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Monday, November 9, 2009

Nature's beauty and fury

I awakened with a tinge of dread tingling at the edges of my consciousness. I realized that my dread stemmed from the fact that my back has been referring pain into my legs and causing numb patches even more than usual. The pain had awakened me, yet again, last night. So, on the motto that action is better than idle worry, I set up an appointment with my spine doctor. It'll be wise to get some pictures and see the condition of the discs above and below the fused section of my lower back. And, to find out how the heinous state of my cervical spine has changed.

If you ever have to consider having a portion of your back fused, take the warnings about the ancillary effects on the rest of your spine extremely seriously. Although my fusion surgery stopped the hugely serious problem of muscle atrophy that I was experiencing, I have spent the time since the surgery managing the pain and other problems arising from the deterioration of the rest of my spine. Because my condition was so serious before surgery, I had no real choice about whether to have surgery. However, if you do have the luxury of a choice, think it over very carefully.

For me, spending time in nature completely immerses me in something other than pain, partly because cycling makes the back spasms release and partly because I love exploring nature's mysteries with K by my side. So, when K and I rolled out the door this morning, I rapidly forgot about my dread and started enjoying the day. On parts of the trail, all I heard was the wind's whisper, the crunch of the snow under my tires, my breathing, and K's jingling bell.
We rode past the spot where K and R played 'place your front paws on the log' the other day. Today, K insisted on a new trick that she'd created all by herself. It's funny how much human-made structures can scare her but balancing on a narrow and unstable log doesn't scare her. This photo highlights how strong she is, with rippling muscles in her shoulders. It's good to see, after all that she's been through.
I rewarded her, because I love dog innovations and initiative. Then, we sat and enjoyed a quiet moment together. Although I love having R join us on our rides, peaceful and silent respites are rare with his sizzling energy, almost crackling in the air, by our side.
We climbed through ice and then deep snow to Hug Hill, where the breeze from the west made soft music as it rippled through the solitary clump of pine trees on the summit.
When we arrived home, R relaxed on the sunlit dog bed. He looked up at us but couldn't keep his eyes open for even a minute. I guess that a good run, breakfast, and then lying in the sun makes a dog sleepy!
When I headed out solo, I climbed up high, to enjoy the almost snow-free treeless range. As I rolled along a narrow path, red spots leaped out of the dried grass and wildflowers. I saw a chipmunk, out from hibernation to enjoy the sunshine, foraging in the brown grass and decided to look at the world from his vantage point. Ruby red rose hips still hung on their prickly branches. Dried sage, sorrel, and grasses looked like a jungle. A small spider clambered within this maze.
I imagine that a small animal finds this to be an 'all-you-can-eat' buffet. A sea of seeds, from both wildflowers and grasses, surrounds the chipmunk as he burrows through the jungle. And, the rose hips contain valuable nutrients, although seeds seem to fill most of the berry.

For a small animal, like a chipmunk or a spider, grass seeds form the canopy over their world. I noticed the profile of a grass, gone to seed, swaying in the wind.
I looked up and the mountains on the horizon dominated my view. I imagine that they are inconsequential to the chipmunk or spider. But, they make my heart sing.
As I rolled toward home, I decided to make a brief foray up a trail that I haven't visited since the big storm. On my way up, I made a sad discovery. A back leg and pelvis of a miniature horse lay by the trail. I found the other back leg about a month ago, a half mile further up the trail. Scavengers, like coyotes, must be carrying the horse's limbs far and wide. In the photo below, my foot (about 10" long) parallels the femur, or thighbone. It's obvious that this horse was a mini, since his whole leg barely doubled my foot in length.
I decided that hikers might get freaked out by this sad and gruesome sight so I carried it away from the trail and hung it in a tree (to prevent dogs from dragging it back to the trail). When I found the first leg, I checked around but found no reports of missing miniature horses. Since then, I've discovered that far more miniature horses live in our neighborhood than I knew. I wonder how this one ended up in the woods. My guess is that a lion was involved.After writing about my lion tracking yesterday, I pulled out one of my collection of books on lions. This one is called "Cougar Attacks" by Kathy Etling. My approach to traveling solo through cougar country on an almost daily basis has been to educate myself about mountain lion habits as much as possible. Thus, I've amassed a large collection of books on my shelves and original research articles on my computer.

Between 1988 and 2004, the consensus is that cougars have killed 14 humans in North America (although some question whether it was actually a cougar or a dog pack responsible in a couple of these cases). Six of those tragedies involved children ten years old and younger. Three fatalities occurred in Colorado, all in my locale, and three occurred in California. It's much harder to quantify the number of non-fatal attacks but my research indicates that about 10 have occurred in Colorado and about 19 have occurred in California.

One problem with quantifying nonfatal attacks is the varying definitions of "attack". In one case quoted in my book, a person living within a few miles of my house saw a lion "staring" at his son just outside his house and promptly shot the lion dead. If I'd been in his shoes, I would have stayed in the house to give the cougar a chance to do the right thing and leave. I probably wouldn't have reported it if the cat had vanished. So, I wouldn't have reported it as an "attack" but it's part of the list of non-fatal attacks.

The bottom line is that mountain lion (aka "cougar") attacks on humans are rare. That's why I delight in seeing evidence of these crafty carnivores, and I don't let fear prevent me from traveling through their habitat. However, I must add that attacks on dogs are far more common. Less than a mile from my house, a cougar snatched an Australian Shepherd off a second floor deck and leaped to the ground with the dog in his jaws. The dog was never found. Our dogs never go outside, even on the deck, unsupervised. After dark, we keep them on leash. That's the best that we can do.


  1. Another interesting post with fantastic pictures!

    K and R always make us smile!

    Thanks again for sharing all of this!

    Now to share it with a certain brother of mine!

  2. Hi KB,
    I'm so sorry your spinal pain is getting worse. Good Luck with your DR's visit

    It never did warm up today - I had trouble taking pictures because my hands got cold without gloves.

    I remember when you found the previous horse remains. It seems so strange - miniature horses? I assume they would be easy prey for a lion, esp. since they would be corralled.

  3. Haha, the face that R's making in that picture reminds me of Marge when she doesn't want to get up from snoozing in the grass in the sunshine.

    Interesting tidbits about the big cats. Sounds like you take reasonable precautions, but don't let them dominate your world.

  4. Hey there KB
    Thank you for beautiful pictures and script again today. Im sorry to hear about your ailments and wish you well with the prognosis. It's quite amazing the way you embrace life and all that it has to offer. You are a real inspiration to us all!
    The cougars sound quite dangerous, but we understand the awe you have for the them and the beautiful & challenging world in which they live. Please be safe.
    Max's mom in SA

  5. Avoiding the fusion and trying to keep my degenerative discs from de-generating any more (a losing battle, but slowing it down - I hope). I find there are only a couple of positions I can sleep in or I wake up during the night with either pain or sciatica.

    As always, love the pictures and the information.

  6. I hope when you visit the doctor that things look okay. It's hard to have that feeling of dread hanging over your head. You cope so well with it, getting out and staying active and enjoying the "moments". Great photo of R!

  7. We did not realize the pain and discomfort you experience - we wish it were different. But knowing how much you do suffer makes your posts and photos all the more meaningful to us - you still manage to live life to the fullest.

    Beautiful photos, and we do love the ones of the pups.

    Hugs, the OP Pack


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