Springtime in the mountains is zany, imitating the wild ride of a back surgery recovery. K and I rolled out under looming dark clouds but the forecast said that the storms had missed us so I was optimistic.
The forecast was wrong. Thank goodness that I dressed for a snowstorm because that's what we got! Both K and I were having trouble keeping our eyes open because the snowflakes pelted out of the sky like tiny asteroids aimed directly at our eyes.
I thought about turning around and going home. But, then, I thought about all the days that I'd pined for a bike ride but couldn't take one due to doctor's orders. So, I put my head down and pedaled, remembering how lucky I was to be out on my bike.
We circled the network of trails that's free of snow, and just before heading back home, the aerial assault ended. We made a quick detour to a view point where a slight glow of light emanated from just above the mountaintops.
K managed to keep her eyes open for this photo, taken as the storm's fury died out.
And, then before we made it home, the mountains glimmered and glistened in the sunshine. The birds who had hidden in the canopy or in tree holes ventured out and began singing, albeit tentatively at first. I smiled and remembered my motto that if I don't go out into the elements, I won't feel the special moments like the forest's reawakening as a storm wanes.
After I dropped off K at home, my back felt good enough for some more riding and the sun shined warmly. I headed for a trail that's been closed by snow since November. I wanted to be the first to explore it - even if I needed to walk my bike over a few snow drifts. Before getting to that trail, I spotted the mountains once again. Wow, they looked nothing like they had less than an hour earlier.
As I floated down a steep and rocky hill into an aspen grove flourishing in the moisture of a hollow, I spotted a Northern Flicker flitting off of an aspen tree and onto a higher perch. He chirped alarm calls from high above me. On every passage through this grove, I've seen Flickers behaving just like this for the past few springs. Today, I finally stopped my bike to look around.
I immediately spotted a large and newly renovated nest hole in the biggest aspen tree near the trail. Voila - that hole is probably why I've seen Flickers in this grove every spring for years.
Here's a photo of a Northern Flicker leaving his nesthole, in an aspen near my house, last June.
My eyes scanned the tree and, whoa, I saw claw marks on the tree. Several sets climbed up toward the nesthole's height but stopped there. I'm guessing that bears have tried to steal the eggs or nestlings on more than one occasion.
Then, I noticed some fairly fresh scratch marks that looked different. The pattern didn't fit the normal pattern of a bear's claw marks. In fact, I immediately wondered if these marks were left by the stiletto sharp claws of a cat. Notice that only three claws left marks, although the fourth claw mark was a tiny puncture near the far right of the other marks. If a cat left these grooves, it had to have been a mountain lion, based on the height of the marks and the large paw size.
Sometimes it's hard to remember to stop and notice things, especially when I'm in familiar territory. I've ridden past this particular tree hundreds of times, and I've seen the Flicker every spring for years. Yet, I've never stopped to investigate before today. Quite a story was playing out right next to one of my favorite trails but I hadn't seen it.
In the same little grove, I noticed a Pasqueflower with its petals clenched tightly closed. These early bloomers can close their blossoms more tightly than the wildflowers that bloom later in the steady warmth of summer. Moreover, Pasqueflowers don't reopen their flowers until quite a while after the bad weather passes.
The rest of my ride was glorious. As I wound my way through pine forests, the sun baked the wet pine needles and a sweet aroma wafted from the forest floor. The pine tree canopy filtered the sun's rays, and those rays illuminated the dripping pine boughs. I breathed deeply and smiled.
My back felt better after the ride than before it, as almost always is the case. I think that I'll be back to my pre-concert condition within a few days. I have to admit that my spine's reaction to relatively benign activity, like going to a concert, scared me.
I hope that I have a long and winding road of adventures in the forest ahead of me, like the trail heading to the horizon that I rode today. But, I never can be sure so I try to remember to slow down and enjoy each day.