Wandering along the edge of a meadow and trying to stay in the shade on this scorcher of a day I come upon two does laying on their sides underneath a large sugar maple tree. At first I think they are dead but as I slowly approach they both pop up and lazily walk into the forest to avoid further attention. Typically deer lay on their stomachs when resting so that they can see potential predators but both of these does were lying on their sides; one laying on its right side and the other on its left side. By exposing more surface area to the cooler air in the shade they were likely lowering their body temperature. Deer do not sweat. They cool themselves by panting, immersing themselves in water, and by finding shade out of the hot sun. They also limit exercise which makes the body work and raises their body temperature. My male bloodhound Cooper is on a lead as I walk about. Adia, our female bloodhound, is back in our relatively cool house.
I do not intentionally let my hounds chase deer or other wildlife. Occasionally Adia will get off her lead and chase a wild animal. In hot weather she heats up pretty quick and gives up the chase. That is a good thing. Animals that have to use their flight mechanism in hot weather can end up in a highly stressed condition. It they can’t cool themselves it can cause serious harm. Eastern coyotes rely upon this during warm weather. They work in teams, thereby not exhausting themselves, to run down their prey which eventually overheats and has to stop running. It is a savage world. Only those who are most clever survive predation. Hot summers and deep snow in winter may be two of the times that deer are most vulnerable to becoming coywolf barbeque.
Next I walk across an area of open field where the temperature is well into the high 90 degree Fahrenheit range. The humidity index is over 70%. The air is thick, there is virtually no breeze, sweat drains into my eyes from a sopped brow, and I remind myself that I really don’t like hot and humid weather. I’ll take 40 below zero with 50 mph winds before 95 degrees with 73% humidity any day of the week. This man was not made for hot weather. My large body mass is like a large solar collector. If you could mount solar panels on my back I could power the City of Boston! After about a quarter of a mile in the open sun and pushing myself through thick goldenrod and brambles Cooper and I emerge into the shade on the other side. I am both sweaty and bloody. The brambles have cut my legs in a couple of hundred places. I look down to a mess of blood, sweat, and ticks. About a dozen of the creepy critters are scrambling around on my bare legs in hopes of latching on. I pick them off one by one. Three are dog ticks and the the other eight are deer ticks. I also pull a few dog ticks off of Cooper. He turns over on his back so that I can inspect his belly. I kill each tick as I pick them off by squeezing them between the vice-like grip between my fore finger and thumb. I really don’t mind killing ticks. If others feel differently I have no problem with that either. Cooper licks the wounds on my legs; a gesture of love in return for me gleaning the ticks from his coat of fur.
The shade is at least ten degrees cooler but still 90 something degrees. I sit down on a large schist rock that leans against a red oak tree. I am looking west back across the meadow. I can see our trail of packed grass and pummeled plants where we left a wake of temporary destruction behind. The furrowed path wanders and absolutely avoids a straight line. Our course was neither efficient or the shortest point between two lines. However we did manage to avoid some of the worst thorn thickets and Cooper got to investigate an interesting scent or two. A pileated woodpecker calls in the distance; it sounds like some sort of exotic African bird. Looking into the forest I can see the giant bird glide through the trees. It’s wings only flap once in a span of 100 feet. It is hunting for food; excavating wood at a rate of what seems to be 40,000 taps a second in search of come good insect larvae, or better yet, adult insects. The loud rappity-rap-rap makes a good rhythm and could be the beat to almost any aboriginal tune. Cooper rolls in the duff covering himself with dust much like a horse would on a hot and humid day. I can only suppose this somehow helps him to keep cool but I am puzzled as to how this works.
Done resting we move off into the woods. We will move slowly today. The heat remains oppressive. Perhaps our pace will allow me to see more wildlife.
Neither I nor Cooper the bloodhound wants to be hot on the trail (as bloodhounds are so often). It’s one of those days when a cold, slow trail would be preferred.
Written for www.wildramblings.com in June 2012.