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Saturday, January 24, 2015

Letter to Shyla

We are participating in a Blog Hop hosted by Murphy and Stanley called "Letter to my Dog". If you read this post anyplace except at, please visit that link to go to the original copyrighted and complete version.

My dog, Shyla...
Cozy Labrador

Dear Shyla,

You came into my life 2 ½ years ago at a time when each of us was in the throes of tough times. I’d lost my beloved K, way too young, to cancer shortly before I met you. And, you were a young dog who was filled with fears of almost every aspect of our world. When I first saw you, you had bite marks on your face and unknown aches in your heart.

You needed me to teach you how to stand tall in our world, and I needed you to let me cry in your fur. We weren’t ideally suited to each other at that instant in time but I knew that we’d somehow find our way, dancing among the obstacles like you do everyday in the forest.
The level of your fear of everything in our world was incomprehensible to me. With lots of help, I learned how to guide you so that you can happily live in our world. Along the way, I learned patience, patience, and more patience. I know – I still forget to be patient sometimes, and I apologize for that.

But, despite my shortcomings, you’ve grown up into an amazing, loving, and sensitive dog. I feel lucky that we have you in our lives.
I’m starting to feel as if you watch over me like I watch over you. We've become like sisters who have each others' backs. I'm savoring every day we have together.

Now, you are my constant companion. You're the one who endures the cold to see the alpenglow on the snowy mountains at sunrise with me and then endures the cold again to watch the sunset with me. You join me on snow bike rides in the winter, mountain bike rides in the summer, and lots of hikes all year long.

You've recently become comfortable with snuggling - which I adore. You love to crawl from the foot of the bed and put your head on my shoulder as I hug you. There was a time, soon after we'd met, that I didn't feel sure that you'd ever trust me enough to let me hug you tight. Now you do.

Now I know that our bond is forever. You're my girl and I'm your human. You can count on it.
Me and My Shadow

Friday, January 23, 2015

The Duo at Sunset

I had the chance for a sunny and relaxed sunset hike with the Labraduo yesterday. That meant that I could take photos of my favorite black dog, R, in the sunset light.
For the first time since winter really hit, the sunset rays were shining on an open area, rather than a tiny section of the forest, so we played out in the meadow. I love the small signs that spring will eventually get here, like the gradual changes in the angle of the sun rays at sunrise and sunset.

I played recall games with the Duo and took photos as they sprinted toward me. The synchronized tongue flicks are becoming a trademark of the Duo.
The area where we were playing will be the first spot where our wild crocuses (Pasqueflowers) sprout in a couple of months, probably because it gets both morning and afternoon sun. The day when I see the first one is a day of rejoicing. It always feels as if it's the beginning of a long stretch of glorious entire spring and summer.
The area is a mixture of meadow, patches of forest, and the "rocks" that give the Rocky Mountains their name. Both of the dogs are very agile as they dance among the rocks and boulders.
I just adore seeing R so happy and puppy-like.
Off to the Races
He's a puppy at heart. Many people still ask me if he's a puppy when they see us for the first time. My reply is a happy, "Um, no. He's seven years old but he has the spirit of a puppy.".
The Duo was pleasantly tired and curled up to sleep together when we arrived home.
It's a sight that I adore. These two are truly brother and sister.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Winter's Return and Our Tough Wild Cats

We've had the return of winter after a major melt over last weekend. Yesterday, it snowed feathery light flakes all over our world. Shyla and I were out snow biking when the snow fell the hardest.
This morning dawned very cold but clear and still. As we started our morning fat bike ride, I felt as if we were riding out into a winter painting, with a bluebird sky and snow covering every pine bough and boulder.
It was so cold that my fingers hurt almost instantly when I tried to use my camera. Shyla just kept running around with frost forming on her whiskers and her paws kicking up the powdery snow.
 When it warmed a tiny bit, she sampled the snow cones.
The well-below freezing temperatures and new snow have made the trails much harder to navigate on a snow bike or on foot. So, I'm very glad that I seized that day last weekend to visit some faraway trail cameras that had been snowed in for almost 6 weeks.

Over the 6 weeks of human absence, the animal activity was subdued, mainly due to deep snow. But, the rabbits and the cats endured the snow and continued using the area. At one camera, a mountain lion walked past, sinking into the snow with each paw. I believe this is the same mountain lion whose photos I showed you from another (less snowy) site a few days ago.
Despite the snow, she took long determined steps. I think that she is the mother mountain lion who we followed last summer and autumn. Her kitten was almost as big as her when we last saw him so I won't be surprised if he has now struck out on his own.
Then, two nights later, a bobcat followed, literally in her footsteps. The big indents in the snow are where the mountain lion put down her paws two nights earlier.
But, this comparatively tiny cat took about twice as many steps to pass the trail camera as the mountain lion.
If you look at the photos closely, you can see that this bobcat made sure to use each of the lion's pawprints, since they were packed down by the lion's weight. However, the bobcat had to take extra steps in between the lion's tracks because his legs are so much shorter.

I find it so fascinating to get these glimpses into what goes on in our big forest when humans are not around. I think it'll be a little while before I can visit those cameras again so it'll be interesting to see the wildlife traffic over the coming weeks/months.

I am awed by these animals and their ability to survive such harsh conditions. The area where these photos were taken is usually substantially colder (5-10°F colder) than anyplace else in our neck of the woods. Yet, the cats, with their thick coats, still patrol the area in the depth of winter.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Stages of a Sunset

Orange, fiery phase...

Slow slide toward pink...

And, finally, a smidgen of deep purple during the hike home...

P.S. I said I'd be showing wildlife photos today but I am waiting until I can be "wordy" tomorrow!

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Winter in the Mountains

We had a wildly windy long weekend, which meant that we also had lots of clouds in the sky making pretty sunrises and sunsets.
Even in the protection of the forest, Shyla's ears would get blown up into the air by the wind. That little "tongue flick" is a sign of stress. Shyla is a little afraid of the big wind gusts.
She tried to hide but when the wind is blowing so hard, there's no hiding.
This morning, finally, the world was back to more normal winter weather. It was very cold and fresh snow dusted everything, including Shyla's nose.
The sunrise light was back, with only a few clouds in the sky. Shyla and I played in the sun puddles within the forest. I love the shadows at sunrise, and I love how she looked at me in the next photo - that's classic Shyla - a slight head tilt and soft, but focused, eyes.
We didn't stay still for too long due to the cold but we had a wonderful snow bike ride on hard packed snow trails. Shyla was super well behaved, and we explored the tranquil trails within our neck of the woods.
The Chinook wind over the weekend also made our world much warmer than usual. The snow pack shrunk a lot between wind blowing away the snow and melting. Consequently, I was able to check a couple of trail cameras that had been "snowed in" for the past 6 weeks. There had been some cool activity at those cameras but I'll save those photos for tomorrow.

And, our elk herd has returned from lower elevations since some dry grass is now uncovered in the meadows around here. I'm so glad to see them back!
They'll probably stick around until the next big snow storm and then they'll head lower again for a while. It's all part of the ebb and flow our mountain winter.

Monday, January 19, 2015


Shyla and I went to our advanced dog training class yesterday. I find myself constantly astounded by her.
She loves meeting the people at our training class. She's learned that it's a safe place where people are always nice to her. In fact, she's even started jumping up when greeting some of them. With my previous dogs, there was absolutely nothing positive about them jumping on people. But, because of Shyla's background as a fearful dog, my trainer and I exchange a smile when she does it and gently guide her toward a more appropriate greeting style. She's learning fast.
Each class lasts an hour and is held in a public park or on a city street. Shyla always has about three short episodes of "fear" during the class. Most people wouldn't recognize the signs but I've learned to see them - her face gets tight, she sniffs the ground while ignoring the world around her, and her movements get jerkier. When she hits one of these rough patches, we walk away from the class and either play a fun game or chill out quietly. And, the phase passes in a few minutes (if I don't take a break at the first sign of fear, it just escalates). Sometimes I know what caused it, and sometimes I don't.
During the majority of class these days, Shyla sits by my side when the teacher is talking, seeking eye contact with me. She's not vigilantly swiveling her head around to scan for danger. Nope, not any more. Instead, I feel like she trusts me to watch out for her while she focuses on me.

Seeing her eyes focused on my eyes makes my heart swell with love. This little girl has come so far, and I've somehow earned her trust and love along the way.
After class, Shyla and I went for a little hike to unwind, and we had our second incredible sunset in a row. We can go months without seeing sunsets like these - and we've had two in a row!!! I am so thankful!
It seemed like a fitting ending to a day when I felt such gratitude for Shyla being part of our lives.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Wintery Outing, with thoughts about our Coyotes

We woke up to the sound of the wind whipping through the pine forest near our house. High winds are the norm here in the winter. I don't mind them when there's not a lot of fresh snow to be blown horizontally. We headed out before the sun rose, arriving on a plateau just in time to capture the warm hues of the sunrise light.
The position of the sunrise has already shifted noticeably since the solstice. Shyla and I have to search for good rays of sunlight just after sunrise, and the good spots shift by the day. One wonderful spot this morning was in front of a big granite wall.
It felt really cold, with a temperature around 25°F and wind gusts up to some insane level like 60 mph. So, we got moving pretty fast. Shyla wanted to fetch her Wubba.
She was so happy to get moving because her paws were getting cold sitting still.
We played and played in the forest as it gradually become lighter.
At age three, Shyla still has the energy of a puppy. And, it makes me smile!
I used to worry more about starting our fat bike ride before sunrise because we used to have coyotes frequently pass close to our house. Interestingly, since a new house was built that cuts off a formerly heavily used wildlife route, the trail cameras near our house are not getting many coyote photos. In past years, they'd capture at least one coyote photo per night and now it's possibly one per three weeks. It's sad to me - I predicted that the new house would have this effect based on its position smack in the middle of a former wildlife corridor but I hoped that I was wrong.

The upside is that I don't worry as much as we ride out of our clearing, with Shyla in an off-leash heel next to my bike, early in the morning. Of all the animals in our forest, the coyotes worry me the most in terms of their potential to hurt our dogs.
Life is full of trade-offs. But sometimes it feels as if the needs of the wildlife suffer in almost every case. Connectivity between tracts of open land is what is most important but it seems difficult for building planners who live far from a site to know the movement patterns of the local wildlife.

But, from their howling and from a few photos at sites well away from our house, I do know that we still have coyotes in our neck of the woods.
And here's a more recent one. In fact, I suspect this guy was watching Shyla and me as we moved along a trail below where he was sitting.
I'm glad to see the coyotes looking good. I think they are so handsome, particularly in their thick winter coats!