Dogwoods and Dog-Soccer

From 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells:

“How it became ‘dogwood‘ has to do with its edible and medicinal qualities….

Cornus sanguinea, or English dogwood, was called by John Parkinson ‘the Doggeberry tree, because the berries are not fit to be eaten, or to be given to a dogge.’ The Victorian garden writer John Loudon said that it was named because a decoction of its leaves was used to wash fleas from dogs, and L. H. Bailey said in 1922 that it was used to bathe ‘mangy dogs.’

“At different times, dogwood leaves, berries, and bark have been used to intoxicate fish, make gunpowder, soap, and dye (used to color the Turkish fez), make ink, and clean teeth…. Bark of the dogwood tree contains small amounts of quinine and ‘it is possible to ward off fevers by merely chewing the twigs’ (Bailey)….

“According to Peter Kalm, American settlers believed so strongly in the power of the dogwood that when cattle fell down for want of strength the settlers would ‘tie a branch of this tree on their neck, thinking it [would] help them.’ He does not comment on whether this helped or not, but he does say that ‘It is a pleasure to travel through the woods, so much are they beautified by the blossom of this tree.’ That, at least, is still true.”

From Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz:

“A simple game of fetch … is a dance of call and response. We enjoy the game because of the dog’s reactive readiness to respond to our actions…. Dogs participate in a kind of communion with their owners around the ball, with each responding at a conversational pace: in seconds, not hours. The dogs are acting like very cooperative humans…. As wolves hunt together collaboratively, this ability to act with others, matching their behavior, might come from their ancestry. To have your play-slap matched by a dog’s is to feel suddenly in communication with another species.

“We experience the dog’s responsiveness as expressive of a mutual understanding: we’re on this walk together; we’re playing together. Researchers who have looked at the temporal pattern of interactions with our dogs find that it is similar to the timing patterns… among soccer players as they move down the field….

“There are hidden sequences of paired behaviors that repeat in interaction: a dog looking at the owner’s face before picking up a stick, a person pointing and a dog following the point to what it’s directed. The sequences are repeated, and they are reliable, so we begin to get the feeling, over time, that there is a shared covenant of interaction between us. None of the sequences is itself profound, but none is random, and together they have a cumulative result.”


My favorite thing about dogwoods is that they’re named after dogs.

Well, not named after dogs, exactly….

Until digging around this morning, I would have thought I made that up, then was surprised to learn that there’s a nexus to dogs in the history of the name “dogwood” — see the quote at the top of this post. Take that, cats!

I took the photos in the first gallery in late March, on a lovely overcast day that helped me capture some of the tiny detail in the flower petals without excess shadows or glare. The transition from the first to the last photo in this gallery mimics my movement around the tree, from its shadier side to the side that would normally get a lot of mid-day sun.

I went back a couple of weeks later and the dogwood blooms were even jazzier, so on this sunny day I decided to try a few backlit photos for practice.

Dealing with strong sun-lighting can be a challenge for nature photography, and backlighting takes that to another level because the sun is in your eyes, and the glare affects your ability to assess the image in the camera’s viewfinder — but it also encourages (!!) you to rely on what the camera is saying about exposure, focus, and depth of field. Nevertheless, there’s a good chance some images are seriously overexposed or contain blown-out whites that can’t be recovered in post-processing — and I throw out many more backlit experiments than I keep. But there are other photos, like these, that can be corrected by reducing highlights in Lightroom through the use of multiple graduated filters over the entire image, and then making adjustments to whites, shadows, and saturation to restore the color and detail in the main subject.

These pink and red dogwood blooms were plentiful on the same day, and I used similar techniques to get adequately exposed photos at the depth of field I wanted, so that some flowers and branches on each tree were isolated from the rest.

There were dozens of birds in the dogwood trees during both of my photoshoots — as there always are at the cemetery gardens, since it’s so dense with places for such creatures to hang their feathers. Yet there aren’t any birds in my photos because… because… I suck at taking pictures of birds! Well, humbly, I can do owls pretty well, but that’s possible since they’re not too bothered by the movements of humans and they tend to pose for their photoshoots. Robins, cardinals, sparrows, finches — I see them all when I’m at the gardens, but I’ve spent so much time taking pictures of stationary (or mostly stationary) plants and flowers that I barely know how to use my camera when the subject doesn’t sit still.

I was talking to my dog about this dilemma the other day and he correctly pointed out that, like birds, he doesn’t sit still much either … and he would be happy to help me out. So one morning — after he finished his tap-dancing lessons and helping me with the laundry — we designed an experiment so I could practice moving my camera into position as an object (the dog!) came running toward me, to get a feel for how the camera responded when using auto-focus and continuous shooting to capture things that are expressing themselves with speed.

For these shots, I sat on the floor in my office and threw Soccer (we call it “Soccer” because if we call it “Ball” he searches the house for the first ball he had and still remembers (from nearly three years ago!), that was so pierced with puppy-teeth holes I had to replace it) out of the office, across the hallway, and into the living room — a distance of about seventy feet. That gave me time to pick up the camera, aim at the charging beast, and hold the shutter button down until he made it back into the office and dropped the ball for the next throw. It took me about twenty minutes to get the hang of it and to get a feel for how to handle the camera when my subject was moving (fast!) — but this series does come from a single press-and-hold of the shutter, not from individually framed and focused stills.

The focus is not great on some of these (I need more practice) and I kept the fifth photo in the series because it made me laugh — but I was intrigued by how the camera handled his movement, and how well it exposed the variations in light and shadow from the bright but distant living room, through the darker hallway, to the sunlight in my office. I did make some adjustments in Lightroom (brightening shadows, a bit of straightening, and spot-removing some dust bunnies from the floor), but they didn’t require much more post-processing than that.

Now I’m ready to try birds! or maybe a safari!


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Three Days To Christmas: A Gathering of Angels, One (Tasmanian) Devil, and One Small Dog

From A Christmas Story by Jean Shepherd:

“From the kitchen intoxicating smells were beginning to fill the house. Every year my mother baked two pumpkin pies, spicy and immobilizingly rich. Up through the hot-air registers echoed the boom and bellow of my father fighting The Furnace. I was locked in my bedroom in a fever of excitement. Before me on the bed were sheets of green and yellow paper, balls of colored string, and cellophane envelopes of stickers showing sleighing scenes, wreaths, and angels blowing trumpets….

“I turned back to my labors until finally there they were—my masterworks of creative giving piled in a neat pyramid on the quilt. My brother was locked in the bathroom, wrapping the fly swatter he had bought for the Old Man.

“Our family always had its Christmas on Christmas Eve. Other less fortunate people, I had heard, opened their presents in the chill clammy light of dawn. Far more civilized, our Santa Claus recognized that barbaric practice for what it was. Around midnight great heaps of tissuey, crinkly, sparkly, enigmatic packages appeared among the lower branches of the tree and half hidden among the folds of the white bed-sheet that looked in the soft light like some magic snowbank.”







A Dog, a Koala Bear, a Dodo Bird, and a Ladybug

From Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz:

“Part of normal human development is the refinement of sensory sensitivity: specifically, learning to notice less than we are able to. The world is awash in details of color, form, space, sound, texture, smell, but we can’t function if we perceive everything at once. So our sensory systems, concerned for our survival, organize to heighten attention to those things that are essential to our existence. The rest of the details are trifles to us, smoothed over, or missed altogether. 

“But the world still holds those details. The dog senses the world at a different granularity. The dog’s sensory ability is sufficiently different to allow him to attend to the parts of the visual world we gloss over; to the elements of a scent we cannot detect; to sounds we have dismissed as irrelevant. Neither does he see or hear everything, but what he notices includes what we do not. With less ability to see a wide range of colors, for instance, dogs have a much greater sensitivity to contrasts in brightness…. Without speech, they are more attuned to the prosody in our sentences, to tension in our voice, to the exuberance of an exclamation point and the vehemence of capital letters. They are alert to sudden contrasts in speaking: a yell, a single word, even a protracted silence. 

“As with us, the dog’s sensory system is attuned to novelty. Our attention focuses on a new odor, a novel sound; dogs, with a wider range of things they smell and hear, can seem to be constantly at attention…. [A] city can be an explosion of small details writ large in the dog’s mind: a cacophony of the everyday that we have learned to ignore. We know what a car door slamming sounds like, and unless listening for just that sound, city dwellers tend to not even hear the symphony of slams playing on the street. For a dog, though, it may be a new sound each time it happens….

“They pay attention to the slivers of time between our blinks, the complement of what we see,,,, Human habits that we ignore — tapping our fingers, cracking our ankles, coughing politely, shifting our weight — dogs notice. A shuffle in a seat — it may foretell rising! A scootch forward in the chair — surely something is happening! Scratching an itch, shaking your head: the mundane is electric…. Details become more meaningful when they are not swallowed up in the concerns of the everyday….”

“Happiness is novelty — new toys, new treats — in a safe, well-known place…. the new requires attention and prompts activity.”

Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Know, and Smell by Alexandra Horowitz is an excellent romp through the sensory lives of dogs. I’ve featured quotes from another book by Horowitz — On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation — here a few times, and while that book includes some references to observation from both a human’s and dog’s point of view, Inside of a Dog dives deeply into the minds of dogs and how they experience the world, especially the relationships between human-world and dog-world.

If you have a dog, like dogs, or are interested in animals generally, Inside of a Dog will change how you see them. The book contrasts human senses with dog senses, developing a perspective that shifts between how we, as humans, understand the world primarily in verbal, linguistic means to how dogs and other animals perceive it in non-linguistic terms. For animals, the world is primarily one of contrasts, colors, motion, sounds, and smells, all processed cognitively not as words but as (what we would call) images, yet there lives are still ripe with various forms of non-verbal communication along with active imaginations, creativity in play, and integration of new experiences and feelings. If you are a photographer, you may already tend to see the world in snapshots and images; yet consider, if you can, how your awareness of your surroundings would be altered if imagery without words was your primary means of experiencing the world around you.

As the quotes at the top represent, novelty is a big deal for dogs; something new generates an immediate, intense interest. My dog Lobo got three new toys for Christmas (two from me, a koala bear and a dodo bird), and one from a friend (the ladybug), all of which were coveted before I even got the tags cut off. He’s developed a very clear expectation that boxes (“whatever those are”) contains toys (“we know toys!”), and tried — despite his small size and the improbability of success — to snatch the box containing the ladybug off my dining room table, giving me that special canine side-eye look when I hid the box in a cabinet. The novelty wears off quickly, of course, replaced in a few hours with proximity (the nearest toy gets nabbed at the start of a sprint through the house), or maybe a combination of smell and a bit of possessiveness (the last one the human touched becomes the most important one), and many of them get rides in the jaws at some point every day….


… And then … he rests, for a few minutes, anyway…. 🙂


Thanks for reading and taking a look!

Three Days To Christmas: Angels, as the Dog Watches Over Them

From “A Christmas Tree” in A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens:

“What images do I associate with … the Christmas Tree? Known before all the others, keeping far apart from all the others, they gather round my little bed. An angel, speaking to a group of shepherds in a field; some travellers, with eyes uplifted, following a star; a baby in a manger….”

From “A Christmas Carol” in A Christmas Carol and Other Christmas Writings by Charles Dickens:

“I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel….”



From A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by C. A. Fletcher:

“Dogs were with us from the very beginning.

“When we were hunters and gatherers and walked out of Africa and began to spread across the world, they came with us. They guarded our fires as we slept and they helped us bring down prey in the long dawn when we chased our meals instead of growing them. And later, when we did become farmers, they guarded our fields and watched over our herds. They looked after us, and we looked after them. Later still, they shared our homes and our families when we built towns and cities and suburbs….


Of all the animals that travelled the long road through the ages with us, dogs always walked closest.…”