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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Nature's power

Yesterday evening, we went for a hike in the melting snow with our friend V and her handsome chocolate lab, JB.JB, the eternal puppy, taught R about getting muddy in puddles. The two boys splashed around and chased each other in big snow-fed puddles. This morning, both K and R anxiously awaited me outside the bathroom door as I brushed my teeth before heading out on my mountain bike.Before the sun rose too high in the sky, the snowbiking conditions were perfect. The wet snow had frozen solid, and I magically zipped over snowdrifts, feeling like I was riding a roller coaster. The two dogs ecstatically played with sticks - sometimes tug-of-war and sometimes sprinting side-by-side while jointly carrying the stick.After dropping off my pups, I mostly rode trails, instead of roads, for the first time since the big storm. The snow layer persisted in wooded and north-facing areas but my Fatback handled it. The astounding change was the number of down trees. Their trunks had snapped under the uneven weight of the snow. The pine trees in our area tend to have more branches growing on the downwind (east) side of the trunk so the snowladen branches unevenly load the trees and can snap the trunks.

Maneuvering through the downed trees that completely spanned and blocked the gulch I was following required acrobatic moves and some sheer stubbornness. At one point, I burst out laughing, thinking that my bike and I were permanently wedged between a downed pine and a willow tree.

While I was struggling fruitlessly, I noticed a willow branch in my face that looked beautiful against the blue sky. I stopped struggling for a moment to take a photo.I eventually extricated myself but thought that a big cat should set up an ambush by that spot to get an easy meal as silly travelers like me get stuck. Humans who are so clueless that they pause to take photos while wedged between two trees would be particularly easy meals!

I had big cats on my mind because abundant clues told me that the elk herd had lingered in the area after the big snow storm - probably to graze on the south-facing snow-free slopes. The elk hooves had sunk 4" deep into the mud as they trudged along the trail in the melting snow. My observations this winter have taught me that the lions follow the elk. Thus, I kept a wary roving eye, even glancing over my shoulder a number of times. Almost exactly a year ago, I found a lion-cached elk carcass in a ravine next to the trail where I rode today.

When lions kill a large animal like a deer or elk, they usually haul it at least a short distance away from any trail, eat some of it, and then cover the remainder with pine needles and other forest debris. The lion then has the luxury of staying in the area - lounging, sleeping, and eating - until he needs to find new prey. For an adult male lion, a deer a week suffices. For a female with up to 4 cubs, she must hunt down many more deer or elk per week during the 18 months that she provides for the cubs.

As I neared the top of the gulch, a patch of rejuvenated Pasqueflowers opened their petals wide to gather the sun's rays. Amazing - they survived being buried under feet of snow and now flourish. Life is miraculous and tenacious. Just watch the elk, lions, and flowers - you'll be astonished by how they fight to stay alive and even blossom under harsh conditions. At the very top of the gulch, the snowy mountains almost shined through their pure white cloud cover.Despite the chilling winter wind blowing off the mountains, I lost myself in the woods today and arrived home feeling like I'd taken a nourishing journey. I think that my mind unconsciously wrestles with tough things like S's cancer during these bike rides. Whatever the reason, I feel more at peace about S today. No doubt, the simple fact that he currently is able to go on our family hikes makes everyone happier. S sparkles when he's in the woods with his dog and human family.


  1. I liked your photo of the willow branch and what you say about the Pasqueflower - how it fights to stay alive and even blossoms under harsh conditions. Maybe we humans can follow its example. As always, your appreciation of nature comes through in how attentive you are to the details.

  2. Yep, that lion missed his chance with you stuck between the trees and not paying any attention, except to your camera. Thank goodness he was not on patrol.

    Lovely photographs. We could take a life lesson from the Pasqueflowers.


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