Little Things on a Big Walk

When I woke up this morning it was only 66 degrees, so we took advantage of the cooler temperatures with an extra long walk. Because Kalen’s office is less than a mile from our house, we sometimes do a “walking school bus” when the mornings are mild and pleasant. Once, we walked Kalen to work in the snow, but Pippin and I enjoyed it far more than Kalen did, who had to sit at a desk and do engineering stuff afterward, instead of drinking hot chocolate and watching British comedies.

This morning was one of the mild and pleasant ones and after we walked Kalen to work, we also walked our usual route as well, so Pippin should be all ready for some quality snoozing for the rest of the day.

Like most days, it wasn’t a hugely eventful walk, but there were a few pleasant surprises along the way. We saw a new bird before we dropped Kalen off. Not new like a baby, or new like we discovered it, but one we hadn’t seen before. I don’t consider myself a birdwatcher or birder or whatever the activity is called these days, because I don’t go out looking for birds, but I enjoy noticing the ones that happen to be wherever I am, which really is how I approach my surroundings in general.

When I was in middle school and high school, I did Science Olympiad, an academic competition where teams of students compete against other schools in set events about different science and engineering subjects. It’s super nerdy and it was a lot of fun. In high school particularly, I ended up in a couple of events that no one else wanted to do. My dad, a physics teacher at my school, was one of the club sponsors, so when after all the kids had claimed events, he asked me to take a couple of the events no one else wanted. Teams received an overall score based on how well they did in every event, and the highest ranking schools would go on to state competitions, so it made sense competitively to have someone on as many events as possible. And that’s how I ended up listening to recordings of bird calls to and from school every day. It’s also how I ended up learning a lot of constellations, but that probably would have happened without Science Olympiad.

I’m not an expert by any means, but a lot of the most common birds I can identify pretty easily, and I’ve spent a decent amount of time flipping through field guides. Now, Kalen and I use the Merlin app from Cornell University (it’s free, user friendly, and accurate; I can’t recommend it enough), which is extra nice because it can identify by listening (which I never got great at, in spite of the commute) or with a simple quiz, and it keeps track of which birds you’ve identified with the app before. It makes it into a fun and exciting game to identify new birds, but it’s always a little weird with birds you don’t really need to identify. Like a robin. I don’t know that I’ve ever used my app to identify a robin because I’ve known what a robin looks like since I was about three years old. But if I don’t identify it with the app, it’s not on my “life list” and some ornithology student at Cornell will think I’m a doofus who’s never seen a robin before.

Back to today: we saw a new bird! It was a Mississippi Kite. It looked vaguely like a hawk, and we have several hawks in our neighborhood, but the coloring was black and light gray, which is not like any of the hawks I’ve ever seen. I wasn’t fast enough to get a picture, and even if I had been, it probably would have turned out like my eagle pictures from the lake, but this is the screenshot of the Merlin identification.

So that was an exciting start to the morning. We also saw lots of cats on our walk, which isn’t unusual, but is always fun. Pippin loves cats, and thankfully not in an Alf kind of way.

The day we met Pippin and decided to adopt him, the meeting room had a window into a room where several cats were playing and socializing. At one point, I picked Pippin up (he was only 17 lbs at the time, so it was much easier then), and he watched the cats through the window utterly fascinated. He went through a phase a few months later where he was afraid of cats, but he got over it again when he realized he had grown far larger than any cat he was likely to meet on the street. He genuinely likes them now, but because he’s a Lorge Boi, most cats are often scared and run away. And of course, he wants to chase them because they’re running. If they don’t run, he just sniffs them and wiggles all over and tries to get them to play. A few of our neighbors’ cats have gotten to trust him and will approach us to say hi.

Occasionally a cat won’t let Pippin get close, but will let me pet it, and then it is my solemn duty to serve as a proxy and pet the cat as much as I can and bring the smells back on my hands for Pippin to examine remotely. He’s not spoiled or anything.

Usually Pippin sees the cats before we do, and if he sticks his head under a parked car or a bush and his tail starts wiggling, we know he’s spotted a cat. Today, though, I saw the cat first, sitting under some bushes on a retaining wall.

I stopped to pet the cat, and Pippin looked over the retaining wall and huffed and whined, “I want to pet the cat!” (a translation, obviously; he’s smart, but human speech has thus far eluded his abilities) until he worked himself up enough to jump onto the retaining wall to sniff. He’s only been swatted at a couple of times and never actually scratched, but when he gets close to a new cat we hold the leash tight so he doesn’t lunge. This cat was pretty brave and let Pippin get some sniffs in before we went on our way.

Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever this post finds you, and don’t forget to stop and smell the cats. Or roses, if you prefer, but Pippin really recommends the cats.

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