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Monday, April 20, 2009

Signs of spring from under heavy snow

The blizzard blasted us with a half a winter's worth of snow in a couple of days. A few days ago, spring seemed to be bursting out but the storm tossed us backward in time to mid-winter. It snowed so hard that we could barely see when we took the dogs out on the forest trails. In the photo to the right, you can see the snowflakes streaking down in front of K.

We humans strapped 'funny boards' (a.k.a., "skis") to our boots and tramped down a path. Mature dogs (K and S) followed directly in our path - only rarely straying. Meanwhile, exuberant puppy-like R couldn't stop himself from using a combination of burrowing and porpoising to explore unpacked snow territory. I love his spirit.

The orthopedic surgeon who did R's elbow dysplasia surgery said that deep snow was a no-go for dogs with hindlimb surgery but many dogs with forelimb surgery have no trouble with it. Fortunately, R has had no discernible discomfort after his crazy cavorting in the snow. R had his surgery late last October. He's completely stopped all anti-inflammatory drugs but takes supplements suggested by the orthopedic surgeon - monthly Adequan (injectible glucosamine), daily oral glucosamine, and an unbelievable quantity of fish oil (20 human capsules per day). The studies show that the Adequan and fish oil are probably the most important supplements for keeping his elbow limber.At the start of this storm, I wrote that S's many sore joints seem better in the snow. Now I need to modify that statement. When walking in a foot or less of snow, S's joints are less painful than on hard ground. However, when the snow is bottomless, he's not happy with postholing and floundering, primarily because his hind end weakness limits him. We've decided to walk him on plowed surfaces until the snow compacts. I have to admit, however, that I hate the forlorn look in his eyes when he doesn't get to go skiing - even a frozen kong isn't an adequate substitute.

Wild animals seemed to hunker down during the storm, and we saw no tracks until the last day of the storm. Like us, the animals seemed to get antsy, wanting to escape their dens. Weasel tracks stormed through an area with many itty-bitty mouse tracks. At least one rabbit had bounded through the snow near our house - I thought that none had survived the winter but I was wrong! All of the animals that recently emerged from hibernation disappeared again (chipmunks, golden mantled ground squirrels) - back to bed, I think! For the duration of the storm, a Clark's Nutcracker stayed by our feeders. They usually live higher in the mountains but we were happy to help this guy through the storm.On the day after the snow stopped, I rode past a meadow where the Wyoming Ground Squirrels had ventured out of hibernation in the days before the storm. Two ground squirrels had dug upward through the heavy layer of at least 4' of snow and were scampering on the surface. With no food available, they looked a little lost. Then, I spotted a Red-tailed Hawk hovering over the meadow probably salivating over the easy pickings. My presence seemed to upset the natural behavior of everyone so I moved along.I wasn't surprised that the big animals didn't try to move around. Based on R's predicaments when he left our packed tracks, I imagine that a coyote, fox, bobcat, mountain lion, or deer might get stuck in a hole of powdery snow. Below, R has given up on a foray into bottomless loose snow. He's trying to turn around.Today, I found some elk trackways - they act like road cyclists in a paceline during huge snowstorms. They move singlefile, and I visualize that they take turns doing the work of trampling the path. Their tracks headed toward some extreme south-facing slopes that melt faster than anyplace else in the area. How do they know to go there? The sage older cow elk lead them. I'm told that if a whole generation of females is killed or doesn't learn from their elders where to lead the herd, some of the herd's wisdom about routes and foraging sites is lost. For example, a large scale logging operation can cut off an 'elk superhighway' or make a grazing area unusable. If the operation lasts long enough, the herd may never go back to their old routes and meadows because the young cow elk didn't learn about them. In the photo below, the herd split into a few single-file lines as they moved inexorably toward better grazing possibilities.Yesterday and today, I put my fenders on my mountain bike with studded tires and headed out for a slush and mudfest on the plowed dirt roads. Due to too little riding, my back was killing me so I decided to endure the mess. I had fun. I saw gorgeous views of the giant snowy mountains.Yesterday, the cloud front still sat on the Divide.Today, the clouds were starting to dissipate.As the snow has dropped off the trees, the aspens remain a reminder that spring will come - their large catkins survived the storm and delicate green leaves will unfurl in a month or so. It's very hard to visualize green trees right now.As the sun rose this morning, a new avian migrant appeared under our feeders - a Mourning Dove. They breed here and are omnipresent under our feeders for the summer. I imagine that this fellow felt disappointed by the wintery forest that he found here. I hope that our seeds helped his spirits!

The hummingbirds are next - my feeder is waiting patiently!


  1. Ginko's knees are killing him because of a few short forays into the deep snow too. Poor guy. He's not happy to be on restrictions, but until the meds kick in, he needs to stay put.

    Last year, our hummingbirds returned today (april 20), so I cooked up some food, and it's going out right now.

    Tune into our blog Tuesday, for video of Lilly's deep snow adventures.

  2. Oh my goodness! The snow looks even deeper in your photographs than on the news.

    Gorgeous shots, all of them. I especially love R trying to turn in the snow.

    I'm sure you were glad to see some sun today. The mountain photos are wonderful.

  3. I need to get our hummingbird feeders out - they should be arriving any second, and we aren't ready! We have mourning doves here year round - oodles of them.

    I always loved the snow for how quickly it tires out the dogs, but we haven't had a really good snow here in a few years.

  4. Poor little's always hard to leave someone behind, isn't it? It's my biggest problem each day when I take my crew out in groups!

    R looks hilarious in the snow...even the puppy monster boy gets bogged down!

    I'm glad you were able to get out for a ride-I wondered about that yesterday as I headed down to town...the roads didn't seem too bad, but they are definitely narrower which I know can be an issue for riding.

    Hope your back is appreciating the time on the bike!

  5. What a beautiful place you live in. Love the photos of the dogs in the snow.


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