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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Every ending is a new beginning

The title of this post was what my brother said to me just after S died. I wasn't ready to realize the truth and hopefulness in his message. I'm starting to understand now.For the past year, I felt very protective of S, as he became frail, old, and finally sick. R, the rambunctious puppy and then teenager, knocked him around, mostly good-heartedly, but I sometimes felt angry at R for not being gentle with S.

Now, although I still choke up when I realize that it's forever, S is no longer physically here. To my surprise, I find that I'm looking at R with new eyes. I'm no longer focused on preventing him from hurting S so I'm free to see R as the carefree and loving spirit that he is. My little brother was right - every ending is a new beginning.All week long, I took both K and R mountain biking with me, and although R's high voltage style frazzled me, I reveled in his youth and naivete. Sure, he'll be easier to control when he grows up (if that ever happens) - but for now, he's a wild spirit (albeit a mostly obedient one). Moreover, I now see the soft puppy vulnerability hovering in his eyes.

Yesterday, our foursome visited our friends, who have an incredibly handsome chocolate lab, JB. R played with JB almost continuously. I watched R with new eyes. Here's the start of a play sequence.Now, it looks like JB scared R, and R is telling him to back off.JB, the gentle soul, licked R on the chin to apologize.Finally, JB left R to rest, but the little tongue flick by R is a signal that nervousness still coursed through his veins.After a brief rest, R lost his momentary worry and play resumed. I see, now more than a month ago, that R is still a vulnerable puppy soul.

Today, my K and I rolled silently through the forest on soft pine-needle carpeted trails. It felt sweet and relaxing to ride with my chocolate friend as my sole companion. The sounds of birds, busy with building nests, incubating eggs, and raising young, met us from the first pedal stroke. To exit the basement, we pass under a nest tray, with a recently completed cup nest, constructed by a pair of Cordilleran Flycatchers. Each year, they slowly learn to trust us over the summer. For now, the pair still calls warnings when we emerge from the house.As we approached our favorite vista, K sniffed while she waited for me. It's ridiculous how much faster a fit dog can run uphill than a fit human. The mountains had crystal clear blue sky behind them giving no clue of stormy energy building.
Later, we silently rolled through an aspen grove, with K slightly ahead of me. I've trained her to go either ahead or behind me, depending on which I request. It makes it possible for us to safely negotiate trails where there are other mountain bikers. I ask her to go ahead when we go downhill so that I form a rolling blockade to protect her from faster bikers overtaking us from behind. I ask her to go behind me when we go uphill so I'm between her and riders blasting downhill toward. Today, we didn't see another person.In the aspen grove, the green ocean was punctuated by clusters of slender red plants with tiny white blossoms. The dense clusters contained Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata), a member of the orchid family.These plants have no green, and no chlorophyll for photosynthesis. They're saprophytic - meaning that they survive from the energy produced by fungi that digest the dead organic stuff on the forest floor. Our daily storms have led to an explosion in the number of these plants. Usually, I spot a few plants per year but, this year, clusters are popping up everywhere. Notice how similar the flowers are to the Fairy Slippers, another orchid, that I posted about this spring.
After dropping off K, I pedaled solo through fields of wildflowers. In the photo below, sprawling patches of Western Blue Flag (Iris missouriensis) tinted the entire field purplish.
I laboriously hauled myself up to a high ridge where I ran into two pairs of hikers with very friendly dogs. We chatted - for too long - because they are super nice mountain neighbors. I finally pulled myself away to a sight that struck me with fear.Time to sprint for home and avoid getting struck by lightning. It never ceases to amaze me how completely the mountains metamorphose from idyllic peaceful peaks (like the first mountain photo in this post) to looming stormy giants.


  1. WOW !! I still can't believe you live with these views!
    I think K and R are in for some special treatment now that your mind can focus on them, huh?

  2. The play photos are interesting... I'm sure the context of these photos is very different, but the way R is in the first picture is what I have come to recognize in B as her last ditch effort to tell another dog that she is uncomfortable and to back off. If the other dog persists past that point, B will either panic or react. I've gotten to the point where if I see B assume that posture, laying down perpendicular to the other dog with one paw on the dog's head, I intervene immediately.

  3. Not surprising, but interesting in how the change in dynamics among the dogs makes you appreciate their qualities.

    Loved the photographs. So glad you are healing.

  4. R is still very much a baby dog. It's nice you have time and a tad bit less worry to watch these final months of his babyhood before he becomes a big boy.

    It's nice that JB went back to make up. That shows real skill.

    I'm glad you made it home before the storm.

  5. Dog_Geek: Just wondering - is it your personal observations of B that have alerted you to the meaning of the initial posture in the play sequence? Or, is it generally known?

    I felt a little bad afterwards that I'd been contintually taking photos, having only an inkling that R was stressed out (until he warned JB away - when it became obvious to me). Our trainer (Gigi) always says that R has awesome 'dog skills' so I tend to never worry. Perhaps I need to be more alert when he's in an enclosed space with a persistent dog who doesn't take any breaks from playing.

  6. No, it's not a signal that I was familiar with or knew to look for, and I've never seen any of my other dogs do it (but then, they have all been confident with other dogs.) The first time she did it, it looked like a submissive puppy gesture to me, and I was surprised when she reacted so badly immediately after. It took me a few reps to realize that she was signaling that she was at the end of her comfort zone with that dog and needed an out.

    The variation to the laying down perpendicular in front of the other dog is sitting sideways in front of the dog and placing one paw on the oncoming dog's head. It has become a handy indicator to me, though, because it gives me time to step in and diffuse things before she feels the need to go to fight or flight mode.

  7. Beautifully written post with many wonderful photos to boot! I'm reading the comments from Dog Geek with interest as my pup is very submissive and will roll onto her back and side and sometimes push away with the paw but has never turned to aggression. Instead, she may suddenly leap into the air with a hyper surge of energy which often has the effect of moving dog or people back away from her in surprise.

  8. Hi KB,
    I enjoyed seeing your Coralroot Orchid. I just posted about finding the lovely Calypso in my back forest - the first time I've ever spotted one, though this year there are several little clumps of them.


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