Archive for October 2010

We Are One!

October 30, 2010

Yes, we’re one!

No, I’m not making a political or spiritual pronouncement by proclaiming our oneness. It’s just that yesterday marked the first anniversary of the existence of Out Walking the Dog, and I feel like celebrating. On October 29th, 2009, we published our first blog post.  Time to party!

The blogiversary made me wonder how we’re doing in terms of our development, so I did a little research.  According to the CDC’s Department for Health and Human Services, Out Walking the Dog is smack on target for key developmental milestones.  Like most healthy one-year-olds, we’ve been babbling for months already, and have now progressed to “babbling with inflection.”  That means we sound remarkably like we’re making sense.  (Click on the arrow to listen up.)   Sounds about right to me.


Fall 2010

Esau and I are each a year older (wiser, not so much), still madly in love with our strange and magical city, and happy to go out walking every day.  Over the course of the year, we’ve received some nice out-of-the-blue publicity, including profiles in the New York Times and Modern Dog magazine (yes, it’s a real magazine – Esau is nothing if not up-to-date).

Mostly, we’re grateful to you, dear reader, for your interest, and  hope you’ll stick around for our second year.  If we continue to meet age-appropriate developmental milestones, we should be speaking in actual sentences any day now.  Yes, there’s always something to look forward to at Out Walking the Dog.

Malevolent Mice

October 28, 2010

My recent brush with mouse death in Riverside Park has made me aware that New York City is home to some large, malevolently cheerful, truly terrifying mice. Behold the Mickey Mice, or perhaps I should say, Mickey Mouses of the Upper West Side.

Big Mickey is watching you

I’ve never been scared of mice, but after an encounter with this fifty cent ride-on Mickey, I’m rethinking my position:

Escape from Arkham Asylum

Just in case you think I’m being paranoid or over-sensitive, take a closer look at this chilling portrait of insanity:

Would you trust a small child to that face?

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

A Tale of Two Killers: Esau the Dog and Jerry Lee Lewis

October 24, 2010

Esau, my shaggy gray walking companion, is known on the block and the blog for his swift and merciless skill at killing street rats.

Is this the face of a killer?

I’ve had terriers much of my life, but never one that caught and killed with such extraordinary focused ability.  Esau catches animals while leashed and before I have even noticed their existence.  I now keep the assassin on a short leash when we pass the piled-up trash bags where rodents congregate.

Trash mound creeps across sidewalk

Still I admit to a vicarious pride in Esau’s ability to take down the large, brazen rodents that have over-run my neighborhood.

Yesterday Esau killed a mouse, a tiny, harmless creature that was going about its mousey business along the edge of the Hudson River greenway.  Bikers, walkers, runners passed by, unaware of the small lives being lived just inches from their feet.  I too would never have known of the mouse’s existence, had I not felt an unfamiliar movement at the dog end of the leash and, looking down at Esau, noticed a small tail hanging out of his mouth.

Without even breaking stride, Esau had snatched the creature from its daily rounds and was busy administering the fatal chomps.  I jerked hard on the leash and ordered him to “Drop it.”  The little mouse lay on its side in the grass, its hind leg moving as if it were trying to run away. I thought swiftly about how to put it out of its misery – other than allowing Esau to finish the job – but within seconds, the mouse stopped moving. It was dead.

Esau's Handiwork: End of the Mouse Road

I was saddened by the death, until I noticed a second mouse, its small back curved into a ball, blithely nibbling grasses only a couple of feet away.  It seemed to have no awareness whatsoever of its companion’s death or of the fearsome killer that I was restraining with difficulty. Eventually the mouse spotted us and dived into a small hole in the base of a rock from which it goggled its beady eyes at us, before turning tail and disappearing into the darkness.

Mouse house.

With the leash now short and tight, The Killer and I continued our walk, each of us displaying a new interest in the many animal holes camouflaged among the rocks.

Whose home is this?

Some holes are tiny, others quite large.

And who lives here?

How many animals live along this path? How many species?  I’ve seen rats along these rocks, and my son tells me that further south the grass on the eastern side of the greenway is full of mice.

Mouse markers

North of 100th Street, where we usually walk, you can clamber down the rocks right to the river’s edge. Driftwood sculptures rise against the horizontal flow of the river and a trio of well-placed stones, looking like a small graveyard, seems to be signaling across the water to the tall buildings on the Jersey shore.

Back on the streets, Esau enviously eyed another cold killer as she lunched al fresco.

Employed cat lunches outside her shop

And here is “The Killer” himself, the one and only Jerry Lee Lewis, rampaging through a 1957 performance of “Whole Lotta Shakin Going On”.  For sheer speed, drive and raw joyful ferocity, this Killer rivals even Esau.

The Dog Song

October 22, 2010

Out Walking the Dog has a theme song!  Who knew?

Thank you to a loyal reader for suggesting Nellie McKay’s “The Dog Song.” Here it is.  So crank up the volume and listen up.  Then, if you possibly can, find yourself a dog and go for a walk on this sparkling autumn Friday in New York City.

The Burry Man, The Burry Dog, and Burdock

October 18, 2010

The Burry Man sips whiskey through a straw. Photo by Homer Sykes, 1971

Starting in late August, burrs rank high on the Official List of Naturally Occurring Seasonal Aggravations. A recent light-hearted walk along Riverside Park’s upper path turned suddenly burry when Esau, in hot pursuit of temptation-in-a-squirrel-suit, dived into a low tangle of underbrush and emerged looking like the Burry Man of the British Isles.

The Burry Man and his attendants

For more about the Burry Man, including his origins and family relations (among them,  The Green Man, Poison Ivy, Robin Hood, army snipers and Sasquatch) click here.

But first, the Burry Dog … and his burrs.

A few remaining eyebrow burrs

In a matter of seconds, Esau had amassed at least 50 burrs from his ears to his tail. While some burrs operated alone, many clumped together into giant burry conglomerates.

Burr cartel takes hind leg by storm

I de-burred the pads of Esau’s little hairy feet, but the corporate burrs either resisted removal or broke apart into tiny spiked seedlets that clung to my fingertips and buried themselves beneath Esau’s fur.  We abandoned our walk and headed home, where Esau submitted reluctantly to scissors.

Elvis's Army buzz is in Esau's future.

The experience left me wondering: what’s the deal with burrs, anyway? Why do they cling with such persistence to pants legs, hair, fur and shoes?  Where do they come from and what do they want?

Burdock in bloom

Riverside Park’s burrs are seeds of the burdock plant, a non-native – some might say, invasive – species of thistle from across the pond.  Do not be fooled by the pretty purple flower. Burdock has an evil plan, and you and your dog are part of it.

What burdock wants is to populate new territory with its progeny.  But how?

Think about it.  You’re a burdock seed. You need to get away from your overcrowded home and make your own way in the world.  But you have no legs. You have no wings.  You have no car, and no money for a Greyhound ticket.  How are you going to get out of Dodge?

The answer is simple: Hitchhike.

Going my way?

“But how?” you protest. “I didn’t evolve a thumb.”

True. But you did evolve nasty little hooks that allow you to attach yourself to any furry, woolly or hairy animal that happens to brush by you.  You will use that poor sucker’s mobility to move yourself out into the world.

Traveling on an animal’s exterior is  called epizoochory and is a fairly unusual method of seed dispersal, used by only 5% of plants.  Far more common is endozoochory, in which seeds travel inside an animal by being eaten and excreted. This is, in my nonscientific opinion, a much more harmonious method that benefits both plant and animal.  I pity wild animals with massive burrs entangled in their fur and no fingers or scissors to free themselves.

Other common methods of seed dispersal include wind, water and – I kid you not – “ballistics,” in which the plant itself expels the seed.  That’s for a future post.  But before we look at exploding plants, be sure to click below for facts, lore and video on …


The Burry Man, The Burry Dog and Burdock is part of the Carnival of Evolution #29. Visit the C of E for wonderful posts on evolution by real live scientists. (We’re not sure how Out Walking the Dog slipped into the carnival, but we like the company.)

Cluster Walk in Riverside Park

October 6, 2010


Walking in Riverside Park, Esau and I sometimes see things in clusters.

Here, for example, is a fungi cluster:

Shroom Cluster

And here is an acorn cluster:

Squirrel's stash, exposed

And look out, Houston, here is the Mother of all Burrs:

Freaking scary cluster burr

Animals too come in clusters.

Cluster o' cats

These cats belong to Riverside Park’s tiny feral cat population. According to volunteers who care for them, they have been spayed, neutered and vaccinated.

Bowl cluster with cluster o' cats

The cats come and go freely through the bars that protect them from human intruders.  They share their shelter with a homeless woman.  I wonder if they share their food and water with Riverside’s raccoons.  (Yeah, let’s hope those pretty kitties got their rabies shots.)

Other species also gather in clusters, including sparrows …

Sparrows beneath Riverside Park bird feeders


Members of large squirrel cluster

… and, up on Riverside Drive, humans.

A small cluster of street artists takes a break from their chalky labors.

Isaac Brune (above, in the red cap) and friends transformed a stretch of gray cobblestones into the Riverside Drive Sidewalk Gallery, where they displayed a cluster of chalk drawings:

Welcome by Isaac Brune

Chalk Faces

"Caution! might smell funny"

Caution: watch out for clusters.

Again with the Central Park Rabies Advisory

October 4, 2010

Strolling in Central Park with Esau yesterday morning, I was surprised to encounter dramatic new “Rabies Advisory” signs on lamp posts along the western edge of the park.

The new signs scream “Rabies” in multiple languages (La Rage! Rabbia! Tollwut!) and feature a realistic line drawing of a hulking raccoon that could probably hold its own as a National Football League center.

Last winter, when it had become clear that Manhattan was in the midst of a raccoon rabies epidemic, bright green signs appeared on park lamp posts, urging visitors to “Leave Wildlife Alone.”

Note the cute little cartoon-like drawing of a raccoon head and the small lettering for the words “rabies advisory.”

The new signs are striking, easy to read and, well, kind of scary. But why scare us now?  The epidemic appears to be mostly over, thanks to USDA’s humane and labor-intensive program to individually trap, vaccinate and release Manhattan’s healthy raccoons.  Over 130 already-infected raccoons have died off  since summer 2009, while the remaining, much-decreased, vaccinated population should serve as a barrier that prevents the disease from reaching epidemic proportions.

After a monthly high of 38 reported rabies cases in March 2010, the numbers began to decline.  June and July saw three rabies cases each, and August became Manhattan’s first rabies-free month since November 2009.

So I repeat, why the scary new signs?  Well, it ain’t over till it’s over and with rabies these days, it may never be completely over.  In early September, a single rabid raccoon was found in Central Park in the West 70s, reminding us just how difficult it is to eradicate a disease with a long incubation period.  And to maintain effectiveness, we’ll probably need an annual vaccination program to ensure that new babies are trapped and immunized.

But even if we were to succeed in immunizing the entire resident raccoon population, raccoon rabies is now endemic across the eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine. Raccoons and other wild animals, including skunks and coyotes, regularly find their way from the mainland to Manhattan, as juveniles seek new territory.  They cross the railroad bridge from the Bronx or swim a narrow channel. If in their travels, they have been in contact with a rabid animal, they will again bring rabies to our island paradise.

So heed the scary signs, and leave wildlife alone.  Enjoy the raccoons, but don’t feed them or try to lure them closer so you can get a better photo.

And while we’re at it, it’s probably better not to feed any of our urban wildlife, except maybe small migrating songbirds.

Grazing geese take over the outfield in Morningside Park

Feeding by humans encourages animals to overpopulate, which makes us consider them pests that need to be eradicated, as in this summer’s killing of geese in Prospect Park.  Unnaturally dense populations allow disease to flourish and spread.  So if you have a soft spot for  geese, raccoons, pigeons, squirrels and other urban wildlife, do the animals a favor and stop feeding them.

Red-eared sliders, expecting crumbs, mass beneath the Turtle Pond overlook

If you don’t have a soft spot for animals, count yourself lucky that we don’t yet have a need for these signs in Manhattan:

Sign in Vancouver, Canada proclaims: Warning! Coyotes in the Area

Then again, coyotes love goose eggs, so maybe you goose-haters want to roll out the coyote welcome mat. After all, as the sign says, coyotes are “smart, fast, and will take what they can get.”

Welcome or not, coyotes will be back in Manhattan. If not this winter, then next.  They may be here already, slipping through the old growth of Inwood Park and the tangles of Highbridge.

Esau contemplates ducks as a possible food source.

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