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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's Turkey Day in the US! Here's a wild turkey, in its natural habitat.
Today is also "Thanks Blogville" day, a concept that I would not have understood before I wrote my first post almost six years ago. I had no idea that my simple little posts would lead to such a wonderful network of friends as those I've found in Blogville.

Blogville is a group where we support each other through thick and thin. I became most aware of this back when my heart dog, K, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma on Christmas Eve, 2011. She lived with cancer for 7 months before her journey ended, leaving me with a shattered heart.

In retrospect, the months of K's illness were some of the toughest, yet most love-filled, ones of my life. I knew that K wouldn't live a long time, and we seized every single day to find happiness and love with her.
In addition, Blogville did so many things to keep our spirits burning strong during that tragic, yet poignant, journey. There was the huge surprise of a day of posts dedicated to K on Valentine's Day, 2012 (there's a link to those posts in the right sidebar). I woke up that morning to discover many beautiful posts supporting and honoring K. I smiled and I cried as I read posts about K from all over the globe. The theme of many of the posts was "The Power of the Paw", and many featured a photo of K's paws that I'd taken just before her bone cancer diagnosis.
Then, Blogville did even more. You sent me a gorgeous painting of K, by Kathleen Coy, that is always featured in the upper right corner of my blog. In our home, it hangs above K's bed (also given to us by our Blogville friends - I am still overwhelmed by your generosity). I look into K's eyes in that painting every single day. Kathleen truly captured K's loving spirit.
This photo shows K's spirit that you helped me to celebrate despite my sadness - a happy and loving girl who was ready to play fetch on the day after she'd had intensive radiation to kill the bone tumor in her front leg. She lifted me up out of my sorrow with her irrepressible happiness and hope.
Here was K almost 7 months later, with a close friend who I met through Blogville (yet another gift from Blogville). That friend helped us through the last few days of K's life. She helped me to laugh and helped K to be silly despite the fact that we knew that we were in the last few days of K's life.

After K's death, a young and very sensitive dog, Shyla, joined our family. Since then, you've been so supportive as I've navigated the difficult world of helping her learn to cope with her fears. Your words of wisdom helped me through many days when I felt lost.
The great news is that Shyla has come out of her shell and, although she is still very sensitive, she can cope with most of life. I believe that she's very happy now.

Shyla is a new spirit, a unique soul, and I've come to love her like crazy. So has R.
Thank you, Blogville. The spirit that you represent is generous and kind - and I am so grateful that we are part of this group.

Happy Thanksgiving Blogville! K taught me to try to be thankful for each and every day. Today is special because we all join together in that thankfulness.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Our Black Dog

R is able to act so crazy and loud. When he's excited, he likes to talk - or shout - about it
But he is also also very serious, especially when he's out on evening hikes with just me and Shyla. He likes to keep watch over us girls in that situation.
 He is always scanning the world around him on those hikes.
Most of the time, when he's at home with the pack, he's a mellow dog but people who know him in other contexts might not believe it. This is what he does most days, in between runs, hikes, and meals.
The life of luxury...

Monday, November 24, 2014

Eyes or Nose?

I find it fascinating to spend so much time in the woods with a different species, a dog. We humans rely very heavily on our sight to "scan" the world around us. For dogs, it is undeniably different. I've seen Shyla walk right past all sorts of wildlife - deer, elk, grouse - who were standing still downwind of her. She didn't see them with her eyes, and the wind was taking their scent away from her. This was one example last summer. She didn't see this grouse!
Because we humans are so visually oriented, we tend to focus on the eyes of our dog friends when we look at them.
But, perhaps their portraits should look like this to emphasize which sense is most important to them!
Sometimes I wish that I could "see" the world through a dog's nose for just one day!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Silhouette Sunday

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Snoozing Saturday

A restful Saturday...
Shyla snoozed in the lap of luxury. Happy Saturday!

Friday, November 21, 2014


My snowbike leaves wide tracks in the snow that many animals like to use for walking. Near my house, I've seen bobcat tracks superimposed on my snowbike tracks almost every morning.
Seeing that photo made me want to check my other trail cameras in bobcat-rich areas.

This is one such area... where bunny rabbits hang out and bobcats hunt them.
It made me laugh that a bobcat stood in almost the same spot a few nights later, getting his profile photographed.
And, on another animal trail, I'd noticed many bobcat scrapes throughout the autumn months. So, I decided to put a trail camera there to see what activity was occurring. I captured a photo of a mother bobcat and her kitten. Here is the mother...
And, here is her kitten, lagging a few seconds behind. The kitten is getting big but is still clearly smaller than mom.
I've observed that female bobcats don't leave scrapes (territorial markings) like I'd been seeing along this trail as often as males do. So, I wasn't too surprised when a bigger bobcat, a male, showed up the next night.

Here he is, preparing to scrape the ground and mark his territory.
Marking involves kicking backward multiple times with both back paws. In this case, he dug all the way down to dirt. On this occasion, he left scat in the scraped area.
One of the promising things about finding a bobcat marking area is that it usually attracts all sorts of wildlife to sniff it and then mark it themselves. I am fairly certain that mountain lions occasionally use this route so it'll be interesting to see if we get any photos of them.

I don't know what happens when a male bobcat meets a kitten. There are stories that wild male cats kill kittens but I don't know how many solid facts back up those stories. This trail seems like a place where this male and the kitten could meet...

It is the season when all the animals are changing their "usual" routes because of the snow and cold. I'm hoping that I can figure out more of the their "usual routes" this winter than I have in the past! These bobcat photos are a good start!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Acrobatic Shyla plus Photo of a Mountain Lion Kitten

We had a quiet start to the day, heading out onto peaceful trails. No wind, pretty warm - we were both happy.

Shyla was in a zooming and acrobatic mood, almost scaring me with the way she was sprinting around on boulders.
That boulder is almost vertical but she came down it without hesitation.
Landing in a handstand!
She's at that age where I cannot imagine what she'll be like when she's older. She seems indestructible, performing leaps that seem impossible to me.

After I rode with Shyla, I headed to a faraway trail camera. I went to it yesterday to put new batteries in it. While I was there, a migraine started to come on. In my rush to get home before the symptoms got terrible, I left my keys next to the camera. So, today, I had to ride there again, to fetch my keys. In the process, I discovered that the new batteries must have been bad because the camera was already saying it had low batteries (after I replaced them yesterday). That means yet another trip to that spot...

As you can see, my wildlife photography ends up taking a lot of time and energy! But, it's worth it to me, when I peeks into the secret lives of mountain lions, like this one. This photo was at the end of a long play bout with Mom. She'd just walked off and the kitten lay there by himself.
I plan to make a video from all the footage, as soon as I have time. I think that glimpses of big fierce animals being playful are amazing!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Struggles and Successes in Training

We just barely missed actual sunrise this morning. My migraine-preventative medicine makes getting out of bed feel like I'm trying to escape quicksand - a huge frustration for me but it's better than having constant migraines. Fortunately, when we finally burst onto the trails, the sunlight was still soft and reddish. I love that time of the morning.
I keep thinking that maybe, just maybe, we'll get one or two more autumn-like days but Mother Nature has not cooperated. This morning was cold (10°F) with high winds out of the west. Shyla turned her back on them and her hat's toggles aligned with the gusts.
It's funny that this is the only hat that she doesn't act upset about wearing. She's squinting due to the sun in her eyes... but, generally, she doesn't mind this hat. I love how it acts like a wind gauge, aligning with the gusts.
When the wind became too cold, we retreated to the edge of the forest that protected us to some extent. And my girl relaxed on one of her favorite perches.
Our big accomplishment for the morning was making it to Hug Hill, a tough snow bike ascent right now. Thankfully, the wind died down, ever so briefly, while we played up there. The mountains are now fully cloaked in snow and very often have shrouds of winter clouds surrounding them. I guess it is now fully winter.
Going to Hug Hill feels like running a gauntlet these days. We've recently run into some hunting dangers near there so I insist that Shyla stays right next to me as I pedal uphill. She understands "heel" but, since becoming gaining more confidence, she gets tempted away by scents. A big part of our recent training breakthrough was working on "leave it" intensively. Now, as she starts to drift toward a scent (and away from me), an upbeat verbal "leave it" brings her running back to my side. That has solved almost all of the behavioral issues that we struggled with over the summer.

I also noticed that, when I felt that I was losing control of Shyla over the summer, I'd get a panicked or angry tone in my voice. By returning to our trainer's advanced drop-in classes, I've relearned the importance of sounding "fun" to Shyla. She is so sensitive that any stress in my voice makes her less likely to respond to me.
I'm sure that this won't be the last training challenge we'll face because both Shyla and I are constantly changing. Most of all, I'm grateful that her confidence seems to keep on growing!

Monday, November 17, 2014

I told you so!

I think that winter is here to stay. Shyla does too.
Indeed, this morning, I think she might have been ready to reverse her decision to reject boots and wear them! Sadly, I didn't have them with me. She started out fine.
Then she waved at me, tossing some snow into the air at the same time.
Then, as she started to put her paw back down into the freezing snow, she had second thoughts.
And she decided to adopt this pose.
I took it as a sign that we needed to get moving. Indeed, that worked. As long as Shyla was in perpetual motion, her paws were fine.
We had a fun ride, full of quiet and snowy trails. Shyla even ignored a herd of about six deer that pronked away from us at the start of the ride. I almost fell off my bike in utter surprise at the fact that my teenage dog has reverted to her former good behavior!!! Believe me, she won a huge jackpot of treats for being so good.
Her look seems to say "I told you that I could do it!". I love this girl more every day!

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Sunny Sunday

The air was calm and the sun was shining shortly after sunrise.
Although it was very cold early this morning, we reveled in the quiet and cold world. Winter is always better than I expect it to be ahead of time!
Happy Sunday!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Peaceful Winter Day

This week has marked an abrupt change in our world. I took this photo on Monday morning, seeing the clouds gathering to the west that would change our world.
I knew that true winter would be here after those clouds arrived so I rode for a long time that day. A little later in the morning, Shyla and I glimpsed the Divide again. The storm was almost upon us. Indeed, I was out on the trails, just finishing my ride, when the snow and cold arrived.
By Tuesday morning, it was well below zero and our world was snow-covered. We've barely glimpsed the Divide since then, as one storm after another has hit us. Here is Shyla on the same trail as in the first photo but two days later.
We mountain bikers have a term called "shut down", meaning that many of the trails that we love will be completely impassable after winter storms start pummeling them. Without multiple people using them, the snow never gets packed down enough for a snow bike to negotiate them.

Every year, I struggle with a touch of depression after "shut down" because my world becomes smaller. I can ride my snow bike only on certain trails that get enough foot/bike traffic for the snow to become packed down. 

For some reason, today, that hint of depression was completely gone. It was frigid outside, and the temperature dropped throughout the day. A light snow fell almost continuously. And I felt utterly peaceful. The trail systems were deserted, and I was smiling happily as I pedaled through the accumulating snow. I felt like I was doing exactly what I wanted to be doing.

That steady snow had perfect flakes in it that showed up beautifully against Shyla's fur.
During my ride with Shyla, we played a lot.
No doubt - Shyla loves snow. It makes her zoom even faster than usual (turbo-powered by the tongue sticking out).
I adore how she keeps her eyes on me, even as she's negotiating tough terrain.
After my fun ride with Shyla, I decided to do a bit more, starting to establish my winter routes. If I consistently ride certain fairly remote routes, then I can usually keep them packed down well enough for my snowbike, at least until we get a really huge dump of snow all at once.

It was hard work but my happy and peaceful mood continued. I pedaled through the silent crystalline world to the sound of my own breathing and the crunching of the snow under my tires. Time seemed to stand still.

As I pedaled, I saw really big elk tracks, and I marveled at the ability of elk to live in our climate and find food even in the winter. I thought of this huge bull elk who has lived in our neck of the woods all year long. I haven't shown photos of him for his own safety, but it seems okay now because tomorrow is the end of the hunting seasons on public land.
I hope that he stayed in the well-hidden places far away from roads where I usually get photos of him. I'd love to have him living among us for another year.
Thanks to all of you for your kind comments yesterday. That particular migraine is gone. I'm hoping that my doctors can figure out how stop these crazy trains of migraines like the one I'm in these days.