Nature's fickleness becomes undeniable in the mountain springtime. Yesterday morning, we sweated and panted our way up to a ridge and then hiked along its spine under the hot sun. By yesterday evening, the transition back to winter had begun.
The pups stuck their heads into the snow during our sunset hike.
They missed the beautiful clouds heralding the return of snow whilst they dug for mythical rodents.
This morning dawned gray, humid, and finally, snowing. K and I covertly infiltrated the woods, wanting to explore to see what secrets we could uncover. The storm hovering over our nook of the Earth blocked all views of the mountains or sky. Normally, mountains would have towered behind K in this photo. Instead, aspen trees with their nascent buds stood like sentinels against the steelshot sky. In two months time, those trees will have green leaves!
Why do I wander through the woods, eschewing trails, almost daily? One reason is that I'm supposed to cover many miles on foot, every single day, to stimulate bone growth in my neck. But, I could achieve that goal on roads, trails, or even a treadmill.
The forest fascinates me because it's one of the last remaining wild and mysterious places, where I find signs of a web of life that we humans are usually oblivious to. While most people might see a barren and dark forest, I try to notice the little hints of what's transpired in each quiet and seemingly vacant spot. Each of my hikes feels like an exploration, and I feel like I've learned some more secrets after each one. I wouldn't feel that way if I marched through my four miles a day on roads.
Today, K and I found a spot where a mule deer slept recently. We knew that a deer slept here based on the hoof prints in the bed and the nearby scat.
We also found this amazing tree art, created by a bear scratching the aspen a long time ago. The claw gouges are black and scarred, as the tree has healed them over the years. Moreover, as the tree has grown taller, the claw marks elongated. Who knows how long the grooves were back when the bear made them?
We keep looking in every rocky cavern for another bear den. Good luck! I don't think that we'll find another den but we'll keep looking! If you missed the bear videos, check out here and here. Also, the live feed from inside a bear den in Minnesota is fascinating. The cub whines, cries, and makes all sorts of crazy vocalizations almost all the time. Apparently, these sounds indicate when the cub is cold or can't find a teat. Can you imagine being a new mom and stuck in a tiny den for months with a crying infant? That sow is so patient.
I feel lucky to have an enthusiastic canine partner in my explorations. She's off-leash in the photo below but, as soon as we enter the remote parts of the forest, I leash her to prevent her from disturbing the most secretive animals.
When we arrived home after a relaxing and fascinating hike, R waited on the other side of a dog nose-smeared glass door. He'd been out for a forest run earlier in the morning.
On another note, I've been testing out a new infrared wildlife camera that is touted as being 'covert'. Its red light used for nighttime photos is almost invisible and captures gray-scale nighttime photos. Daytime photos are in beautiful color. I hope that this camera will disturb wild animals less than my other infrared cameras seem to.
I caught a photo of the two remaining coyotes in our locale (the third was shot last week). In the top frame of the photo, notice that it gives the moon phase (in pictorial form) and the temperature. It also tells us that it's the ninth of ten photos taken for one trigger. In other words, whenever the camera detects an animal in its field of view, it takes ten photos at a rate of one per second. Then, it pauses for a couple of seconds to check for activity before launching into another series of ten photos.
Right after the above photo was taken, I marched outside with a flashlight (and pepper spray) to test the camera, having no idea that coyotes were already testing it for me. These animals vanished when I opened the door and didn't return for two hours. They proved that they've retained their fear of humans.
I tried out the camera at Bobcat Boulder for the past two nights, and I captured many images of the rabbit who forages there. Despite all the predators who visit the boulder, the rabbit has survived!
That rabbit is a tough and courageous spirit who has evaded bobcats and coyotes for at least 6 months. I hope that his or her genes carry on to a new generation!