not quite the same as the literature about, say, Norwegian rats. Dogs get the literary respect: there are brilliant memoirs about dogs like J. R. Ackerley’s “My Dog Tulip” and Elizabeth von Arnim’s “All the Dogs of My Life”; there’s James Thurber and Virginia Woolf and Jack London; there’s Lassie and Clifford and, of course, Marley. White rats, on the other hand, get most of the scientific attention. Alexandra Horowitz’s “Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know” attempts to rectify that situation, exploring what science tells us about dogs without relegating our pets, emotionally, to lab rats. As a psychologist with a Ph.D. in cognitive science, as well as an ardent dogophile, Horowitz aims “to take an informed imaginative leap inside of a dog — to see what it is like to be a dog; what the world is like from a dog’s point of view.”

Her work draws on that of an early-20th-­century German biologist, Jakob von Uexküll, who proposed that “anyone who wants to understand the life of an animal must begin by considering what he called their umvelt . . . : their subjective or ‘self-world.’ ” Hard as we may try, a dog’s-eye view is not immediately accessible to us, however, for we reside within our own umwelt, our own self-world bubble, which clouds our vision.

Consider one of Horowitz’s examples: a rose. A human being experiences a rose as a lovely, familiar shape, a bright, beautiful color and a sublime scent. That is the very definition of a rose. But to a dog? Beauty has nothing to do with it; the color is irrelevant, barely visible, the flowery scent ignored. Only when it is adorned with some other important perfume — a recent spray of urine, perhaps — does the rose come alive for a dog. How about a more practical object? Say, a hammer? “To a dog,” Horowitz points out, “a hammer doesn’t exist. A dog doesn’t act with or on a hammer, and so it has no significance to a dog. At least, not unless it overlaps with some other, meaningful object: it is wielded by a loved person; it is urinated on by the cute dog down the street; its dense wooden handle can be chewed like a stick.” Dogs, it seems, are Aristotelians, but with their own doggy teleology. Their goals are not only radically different from ours; they are often invisible to us. To get a better view, Horowitz proposes that we humans get down intellectually on all fours and start sniffing.

Dogs, as anyone who has ever met one knows, sniff a lot. They are, says Horo­witz, “creatures of the nose.” To help us grasp the magnitude of the difference between the human and the canine olfactory umwelts, she details not only the physical makeup of a dog nose (a beagle nose has 300 million receptor sites, for example, compared with a human being’s six million), but also the mechanics of the canine snout. People have to exhale before we can inhale new air. Dogs do not. They breath in, then their nostrils quiver and pull the air deeper into the nose as well as out through side slits. Specialized photography reveals that the breeze generated by dog exhalation helps to pull more new scent in. In this way, dogs not only hold more scent in at once than we can, but also continuously refresh what they smell, without interruption, the way humans can keep “shifting their gaze to get another look.”

Dogs do not just detect odors better than we can. This sniffing “gaze” also gives them a very different experience of the world than our visual one gives us. One of Horowitz’s most startling insights, for me, was how even a dog’s sense of time differs from ours. For dogs, “smell tells time,” she writes. “Perspective, scale and distance are, after a fashion, in olfaction — but olfaction is fleeting. . . . Odors are less strong over time, so strength indicates newness; weakness, age. The future is smelled on the breeze that brings air from the place you’re headed.” While we mainly look at the present, the dog’s “olfactory window” onto the present is wider than our visual window, “including not just the scene currently happening, but also a snatch of the just-happened and the up-ahead. The present has a shadow of the past and a ring of the future about it.” Now that’s umwelt.

A dog’s vision affects its sense of time, too. Dogs have a higher “flicker fusion” rate than we do, which is the rate at which retinal cells can process incoming light, or “the number of snapshots of the world that the eye takes in every second.” This is one of the reasons dogs respond so well to subtle human facial reactions: “They pay attention to the slivers of time between our blinks.”) It also helps explain those ­eerily accurate balletic leaps after tennis balls and Frisbees, but Horowitz lets us see the implications beyond our human-centric fascination with our pets. This is more than a game of fetch; it is a profound, existential realization: “One could say that dogs see the world faster than we do, but what they really do is see just a bit more world in every second.”

Humans are good at seeing things right in front of us, Horowitz explains, because our photoreceptors are centrally located in an area of the retina called the fovea. Dogs do not have foveae and so are not as good at seeing things right in front of them. Those breeds, like pugs, that have retinas more like ours and can see close up, tend to be lap dogs that focus on their owners’ faces, making them seem “more companionable.” In dogs with long noses, often bred for hunting or herding, however, the photo­receptors cluster along a horizontal band spanning the middle of the eye. This is called a visual streak, and those dogs that have it “have better panoramic, high-quality ­vision, and much more peripheral vision than humans.”

As for their hearing, despite a talent for detecting those high-pitched whistles that are inaudible to us, dogs’ ability to “pinpoint where a sound is coming from is imprecise” compared with ours. Instead, their auditory sense serves to help them find the general direction of a sound, at which point their more acute sight and smell take over. As for dogs’ ability to respond to language, it has more to do with the “prosody” of our utterances than the words themselves. “High-pitched sounds mean something different than low sounds; rising sounds contrast with falling sounds,” Horowitz writes. Dogs respond to baby talk “partially because it distinguishes speech that is directed at them from the rest of the continuous yammering above their heads.”

Horowitz also discusses the natural history of dogs, their evolutionary descent from the wolves, but she cautions the reader to pay attention to those wolf traits dogs have discarded along the way. “Dogs do not form true packs,” she writes. “They scavenge or hunt small prey individually or in parallel,” rather than cooperatively, as wolves do. Countering the currently fashionable alpha dog “pack theories” of dog training, Horowitz notes that “in the wild, wolf packs consist almost entirely of related or mated animals. They are families, not groups of peers vying for the top spot. . . . Behaviors seen as ‘dominant’ or ‘submissive’ are used not in a scramble for power; they are used to maintain social unity.”

The idea that a dog owner must become the dominant member by using jerks or harsh words or other kinds of punishment, she writes, “is farther from what we know of the reality of wolf packs and closer to the timeworn fiction of the animal kingdom with humans at the pinnacle, exerting dominion over the rest. Wolves seem to learn from each other not by punishing each other but by observing each other. Dogs, too, are keen observers — of our reactions.”
In one enormously important variation from wolf behavior, dogs will look into our eyes. “Though they have inherited some aversion to staring too long at eyes, dogs seem to be predisposed to inspect our faces for information, for reassurance, for guidance.” They are staring, soulfully, into our umwelts. It seems only right that we try a little harder to reciprocate, and Horowitz’s book is a good step in that direction. But she can be a bit coy and overly stylish in her attempt not to sound too scientific, and to the particular choir to which she is preaching, much of her material will be familiar.

In that same vein, the tone of the book is sometimes baffling — an almost polemical insistence on the value of dogs, as if they’d long been neglected by world opinion. But then Horowitz will drop in some lovely observation, some unlikely study, some odd detail that causes one’s dog-loving heart to flutter with astonishment and gratitude. When researchers, she notes in one of these fine moments, studied the temporal patterns of dogs interacting with people, they found the patterns to be “similar to the timing patterns among mixed-sex strangers flirting.”

Cathleen Schine’s most recent novel is “The New Yorkers.” Her next book, “The Three Weissmanns of Westport,” will be published in February.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Seven with Moogie's hand

Precious, huh? Look at those grey eyes. All the six other kids have brown eyes. This one has my dad's eyes. Moogie is Klingon for grandmother, on Seven's maternal side.

Had lunch with M. yesterday, polenta made from heirloom corn hand ground, and ratatouille. Yum. Then we took Bindi down to Shell Beach where she splashed in the muddy sea water, and oddly didn't smell any the worse for the experience. She went in deeper than she ever has before, but still not deep enough to need to do the dog paddle.

After, I stopped by my community garden, and got into a flurry of weeding, which it badly needed. I must have punctured a vein on my right hand with a rose thorn, cause a big purple bump rose up immediately, has gone down some now, but is sore and still raised. I think it was in the same area as the anesthesia needle I had for my second knee surgery, which was a big honking needle, so maybe I'm still not healed there completely. Whatever. It's always something. I pulled up all my carrots to ready for planting a fall crop, and gave a bunch to a strolling couple who had come to see the gardens. Another woman who was walking around looking at the beauty said to me, "This place is so ALIVE!" Truly. By far my favorite place in town.

Came home and entertainingly, there was a "House" marathon on the telly. I stayed up much too late watching back to back episodes, including some I'd only seen parts of. Mark your calendars: September 21 is the 2-hour season premier of "House," and he's in a psych hospital trying to detox from his addictions. Hugh Laurie is such an amazing actor. Did I mention I really like "House?"

Shout out to CSA: Right after you told me Ripley was your favorite superhero, there were two showings of "Aliens" on the tube, and I thought of you.

Stopped at three tag sales yesterday. Found a funky old fashioned telephone marked $30 -- she let me have it for $5. A couple of things that will make nice gifts, a book on horses for S., and a really nice manatee tile for a buck. I surely don't need more crap, but buying nice things for almost nothing and giving them away is satisfying.

Today I'm going to try to get myself to Old Saybrook for the grand opening of "The Kate," the new theatre built there is honor of Katherine Hepburn, who lived in the town for many years in her family home on the water. The traffic yesterday was way bad, but I told my friend that if I get on the road and it's too congested, I'll just turn around and come back home. Later I'm meeting another friend for an early meal. He's up from NYCity.

Got myself to go lap swimming on Friday, although it was very hard to get into the pool. First I went into the hot tub to warm up, then tried the pool. Too cold. Then I went into the warm therapy pool and paddled around a bit, then tried the pool again. Too cold. Finally I took a long hot shower, and was then able to get into the lap pool. I swear, since the cancer and radiation experience last year, my core temperature has dropped. It's very annoying, esp. with winter coming on. That trip to St. John is gonna be my salvation in December.

Chicken photos below were taken at a small farm when I was in Michigan. A friend of my family grows corn, grapes, apples, squash, beans, etc. on about a half acre of land, and has a chicken coup with gorgeous birds, the ones with the fancy feathers? The place was immaculately kept, really beautiful.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Full Corn Moon

According to Native American tradition, the full moon on Friday this month will be the Corn Moon (sometimes referred to as one of the Harvest Moons, but they typically occur in October). Photo by Birdgirl.

Very cold at night and in the mornings since my return from Michigan. I'm drinking coffee again, but have none in the house to my dismay. I was off coffee for months when I was so sick, but picked it up again while away. My plants did well while I was gone, and yesterday I severely pruned the tropical hibiscus so that it would not take up so much room in the house when I move it inside. She looks a bit in shock, but should have a few more weeks to sprout new branches before the cold weather really sets in and I have to move her in.

Yesterday I saw the ID (infectious disease) doc who said my lab work looks good, the sed rate is now normal (a predictor of infection), and I can cut back the antibiotics to once a day. I don't have to go see her for another six months unless something happens, which IT WON'T. Started back with physical therapy at a new place connected to my gym. Every PT I've seen, and I must have seen at least ten or so does something different, and she had a creative use of a dog leash to stretch my knees. Now how can you not like that? I'm off to see the surgeon today, and then to the dreaded supermarket. I've come to hate big stores immensely, but I don't have good small ones near me.

Does anyone watch Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations"? It/he just keeps getting better and better. He goes everywhere in the world meeting interesting people, getting off the tourist track, and eating the local fare. Tough job. He says he likes the travelling, but it would do me in, I'm afraid, no matter how interesting.