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Friday, February 27, 2015

Happy Friday

My legs were dragging this morning as we headed out to snowshoe for the second day in a row. I wished we were snow biking, and my leg muscles were protesting this new activity.

But, Shyla was over the moon happy. Early in our walk, she suddenly sprung into a huge leap for no reason at all. What an athlete!
As we climbed higher, we saw the beautiful picture painted by the snow, sun, and blue sky.
The sun, which stayed out only briefly, warmed both of us so we could stay still for brief periods.
But, it wasn't a long rest for Shyla. She managed to dig through the snow to find one stick yesterday. It's hard to find sticks when there is bottomless snow so it was a prized find. She re-found that stick today, and it amused her for most of our hike...
... that is, until she broke into pieces too small to carry.

By then, we were both tired, and she looked as she was coming up for air as she porpoised through the snow.
This weekend is time to take a deep breath and relax. Or, in my case, it's time to do more research about what we should do about R's elbow. We see a specialist in dog elbow reconstructive surgery early next week. If any of you have experience with CUE surgery for elbow dysplasia, please let me know. It's so new that there's only one surgeon in our state who has done it. I'm not sure that we're ready to face up to this...

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Powder Day!

We had a sudden onslaught of heavy snow yesterday afternoon that almost brought the evening commute to a halt. But, we woke up to this view this morning! It's hard to imagine that we'll be lounging on that deck in a few months! It's supposed to keep snowing until tomorrow night with up to another foot falling here.
Shyla and I headed out for a snowshoe hike this morning. At first, the sun was shining and the going was easy, as she stayed on the slightly packed trail.
Being a youngster, she didn't stick to the packed trails for long, and then she almost disappeared into the seemingly bottomless powder.
But, she ventured into the powder time and time again, making me laugh with her antics. Fortunately, hydration was on the tip of her nose because bounding through that bottomless powder was hard work.
It was somewhat sunny at the start of our hike but then the snow started falling steadily again which meant that we both got even more covered in snow.
Near the end of our snowshoe hike, Shyla was almost invisible in the snow because she had so much stuck to her fur.
It was a beautiful hike. As the snow fell out of the sky silently, the forest was utterly still. We didn't see any wildlife or even any tracks. It was a perfect storm. And, I kept visualizing all our wildflowers, hibernating under the snow, getting nourished so they can sprout in the spring. I also visualized all the bears, who I know so well from my trail cams, tucked snugly into their dens, some with cubs curled against their fur.

Of course, like dogs do, Shyla was living in the moment, absolutely reveling in the snow. Her energy seemed boundless and her physical capabilities endless. As we walked (or galloped) through the snow, I realized that Shyla has become everything I want in a dog - a reliable partner, a playmate, a guardian, and a source of tons of smiles!
Oftentimes, if I snowshoe a route out and back, I pack it down enough to be able to snowbike it later. Today, that was definitely not possible. My snowshoes were still sinking in at least 6" with each step on the way back. I rode my snowbike on a nearby dirt road, working out the back spasms that snowshoe hiking causes. Maybe I'll be able to ride the trails tomorrow if we don't get the full foot of additional snow that is predicted.

I enjoy riding no matter where it is but I do prefer the trails. My neighbors think that I am a complete nut when they see me out riding on the dirt roads while snow is falling, the roadside walls of snow are measured in feet, and the temperature is barely above zero. I'm sure that they go home and laugh about their crazy neighbor! 

P.S. If I disappear from the internet, don't worry. When we get too much snow on our roof, we lose our sightline to the satellite that provides our internet, and all we can do is wait for the snow to melt...

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Wordless Wednesday - Snow Play

Retriever Extraordinaire

Full Speed Ahead

Black Dog Intensity

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Wintertime: Snow, moose, and mountain lions

Yesterday, I told you that Shyla and I saw a moose cow-calf pair near the end of our ride. Fortunately, Shyla was very mellow when we finally saw them because she'd been playing in the snow non-stop for a while.
And, just before we saw the moose, we'd been practicing some of her tricks so her focus was completely on me.
Just after we'd been playing the "wave" game, we saw the moose pair sprint across our path and up a hill.
They disappeared over a ridge, and we changed our route to stay away from where I guessed that they'd gone.

But, after I dropped Shyla off at home, I saw them again. They were in the midst of a very dense aspen grove, eating the tender shoots and buds from the trees. I kept a long distance away but I had my super wildlife lens with me.

The calf was easier to photograph than his mom, who was even deeper in the aspen grove than the calf. Here's the calf eating an aspen shoot.
The calf voraciously ate every bud and twig he could reach. I believe the calf was a male based on his antler buds. He was a much smaller calf than the one I saw a little while ago. He was about half of his mother's size.
After a couple of photos from a long distance, I departed. Believe me, I have a healthy respect for the anger of a mother moose, and I never want to see it again.

But, contrary to my plans, I saw the pair again on my way home. This time, they were both lying down in the snow.

Again, the calf was a little easier to see than his mom.
He glanced at me but never moved.
Mom never even turned her head toward me although, as you can see in the next photo, she was listening for me. Her ears were rotated in my direction.
Both of her ears had perfect points, unlike the mother moose who charged me three weeks ago. Thus, I feel certain that this was a different mother-calf pair than the one that I saw before. It blows my mind that we have TWO moose pairs near our trails when none have ever lived here before. They've passed through our area, and my trail cameras have captured their images. However, they haven't stayed around until this winter.

Probably part of the reason for the moose population explosion is that they have very few predators in our area. North of us, wolves are the primary predators of moose. We don't have wolves here, and I doubt that people would ever accept a reintroduction of wolves.

Mountain lions occasionally kill and eat moose. The articles I've read say that it's mainly the big male mountain lions who will take down a moose. We've had a female mountain lion in our neck of the woods consistently for a while now. I wonder if she's been near the moose.
She is quite small compared to a moose. In these photos, she's passing the same trail camera as a young male moose passed last September so you can get a direct comparison.
Based on the size difference, I cannot visualize her taking down an adult moose. However, if she could fend off the mother moose, I bet that she could take down that smaller calf that I saw yesterday.
Amazingly, I am more afraid of moose than I am of mountain lions! I'm sure that's simply because I'm used to sharing the forest with the lions but I am not used to moose yet.
It will be interesting to see how long the moose stay around. I suspect that they'll move up higher as our world thaws out this spring but only time will tell.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Snow Play Day

Today was snow play day. Off-trail, the snow was deep. Shyla porpoised through it.
Her face was perpetually covered in snow.
But it didn't seem to bother her much. She scented for animals as if she wasn't covered in snow. I think that, in the next photo, she had caught the scent of the moose that we would see soon thereafter.
As I tried to ride my snow bike, flailing around like a rookie, Shyla ran with power and grace.
At three years old, she is at her prime, and she reminded me of that fact repeatedly today. She was like a perpetual motion machine, not slowed by the deep powder just off to the sides of our trails.
But she stopped occasionally, when I asked her to. The winter world was gloriously beautiful so I asked her to stand in K's spot, atop a boulder with the mountains barely visible behind her.
After our play, we got down to the business of packing down some more trail with my snow bike. Shyla stayed nearby, thank goodness, because we spotted a mother moose and calf pair.

When we first saw them, they were running very fast through the deep snow from a lower meadow up to the one where we were. They crossed our trail about 50 yards ahead of us and continued up the hill at an incredible speed considering the slope and the snow conditions.
I feel fortunate that Shyla has zero interest in going near them. She stayed right next to me as we watched them climb the hill and then disappear over a small ridge. I suspect that someone in the lower meadow had scared them, sending them sprinting up the hill.
It seems that having moose in our neck of the woods is becoming the new normal. Based on the tracks I've seen, they've been in the midst of our trail system almost every day since I was charged by a different mother moose.

Intriguingly, as the locals are learning how to live with almost daily moose encounters in the forest, an article about the moose population explosion in our state came out today. The astronomical increase in moose activity in our "backyard" is happening all over the Front Range.

Let's hope that the moose, the people, and their dogs reach an equilibrium so that no one gets hurt.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Snowy Sunday

The snow storm has not disappointed us. Shyla had already fallen into a drift within 100 yards of our house, and her face was covered in snow.
It's hard to guess how much has fallen so far due to how much snow was already on the ground. However, I can say with certainty that this is the most snow we've had on the ground so far this winter.
Shyla was like the energizer bunny this morning, dashing back and forth as I plodded along on my snowshoes.
For the first time this winter, snow biking on the trails was not possible, even after I had snowshoed the same trail twice.
At times, the piles of snow seemed almost as tall as Shyla when she was nosing around off-trail.
She and I had tons of fun this morning. Absolutely no one else was out and about - neither dogs nor humans. Some snow was still falling, and the forest was absolutely quiet...
 ... except when we passed under a flock of Crossbills. They were chirping their hearts out. Their color was a welcome change from the monochrome snowstorm. They tend to appear for brief periods every winter.
It's supposed to keep snowing tonight. Then we get a short break before another powerful storm arrives. I am feeling good about our snow and water situation now. Perhaps this snowy February will keep the wildfires at bay this summer.

After I snowshoed with Shyla, I went for a short snowbike ride on a plowed dirt road to stop the back spasms that always follow a snowshoe trek. It was very cold (~2°F) and windy. Of course, an intense snow squall decided to travel along with me. Brrr.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

A Stormy Saturday

This morning, I saw the gray day outside and turned over to go back to sleep. Eventually, Shyla and I headed out for a snowbike ride as the leading edge of a big snowstorm hit us.
It is hard to predict how much snow we'll get, partly because we're so close to the Continental Divide. I've seen a wild range of predictions from 10" to several feet.

While Shyla and I were out in the forest, we were sometimes engulfed by clouds and then, just as fast, they'd blow away. It had already been snowing lightly overnight and all morning. The world looked very wintery even before the main part of the storm hit!
Because I'd slept late, we were riding later than usual and ran into a group of off-leash dogs for the 4th day in a row. Usually, because we get out early in the morning, we see other people and dogs about once every 2 or 3 weeks.

We were on a side trail, approaching the main trail as the dog pack came into view. The group started sprinting toward us. I raised my hands like a traffic cop, and firmly told them to "stop". To my disbelief, they did! Meanwhile, Shyla lay down in the snow behind me, hiding by flattening herself into the snow. I don't think that the dogs ever saw her.

In fact, even I didn't know where she was. I chatted very briefly with my neighbor, and then I said that I needed them to depart so that Shyla would come out of hiding. As they left, I looked directly behind me, and voila - she was lying about 10' behind me, immobile in the snow. Shyla waited to lift her head until the whole group was moving away from us.
And then she ran to me as the group vanished into the clouds and snow.
I congratulated her on an excellent hiding strategy, and then we played with a toy to help her forget the group.
She played so happily. She took one leap so high that it looked as if she was levitating.
Shyla doesn't get very rattled as long as off-leash dogs don't get too close to her. I wish that every meeting would go as well as it did this morning.

Now, we are sitting by the fire, watching the white-out outside. We had planned to go to a concert tonight but we've decided that driving our mountain road would be too treacherous. Moreover, just minutes ago, a key part of our route was closed due to accidents. So, we'll stay here cozy and safe while we watch our snow storm.

Friday, February 20, 2015

A Joyous Sunset Hike

The other afternoon, the Duo and I had one of my favorite afternoon hikes. Both dogs were full of zip and joyousness. R ran with abandon.
And the setting sun cast a warm hue on all of us. Unlike one day recently, there were no moose occupying our favorite sunset spot so we could play there. We now have two pairs of mothers and their calves in our neck of the woods but they've been docile and nearly invisible recently.
We played recall races. For some reason, Shyla has decided to let R win every time. I tried changing the starting set-up in different ways but, if they were at all close together at the start, Shyla hung back.
I suspect that R's intensity about these races has intimidated her a little bit. He tends to bump her and then cut her off at the start if I let them start too close together. There's no doubt that she's the faster runner of the Duo now so it's not speed that's winning these recall races.
As the sun set, I could tell that the clouds hanging over the Divide were going to light up beautifully. I snapped one more photo of the handsome Prince before heading to a rocky promontory where we can see the setting sun most clearly.
And, the sunset did not disappoint us. It was one of those evenings that it was worth standing out in the cold after the sun had set, just to see nature's light show above our ski area.
Now, we are about to be hit by a big snow storm. One forecast says it will be the biggest storm in the past five years. Only time will tell. As winter wears on and I start to wish for spring, I remind myself that our big snowstorms feed those wildflowers that I love so much.