Yesterday evening, we had the honor of our neighbor chocolate lab, J, and his human joining us on our hike. No, you aren't seeing double - there are two chocolate tails in this photo!
We had rollicking good time with the ever playful elder statesdog. Although J is 12 years old, he's as playful as the 2 year old R! While we sat in a spot of sunshine and soaked up the brilliant and shimmering mountain view, R took a snowbath with complete abandon. He wriggled, snorted, kicked his legs into the air, and slid downhill on the snow bank. What a picture of happiness!
The downside to the hike was that I discovered that my lower back is very unhappy about something that I can't identify, causing nerve pain that makes it feel like I need a hip replacement. It scares me... I'm truly hoping to put off my next back surgery until the winter. My fingers are crossed that this pain passes on its own. I try not to complain but I get tired of worrying about the wild swings in how my spine feels.
With trepidation, I pedaled out of our clearing with both halves of the Labraduo this morning.
After the first few minutes, I was relieved to conclude that the pain is only present during walking and not during pedaling. I felt lucky in that regard. However, sometimes I feel like a time bomb waiting to explode. I know how many spots in my spine have degenerated to the point of needing surgery. I try not to think about them... but that's tough sometimes. I try to seize the day, and I did that today, having a fun bike ride through tumultuous spring weather.
I spun and the furry ones galloped through a chilly but pretty morning. Clouds loomed on both the eastern and western horizons but we stayed under a patch of blue sky.
After looping around the snow-free trails once, we stopped for some playing/training. The more that I work with the duo, the more convinced I am that dogs can learn by imitation. I've read in more than one authoritative source that they can't learn this way.
However, take the example of K's trick of balancing on all sorts of objects that we find in the forest. She thought this trick up herself - and I rewarded it. So, it's a game that she loves. Below, K balanced on a blown-down tree. I gave her treats as a reward. R noticed, and he tried to join the fun. Initially, he put only his front paws on the tree so I kept rewarding K and not him.
To me, it appeared as if he contemplated K's position, and then hopped the rest of the way onto the tree. I gave him a jackpot, not because this is an important training milestone but because I like to encourage my dogs to think for themselves. I believed that R had used his brain to figure out how to get treats!
After another loop of the small world of snow-free trails, I dropped the duo off at home and quickly headed back out. While I was inside, winter had infiltrated my world. On a nearby dirt road, I could barely discern an elk crossing in front of me.
When I realized that a long train of elk planned to cross, I recorded a very short video. It ends with a mother elk and her almost yearling standing in the road. These two will remain bonded until after our herd migrates to high alpine meadows for the next generation to be born. Usually, our elk depart around the end of May to climb up high but spring is late this year as you can see in these photos!
After recording the video, I scanned the meadow to the south and saw how skinny a pair of elk had become. They need spring to arrive soon, giving them a bounty of green grass to eat!
Behind them, most of the herd spread out across the meadow.
But, then, I happened to look over my shoulder, and I saw that I was blocking the path of a cluster of elk stuck on the wrong side of the road. They clumped so closely together that I knew that something was scaring them - either me or something unseen. I've read that they squeeze together when a predator is stalking them... but I didn't see any predators. So, I rode onward to let them cross the road.
As I rode away, I noticed a nascent Pasqueflower, closed up tight to keep winter out, but its furry covering was capturing lots of moisture from the snow and air.
The crazy swings between spring and winter weather dominated the rest of my ride. Shortly after seeing the elk herd, I took off a layer of clothing as the sun peeked through the clouds.
I left my bike by the trail when I spotted a series of mountain lion scrapings leading into the forest. Lions use these scrapings to mark territory. As I followed briefly, I saw that the lion had avoided all the patches of snow, carefully weaving among them to stay on the pine needle carpet of the forest floor. But, he frequently kicked backward with his hind paws, leaving mounds of pine needles and a bare area where his paws had scraped down to dirt. His trail headed off to the right of where my bike stands in the photo.
Finally, I hammered toward home. As I moved fast, I saw a storm standing still 50 yards ahead of me. Under the storm, pellets of hail covered the ground. But, where I was, the ground was clear. I dove into the storm, pedaling hard, and emerged from it about a half mile later. That was a crazy experience that I've never had before. One small section of our forest had been singled out for aerial bombardment.
Once I emerged unscathed, I took a photo of the beautiful eastern sky and glided home, grateful that I'd been able to ride my bike.