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January 18, 2012: Adventures with Ari

The best thing about it getting dark so early is that it makes for more reading time. I have a stack of books on the bedroom windowsill, and I am enjoying reading them.

I’ve been reading Adventures with Ari by Kathryn Miles. She gets a husky-jindo mix from the animal shelter, and then decides to become what she calls a “caninaturalist,” or one who studies nature by following in the footsteps of a dog. She does this for a year, and organizes her chapters accordingly. She says in the introduction that her organizational pattern was inspired by Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Aldo Leopold’s Sand County Almanac since “so much of our written relationship with the natural world is based on seasonal cycles.”

Adventurres with Ari

Miles does an excellent job of blending personal example and anecdote, moving in a seamless fashion from one to the next. I often asked myself how is it that Miles got onto this topic? I then went back and retraced my own steps, noting how she did this. I did not do this when I read Merle’s Door because he doesn’t have as tight a chronological time frame. And too, his research findings were too broad in scope.

Excellent research findings here – I had never before thought about decomposition, or realized that it’s a somewhat logical and orderly process. According to Miles, it has six stages, “with evocative names like ‘black putrefaction,’ and the more jargon, but nevertheless descriptive, ‘butyric fermentation,’ which is sometimes explained as the ‘smells like cheese’ phase.” She further writes “In each of these stages a new band of grisly actors is invited to the feast, beginning with the bacteria in our own gut and ending with beetles that possess mandibles capable of gnawing on dried meat and skin.”

Miles goes on to say, “Flies wait for the second stage, after the bacteria has done its heavy lifting, before they lay their eggs and raise their maggots; beetles remain scarce until the fourth. Even within each insect genus, there’s a clear progression. For instance, the green-bottle fly is the first to arrive, since it is attracted to the feces and bodily fluids often released from orifices upon death. The grim flesh fly comes later, when the body has become more rank. After them, many species of moths appear to dine upon remaining hair or ski, or see the decimated corpse for their own breeding ground.”

Later, Miles learns that deer entrails are called umbles, hence, the origin of the word humble pie, noting that at one time, this was a mainstay at social gatherings – those further up on the human food chain had the more choice cuts of meat.

Miles’ research findings are nicely situated between her information about her direct interaction with Ari. Without this, this information, the book would be lacking in context. Her having to have her cat Cam euthanized brings up a multitude of questions about the ethical implications related to terminating an animals’ life—and her adopting two kittens brings up a multitude of questions about the ethical implications inherent to taking on feral cats.

In the end, Kathryn, via Ari, begins to meet her neighbors, and to socialize with them. This is in Unity, Maine, where people tend to be a bit more reticent. I drew parallels to my own life – at the book’s conclusion, Miles makes inroads with neighbors, who are also opposed to unchecked development. They’ve learned that developers want to put a subdivision in a nearby forest, and a cell tower on adjacent land. We, of course, are opposed to having a strip coal mine in our neighborhood. The very least is that Miles walks will be curtailed, as will my horseback rides.

This is a very appropriate ending, because by this point in time, we are seeing the area the way Miles and Ari see it, and of course, don’t want to see it destroyed. I like this idea, of putting such concerns in the context of the larger narrative. The more I think about this book, the better I think it is.

Next: 44. 1/19/12: Seeing the Light