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Friday, September 30, 2016

Bow Tries a Guava

Then, again, maybe there is such a thing as an acquired taste, after all. No sooner had I come to the conclusion that Bow knows instantly exactly what he likes, I was presented with a counterexample.

Now that it's fall, there is a variety of fruit available at the store, including pomegranates, avocados, and guava. I am not really that big a fan of guava, but this time the fruit looked so small that it seemed unusually attractive.

The guava fruits are so small this season, they look like lemons next to the apples and the bananas. Yesterday, I offered Bow a guava. He took a sniff of it, and then he gestured with it toward my mouth. He wanted me to eat it. So I did, pausing every so often and offering some to him. He kept sniffing in my mouth, but he refused to eat the guava. "Well, that's that," I thought. "He doesn't like guava."

But then later in the afternoon Bow's friend who brings the bananas came by, and I offered her a guava, too. When Bow saw that his friend was enjoying the guava, he suddenly became very interested. '

"Bow do you want some guava, too?" I asked him. This time, when I offered him the fruit, he started eating it. In fact, he took it with him to sit on the other side of the door from his friend. They each ate their guava while looking at one another through the grid. I guess that's what you might call social eating.

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.

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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.