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Saturday, April 25, 2009

The watcher

I drank my coffee while watching the birds at our feeders this morning. Suddenly, a head popped up, not 3 feet away, but on the other side of the window. Our recently apparent Fox Squirrel stood on his hind legs and quietly observed me through the window.We never had any of the gargantuan Fox Squirrels at our elevation until a couple of years ago. Now, we usually have one hanging out near our feeders in the spring, summer, and fall. I don't know where he goes in the winter. Rumor has it that global warming is allowing the Fox Squirrels to expand their range higher into the mountains at the expense of our distinctive Abert's Squirrels. Below, an Abert's squirrel watched me from outside a couple of years ago. Sometimes, we feel like the zoo animals that the wildlife watches!
The tufted-eared Abert's squirrels must eat Ponderosa Pine seeds to survive, and these pines flourish in a fairly narrow range of elevations. Thus, people worry the 'flatlander' Fox Squirrels, who are flexible enough to live almost anywhere including the city, could threaten the survival of the Abert's squirrels by dominating their habitat. I hope not.

This morning, the air hung thick with moisture. Riding through the forest felt almost like riding through a thick and heavy cloud of water. I could barely make out the forms of the catkin-laden aspen trees.Over the warmth of the past week, spiders have busily knitted webs on the bushes. In today's subfreezing fog, the frosty fog clung to the webs, causing them to stand out like blooming flowers. In fact, the sparkly webs highlighted the first signs of baby green leaves on the shrubs.A closer look at the web showed the frost droplets outlined the thickest parts of the web but many finer threads intricately wove it together.
Today was the first day that K and I ventured onto the trails for mountain biking since our monster snow storm. The temperature dropped below freezing last night, making the snow slightly easier to negotiate without crashing. K seemed thrilled to be out together and stayed very close. In the photo below, she's peeking up at me from under my 'pogie' - a large insulated and water-resistant mitt that encloses my hand and the handlebar.I tried out a new piece of equipment today - a Golite rain jacket. The weather today was classic hypothermia weather for a bike rider. Even though it wasn't actively raining most of the time, my outer layer rapidly became soaked as I whooshed through the water-laden air. I've never had a real rain jacket for biking - and this new one is worth its weight in gold. The rain didn't get through my jacket but I didn't get clammy and sweaty when I worked hard. The perfect combination. And, it weighs only 250 grams and only cost me $40 at their semi-annual sale.

The new jacket also protected me against the attack of the killer wet pine needles hanging across the trails. Without a good jacket, brushing up against these frosty wet needles soaks me to the skin and then freezes me to the bone.After I dropped off K, I passed through some varied terrain, including a snow-melt swollen stream. The huge water-laden snow dump of last weekend followed by sun-soaked days has changed our creeks from trickles to torrents. The bushes lining the creek edge have turned red - another sign of spring on this freezing day!
And, within a quarter mile of the stream, I spotted some Prickly Pear Cacti, one of which had an eye-catching red crown. From a distance, I thought that the pear cactus might be blooming but I've learned that they don't bloom for another month or so.Up close, it looked like an odd red-orange crown. My books say that it's a left-over fruit from last year. People and wild animals eat the fruits, albeit very carefully to avoid the spines protecting them!The day's dimness, in some ways, matched my energy and mood. I'm feeling run-down, heavy-legged, and heavy-hearted with the stress of S's cancer - and those stresses make my own health issues seem worse. However, pedaling my bike through the beauty of nature with my joyful K almost always lifts my spirits and helps my spine pain. So, despite the atrocious conditions, I rode my bike in the forest with my beloved K today, and it made me happier.

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