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Saturday, September 24, 2016

Knowing What You Like


The importance of knowing what you like cannot be overestimated. Bow, for one, knows exactly what he likes and by extension, what he does not like. He likes his yogurt thick and his corn sweet.


The yogurt I made came out so thick this week it was almost like a soft cheese. But Bow did not complain. He ate it all up.



On  the other hand, he refused the corn at lunch today without tasting it, because he could already tell it was not sweet, just by the smell.



How did Bow know? Is it right to judge what you like without even trying it? I think it's more natural to do so than we are led to believe. How do Monarch butterflies know what they like? Do they have to try it first?


This has been a bad year for milkweed, but a good year for Monarch butterflies. The milkweed didn't blossom in my pasture, and I did not get to see the Great Spangled Fritillary butterflies on the purple milkweed blossoms day after day, the way I did last year and the year before. But on the other hand, I've seen quite a few Monarchs in my pasture, and this one even let me get very close.


How did the Monarch know that it liked goldenrod flowers? Did it have to take a taste first?


I wonder about things like that as I watch the animals on my land. For instance, you know that book What Young Chimpanzee's Know about Seeing? Well, yesterday, I began to wonder what squirrels knew about seeing. This one squirrel was holding stock still on the back of a tree trunk, as if it hoped to remain invisible, but I could see it clearly, because we were on the same side of the tree.



"Is it hiding from me?" I wondered. But then as soon as it climbed down from the tree and came into the visual range of a nearby squirrel, that other squirrel started chasing it. Were they playing hide and seek? Had it been hiding from a conspecific, and not a human?


Two common buckeyes were locked in an embrace as I followed them around in the field.



How did they choose each other? There are so many common buckeyes, after all. That's why they are called "common". How did they make the selection? Was it love at first sight? Tough question.



There's absolutely nothing wrong with knowing what you like -- and what you don't like. For Bow, thick yogurt is something he knows he likes. Whether it's an acquired taste or a innate preference would be hard to say, even for Bow. But it's certainly not a result of trial and error. If he didn't like it, he wouldn't eat it. He would not even try.



Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Fall Bouquet for Bow



Fall comes every year. This year, the first day of fall is today, September 22. It's still pretty warm out, but somehow the animals and plants outside sense that it is time to get ready for winter.



In fact, they have been getting ready for the past week now.


The wasps on the goldenrods are stocking up for the winter. 




The honey bees on the white wildflowers are doing the same.




The pipevine swallowtail is in such a hurry to meet all its deadlines, that it flits right past me in the field.


It won't stay in one spot long, but it will pause long enough for a clear view.


An American Lady butterfly, a little worn in the wings, enjoys the goldenrod flowers.




Them a Common Buckeye and the American Lady Butterfly socialize together on the swaying goldenrods.


A fuzzy little caterpillar makes its way on the ground among the fallen leaves.


And then there is the dogwood all decked out with faux berries, an unmistakable sign of fall. 





The dogwood tries to dupe us into thinking its bright red drupes are luscious fruit, while the dogs frolic under its branches.


The tiniest butterflies, the eastern tailed-blue and the pearl crescents, hold social balls on the gravel road.

There are still so many flowers blooming out today, that I decided to gather a bouquet and present it to Bow in a vase. Bow was interested.


He began taking out the flowers.


I thought he was getting all excited about the flowers, but actually it was the vase that he wanted.


"Hey, what's in that vase?" Bow seemed to be wondering. "Nothing, after you took all the flowers out!" I wanted to say. "It's just an empty vase now." But we didn't actually say any of that. We just acted it out. 


Once he had made sure that the vase was really empty, Bow handed it back to me.



I think that's sort of how it is when we expect something special to happen on the first day of fall. It's just a date. It's a day of the year. It's an empty possibility, until you fill it with something. It's like any other empty vessel.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Sometimes It's Good to Laugh

Not everything turns out exactly the way we plan.



We might go to great extremes to get one political candidate nominated by our party, only to have to accept another in his stead. We might work very hard, anyway, to try to help the nominee get into the debates, even though he was not our first choice. We might then learn that our party and all its ideals will be kept out of the national debates altogether. 


.
It might rain all day long almost every day, so that we cannot go out to play.


And then when we do finally go out to play, the pollen may be so high that it does crazy things to our system.


But if we have a sense of humor about it, and someone to laugh with, it is always better.


This will all blow over soon. Hang on in there and remember to laugh.


We just might survive it all, anyway. Who knows, there might be a meteor coming.

    Related Stories






Saturday, September 10, 2016

What's on the Menu?

When Bow was little, we arranged his words on menus. So Bow was used to picking out food items from the menu. And for those things that were not on the menu, he used "Something Else". Now Bow can spell any word he knows, but occasionally, when faced with an unidentified food, he says that he wants "Something Else". That's what happened yesterday when I offered him leftover takeout. He called it "Something Else" when requesting it.


Bow gets very excited about the possibility of eating restaurant food. He remembers when he used to go out to eat with us, and he knows where those styrofoam containers originate. The entire dining out experience is evoked by the appearance of those little takeout boxes.


But then at other times, Bow can be very coy about what he wants. When he knows that it's not quite time for dinner and no food is being displayed to him, he will ask me over and over again for other things which are readily available, like his blanket, before he ever admits that what he actually wants is food.


Yesterday, frustrated by his asking for things he clearly did not want, I asked him pointedly: "Bow, what do you want?!"

He paused for a moment as if to think about it, and then answered back with a typical question:
"?נו מה יש" -- "Well, what is there?" -- Meaning -- What is available? What's on the menu?

Unless something is being offered, sometimes Bow does not even bother to ask. Forced choice is sadly a part of all our lives. When we ask people what they want, they will rarely tell us. Instead, they ask what is on the menu. That's why it's so important to list Libertarian candidates by name in the polls.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Nature Abhors a Vacuum

In nature, one food source displaces another. For instance, the Virginia Mountain Mint that had all the insects gathered at the fence line in the spring  has now given way to bright yellow bidens flowers.

A Monarch in flight
I've come to expect the Monarchs at this time of year, and so I watch for their arrival on my side of the fence.


The Monarch butterflies suddenly appear at the fence line and are drawn to the yellow blooms, but many of the other insects that were there are all along, so excited about the Virginia Mountain Mint a few months ago,  are now just as happy to feed on the nectar of the beggar-tick bidens.



If I had not watched this compilation of nature clips that I had made over the past few months, I might not have noticed how the predominant white of the Virginia Mountain Mint gave way to the overpowering yellow of the beggar-tick  bidens. From a distance, they remind me of the safflower fields in the movie Only Yesterday. 

If all the same flowers were blooming throughout the spring and summer, how different it would be for the butterflies and bees! Wouldn't they neglect some flowers in favor of others? Bow is like that, too. I had to learn to buy fewer apples when there are pears to be had. And when handing out a snack between meals, it is important that it not be calorie dense, or else Bow will not be ready for dinner at the usual time.

That's why Pickle Ice is such a wonderful snack! Bow enjoys it very much, but I don't have to worry that it will spoil his dinner.



Because there are no calories in Pickle Ice, just water and vinegar and salt, Bow finds it refreshing, but it does not alter his diet. It does not displace other foods.

I remember when he was little, and we brought him to Orchard House to be tested on his literacy and language skills. It was an objective test, and he was offered chocolate, if he did it right. But even though Bow has always liked chocolate, he did not even try to do well on the test. In fact, he stubbornly insisted on answering every single question wrong. When a test subject consistently does that, and his wrong answers exceed chance, you know he is resisting. And one of the interns asked me: "Didn't he just have breakfast?" Well, yes, of course, he had. What mother would bring her child in to take an academic test on an empty stomach?

And what were they thinking?  That I should deprive him of breakfast? That I should starve him before the test? That he would skip breakfast and then fill up on chocolate? I was never going to allow that.

So here's a question that I have for researchers who use food as an incentive to do well at a task: does the reward food displace the everyday ordinary meals, or do the test subjects have bottomless pits for stomachs? I sometimes wonder if the same basic issues that plague academic economists in understanding the free market are at work in the studies of behavioral researchers. Nature abhors a vacuum. You cannot change what's available without changing the balance of things.

But... if I were to offer Bow an incentive to do well on a test today, I wouldn't offer chocolate. I'd offer Pickle Ice, because Bow likes that a lot, and he can even enjoy it on a full stomach. So there's a thought.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Wren In the Pen


Bow asked to go outside for the second time this morning. I think he already knew what I did not yet know -- that there was a small bird, a Carolina wren -- trapped inside the outer pen. I went in to get a container to trap it in, grabbing the closest thing handy, a trash can with a plastic bag for a liner. When I went back out to the pen, I kept the door to the airlock open, so the wren could fly in to safety. Bow had such an intelligent look on his face, as he held the door open for me and the wren.




We closed the door on the wren once it got into the airlock, with Bow staying in the outer pen, but with me indoors. However, the wren favored the space between the sliding glass door and the iron grated door. Bow watched me deal with the issue of how to catch it, and he remembered the trash can that was still in the outer pen with him. He went to get the trash can, though I already had gotten a tupperware container from inside.



Even though he was on the other side of the grid from me, Bow was very involved in the process of catching the wren. He had gone back to fetch the trash can and was holding it and seemed eager to use it to help catch the wren. Meanwhile, I was trying to get the wren to move out of the small space between the glass door and the grid and to move into the inner recesses of the airlock, so I could close the glass door.



I got the glass door closed and was getting ready to trap it in the tupperware container, but it flew up again.



Eventually I was able to catch the wren. I showed Bow that I had the wren trapped in the container, but he was too busy pretending that he had caught a bird in his trash can.



I released the wren in the front yard, and it flew away.



After I had set the Carolina Wren free in the front yard,  I came back to let Bow in from the outer pen.


He came in cradling the trash can, as if it were the most precious thing in the world to him! You can watch all the clips together as a single sequence in the video below.



Friday, August 26, 2016

Bow Gives Back

Every week, Bow's friend comes by to deliver his bananas. She always phones before she comes over, and she always asks: "Is Bow ready for his bananas?' And Bow is always ready.
Bow holding an orange pipe cleaner

Over time, Bow and his friend have gotten to be very close, although always the grid of the pens separates them. Bow's friend asks him about his day, and she tells him about hers. Sometimes she shows him pictures and videos of her grandchildren. Bow watches with great interest.


Our Collection of Pipe Cleaners by the Bananas


 Even though Bow's friend is never on the same side of the grid with him, she has gotten to tickle and groom him using pipe cleaners that can fit through the holes in the grid. In this way, their relationship is not just verbal but also tactile

Bow reading the Missouri Conservationist


Bow's friends has brought him many gifts over the years, including issues of the Missouri Conservationist to read and his favorite treat: Pickle Ice.  These gifts have mostly been one-sided. Bow was always the recipient, never the giver.

Bow Enjoying the Gift of Pickle Ice

Last week, that changed. Bow found a way to give back. As Bow's friend was tickling him with the pipe cleaner, the little fuzzy thing fell into Bow's side of the pen.

The Pipe Cleaner in Motion

Bow started playing with it, winding it tightly around his finger, so tightly that his friend was a little concerned that he might never get it off. But he did get it off eventually, and when he saw that his friend wanted it, he found a way to pass it back to her. She was so happy to have this gift from Bow, that now it hangs on her banana magnet at home.

The Pipe Cleaner in its New Home