The Naturalist's Companion
I have been thinking this week on personal experiences during 2012.
Being a bit of a loner and not an avid photographer, most of the year is survived only by memory.
There is one creature, though, who has enriched my life in tremendous ways. He, and only he, has accompanied me on some of my greatest adventures.
I met Noah at the end of 2011. He was a chubby and playful puppy. To my surprise, he had been at the Watauga Humane Society shelter for many weeks. Why had no one adopted this beautiful boy? Perhaps, they intuitively knew that he was waiting for me.
Noah and I are connected, as dogs and humans have been connected throughout history. What scientists are discovering about our bonds with dogs is astounding.
For one, dogs and humans co-evolved with one another. The relationship began when wolves began following humans on the hunting trail. They would eat the scraps left behind.
Some naturalists believe that the tamest of the wolves allowed themselves to be domesticated. Yet, others believe that humans began raising wolf pups. Either way, the “dog” was born.
There is DNA evidences that suggests that dogs diverged from wild wolves somewhere between 15,000 and 100,000 years ago (big gap, I know). Even though research is still in the works, most historians agree that humans domesticated dogs before any other animal.
Why is the dog man’s best friend? Because he has been around long enough to know us better than any other animal.
It has been proven that dogs respond to human faces and can read our emotions. They can understand some of our verbal communication and very much of our nonverbal communication.
In a recent study, scientists discovered an interesting difference between dog and wolf. Dogs, even nontrained pups, will respond to human pointing. They naturally understand that finger pointing means they should draw their attention to an object or direction. Neither wolves or chimps are able to do this.
Noah certainly understands when I point at something. He usually gets very still and alert, for he knows from experience that I usually point when there is another animal close by. We have stood together and watched deer graze, turkey toms fight and beavers swim around Bass Lake.
In the year since Noah and I first found each other, we have travelled the country.
We have watched the sun set over the Badlands and walked the streets of Deadwood. We stood together and looked over the Mississippi from Mark Twain’s home. We both got a little lost in the Loess Hills of Iowa.
We have had some great journeys, but still enjoy our everyday hikes in the High Country.
See you on the trails, and do not be afraid to pet Noah. He is one of the friendliest dogs around.
If you have a question concerning flora and fauna, please email (email@example.com) All of your questions will be answered. One will be featured next week. See you on the trails.
Amy Renfranz is an interpretive park guide on the Blue Ridge Parkway. She is a certified naturalist through the Yellowstone Institute and a certified environmental educator in the state of North Carolina. Her comments are made independently and do not reflect the views of the National Park Service.