Our bloodhounds sleep by the warm woodstove after a hard day on the trail.

Our bloodhounds sleep by the warm woodstove after a hard day on the trail.

A cool, gentle breeze brushes the exposed skin on my face and arms as my bloodhounds pull me up the forested trail.  The bloodhounds hold their noses close to the ground, their red colored heads sweeping back and fort, as they survey the scents in the forest.  Cooper, our male bloodhound, is intent on the scents on the ground’s surface.  His loose skin is rolled forward and his long ears are touching the ground containing potential scent  which aids his fabulous nose on this July morning.  Adia, our female bloodhound, is not typically focused on just those scents on the ground.  Every 30 seconds or so she raises her head, her deep skin folds on her skull tumble back, and puts her nose into the breeze.  She is surveying the general area for any interesting scent that may be in the open air.  I have learned a lot about the woods from our bloodhounds.  They direct my attention to features in the forest that I may not normally be tuned into.  They find scat off the trail that my eyes would never see.  They alert me to animals nearby with their comical antics as they get excited by a scent.  They lead me to places that I have never seen or I have long sense forgotten. 



On this day I am taking a walk simply to relieve myself of stress that builds up from time to time.  While enduring a long bout with Lyme disease I find I no longer am very stress tolerant.  Exercise seems to be the best remedy; with each mile on the trail I find the day to be just a little bit brighter.  As we climb the long hill on this north facing slope I work up a significant sweat while the hounds smell the world around them; an olfactory world that few other animals experience of enjoy.

The breeze is now steady evaporating the sweat on my arms and cooling me down as we journey up this hillside.  The dogs still hold their noses close to the ground and tails high in the air.  You can always tell if a bloodhound is happy by the tail.  If it is standing high above the backline and curled in a sweeping arc forward the hound is ecstatic!  Adia pauses for a minute, lifts her head up in the air and howls a long mournful sound.  She has just hit some irresistible scent, not on the ground but through the waves of air now rushing by.

As most people know Bloodhounds have a tremendous sense of smell.  They have highly developed olfactory sensors in their large dark noses.  They can smell much better than most other dogs, and nearly three million times better than most humans.  Bloodhounds can, under the right conditions, pick up scents from dozens of miles away. 

The wind that is now blowing beyond the strong breeze level into the “very windy” mode plays a significant role in Adia’s scent discovery.  What she actually smells is bacteria formed on a body part like the skin or hair that mixes with water molecules and gets partially evaporated and carried by the moving air.  Even though this scent may be diluted over a million times a bloodhound can, under the right conditions, segregate a particular scent from all of the other scents that the wind or air currents carry.  I used to compare a bloodhound’s sense of smell to the superior eyesight that humans enjoy.  I reasoned that a dog cannot experience what we see because they have different rods and cones in their eyes.  It is doubtful that they see any of the brilliant colors around themselves and therefore see the world differently than us perhaps a little more blandly.  On the other hand a bloodhound can smell the scent from a person’s footprint that is more than a couple of days old in the right circumstances.  I used to think that the human eyesight versus bloodhound’s scent capabiites  was an adequate comparison but of course it is not.  Our sense of sight is not three million times better than a hound’s.  It isn’t even close.  It seems clear to me that the olfactory world a bloodhound experiences is so vastly different from what we encounter that there is no way to make a valid comparison.  We simply do not have a clue when it comes to universe of scents.

Cooper catches Adia’s excitement and lifts his head into the air.  The croon together like two hounds hot on the trail.  Given I have no idea of what it is they wish to pursue I try to divert their attention by dragging them to a different area behind a nearby ledge where the scents carried by the wind are now blocked by the rock outcrops.  Cooper quickly changes his attention to smells on the ground at this location but Adia keeps testing her nose in the wind.  She occasionally barks, signifying that their still something of interest in the air.  With time and new found scents this behavior will dissipate.

With the dogs in tow I circle back to the east and intersect the trail in the woods at a different location.  This area is more exposed to the east and the winds are challenging.  Easterly winds in these parts can signify an approaching storm.  The clouds in the east are darkening.  I know it will not be too long before I must head back home. 

I stand here with the strong winds blowing into my face.  I can feel the remaining stress leave my body as if the gale force winds are blowing it away.  Above me the tree tops thrash back and forth.  The larger trees make a long creeking sound and large branches loudly slap together.  Adia lifts her head; once again her furrowed skin falls back to her upper neck.  She pulls wafts of air into her twitching nose as the wind blows from the east.  She tips her long snout up and moans a mournful song.   Cooper joins her.  Together they sing into the wind a song for the wild.  I stand there wanting to howl with them, but I do not. I don’t want to interrupt a perfect harmony. 

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  • Ratty

    I wonder what it would be like to smell the things that dogs smell. I don’t think we humans could take it. We would be distracted by every little thing.

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