We started our day yesterday with a hike up a favorite ridge, from a trailhead a short drive from home. K and I climbed up the south side of the slope, which aside from gullies and small forested sections, was dry! Because the boys of the family were running out ahead of us, the start of our hike was an exercise in recalls. I'd release K, she'd accelerate to try to catch the runners, I'd call her back to me, and then we'd repeat! Below, she's recalling after one of her short chases.
Despite our 'game' of recalls, we rapidly climbed to an elevation with a view. K ecstatically sniffed a scent. The scent might have been elk - it appeared that after our 4' of fresh snow last week, the crafty elk herd headed for this south-facing hillside, knowing that the grass would emerge here first.
Once we attained the spine of the ridge, we walked on the brink between two worlds, the dry and grassy south-facing slope and the deeply snow-covered north-facing slope. K stood on the edge of the snowy and tree-dominated north-facing slope in the photo below.
I walked just on the edge of the snow, watching for animal tracks. I've ridden my mountain bike on this trail hundreds of times and have seen animals and their tracks crossing the ridge from one section of wilderness to another. Last fall, I saw the tracks of a mother mountain lion and her large kitten on two occasions. They climbed up from the south side following the least steep slope and crossed into the forest at a saddle in the ridge. At that same saddle, I had a bobcat try to sneakily cross the ridge just behind me as I perused a wildflower last summer. He came within about 20-30 yards of me... don't worry, bobcats aren't dangerous to humans - they're too small.
Yesterday, I saw a maze of elk tracks, some deer tracks, bobcat scent posted freshly marked with scat, and one somewhat rare track - a huge turkey track. The turkey left only about 4 tracks, and I know that hunting season is either here or approaching so I tried to rub them out. But, the ground was still frozen solid so I couldn't. I hope that this big bird makes it through the season!
At one point, I strayed into the snow, looking even more intently for the tracks of rarer animals - perhaps the track of an awakening bear or a lion. But, I didn't find any. K stood and watched.
After I turned around to head back toward the car, we met the boys. The Labraduo broke into wild playing in the snowy sections. It was funny that the snow itself seemed to trigger the play.
As an interesting note for anyone who has a dog with joint problems, we've noticed that Adequan injections (liquid glucosamine) have given K her top sprinting speed back. She has the start of arthritis in her spine so we decided to try to head it off with Adequan. Since starting it about 6 months ago, her top speed as returned to scorching levels, and she can even outrun R!
We brought along my bike so that I could start my ride from someplace new, expanding my horizons since I still can't ride all that far. As I rode along a dirt road, I noticed that a few aspen buds were bursting open. These will become fuzzy catkins, essentially aspen seeds, and are a delicious food for wildlife, including birds and bears. Now, for some odd reason, the aspens in this particular spot are always weeks ahead of every other aspen tree in the area each spring. So, everyplace else, the aspens have only red buds.
I had a great ride in perfect conditions with sparse traffic and made it further up my road than I have since my surgery, reaching a point where I could glimpse a new view. I think that my favorite part of surgery is feeling the incredible rebuilding properties of the human body. It can be beaten down but almost always springs back!
After that morning flurry of activity, I came home and put together a video clip of bear play from outside the den. Notice that one cub definitely looks bigger, plays more aggressively, and roams further from the den than the other. Perhaps that is a sign that we have a male and female yearling in this family. In any case, the footage makes it obvious that a bear family is a tight-knit and loving clan. These are sensitive and caring creatures, and they are most definitely NOT the scary monsters that so many people envision.
Also, keep in mind that this rambunctious play occurred within about an hour of the family coming out of the den for the first time in a long time (except for mom's short trips to eat snow and urinate). Imagine having muscles that can stay so strong while lying still for months on end! Bears have amazing physiological tricks that make it possible for them to run at full speed and climb trees almost immediately after sleeping for months. After lying still for that long, humans would lose so much muscle strength that they would probably have trouble standing upright immediately after leaving the den. Then, it would take a human months to rebuild their muscles. Bears are amazing!