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Thursday, April 16, 2009

Here it comes!

Spring in the mountains has a fickle spirit, full of promise for basking in warm summer weather one day and back to inhospitable storms the next. Yesterday was spring-like with the warmth of the sun baking my face when I gazed upward. Robins sang from treetops, chickadees belted out their breeding calls, and woodpeckers drummed.Chipmunks, golden-mantled ground squirrels (seen poking his head out of his burrow below), Wyoming ground squirrels, and even marmots who live in boulder piles strewn on nearby meadows emerged from hibernation in the past few days. I haven't seen any more bear tracks since late March so I'm not sure that they've truly awakened yet. However, I'm not covering as much ground as I was in March because the frequent snowstorms have limited my access to the backcountry.Yesterday, we enjoyed our regular 'sunset' hike that is unintentionally becoming earlier than sunset - even though it's at the same clock time as a month ago. During our 'sunset' hike, R's escalating obsession with rodents completely distracted him at times. At one point, he stopped to excavate a rodent tunnel. His tunnel vision prevented him from noticing that we were leaving. We decided it was time to reinforce the lesson that it's his job to keep track of us when off-leash, and not vice-versa. So, four of us - two humans and two mature dogs - crested a hill and scampered behind a boulder to hide from him. I was holding onto the bells hanging from both mature dogs' collars to prevent them from ringing and revealing our hiding place. We would've looked ridiculous if another hiker had seen us!

Because we worry when R is out of sight, time seemed to slow and almost stop as we waited for him to notice our disappearance. After what felt like an eternity but was only a minute or two, he rocketed over the crest of the hill - a sleek, jet black, and muscular running machine. He passed our boulder without a hitch of hesitation. About 75 yards beyond us, he noticed that he wasn't on our scent trail and stopped. With his nose to the ground, he sprinted a few paces down one trail, realized that our scent trail wasn't there, and reversed himself. He frantically repeated the process for two other trail options.Having exhausted the trail choices, he stood stock still for a moment, appearing to weigh his options. Then, because he's savvy to this game that we played when he was a puppy, he scanned the boulder-strewn terrain around the trail and either spotted or smelled us. He zoomed to us, obviously relieved that he hadn't truly lost us.

We've played this game with all of our young dogs to teach them to stay close and watch where we go. Their attention wanders primarily during hiking - and not biking or running - because hiking is inherently much slower than a young dog's pace. We never play the game if they're actively chasing wildlife or when carnivores like coyotes might be around. Rather, we hide when our dogs are distracted and the situation seems safe. If they get truly confused, we make small noises (e.g., we toss pebbles) to prevent them from crazily sprinting the wrong way and getting lost.

Yesterday, the game seemed to rattle R - and that was our goal. Because he's in the throes of adolescent independence-testing, I suspect that we'll need to play it a few more times in the near future to keep his attention on us.

This morning barely dawned at all. As the darkness became visually penetrable, a thick and wet fog rolled over our forest. It's the forerunner of what's forecasted to be a whopper of a snowstorm, with accumulation being predicted in feet rather than inches. I have to admit, although we need to break our drought, I'm not eagerly anticipating having deep soft snow covering our trails again. Snow in the freezing cold of winter is great - it's fun for skiing and snowbiking. But, I'm tired of this slushy and melty spring stuff.

When K and I headed out on the trails, I realized that the birds had gone mute - no frenzy of the bird singing and calling greeted us like it has on recent mornings. I bet that they were focusing all of their energy on preparing for the threatening storm. Indeed, our bird feeders were covered in gorging birds. They perched on nearby branches waiting for spots to open on the feeders.

Just as we started our ride, the aerial attack commenced. It began as snow, which I don't mind having falling out of the sky while I ride, even if the visibility is nil. But, then it became snain (snow + freezing rain), which remained tolerable for a while, especially since I knew that the thirsty forest was drinking up the water.

As I started to chill, I first noticed the icicles on my bike helmet, hanging down from the brim that I use to protect my face from pelting rain, hail, or snow. Then, I noticed a layer of ice and ice drips forming on the aspen skeletons.Eventually, the freezing snain penetrated my layers, and I started coughing. Since I really don't need to exacerbate my recent illness, I headed home, cold but happy that I'd spent some time in the forest.

As I sit next to my warm crackling fire, I'm amazed by the small animals who can survive in hypothermia-inducing weather like this. I try to help some of them, the small ground-feeding birds like juncos have a hard time finding food during a snowstorm so I put seeds on our porch railings for them. The just-awakened chipmunks and golden-mantled ground squirrels look so skinny and easily chilled. I hope that they either find the seeds on the porch or snuggle back into their winter dens.

K seems impervious to the weather. Due to her malfunctioning thyroid gland, her fur is less oily and doesn't shed water as easily as a lab's fur normally does. However, she seemed to want to run all day regardless of the weather. I wish that I could be as tough as she is!


  1. Freezing rain and snow always seem so much worse after a glimpse of spring.

    Good lesson for R. You gotta keep those teenagers in line.

  2. That's a sneaky trick to play on R, but point well taken ... he needs to pay attention too.

    Snow is piling up here like crazy. Whew!

  3. Interesting training technique. I'm not sure Java would bother to ever look for me. She took off into the pasture today to check out the manure pile and wouldn't even acknowledge me. I had to go get her and put her on leash.


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