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Friday, April 24, 2009

Dog life and spring wildlife

Yesterday evening, we decided to try hiking on the parts of our trails where the snow was the thinnest to see if S could handle it. S trucked along, looking very pleased to be out with his pack. And, we felt grateful to have him with us after almost a week's hiatus from the trails for him due to deep snow.

S's hind end is getting noticeably weaker, despite the steroids that he's been taking for almost 2 weeks. His cancerous lymph nodes deep in his abdomen may be causing it by reducing the blood flow to his hind legs. We're hoping, however, that the setback was partly caused by too much exertion in the deep snow - and that he'll rebound now that he can walk easily on our trails again. Only time will tell. For the moment, I'll simply enjoy having S with us on our evening hikes.

I've been trying to spare everyone my daily ruminations on S's cancer, as I know that some of you have endured this odyssey in your own lives and might not want to have it replayed for you. I find myself closely watching him each day and putting far more significance on every nuance than I should. One day, I think that he's losing the battle quickly, and the next day, I think that he might be with us through the summer. I had a good talk with my vet last night. The bottom line is that we don't know and we can't control it - all we can do is take each day as it comes and be grateful for each one. Some days I'm better at that dance than other days.

During yesterday evening's hike, we saw that some patches of dirt had emerged from beneath the original 4.5' of snow. Amazingly, a couple of blooming Pasqueflowers stubbornly persisted despite their week-long snow burial. The blossoms looked a bit worn and tired, as if the effort of surviving almost depleted them. Knowing these tough little flowers, they'll be rejuvenated after a few days in the sun.
Then, the five of us watched the sun fall behind a shadowy curtain of gray clouds over the Divide. Actually, I don't think that the dogs noticed the visual show - they were focused on the wildlife scents wafting down the hillside next to us. This morning, to my delight, I heard the wing trill of a male hummingbird near our deck. He spotted our feeder and zipped in for some food. Have you noticed that hummingbirds either hover in place or zoom at mach speed? Studies show that Broad-tailed hummingbirds zip around at speeds of 18-29 mph and almost never use slower speeds. Moreover, their wings flap at an incredible 40 times per second during forward flight and 50 times per second during hovering. Imagine how many calories they must burn as they migrate from Central America to the Rocky Mountains. They feast prior to migration, gaining as much as 40% in body weight as extra fuel. It must be a delicate trade-off between the advantage of carrying extra fuel and the disadvantage of the extra calories they burn to haul it over their long distance migration.

Regardless of the physiology behind it, I think that the word 'awesome' is appropriate for describing the feat that these hummingbirds pull off every spring and fall.Wildlife sightings dominated my ride today. Within minutes of leaving the house, I noticed that the Wyoming Ground Squirrels, who stood out like flashing neon signs on the snow just yesterday, now foraged on mostly bare ground. They blend into their environment perfectly when no blanket of snow ruins their cover.Just after seeing the cryptic ground squirrels, I spotted a familiar form moving carefully across the still snowy meadow toward the ground squirrel colony. A lone coyote walked next to a pond with his tawny form reflected in the water.Up until about three weeks ago, I sighted a pair of coyotes in these meadows almost daily. Since then, my rare sightings have been of lone coyotes. I'm wondering if something happened to his mate, if his mate is in the den with a litter of pups, or if this is a non-breeding pack member on solitary hunting expeditions. I think that our blizzard probably presented terrible hunting challenges for the coyotes so I hope that they weren't trying to feed a litter of pups then.

Still within the first 30 minutes of my bike ride, I spotted the elk herd for the first time since the blizzard. The elk huddled in the shade of some trees, with a craggy mountain overlooking them. They obviously found the sun and the 45 degree air temperature to be beastly hot! Every spring, they become heliophobic and rarely leave the shade at the meadow's edge. Later in the summer, the bull elk have an extra cooling mechanism. The velvet on their growing antlers holds a dense labyrinth of blood vessels that can easily dump heat into the surrounding air. Scientists believe that the antler velvet helps keep the bull elk cool - until they shed the velvet shortly before the fall mating season.

After all of my wildlife observations at the start of the ride, I simply enjoyed riding my bike for the rest of my time outside. I tried to access the trails at four different spots but biking was still impossible. Either the slurpy snow was too slippery for my tires or the mud was up to my axles. At the rate that the sun is melting the snow and drying the world, it shouldn't be too long before I'm back in the forest on my bike.


  1. This is exactly the right place to share your ruminations about your beloved S. Yes, we've all been there, but that's all the more reason that we understand exactly how you feel.

    Besides, you always follow your concerns with some bit of wonder...the lovely little Pasqueflowers surviving against all odds, the little hummingbird caught in the storm and saved by your nectar...the wonderful elk herd, and of course the dogs.

    Great post.

  2. NCmountainwoman,

    Thanks for your words of wisdom. I truly appreciate your understanding.

    I think that my blog reflects how lucky I feel to live in an environment that nourishes my soul in so many ways. It certainly helps my spirits in tough times.

  3. I'm glad to see that S is getting out with you. What NCMountainWoman says is true. Most of the people reading your blog have probably been in a similar situation with an aging (or sometimes young) animal. We want to support you in any way we can. So feel free to write about what you are feeling.


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