The Nose Knows

This morning's outing started with two objectives: avoid the heat, and get photos of what will likely be the last wildflowers near the house for the rest of summer. I noticed this area full of daisies two days ago on a forest path we often walk in the evenings. It's shaded, with a creek along much of its length throwing off cool air. With temperatures close to 100F during the late afternoons, it's becoming too warm even at 7 AM for the girls to want to run. So this morning we walked, and I took these photos.

As soon as we arrived at the spot where the trail crosses the creek and the daisies are in abundance, both girls put their noses in the air (bottom photo). Uh oh. "Maia, Meadow - stay!" They didn't exactly stay but they also didn't leave. Their brains focused on scent, they moved slowly in the creek and along its banks, as if moving would sweep more tantalizing scent across their nostrils. They seemed torn between cooling their toes and tongues in the creek and sniffing the delectable scent floating above them. Their intense focus on scent is what alarmed me. I knew I had only seconds to break that train of thought that moves oh so quickly from "There's a interesting smell..." to "Oh boy, big game to chase!" or "Something dead!"

I distracted them with treats, and tried to get them to pose among the flowers. (You can see, from the close-up of Meadow, just how happy they were with my request. Her facial expression seems that of a cranky child saying, "Oh Mother, puhleeze....") When I was done forcing them to be glamour models, I encouraged them to drink one last time before we walked the mile or so back to the car, assuming any large critter they smelled earlier would be long gone. I walked to the creek's edge with them, and then....even I could smell it.

Something recently dead.

"Let's go, girls!" Upbeat voice, upbeat heart rate - I've learned that (a) once they find something freshly killed, they're almost impossible to call away and (b) the "owner" of that meal could be very nearby, willing to guard its hard-earned resource if necessary. Despite my profession (attorney) I really do prefer to avoid confrontations whenever possible.

During an early Spring run along the Rapid River trail in 2006 Meadow made a detour off the trail, down slope into thick trees and undergrowth. She wouldn't come when called. Miffed, I retraced my own steps, only to find her doing an excellent imitation of an African lion: pulling and tearing flesh and guts from an extremely bloated deer carcass. I was nearly sick, watching it, watching the almost zombie-like expression on her face. She was deaf to my frantic calls. I had to scramble down the slope, gagging on the smell of the carcass, and physically haul her away. The disturbing scene flashed through my thoughts and dreams for days. Dear, sweet Meadow, acting like a vicious predator in the wild.

I'm more anxious now than ever to prevent such episodes from repeating.

The inevitable warning sign is: noses in the air. The nose knows. Sometimes they smell a living mammal - deer, elk, moose; sometimes they smell something recently departed. Either way - when the noses go up, I go into evasive action, not needing or wanting to learn the distinction.