Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why five?

A few days ago I climbed into bed to find one of Miró’s hind feet nearly in my face. I eased down carefully to avoid waking him. If he gave one of his kangaroo kicks, I’d wind up with a red welt across my cheek—not my preferred method of putting color in my complexion. For no reason at all, I started wondering why dogs have five pads and people have five fingers. Why five and not four or six?

I had to get up to Google the question. The short answer is that we have five because we can’t make six. Our arms and legs, like those of all other four-limbed creatures (tetrapods) evolved from the pectoral and pelvic fins of our fish ancestors. There are genetic constraints on how creative we can get about how we’re formed. As far as I can understand one of the articles I found, the genes that governed fin and, later, limb formation allow for no more than five individual digits. In the rare cases where you find, for instance, six toes, two of the toes are actually divisions of a single digit.

The most readable essay on the topic is still Stephen Jay Gould’s "The Panda's Peculiar Thumb." He notes that we’re made up of odd parts that were adapted from previous uses: “they are familiar bits of anatomy remodeled for a new function.” My kitchen is the same. It has been remodeled and updated over the years but still retains its original configuration when it would be a much more efficient kitchen if the whole thing were torn out and built from scratch to meet its current purpose. But who can afford that?

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

what to do on a very rainy day

Sometimes I envy Matilda. She can curl up, empty whatever little is going on in her brain, and sit around all day.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

About those embroidered shirts

The red sweatshirt below (see the crime story) sports a design by noted Airedale artist Annie Curran in the UK. If you'd like to find Airedale art closer to home in the USA, check out Montana artist Bobbi Sparr.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Crime Report

The Criminal

Evidence #1 (r)

Evidence Close-up
The entire heel is chewed off the orthotic. There are extensive toothmarks in the plastic foundation. The orthotic was declared beyond saving and was sent to its proper resting place while a second one was fashioned.

Evidence of crime #2. A Royal Post package traveled here from England without incident until arrival at its destination brought it to the attention of said criminal.

The package was pried from the Jaws of Death in time. The contents survived intact.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The bone debacle

I don't like giving my dogs raw bones. When I do, I have to stand around, glazed with boredom, to make sure they don't bite and swallow off large chunks, which an Airedale can and will do with his size extra-large teeth. Then they get messy beards that have to be washed. Then they get diarrhea in the nighttime; it's always at night.

I gave the dogs bones. Photo is the "after" shot.

It happened because there was a discussion about teeth on Airedale-L and whenever there's a discussion about something I'm not doing, I feel guilty for not giving my dogs the absolute best of all possible care. It happened because I drove past a butcher store the other day and butcher stores are as rare as the proverbial hens' teeth. It happened because the young woman at the store exclaimed over my child's Timex watch with the colorful band and light-up face with real hands because she has the same watch and had never seen another adult wearing one. (She had the one with the geckos I used to have and I had the one with the flowers that she almost bought.) As a result, I walked out of the shop with a piece of bone larger than my thigh--not the femur, the whole thigh--that my son sawed into pieces—the bone, not my thigh.

I gave a large piece to Alanis and the smaller chunk to Miró. After half an hour or so, I traded Alanis her bone for a few pieces of super-smelly salmon treat. Miró did not want to trade for super-smelly salmon treat. Seeing me approach, he eyed the treat bag, then picked up the bone and ran. We chased around in circles for a while. You’re not supposed to chase the dog, of course, when trying to pry something loose from him because he makes a game of it. That admonition doesn’t take into account that it’s fun to chase the dog around.

I fetched the offspring and we cornered Miró when he ran around the chicken pen. Surprisingly, he readily dropped the bone in exchange for a super-smelly treat. We then went inside where he drank a gallon of water, leaving a quart of it on the floor along with muddy footprints all over the kitchen. And the hall. And the living room carpet. Alanis, as usual, did not make a mess. Even mud rarely clings to her feet.

Now I’m taking bets. Will it be barf or diarrhea? Alanis or Miró?

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Park Tally with Alanis

1. A woman complimented Alanis' perky walk. Alanis, remember, could teach at a charm school for learning smooth gaits.

2. A young  German Shepherd Dog on a Flexi who tried to gallumph across the wide path before his person got control of him.

3. Two elderly people followed by two Newfoundlands getting out of a van. I calculated that's at least six Airedales in poundage and a dozen in drool.

4. One beautifully liver-spotted  German Shorthair Pointer trotting along by herself, pausing, looking bewildered. I approached saying, "Are you looking for your person?" Although a dedicated fuzzy-face aficionado, I like this breed for some reason. A jogger went past behind me--past the many, many signs asking people to keep their dogs on leash--saying the dog was his. She was at least fifty feet away from  him.

5. And who was the fiercest dog of all? A two-ounce Yorkie grumbled, yapped, growled and charged. He was with two young women who tried to pick him up in a towel. (Why a towel?) He wriggled away and went on with his, "Lemme at 'em; I can take 'em." Tactfully, I did not laugh aloud.

P.S. I saw a smaller-than-adult Steller's Jay on a branch across the yard. That could be my boy from the other day.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

When you find a bird on the ground--

Fledging season arrived with shrieks last Saturday morning. After feeding the dogs and letting them out, I was fumbling through the coffee making ritual when I heard a cacophony of shrieks and screams. Thinking the dogs had caught a chicken, I ran outside barefoot and in PJ’s (aqua, with snowflake pattern) to wrestle them away from something on the ground by the fence.  Miro is now so strong that he can pull out of my grasp. He towers over Alanis and has the pulling power of a mine pony.

When I moved our dancing circus a few feet away from the prized object, I saw a Steller's Jay chick on its side, eye fixed and open, foot curled. My son crawled out from his basement hole to haul Miro inside while I dragged Alanis, who refuses to go indoors through the downstairs door, back up the gravel path and ouch-- I realized I had run down that path barefoot and had to walk back up on winter-tender feet.

This time I put on sandals before hurrying back outside. I picked up the “dead” chick to discover it was alive, in shock, and injured. The parent birds were still screaming overhead. If you click on the link above, you can hear some normal Steller sounds but not the ear-pounding, heart-thudding alarm calls which sound similar to a human mother screeching, "Get out of the road!" to her four-year-old child.

The jays were screeching at their rivals and enemies, the crows. The day before I had seen this pair mobbing a crow away to the opposite yard and now I knew why. Crows will eat other young birds and a fledgling in the nest or on the ground is crow food.

A fluttering drew my attention to the adjacent side of the fence and there was another jay chick flapping up and falling back down, unable to gain enough height to get on the 6-ft fence top. What to do first? Maybe if I could get the uninjured one up to a branch, he could figure out the rest while the parents yelled encouragement. I gently replaced the injured chick and stalked the other, catching him as he dove past me. Just as I was cupping my hands over him, he jumped away and into the bushes.

When a bird knocks into a window and is stunned, it will often recover and fly away if left alone. I suspected the chick on the ground had a leg or wing injury but I left it there, sneaking outside to check on it every few minutes. It sat up and moved a few inches farther into the shelter of the trees but showed no signs of hopping or fluttering like the other.  I didn't try for more than one photo in case the flash scared the bird even more than he was already. You can see that he's holding his wing at an angle and that all the flight feathers are in, though not fully grown.

The uninjured one got about five feet off the ground and hid in the butterfly bush. He would be able to fend for himself, if he lived long enough.Wild birds learn to fly from the ground, like the old-fashioned way of teaching a human child to swim by throwing him off the dock. The chick may spend up to a week on the ground while the parents feed it, watch over it, and shout encouragement. You can see why so few survive to adulthood.

I gathered his injured nestmate into a shoe box and drove him (or her) to PAWS wildlife center where I handed over the bird and a donation.
Over the next few days I heard outbreaks of the same shrieks coming from Guinevere the Great Dane’s yard. It has been quiet today and I am watching a blue shape flutter from branch to branch in an evergreen across the way, too far to tell if it’s a full grown bird or the youngster practicing his skills.  If something got it, the parents would have mobbed and dive-bombed the predator and uttered heartrending screams until the internal chemistry attaching them to the chick faded. Mourning would end and they would go on to the next task. I wish it were that simple for us.

Stellers Jays and crows are the dominant birds around here; they are not good news for songbirds. They eat songbird chicks and eggs and chase them from food sources. They are intelligent and tough survivors. The parent birds will undoubtedly raise a second clutch before the season is over. So why did I spend a morning and drive 30 miles to rescue a jay?
Because it was there.

Home is somewhere in those trees.