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Monday, April 6, 2009

Springtime in the snowy mountains

I love winter mornings, when the sun stays low in the sky for a precious time after sunrise, illuminating only the tops of the snow-laden pine trees. The drooping boughs glow like beacons with the world below them still in shadows. Gradually, in an enchanting slow-motion process, the sun rises higher and bathes the entire forest in light.

In addition to showing the morning light, the right photo shows our agility course swamped in snow. About 14" fell over the weekend.I skied with K and R this morning, enjoying perfect snow conditions before the sun started the work of turning powder into water. It snowed intermittently yesterday afternoon and night with temperatures plummeting to 5 degrees, and few animals left signs that they'd been up and about. The omnipresent deer and shrews foraged despite the arctic weather. The red squirrels foraged near our bird feeders but all signs of mountain cottontails have disappeared. I suspect that the last one living near our house became a bobcat or coyote's meal recently. Every year, we have a plethora of bunnies in the summer and none by late winter.

For the first time since we returned from our vacation more than a week ago, the towering mountains shined through the clouds, showing off their new coat of snow.Before I left on vacation, the snowpack looked much thinner on the same mountain. The snowpack acts as a reservoir for the cities in the plains so we all watch it closely. I'm sure that it also feeds the aquifers that my well draws from but the connection isn't as obvious.
Near the end of our ski, something scared R. For most of the ski, he'd been forging the way in front and K had followed behind me. R stopped abruptly, leaned backward as he stood still, put his tail clearly down between his legs, and raised his hackles (you can barely see his hackles up in the photo below). His body language indicated that he felt afraid of something that I couldn't see.K immediately charged forward with assertive body language (photo below), sniffing and looking all around the trail. She was ready to defend the pack from whatever was scaring R but didn't seem to identify the specific threat that had spooked R so much.
After K charged forward, R began to move backwards, slowly at first but gradually gaining momentum, even breaking into a backwards trot. He was going to slam into my legs so I straddled the trail with my skis to let him get behind me. R then lurked behind me for the last 10 minutes of the ski, occasionally moving to the side to peek around me, but not courageous enough to actually run out front. K remained alert and assertive as the pack forerunner. No doubt, K still rules as the pack leader.

After I dropped off the two pups, I decided to try riding my Fatback in my ski tracks - which I'd skied over about 4 times in the past few days. As an aside, I've been happy to note that the Fatback doesn't ruin the ski tracks because it leaves a ski-like track. Amazingly, my bike gave me super-powers, and I alternately floated and churned over much of our trail network. While I rode, the sun burned intensely and transformed the powdery snow of early morning into slushy packable snow. Devious gremlins in the trees starting dropping snowballs on me, at one point sending wet snow cascading into my helmet and down the back of my jersey. Spring snow!The slushiness challenged my downhill bike handling skills, and I had a couple of funny bail-outs and crashes. As my tires started fishtailing on a descent, I tried to save myself by putting a foot down next to the trail, forgetting that the snow was a bottomless 14" or more deep in unpacked areas. My foot sunk endlessly providing no support, and I completed a slow-motion sideways fall into the powder. Powder is forgiving, and I emerged unscathed but covered in snow and laughing. I feel like a little kid when I ride my Fatback - it is so much fun. And, it saved me from biking in the muddy and slushy river that dominated our dirt road this morning. To thank Mr. Fatback for a hilariously fun morning ride, I took him out for a view of the Divide.I'm trying to keep doing the things, like outdoor adventures, that keep my spirits high rather than focusing on S's prognosis. I give him extra pats, hugs, and treats throughout the day - but I'm trying to savor each precious day rather than dread what is going to happen. And, who knows for certain what's going to happen? So, I want to celebrate life for now.


  1. We know that wide-legged, backward moving fear motion well at our house. I wonder what spooked him. At least he didn't shutdown completely,.

    I wonder if he'll balk at the same spot again.

  2. Roxanne,

    I wondered the same thing - whether R would balk again at that spot. This morning, he passed by the spot with no hitch. There must have been something there yesterday that wasn't there today.

    I wish that I had the smelling and hearing powers of a dog - then I might be able to perceive what spooks them.


  3. Those are some very fat tires. Beautiful photos. It must be fun to ride in the powder like that. Reminds me of my younger days when I worked at a stable driving hay rides. At the end of the workday in the winter, we'd take the small ponies out bareback on the trail to exercise them. Our legs almost touched the ground and we'd laugh so hard and the ponies were so round that we fell off a lot, which only made us laugh more.


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