Signs and wonders

good dog

These are the proverbial dog days of August, and if you’ve ever wondered why they’re called that, the answer is simple: it’s when a dog shows up and lies on your porch.

If you haven’t noticed a dog on your porch this year, it’s probably either because: a) you’ve been naughty rather than nice, or b) you haven’t lost a tooth lately. Don’t be surprised if you end up with a stocking full of cats instead.

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It was so humid the other day that not only did the salt not come out of the shaker, it actually clumped up in the Morton Salt box. The salt may, as advertised, pour when it rains, but when we get a really humid spell, forget it. Actual beads of moisture formed on the outside of the salt box — I swear to dog.

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This morning around 9:00, I found a crayfish walking across the lawn. This seemed as if it might be a serious portent; I’ve never seen a crayfish venture out of the water before. I raced back for my camera, but by the time I returned, it had disappeared into the tall grass. When I spotted it, it was about ten feet from a drainage ditch and marching purposefully toward a shallow well some fifteen feet farther up the hill, so all I can think is that the on-going drought has made the former spot uninhabitable, and it decided to try its luck at the well instead. It’s tempting, though, to think that the humidity might have been the real culprit: the crayfish was in an exploring mood, and simply didn’t notice that it had left the water.

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If you want to do a biological inventory of your house, rip out some of the walls and then pound on the beams with a hammer. Snakes really dislike this, we’ve found. Also, the fine plaster dust that settles over everything makes it possible to see where the mice go on their nocturnal visits. I’m looking at a line of tiny, delicate tracks right across the top of my keyboard.

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Old dogs and small children seem capable of communicating on a very deep level. The trouble is, I don’t think they really have much to say to one another.

communication

But what do I know?

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

23 Comments


  1. That’s amazing about the crawdad. How’d he know where the well is? And do crawdads walk backwards (tail first), or is that just for water getaways? If you put out a bucket, you may lure a bunch of them up and out, the little aquatropic buggers. One cure for humidity is cold beer and a whole bunch of boiled crawdads.

    The older ladies in Arkansas say that in the dog days of summer, the snakes go blind and will strike at anything–so careful when you’re banging around this time of year.

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  2. No, it was walking head-first. It may not have known, and was simply following the path.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever had boiled crawdads – though I must admit it sounds a lot more appetizing than “boiled crayfish.” I never heard that bit of folklore about the snakes. Thanks!

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  3. What Bill said.
    That whole “via negativa” schtick is just wasted on you people, isn’t it?

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  4. No! Your “schtick” is working great! This is great material handled more artfully than I can say. I must say I felt especially prodded by contending uncertainties as to why the crayfish would cross dry land. The negative method is certainly a goad to learning.

    “It may not have known, and was simply following the path.” What’s that all about? What path? Witnesses to your “act” may find themselves called upon to be ichnologists.

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  5. Maybe they’re saying the same three things over and over again, but they don’t get bored with it. At least the dogs don’t.

    Seriously weird about the crayfish, Dave.

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  6. Wonderful photos and words.
    If I had a porch I’d sit on it and wait for the dog to come over on Dog Days.

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  7. our dog is too young to witness the aforementioned phenomenon–she won’t leave the porch though..

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  8. My new place in Virginia has a front walk, but no porch. No dogs visible so far, and I suspect my cat Gremlin would let me know. ;-) I just had the exterminator blast a wasp nest beside my door — I do feel sorry for the wasps, but they were mobbing me when I sat out front. Not stinging, but I figured it was only a matter of time until I put a hand down on one or somesuch….

    Are the snakes perhaps shedding their skins about this time? That said, the heat wave is pretty bad here, and for my first couple of days, the AC was broken. I wouldn’t blame snakes for being snappy.

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  9. Hi everyone – Thanks for the comments. I’m glad this resonated with you.

    David – I’m sorry to hear you don’t have a porch. I really decry the modern architectural fashion of orienting houses toward the backyard and the deck, which is inappropriate here for climatic as well as environmental reasons (pressure-treated wood contains nasty chemicals; redwood is harvested unsustainably). Anyway. I’m sorry to hear it’s still hot down there. Here the weather has turned very pleasant again – as it has been for most of the summer. I don’t know that snakes shed their skins more often in one kind of weather than another, above a certain temperature threshold.

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  10. I may have been unclear about the snakes… I was wondering if they had a yearly pattern for shedding, perhaps in mid-August. My understanding was that shedding snakes are cranky. At least some sorts of snakes briefly become blind while shedding, as the scales over their eyes come loose. (Naturally, this makes them cranky for the duration!) This being visible to observers (the eyes appear milky), it might be a source for Brett’s “old wives’ tale”.

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  11. It’s a decent hypothesis. The problem is that growing snakes tend to shed every four to five weeks, except obviously during hibernation.

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  12. I read this aloud to my oldest son. Much of your writing begs to be read aloud. Thanks for sharing.

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  13. Great shots and stories. I’m so happy to have a real porch here. And our house dog spend much of her time under the couch on the porch, seeing as we’re on the 2nd floor and she can’t spend her days under the porch itself like a good country dog.

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  14. So glad I ran across your crayfish story. I thought I was crazy yesterday when I found a rather large one (6 inches or so) trying to climb up the side of my house! I threw him back into the woods, down toward the small creek running behind my house. This morning I took the dog out and there he was again – in the front of my house on the driveway – looking particularly ornery! Later in the day some neighborhood kids had caught 2 of these crustaceans walking through their yard – at least 200 yards from any water, and on the other side of the street. It felt good to know I wasn’t seeing things – although I’m not sure we aren’t under attack from giant crayfish!

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  15. Wow, that’s amazing! What part of the country do you live in? Have you had a drought there, too? Actually, I can’t help wondering if someone didn’t dump poison in your creek.

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