Yesterday afternoon, the dogs played in the meadow, sans elk or coyotes, and the skies looked threatening. The sunlight from the west gave the meadow a unique hue.The clouds on the western horizon told me that another shot of winter weather was imminent.
At the end of our walk, there was enough daylight for K and me to play agility. Only about 2" of snow remained in the agility area (that's unprecedented for March) so I had her run through the weave poles a few times. Below, I've embedded a video from last fall when she'd practiced consistently for about a month (for most of the summer, she was afraid of the agility equipment - a situation that rapidly changed when she started taking confidence-inducing thyroid supplements). You can see that she 'single-foots' some poles but not others. Can the experts tell me if dogs naturally start single-footing all the poles with practice? Does a dog as large as a lab normally 'single-foot' weave poles? She turned back toward me at the end because the camera made me hesitate to throw a reward toy (for fear of hitting the camera) - normally she sprints through to chase the toy.
This morning, as predicted by the ominous sunset, a coating of snow frosted the forest floor and trees. The temperature hovered at 10 degrees and the wind gusted to 60 mph. So, this is the wonderful winter weather we've been missing! Actually, I didn't mind any of it except the wind. The snow made the pine trees look like ghost trees.When I saw the coating of snow, I knew that I needed my new studded tires to stay upright. A few days ago, a similar dusting made me crash on hidden ice. I'm horrendous at mechanical tasks, especially installing tight new tires early in the morning, and my husband came to the rescue. A task that would've taken me at least a half hour (optimistically) took him about 10 minutes. Voila - almost magically awesome traction! In the right photo, photogenic K sits next to my brand new studded front tire.
Thanks to those tires, I confidently navigated even a ledgy trail that I knew harbored ice under the new snow. This trail is one of my favorites because it's challenging and lots of wildlife use it.
Along the ledgy forested trail, K and I found Blue Grouse signs. I saw tracks and K picked up the scent. In a flash, she flushed the grouse off the forest floor. The grouse looked awkward taking off and gained altitude slowly. But, as usual, he outfoxed K and taunted her from high in a tree that was swaying in the wind. K must wonder why I never do my job of shooting the grouse so that she can retrieve it. She stands and stares at it, waiting for it to fall so that she can bring it to me. I feel bad - she ended up with the wrong human!
I started wondering why a grouse was hanging out on this west-facing windy slope. When we see grouse, they're always on the forest floor, and snow covered everything that I thought was edible. Moreover, the icy wind made it feel like the Arctic - although I guess the grouse normally wears a down coat! Some research told me that Blue Grouse prefer to eat conifer needles in the winter. They like Douglas Fir and Lodgepole Pine needles, and those two species dominate the forest where we saw the grouse. Moreover, they're picky eaters - they specifically like needles that are 1-2 years old, and they eat only the ends of the needles. The image to the right is borrowed from North American Birds Online and shows a Douglas Fir branch after a grouse has munched on the lower needles.
After dropping off K, I headed out on my own and the wind seemed to rise to the occasion. In a fruitless attempt to stay out of the wind, I dropped down low to an unexpectedly wind-blasted reservoir. Believe it or not, this freezing spot is where I saw flowers blooming the other day. I was too cold to search for them today.I climbed from the water's edge in a gulch thinking that the wind would be gentler down low. Instead, the gulch funneled the wind directly in my face, slowing my progress to a walking speed. The climb took 50% longer than usual. More than once, the wind literally stopped me and I put down a foot to avoid being knocked over. The one upside was that I was climbing toward blue sky. I kept reminding myself to climb patiently - not to get angry at the wind. I found myself ridiculously chanting in my head - I love the wind, I love the wind!