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!

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!

Quotes from My Library: Exploring, Stories, and Dogs

This is the second post in a series I started last week, featuring quotations from books in my library. The sections below include quotations about exploring urban landscapes on foot, the significance of stories and storytelling in our lives, and the relationships between people and their dogs.

With the guidance of John Stilgoe’s book Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places, a walk through your neighborhood will never be the same. From sights as deceptively simple as changes in the material used to lay sidewalks or build fences, or as complex as the construction of streets and nearby interstates, railways, and bridges, Stilgoe illuminates elements of the landscape that you almost never notice by car and may often pass by without a second glance on foot. Embedded history is everywhere (or history is embedded everywhere), and Stilgoe can help you unearth it as you walk.

Rebecca Solnit’s The Faraway Nearby includes a wide variety of essays and a wide range of topics, but story and metaphor are threaded throughout as uniting themes. The quotes from The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall highlight and echo — in a couple of short sentences about how we fictionalize our own life stories — something Solnit is also saying.

In the months before my pup Lobo came to live with me and become my writing and photography partner, I read lots of books about dogs. LOTS of books, about two dozen. The ones I liked best explore the unique nature of our relationships with dogs, and examine the science and neuroscience of how dogs think. Some of the books quoted below also discuss training a bit, but what I really gained from them (I think, I hope) was a better understanding of how to relate to my dog; that is, how to relate to the consciousness of another species that is certainly communicating with me, yet without words. Lobo’s not my first dog, but the experience of raising him from eight weeks old has been different because these books taught me to be deliberate about paying attention and about the kind of guidance I can provide as he learns and experiences so many things for the first time. Animal minds are amazing, and I didn’t realize how much until I read some of these books.


From Outside Lies Magic: Regaining History and Awareness in Everyday Places by John Stilgoe:

“GET OUT NOW. Not just outside, but beyond the trap of the programmed electronic age so gently closing around so many people…. Go outside, move deliberately, then relax, slow down, look around. Do not jog. Do not run…. Abandon, even momentarily, the sleek modern technology that consumes so much time and money now, and seek out the resting place of a technology almost forgotten. Go outside and walk a bit … long enough to take in and record new surroundings….”

“The whole concatenation of wild and artificial things, the natural ecosystem as modified by people over the centuries, the built environment layered over layers, the eerie mix of sounds and smells and glimpses neither natural nor crafted — all of it is free for the taking, for the taking in. Take it, take it in, take in more every weekend, every day, and quickly it becomes the theater that intrigues, relaxes, fascinates, seduces, and above all expands any mind focused on it. Outside lies utterly ordinary space open to any casual explorer willing to find the extraordinary. Outside lies unprogrammed awareness…. Outside lies magic.”

“Any explorer learning to look soon discovers the astounding interplay of light, shadow, and color, a gorgeous interplay that never ceases to amaze.”

“Explorers quickly learn that exploring means sharpening all the senses, especially sight.”


From The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit:

“What’s your story? It’s all in the telling. Stories are compasses and architecture; we navigate by them, we build our sanctuaries and our prisons out of them, and to be without a story is to be lost in the vastness of a world that spreads in all directions like arctic tundra or sea ice…. Which means that a place is a story, and stories are geography, and empathy is first of all an act of imagination, a storyteller’s art, and then a way of traveling from here to there. What is it like to be the old man silenced by a stroke, the young man facing the executioner, the woman walking across the border, the child on the roller coaster, the person you’ve only read about, or the one next to you in bed?”

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live, or to justify taking lives, even our own, by violence or by numbness and the failure to live; tell ourselves stories that save us and stories that are the quicksand in which we thrash and the well in which we drown, stories of justification, of accursedness, of luck and star-crossed love, or versions clad in the cynicism that is at times a very elegant garment. Sometimes the story collapses, and it demands that we recognize we’ve been lost, or terrible, or ridiculous, or just stuck….”

“We think we tell stories, but stories often tell us, tell us to love or to hate, to see or to be blind. Often, too often, stories saddle us, ride us, whip us onward, tell us what to do, and we do it without questioning. The task of learning to be free requires learning to hear them, to question them, to pause and hear silence, to name them, and then to become the storyteller.”

From The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human by Jonathan Gottschall:

“The human imperative to make and consume stories runs even more deeply than literature, dreams, and fantasy. We are soaked to the bone in story.”

“We tell some of the best stories to ourselves. Scientists have discovered that the memories we use to form our own life stories are boldly fictionalized.”


From Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs by Caroline Knapp:

“Before you get a dog, you can’t quite imagine what living with one might be like; afterward, you can’t imagine living any other way.”

“Living with a dog — trying to understand a dog, to read his or her behavior and emotional state — is such a complex blend of reality and imagination, such a daily mix of hard truths and wild stabs in the dark.”

“Dogs possess a quality that’s rare among humans — the ability to make you feel valued just by being you — and it was something of a miracle to me to be on the receiving end of all that acceptance. The dog didn’t care what I looked like, or what I did for a living, or what a train wreck of a life I’d led before I got her, or what we did from day to day.”

“What a strange sensation, to look down and remember that you’re talking and interacting with an animal, a member of a different species: it drives home their otherness. The dog is not a creature who experiences communication and connection the same way I do. She is not a being with access to language or human constructs, and she is not a perfectly attuned, cleverly disguised version of a person in the backseat with a clear, knowable, or even remotely human agenda. The dog is, in fact, the dog.”

From For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion in You and Your Best Friend by Patricia B. McConnell:

“The faces of dogs are like living, breathing, fur-covered emotions, with none of the masking and censoring made possible by the rational cortex of mature adult humans. The expressiveness of dogs gives them a direct line to the primitive and powerful emotional centers of our brains, and connects us in ways that nothing else ever could. When we look at dogs, we’re looking into a mirror. That they express happiness so well, and that happiness is contagious, is just icing on the cake.”

“[Dogs] want more than just to hang out with us; they seem to want to understand us, and to want us to understand them. They watch our faces all the time for information, just as humans do when they’re unsure of what another person is trying to communicate.”

“A dog’s desire to communicate with people fits within the bounds of a dog’s evolutionary baggage, in which pack members hunted together, raised their young together, and fought to the death to keep the group together. You can’t coordinate your efforts as a group without some kind of communication, so it’s no wonder that dogs are as obsessed with social communication as we are. But dogs’ desire and ability to communicate, and their formation of attachments, transcend species boundaries.”

“Our dogs need us to understand that they are dogs, and that they don’t come speaking English. They’re not born reading our minds or understanding what we want just because we want it. Without question, their thought processes are profoundly different from ours. We can’t, on the one hand, say that our dogs are special because, unlike us, they always live in the present, and then turn around and expect them to think like us at other times. We have to find a balance here, one that acknowledges that dogs are different from us and at the same time celebrate what we share with them. What we share, without question, is a rich emotional life.”

From The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs by Patricia B. McConnell:

“All dogs are brilliant at perceiving the slightest movement that we make, and they assume that each tiny motion has meaning. So do we humans, if you think about it. Remember that minuscule turn of the head that caught your attention when you were dating? Think about how little someone’s lips have to move to change a sweet smile into a smirk. How far does an eyebrow have to rise to change the message we read from the face it’s on — a tenth of an inch?”

“So here we have two species, humans and dogs, sharing the tendencies to be highly visual, highly social, and hardwired to pay attention to how someone in our social group is moving, even if the movement is minuscule. What we don’t seem to share is this: dogs are more aware of our subtle movements than we are of our own. It makes sense if you think about it. While both dogs and humans automatically attend to the visual signals of our own species, dogs need to spend additional energy translating the signals of a foreigner. Besides, we are always expecting dogs to do what we ask of them, so they have compelling reasons to try to translate our movements and postures. But it’s very much to our own advantage to pay more attention to how we move around our dogs, and how they move around us, because whether we mean to or not, we’re always communicating with our bodies.”

“Once you learn to focus on the visual signals between you and your dog, the impact of even tiny movements will become overwhelmingly obvious.”

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

“Dogs, like so many non-human animals, have evolved innumerable, non-language-driven methods to communicate with one another. Human facility at communication is unquestionable. We converse with an elaborate, symbol-driven language, quite unlike anything seen in other animals. But we sometimes forget that even non-language-using creatures might be talking up a storm.”

“There are three essential behavioral means by which we maintain, and feel rewarded by, bonding with dogs. The first is contact: the touch of an animal goes far beyond the mere stimulation of nerves in the skin. The second is a greeting ritual: this celebration of encountering one another serves as recognition and acknowledgment. The third is timing: the pace of our interactions with each other is part of what can make them succeed or fail. Together, they combine to bond us irrevocably.”

“The bond changes us. Most fundamentally, it nearly instantly makes us someone who can commune with animals — with this animal, this dog. A large component of our attachment to dogs is our enjoyment of being seen by them. They have impressions of us; they see us in their eyes, they smell us. They know about us, and are poignantly and indelibly attached to us.”


And now … it’s time for a quick snooze…. : )