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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A change in leadership

At the time that Barack Obama became president, I was riding my mountain bike through a grove of aspen trees. As the clock hit the appointed time, I stopped and snapped a photo. I wanted to remember exactly where I was at that moment. I thought about the fact that aspens are among the longest lived organisms on Earth. All the trees in one grove are linked by roots and are one organism. The roots under the grove can sprout new trees (clonal reproduction) but the individual trees are part of one organism. As an organism, an aspen grove can live for thousands of years. Consequently, the aspen grove surrounding me at inauguration time today might have been there before slavery, the civil war, and Martin Luther King. In fact, it might have been alive before humans lived in this area.

After I coasted down the snowy hill from the aspen grove, I rode toward home. A beautiful, very large, sign made by a child had just been put out by the road (above, right).

Today was another spring day in mid-January. I discovered that my 'hallucinations' of buds on the aspen were *not* hallucinations. In the past few warm days, the buds have grown to such a size that I could even photograph them! Apparently, these are 'winter buds' and are not abnormal. I hope to research this phenomenon.

After yesterday's energetic and joyful ride, today I was mellow. I rode easily around the trails with my dogs, K and R, and they seemed mellow too. We dropped R off at home (still taking it easy on his elbow), and K and I continued.

K and I occasionally encounter herding-type dogs who torment K by chasing us on the trails while barking hysterically. For most of her life, K has been friendly but easily scared. So, she'd meekly put up with this obnoxious behavior. Then, last spring, we discovered that K had very low thyroid levels and began supplementing with thyroid hormone. The change in her mental outlook was astounding. For example, she started playing with other dogs in training class rather than hovering near me during playtime. She approaches kids and other dogs on the trail with a confident demeanor rather than a scared one. She goes out on the deck without staring at the cracks like they're going to eat her whole.

One recent change isn't so good. Sometimes when we see herding dogs charging at us, K gives a warning display including a forward-leaning posture and teeth-baring. This behavior usually deters the other dog. Thus, from K's viewpoint, it's a stunning success. However, I'm not so sure - she might try acting super confident with the wrong dog and get beaten up.

Today, I tried something new. As the dog charged, I hopped off my bike and planted myself and my bike between K and the dog. It worked - it slowed the dog who then returned to his calling human. K remained relaxed behind me and gave me a look that seemed to say, "I've been waiting for you to take charge so that I can relax.". You can see her relaxed face immediately after the incident in the photo. I gleaned this idea from a Patricia McConnell book, and I plan to keep doing it. I don't want K to make a habit of aggressive-looking displays.

Later in my ride, I saw what looked like a pair of bear tracks in the sand. I've read that bears occasionally come out of hibernation during warm winter weather. However, I've never seen it around here. But, I also don't remember having such a prolonged warm phase in January so anything's possible. I hope none come around our house because we turn off our electric fence surrounding our bird feeder system in winter to save electricity.

On the right, you can see a cave entrance that I frequently pass on my mountain bike. Although I've read that bear dens are usually quite different from this cave, I always imagine a bear sleeping in the cave during the winter. I've never climbed up to look inside because it's on private property. I wonder who's in there. My hiking friend thinks it's a lion's den. We may never know.


  1. I like the idea of the grove having been there through it all. Good thinking!

    I'm always glad to hear K is feeling so much better. As you know, I'm constantly planting myself between Lilly and anything scary (especially dogs). It can help, but some dogs are still very pushy.

    I'd always hoped that K could help with Lilly's re-socialization work at some point, but since Lilly can be one of those obnoxious herding dogs when she does feel brave enough to play, it seems K might not be too keen on the idea.

    There is this pendulum, I think, where fearful dogs throw their weight around some when they get some confidence (medically assisted or otherwise). My goal is to keep Lilly in the middle, where she can use her body, her voice, her face to get her point across when needed, without going overboard ... and getting her butt kicked by the wrong dog.

  2. Roxanne,

    I've never seen Lilly escalate to the same level of hysterical 'in-your-face' barking as the herding dogs we've been seeing lately. I think that K and Lilly might do fine together. I'd be glad to try when Lilly's ready.

    Actually, it might be really good for K to have a herding dog as a 'friend' so she doesn't generalize too much.


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