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Friday, April 3, 2009

Mellow day in the mountains

When I feel blue, I go play in nature with my dogs. Yesterday evening, S looked exhausted from his lengthy vet visit so we did a relaxed little ski in the meadow, our equivalent of a walk to the end of the block. S loves our outings. He followed his usual routine of staying very close to me but occasionally stopping to sniff or roll in the snow.

This morning, I decided to try my Fatback snow bike on our trails despite deep snow with almost no packing by other trail users. I've been told by neighbors that they've learned that if they wait a few days, my husband and I will do all the trail-breaking for them. I chuckled at the pure truth of that statement but I do wish that other people would help open the trails after a big snow! As the two younger labs and I headed out the door, I fully expected that we'd be returning home in few minutes - as soon as I became convinced that the snow was too deep and unpacked for my bike.I was completely and utterly wrong. The Fatback rolled over the mashed-potato consistency snow as if it were nothing. The younger dogs and I spent a long time out 'opening' up the trails, playing, and investigating wildlife activity. It strengthens my motto for winter trail riding - if you don't try, you won't know what's possible.

You can see from the photo on the right that I was the first traveler on this trail since the series of recent storms.

My spirit badly needed a mellow day in the mountains so my Fatback was worth its weight in gold today. In my pre-Fatback days, I'd have ridden on the roads today. The roads give my muscles and back a good workout but they don't nourish my soul like the quiet trails.

Deer had left tracks in the snow as they meandered around a forest-meadow edge. However, the forest that I've covered is still devoid of carnivore tracks since the big snow more than a week ago. The only sign of a carnivore, albeit a very tenuous sign, was that the dogs intently followed the path where I've seen lion tracks a few times this winter. On the previous occasion when I saw tracks, I discretely marked the lion's off-trail path because it seemed so precisely identical each time. Today, the dogs excitedly followed that path with their noses to the ground until I recalled them - but I didn't see lion tracks.

The area where I've seen lion tracks is perfect for feline snoozing or hunting. Huge boulders dominate a southeast facing slope with some pine trees scattered among them. In winter, lions like to rest among heat-retaining sun-exposed boulders that are protected from our never-ending west winds. Year around, they like to hunt among them because the boulders provide great camouflage for stalking. Moreover, a small deer herd is omnipresent due to nearby foraging sites at the meadow-forest edge.

As the morning warmed up, I noticed 'snow fleas', small jumping black dots teeming on the glittering snow surface. They're not true fleas but are part of the 'springtail' group that uses elastic structures in their tail-like appendages to catapult like exploding popcorn. Snow fleas don't only live on snow. In other seasons, they digest forest floor debris like leaves, moss, and soil components - playing a key role in composting the detritus into nutritious soil. They come to life earlier in the spring than most bugs because they have an anti-freeze substance that lets them survive subfreezing temperatures. Birds like to eat them - the classic example is chickadees. However, based on the number of juncos pecking at the snow today, I'm guessing that juncos view them as a delicacy.

Despite the recent outbreak of late wintery weather, not every mountain bluebird has retreated to lower elevations. Two mountain bluebirds worked feverishly at a distant nestbox entrance, acting as if they were remodeling it for the upcoming breeding season. Given their predilection for eating bugs, they might also enjoy a meal of snow fleas.

The robins busily ate juniper berries today. R sprinted full-bore into a juniper bush, and a flurry of robins exploded into the air. R looked stunned but intrigued. Knowing his temperament, I suspect he'll pounce on every juniper bush from this day forward. In contrast, if K encountered the same thing, she'd never go near a juniper bush again. And, even as a young puppy, S never would've bothered to leap into the juniper bush in the first place. It's amazing what distinctive spirits they have.

K hovered very close to me for almost the whole ride, although she burst forward a couple of times to play with R. Seeing her frolic, even if only a little bit, helped my spirits immensely. I was remembering her complete shut-down after our eldest dog died when she was about 6 months old. Prior to that transformation, I'd never lived with a fearful dog. I was so sad and shocked to see the fear engendered in K by simple things, like walking across a landing above a staircase or entering a crate that she'd used for months. Over the course of months, K healed very slowly but never reverted to the happy-go-lucky puppy that she'd been. Some of the specific fears from that traumatic time reemerge at stressful or low-thyroid times. As I recollected that phase today, I wondered if K has an inkling of what's up with S. If so, it might be contributing to her subdued behavior.

A big snowstorm is moving inexorably toward us. It'll be a good weekend to sit by the fire and work on coming to terms with the events of the past week. And, a good weekend to enjoy having all three dogs around us. No matter what course of action we choose, we plan to spoil S rotten. We're making a list of his top ten favorite things - and plan to shower him with them over the coming days, weeks, and hopefully months.

I agree with NCMountainWoman's quote in her comment from my last post: "Don't cry because it's over. Smile because it happened." In the past, I've eventually reached that point after losing my beloved dogs but not immediately. For now, I'll focus on smiling because S is here and happy.


  1. I too wondered if K was keying into what's up with S. She's such an empathetic spirit. I'm glad you got out to ride.

    I can totally picture R watching the birds fly out of the bush in amazement. Like a hide-a-squirrel come to life.

  2. You are one spunky woman, blazing the trail in that snow. Wonderful photographs.


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