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Friday, February 12, 2016

See Beautiful - My Mother

Today was my mother's birthday. She died more than 28 years ago, and I still miss her so very much. Today is also See Beautiful Friday. I want to tell you a little about my mother's spirit because it was truly beautiful.
She loved being a mother. She showered me and my brother in love, no matter what. But, she also had high expectations for us. I often wonder what she would think of my life if she were alive today. She died before I'd truly found my place in this world, and my place does not even remotely resemble the world where I grew up.

I do know that she'd understand my love of photography. My mother was a self-taught excellent photographer. I really love knowing that somehow her love of photography was passed onto me. For that reason, I will put some of my favorite photos from the past year in this post, even if they don't always fit with the story.

Most of all, my mother taught me to fight with determination for what was important to me. For example, I loved all sports but my community didn't have many organized sports for young girls. I watched with envy when the boys joined Little League every year. I played pick-up baseball with them on the playgrounds, and I knew I was a better player than many of them.

Then, the Supreme Court made it law that girls had to be allowed the same opportunities in sport as boys. It happened in the last year that I was young enough for Little League. I felt scared to try to claim my new right to play baseball but my mother wouldn't let me back away from the opportunity out of fear. We went to the Little League sign-up table, and the father volunteering behind the table said "no girls allowed".

My mother had brought a copy of the Supreme Court decision and plonked on the table in front of the poor confused volunteer. She told him that times had changed, and he was required to let me join. By the end of that discussion, I was the first and only girl in our Little League.

Before the first day of practice, I wanted to cut my waist-length long hair so it would be less obvious that I was a girl. I knew I was going to be teased and ostracized. At that age, being different always attracted bullies. My mother talked me out of cutting my hair - telling me to wear my long hair with pride. She wanted me to realize that I was blazing a path for younger girls.

It turned out that I adored playing organized baseball so my mother was right to encourage me. At first, the coach assumed I wasn't a good player. He kept me on the bench a lot. Then, our team's 2nd baseman got hurt. The coach pointed at me and sent me in the game. Second base was the perfect position for me, and I ended up as the All-Star team's 2nd baseperson at the end of the season.

The absolute best part was how the boys on my team stuck up for me. The parents from other teams would yell awful things at me, about how I was just a wussy girl who didn't belong on the field. They'd tell their sons to pitch underhand to me because I was "just a girl".

Any opponent who messed with me by pitching underhand or intentionally beaning me with pitches faced my teammates' wrath. I don't usually like fighting - but it felt amazing when the boys on my team stuck up for me. They'd accepted me as a teammate.

This essay was about my mother... and the whole Little League episode would never have happened without my mother standing behind me and teaching me to have the courage to do what I loved. That lesson has never left me.

That lesson is a big part of why I live my life on my own terms now. I do what I love even though it's not a conventional life. I track bears and visit their dens. I love going into cougar territory and trying to get trail camera photos of them. I adore riding my snowbike and exploring every inch of the forest around me with my canine best friend beside me.

I think that all of those things would be surprising to my mother based on the girl she knew when she died. At that time, I'd only lived a suburban/urban life so I hadn't yet discovered the mountain life that I love so much. However, I had absorbed my mother's lesson that I should do what I love so perhaps it wouldn't be so surprising to her.
A yearling cub outside the den in 2010
On this See Beautiful Friday, I am visualizing my mother. She's still young in my mind's eye but I wish I'd had the chance to see her grow old. And I wish that I could share my unconventional adult life with her. I know that she'd love the Runner. I can still hear her deep raucous laugh in my mind. I sometimes visualize my mother sitting at my dining room table talking with me and the Runner. In my vision, the Runner's wry sense of humor makes her laugh and laugh.
I'm smiling as I write this with a big lump in my throat for all the years we didn't have together. However, I also know that my mother played a big role in molding me. I was incredibly lucky to have her as my mother and have her set me free to fly the path I chose.
See Beautiful.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

A Young Cougar on the Prowl

You might remember that I managed to check a wildlife camera just before our really big snowstorm 9 days ago, and I discovered that a cougar (a.k.a. "mountain lion") had been there.

I wasn't too surprised about the cougar presence because the elk herd had been nearby as the storm arrived and after it. My widest angle lens captured only part of the big herd.

It took a week until I could check any other cameras due to the deep snow. When I did, I found out that the young cougar had stayed in the area for at least a couple of days. He visited another clearing where many cougars have left their scent marks over the years.

It was snowing as he arrived in the clearing, and you can see that snow had accumulated on his tail which he perpetually holds out behind him.

He spent some time sniffing around and then turned to leave. This photo shows why I think he or she is a young cougar. You can see faint bars on the upper inside of the front left leg. Those bars are usually present in cougar kittens but not adults. They can remain, barely visible, until the animal is about 2 years old.
My guess is that this animal is an independent young adult who is searching for a territory to call his/her own. It's possible that there's an open area (not claimed by other adult cougars) near us because cougar activity has fallen off dramatically in the past 4 months or so. I've wondered if one of our "resident" cougars was hurt or died.

In the clearing that this cougar visited on 2/1, I also have a camera that takes video. I combined all the trail cam stills and video into a compilation video for you that you can watch here or at Youtube.

The site where this cougar visited most recently is almost right on a route that Shyla and I use for snow biking - and it was during daylight. That's all the more reason for me to continually keep Shyla's recall and other training skills sharp!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Wordless Wednesday - The Anatomy of a Snarf

Balance and look at the sky

Flip and snarf in one motion

Look surprised!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Positive Training - Working with a Sensitive Soul

We were out for sunrise this morning, which always makes my day better. No moose stood between us and seeing the glorious sunrise rays! Nonetheless, I insisted that Shyla held a tight heel next to my snow bike as we head into the forest just in case some wild animal was on our path.

When we made it to the sunrise rays, Shyla was wide-eyed and beautiful.

We did a few recalls right away - we do that every day to get her mind in gear for the rest of our ride. Shyla was leaping for joy in the middle of the recalls!

She awes me with her spontaneous Olympian leaps that are completely fueled by joy!

Although Shyla is mostly a boisterous and confident dog when she and I are out in the forest alone, a cute aspect of her "sensitivity" remains. I sometimes try to have her do a "stay" out of sight of me. In this case, it was supposed to be behind a big boulder.

Today, Shyla sneaked so that she could peek at me from behind the boulder while she was supposed to be doing a "stay" behind it. It was so cute that I could barely bring myself to put her back in the position where I'd asked her to stay. It touches my heart that she would rather not be out of sight of me.
I did ask her to redo that out-of-sight stay although I made the "stay" short so she wouldn't be too stressed out. Then we had a play session as a reward. I've been working to build the "value" of play and toys as rewards, and it's truly been working. She now sees a short game of tug and then fetch as being as good as food for her reward!
I cannot believe how far Shyla has come - from a cowering fearful dog to the one you see in the photo above! I've used nothing but positive training with her, and she loves training. In positive training, almost everything is a "game" where your dog is earning fun rewards like food or play.

Because the training is so fun, we are always working on new tricks, and we practice "nosework" searches daily. I hope to make another video of our nosework games very soon. It's the most fun thing I've taught my dogs in recent years!

Monday, February 8, 2016

Pouncing through the Snow - Shyla and a Coyote

Shyla couldn't get enough of the snow this weekend.

I'm in my February funk but her verve kept me smiling!

After every evening hike (snowshoe, really) for the past 5 days, I think that the trails are going to be great for the next day. Then, the wind blows all night long, and I head out to find that the trails are covered in snowdrifts. I got so frustrated on Sunday that I took Shyla for a short trail snow bike ride, during which I managed to fall umpteen times on the treacherous snow, and then I headed for the side roads near me to burn off my energy. That was much better.

Usually, I don't see as much wildlife when I ride on the roads. It wasn't true this weekend. As I rode past a meadow, a movement caught my eye. It was a coyote hunting. I saw him freeze, and I knew what would come next. I quickly grabbed my camera, and I managed to capture it!!

A leap upward and forward...

A fully airborne phase...

 And a landing, doubtless with his front paws on his prey.

Sometimes, I can see the prey but not this time. I think the coyote snarfed the whole rodent before he lifted his head again.

I stood there for a while, hoping to see the coyote pounce again, but it he was ready for a rest. Instead of hunting, he curled up to rest in the snow. His coat must be insanely thick!

Sometimes I feel like our life is part of a National Geographic episode. For example, this morning, Shyla and I met a brand new moose just behind our house - a young bull. As soon as I saw him, I instantly turned around, but he started walking straight toward us with his eyes fixed on us. We walked away faster, with Shyla in a tight heel. The moose paralleled us briefly and then peeled off. After his tail disappeared into the forest, we could then go for a ride. That little encounter made my heart rate spike!

Later, an elk herd passed through another part of our trail system. They're rotating among our meadows these days. Finally, to make the day truly memorable, the trio of moose (Mama moose, calf, and Lefty) were hanging around in yet another part of our small trail system. I didn't take any photos this morning of the wildlife... we were too busy evading them! By the time I was out by myself and would've felt safer trying to get a photo, all the wildlife had disappeared.

Now that I recount it, it was a pretty amazing day. I hope that you are having a good one too!

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Silhouette Sunday

We had a brilliant sunset yesterday evening.
It was well worth being hiking through the snow to see it from a great vantage point! Happy Sunday.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Bobcat Family

You may remember that I followed a mother and her two bobcat kittens last summer. You can see the posts here, here, here, and here.

Usually, I see mother bobcats with their kittens for the last time sometime around February. It turned out that the mother bobcat and her two kittens were in front of my trail camera in late January!

Mom arrived.

She sniffed a bone that has laid in front of this camera for ages and always attracts the attention of bobcats. As she sniffed, one kitten arrived.

Mom and her kitten sniffed together. If you look to the left of them, you can see the other kitten approaching from the snowy background.

As soon as the other kitten arrived, mom walked away. You can see her on an animal path in the background.

The first kitten quickly followed while the lagging kitten lay down in front of the camera.

The lagging kitten rolled around and showed us his white spotted chest and belly. It's moments like this one that only trail cameras can capture. Most of us would never see such a sight with our own eyes.
After this fun photo, the kitten sprinted after his family, and I'm sure he caught up. By now, these kittens are at least 7 months old, and they will soon strike out on their own. For now, they travel "loosely" with their mother, meaning that they are usually in the same area as her but not necessarily right next to her.

In fact, in the days after the family visit, that same trail camera repeated photographed single bobcats, likely members of this family, who passed it by themselves. This is part of the pattern of the kittens gradually becoming more independent.

Getting trail camera photos of our wildlife really helps me through February which always feels like the longest month even though it's actually the shortest! I wish that we would get photos of the mother mountain lion and her two kittens who we followed last summer (posts are here and here). I suspect that they made a "big move" for the winter to an entirely different area. If they were still near here, I would probably know it. However, I do have a "snowed in" trail camera that I probably won't check until the big spring melt. Then, we'll know for sure if they've been in this area for the winter or not.

In the meantime, I'll dream of the next time I can pick up memory cards from our "den cams" that are monitoring the black bear in her den. I am so curious to find out there are noisy new cubs in the den with her. They would've been born in the second half of January!

To keep February happy, I'll keep playing with the ever-joyful Shyla!
If only I had Shyla's athletic capabilities, I'd be able to frolic in the snow in February, and then I'm sure it would seem too short to me!!

I hope that all of you are enjoying your Saturdays.

Friday, February 5, 2016

The Duo's Bond

Shyla plays like a puppy in the snow with me.

And then she comes home and snuggles with her brother. Poor R isn't allowed to play in the snow due to his elbow.
They melt my heart.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

An Unrivaled Force

The world was a bit frustrating today on a lot of fronts. A great example is that I'd tromped over our trails many times in the past few days using snowshoes. I don't love snowshoeing - it's slow and awkward but it's the best way to make solid paths for traveling in the forest after a big snow.

As of last evening, the trails were solid and felt ready for my fat bike. I went out this morning on my fat bike, thinking it would be a fast ride up to our sunrise viewing point. Instead, I found wind-driven drifts across every trail. We made it about 100 yards before the sun rose!

It was the first time I've seen sunrise from the meadow, and it was a pleasant surprise to see how gorgeous the light was so early in the morning.

That light made lemonade out of what seemed like lemons as I tried to pedal through the impossible wind-packed drifts.

So rather than flail around some more in the tough snow conditions, we stopped for a mini-photo session in the meadow.

The only problem was that the wind was still howling so Shyla turned into a snowdog and I had to live with snow crystals pelting into my face.

I must say that Shyla is an amazingly good sport in situations like being out in 30 mph winds that are blasting snow into our faces.

Soon, I grabbed my bike, and we headed for the shelter of the forest. I can't say that the riding got any easier. I mostly pushed my bike through endless snow drifts. That's the way it goes with snowbiking. Mother Nature always wins, and it's best to simply accept her unrivaled force.
Now we are sitting by a warm fire, and those wind-driven snow pellets are a distant memory.

Perhaps tomorrow will be better. Every morning, I feel like sunrise is a new chance at a great day!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Wordless Wednesday - Snow Joy

P.S. Deep snow is one of the worst things in the world for elbow dysplasia so poor R is sitting out this fun. We haven't managed to move his surgery any sooner than April 1 yet but our vet is still trying.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016


Yesterday, I was too quick to to dismiss our snowstorm as over-hyped. While we slept, it dropped almost 2' of snow on our world. Our local weather forecaster had been calling it "Snowzilla" in the days leading up to it. I think that was a good name!

I had a slow start to my morning, with a migraine slowing me down. Eventually, I headed out in snowshoes to start to pack down a trail from our house with Shyla playing like a crazy puppy along side me. When Shyla sat in the snow, her head barely stayed above the snow.

When she galloped through the snow, she reminded me of a powerboat leaving a wake of flying snow behind her.

She stayed still only when I asked her to, and she perpetually carried snow stuck to every square inch of her fur.

Moreover, she never chose to walk behind me, where the snow was slightly packed down by my snowshoes. She's at that amazing age where she never seems to get tired. Seriously, I am in awe of her strength and endurance.

She zoomed to me on a recall. Look at the snow flying!

In more normal snowstorms, I can ride my snowbike in my showshoe tracks after I do an out-and-back snowshoe hike. Today, there was no chance of that. I scarcely made a dent in this snowfall that was light, fluffy, and bottomless.

I took my bike out a path that the Runner had snowblown specifically for my bike (what a treat!). And, I headed for a very nearby private road where I could ride a bit without traffic. There is nothing like riding to loosen up my back - I can't live without it.

I discovered that it had snowed so much since the narrow road had been plowed this morning that I needed my fat tires for it! It was covered in about 6" of loose powder.
My world always gets smaller after a huge storm like this one. Very few people use the trails near my house so I have to rely on myself to pack a trail that I can ride. After I've made a trail a couple of miles long, then more people start to use the trails and contribute a little toward making them better for travel.

No matter what Punxsutawney Phil said today, I know that we have a few more months of winter here in the mountains!