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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Life's ambiguities

An amazing about-face in our weather led to 60 degree temperatures yesterday. The sun baked the snow, leaving its surface cupped and its depths soupy like oatmeal. In the evening, the two younger pups and I played in the snow while S took a road walk.

The setting sun glowed on the textured snow surface as K porpoised purposefully as if she smelled a deer or elk.R still imitates K's behaviors and zoomed in the same direction. A recall brought the two of them porpoising toward me with K in the lead and R trailing. I trudged on my skis through the wet snow to a view of the setting sun over the mountains. The rough snow surface reflected the sunset with an other-worldly glow.It feels wrong to have only a pair, and not a trio, of dogs with me on my evening wanderings. I get a heavy, indescribably sick feeling in my gut, when I ponder the missing S. Although I optimistically believe that he'll likely join us soon again when snow conditions are better for his arthritis, a day will come when he won't. Life never seems long enough.

On a lighter note (literally), the rising sun gently wakes me earlier and earlier as its rays shine on our bed through our towering east-facing windows. This morning, I pedaled my mountain bike on the dirt roads again, as the trails are bogged down in deep soupy snow that's not passable with my Fatback snowbike. The deep blue sky behind snowy mountains awed me.
The wildlife has started venturing out on the snow, likely at night when it's firmer and easier for travel. This set caught my eye because of the gait, a non-direct-registering walk (i.e., the hind print overstepped the front print), the relatively long stride length for a walk, and the purposeful path taken by the animal.

In my observations in our forest, coyotes and bobcats always use direct-registering walking gaits in snow. That gait probably saves energy because only the front paw has to 'break trail' by packing down the snow and the back paw simply falls into its trough. Indeed, coyote observers say that when a group of coyotes move through deep snow, they move single-file and carefully step exactly in the tracks of the coyote in front of them, just like a group of cross-country skiers precisely follow in each other's tracks. The coyote's tracks can trick someone into thinking that only one coyote traveled the path. So, the lack of direct-registering front and hind paws suggests that the tracks that I saw today are not from a coyote, a group of coyotes, or a bobcat.

The track pattern made me think of the big cat tracks that I've seen this winter - but I couldn't see any paw details so that's a wild guess.

As I passed a meadow, the Wyoming Ground Squirrels peeked out of their snow-capped burrows again - having recently stirred from their six month hibernation. Indeed, four heads popped out of one hole in the snow, briefly making me wonder if I'd misidentified these rodents. I wasn't aware that any squirrel species lived communally. However, some reading has told me that Wyoming Ground Squirrels live in colonies in high elevation meadows. It's not clear how strong their social ties are but my observations of the last couple of days suggest that they like to hang out close together. The females go into estrus within 5 days of waking up from hibernation - and that fact may explain why these squirrels are venturing outside their burrows despite the risks of being exposed to predators on the snow.

Today, I was slow with my camera so I captured only two squirrels at one snowy burrow. At almost the same instant, a Red-Tailed Hawk swooped over the group and perched in a nearby small Ponderosa Pine tree. I think that the sharp contrast between the dark squirrels and the white snow has made this colony's territory a feasting spot for hawks and other raptors.

After this wildlife stop, I pedaled around most of the area's drying dirt roads. When my life feels out of kilter (and S's illness, among other things, has tilted my world), the single-mindedness of riding my bike helps me focus on soaking up each moment rather than projecting into the future. I love focusing all my energy on something as simple as riding fast up a hill. Pushing my physical limits is simple compared to real life. Of course, at times during my rides, I lose myself in the wandering paths of my mind - but the sheer physical challenge of riding soon pulls me back to the present. At other times, the snowy tapestry of our mountains is a magnet that keeps me living in the moment.I love the crisp lines between the snowy mountains and the deep blue sky. Sometimes I wish that life felt so clear-cut. At other times, I'm able to appreciate that the ambiguities of life are part of what makes it so precious and wild.

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