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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Winter on the horizon

The end of our springlike sojourn loomed on the horizon today. Angry clouds veiled the Continental Divide (left) and spilled toward the plains (right). A gusty wind blew off the Divide, portending the return of freezing temperatures and snow.

I started my ride with my pups, and my guardian dog, K, seemed worried. Indeed, she shadowed me for the entire ride, rarely leaving her 'post' just to my right and behind me. When I stopped to take photos, she sat and watched my back. Twice, she charged into the forest barking and growling but stopped about 30' in front of me. I never saw anything to concern me so I decided to trust that she'd watch over me. You can see her looking worried in the photo.

K decided to take on the role of my guardian when I had major back surgery a number of years ago. It was so major that the recovery period included 3 months of doing almost nothing, including no driving or riding in cars. Then, I had another 3 months of very slowly increasing my activity but I still spent most of my time at home resting. At that time, K was our only dog, and she and I spent many hours together at home. When my husband went back to work after taking some time off to take care of me, K and I were on our own for the daytime hours.

On our first day on our own, I dropped my 'reacher' within 5 minutes of my husband walking out the door, and I couldn't reach the floor to pick it up. I couldn't live without my reacher because I couldn't reach the floor or anything over about shoulder level with just my hands.

After shedding a few tears of frustration, I
realized that K might be able to help me. I'd trained her to pick up toys and deliver them to my hand in the past. Maybe she'd pick up my reacher. So, I started dropping her toys near the reacher and rewarding her for retrieving them. Finally, I used her cue, 'take it', while pointing at the reacher. She nosed at it and looked up at me with disbelief. I tried again, 'take it', and she picked it up about 4" off the ground before dropping it. I gave her a jackpot of treats for that effort so that she'd know that she was on the right track. After a few more aborted attempts, she picked it up for me!

Over the following weeks, I trained her to pick a huge variety of objects for me - keys, spoons, shoes - anything that I might need her to pick up at some point. During this time, our relationship was transformed. She was no longer the carefree puppy but began to watch over me. She's continued to do so ever since.

I never figured out what K was worried about during our trail ride today. It might have been predators lurking in the forest because a large elk herd was very close to our house. My neighbors and I have noticed a link between the elk presence and seeing lion tracks. K didn't seem aware of the elk themselves, likely because they were downwind. After I dropped off the pups, I rode some trails that might be inaccessible tomorrow if it snows. (My Fatback should be here soon...). I've been reading a blog about nature and biking (Watching the world wake up), and it's made me notice some details about the ecosystem that I live in. We're in the Montane lifezone of the Rocky Mountains, and three types of conifer trees dominate: Ponderosa Pine, Lodgepole Pine, and Douglas Fir. However, we're close to the elevation where the Subalpine Life Zone starts, and it's dominated by Subalpine Fir and Engleman Spruce. I've started noticing that we have Subalpine enclaves of trees (right photo), particularly along cold gulches with streams. These gulches tend to be the 'dark' spooky areas when I'm out at dawn.

Along a frozen stream, I found what I think are some Engleman Spruce twigs and cones on the ground and then looked up to see that that I was in a subalpine enclave of trees.

I'm still learning about my small slice of the world after all these years.


  1. KB- thanks for the link. Your cones are definitely Spruce, but possibly Blue Spruce. Hard to tell scale from the photo. If it's >4" long, it's almost certainly Blue; if <3", probably Engelmann.

    I suspect Blue because the cone scales seem a little long-ish, and you said you found it along a stream. Here's a photo with a pen for scale that might help.

  2. I think that you're right about blue spruce. Those cones are more than 4" long, which was part of what was confusing me.

    I need to do some more reading. I didn't know that blue spruce were likely but now that I've read a little in the last few minutes - I see that they're more likely than I thought.

    I think that I'll get the field guide that you suggest on your blog because I'm finding that my book isn't helping much.

  3. Thanks for the descriptions. It gives me a glimpse of a world that is just within my reach but hardly venture out to explore, even when I am 100% healthy (as far as I know)

  4. CiscoKid,

    I'm really glad that you enjoy my descriptions. I enjoying telling about my time in the forest.



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