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Saturday, October 30, 2010

Little Orange Riding Hood

When we had our first dusting of snow last week, I noticed a very active animal trail with a variety of tracks on it. So, I staked it out with a remote wildlife camera and caught photos of some traffic on it last night.

First, a mule deer doe moved through fast. Sorry about the blurriness - I might have the camera too close to the animal trail to get clear photos. Trail camera placement is a tricky skill to master.
Then, a rabbit froze in front of the camera.
Then, a bobcat sauntered through, doubtless interested in the scents of the rabbit and the deer.
When you compare the size of the bobcat and the mule deer both in the same camera view like the photos above, it is almost unfathomable that bobcats can kill deer. But, numerous sources say that it has been observed. Wildlife biologists believe that bobcats try to sneak up on sleeping deer and pounce on their necks, attempting to deliver a killing bite that severs the spinal cord before the deer starts moving. This plan does not always work - and there are multiple reports of people seeing fleeing deer with bobcats clinging to their necks.

On the rare occasion when a bobcat does kill a deer, it covers the body with debris and eats it over the course of numerous days, attempting to fight off scavenging coyotes and other carnivores. However, the primary foods for bobcats are rabbits, squirrels, and other rodents - not deer.

It's funny - when I head out into the woods each morning, I look at the world very differently now that I have my secret view of the animals' lives via my wildlife cameras. I notice little details, like a scraping in the dirt, and wonder who left those marks. Often, I end up pointing a wildlife camera at a spot that accumulates markings on numerous nights to learn the answers to my questions.

This morning, K and I wandered out for our very short hike. She meticulously examined each bush, tree branch, and scraped spot on the ground. I could tell which ones were likely most important because she peed a reply.

We arrived in our meadow, and the wind caught her orange bandanna and flipped it up, making her Little Orange Riding Hood for Halloween-eve.
K and I saw lots of what I call "snowberries" on our little hike. I don't know the real name for these plants because I always notice them after all their leaves are gone, allowing their tiny white berries to be on full display.
As we passed through the agility course on our way home from our hike, K insisted on placing her paws on a ramp. Notice the leash is still attached - otherwise, I was afraid that she'd insist on negotiating the whole thing!
K's spirits have been SO amazing and resilient during this whole ordeal of recovering from tendon surgery. She watches R go with me mountain biking, and, if she has a kong to work on, she doesn't act sad about it. The only thing that she cannot handle is watching me take R for a long evening walk without her. Even a frozen kong can't pacify her. I can hear her howling and crying from a half mile away. So, I don't leave her alone to exercise R in the evening anymore. Soon enough, we'll all be doing longer hikes together.

This morning, to my utter amazement, I felt good enough to ride my bike with R. I had a nasty virus yesterday and lost 5 lbs in one day! But, it was a one-day thing, and I've already bounced back. During our ride, we headed up to Hug Hill where R fruitlessly searched for rodents.
I attempted, in vain, to explain to him that they'd all gone into hibernation.
He didn't believe me. So it goes in the world of an OCD dog who includes rodents among his obsessions. But, I love him anyway.
One last piece of news - the fire is 70% contained, and all evacuees have been allowed to return home. Thank goodness! Now I think that it's time for our brown meadows to be painted white with snow like the towering peaks in the distance to finally put this endless fire season to rest.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Another fire

A gorgeous sunrise met us this morning backlighting a spooky elk skull that I brought in from the forest last year. The elk was shot during hunting season many years ago but I guess the hunter didn't know that he'd hit an animal. I found the elk soon after she'd died. I re-visited the spot a couple of years later and found the skull, completely cleaned by the teeth and beaks of our many scavenging carnivores.
K and I headed out for our stroll when the sky was much brighter. She seemed less nervous on today's walk and even looked at me rather than behind her. She had her last cast change today. Next week, it comes off!
 K is eagerly awaiting that day!
A little later, R and I took a short bike ride, and I tried to figure out how to use my new camera. My beloved Olympus died recently, and I need to learn the tricks with my new camera. I did manage to capture R's enthusiastic recall on Hug Hill though!
R has a boot on because he badly split a nail, and we're trying to prevent an infection.

At the end of my time with our canines, I left R at home, thinking to myself that I didn't feel good at all. I thought that I'd just ride a tiny bit more and then rest. Well, I really felt sick when I saw this.
The wind was blowing the flames away from us so I didn't think that our house was in any danger. But, this has to end soon! In the photo below, you can see that, although the mountains are snowy, lower elevation south-facing slopes are bone dry.
Many firefighters and airplanes are fighting hard to prevent this fire from growing any more. My fingers are crossed.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Glorious winter day

This morning, K and ventured out into a serene and quiet world. The jet engine roar of the wind had vanished. A thin layer of snow held on in shaded places, giving hints of the myriad animals who had wandered, ghost-like, through our forest overnight. One of our wildlife cameras captured an image of a coyote with a plush coat foraging under our birdfeeders.
K meticulously investigated the scents on plants, shrubs, trees, and rocks next to the trail and appeared to decide that something scary had passed through our forest. As I tried to photograph her, she rarely looked at me. Instead, she scanned the vast world behind her.
I thought to myself that it's rare that our biggest predator comes close to our house so she must be worried about coyotes. Then, I flashed back to about 7 years ago when I found mountain lion tracks within 20' of our house. Back then, I knew almost nothing about lions or tracks but I knew enough to throw down my glove for scale in the photo of the sprawling paw imprints.
It scared us because we had two precious canines, neither of whom was fast or ferocious. Astro, K's big brother, was almost 16 years old. He loved his meandering strolls but moved slowly and stiffly. K was just a few months old and moved like a goofy puppy!
We called our Division of Wildlife to get advice about protection against mountain lions. Ever since then, we each carry a huge can of pepper spray when we're outside. We've found lion tracks so close to our house only one more time since then, and our wildlife cameras next to the house have never captured the image of a lion since we installed them about 18 months ago.

This morning, I eventually caught K looking vaguely in my direction a couple of times but she was uneasy the entire time. I think that her nose had given her information that I didn't have.
She scaled a huge rock!
Just kidding. It towered about a foot off the ground. That's my limit for K's climbing until her cast comes off, and she gets strong again.

After I dropped K off at home enjoying a kong with yummy dog food frozen inside it, I pedaled out of our clearing on my own. I moved silently, almost stealthily, soaking up the winter quiet of the forest. I was the first human to travel on one of my favorite trails since the snow. A cadre of coyotes had milled about at the start of the trail, and then they'd moved out in a single file line. I love snow because I can see the animal stories!
Finally, after days of clouds enshrouding the mountains, the rocky behemoths sparkled in their new coat of snow. I did a mountain bike ride that let me gaze at the peaks from different viewpoints.

From a sun-warmed ridge...
From a rocky cliff with the moon hanging high...
From a pine forest...
What a glorious winter day!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Almost Wordless Wednesday

Uh oh, I've been discovered.

I think my secret is safe with KB.

Peering into my soul

Reflecting on the sun

Rejoicing in the sun


Should I stay or should I go?

Reflecting on a meadow

Gorgeous winter

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Relentless wind

Overnight, a blast of frigid air carried by a relentless and powerful wind brought snow to us and all the animals who have to live outside all the time. A couple of bucks walked across our property in the dead of night while the storm took over our world. I also saw tracks of a bobcat, a doe and fawn, a pair of coyotes, and a fox. It's amazing to imagine those animals enduring all that nature throws at them without houses or fireplaces!
This morning, when I read the outdoor thermometer and heard the house shake with each wind gust, I found myriad ways to procrastinate about going outside. Finally, K convinced me that it was time.
K is now taking no pain medication and is moving as if she feels great. I've been "de-leashing" her for photos but I need to be more careful now. Just after I took the photo shown below, she started to gallop up the trail, plonking her cast on the snowy ground with each bound. Fortunately, I yelled "wait", and she did. No harm done.
Then, on this evening's walk, she tugged relentlessly at the leash. She wanted to go faster, further, off-trail, and, did I mention, FASTER! She's my dog at heart... I can certainly understand how she feels because I've felt exactly the same way after each of my spine surgeries.

As soon as we arrived home, I called to make the big appointment to have her cast taken off for the last time by her surgeon and then to have her first physical therapy appointment immediately afterwards. K started tap-dancing in excitement! The big day is about 10 days from now.

Then, it was the moment of truth - would I be tough enough to go out in the 70 mph winds and 20°F temperatures for a mountain bike ride? My motivation always is that riding my bike makes my back feel better. Since my spine felt creaky, I headed out with the black Labradude.
For those of you new to this blog, biking is my pain reduction plan for my back. Consequently, I ride all year long. It's a very rare day when the weather keeps me inside on my indoor bike trainer. Soon, I'll put studded tires (360 studs per tire) on one bike to make it my ice bike. I also have my snow bike ready for deep snow. It has 4" wide tires and is the style of bike used by mountain bikers who race the Itidarod Trail every winter.

This morning, with less than an inch of fresh snow, I didn't need fancy gear except my extreme cold weather clothing and my orange. R and I headed out, and he spent a lot of time during our ride trying to figure out how to pick up sticks despite his muzzle. He finally succeeded but wasn't too happy about it. He came and stood in front of me to request a stick removal operation!
We visited Hug Hill, where I literally couldn't feel my fingers after 2 minutes. R's ears flapped in the wind so vigorously that I thought that he might take flight and visit friends in Kansas.
It wasn't snowing over top of us but the freight train of wind plummeting down off the Continental Divide blew snowflakes with it. Horizontal snow nearly obscured nearby hills.
After I dropped R at home, I headed east on my bike, with the thought that the wind might be gentler and the air warmer down lower. I was so wrong. The wind whipped a reservoir deep in a ravine up into a froth.
I did find a few quiet oases where the fingers of the wind currents hadn't reached. I didn't initially see the deer lying in the aspen grove below. I had stopped to enjoy a break from the wind that was ripping every ounce of my energy out of my body. Then, the deer moved, and I spotted him. I think that he was enjoying the oasis as well.
Shortly beyond the quiet aspen grove, I emerged onto an open slope leading to the spine of a ridge. The wind blew so hard that I repeatedly had to put a foot on the ground to avoid being blown over. Then, it happened. As I climbed up a steep hill, the wind grabbed my front wheel and twisted it hard to the left. I managed to stay upright as the wind whipped me through a 180 degree turn. Before I knew it, I was flying downhill at mach speed! Now, that's a powerful wind gust.

I made it home in one piece, without falling, but completely depleted of energy by the wind. I hope that the wind's fury burns itself out tonight. For now, I'm sitting next to a roaring fire, still trying to warm my toes.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Sweet Chloe, the unconquerable

Today, I'd like to start by telling you about a great friend of mine, smrp from Dream Valley Ranch, who has had a terribly scary roller coaster ride with a wild mustang who she rescued 18 months ago. Sweet Chloe, a wild 7-year old mustang who was starved at the previous "sanctuary" where she lived, has been extremely sick. The diagnosis has been elusive, but, at the very least, her kidneys were failing. Smrp has spent most of her time over the past week sedating sweet Chloe and giving her IV fluids in her stall. Alas, despite this heroic effort, Chloe seemed sicker than ever over the weekend. Because Chloe seemed to be in pain, a vet went to smrp's house on Sunday to check out Chloe and consider whether it was time to end her pain.

Well, Miss Chloe wasn't ready to say good-bye to her beloved smrp yet. She rallied, in a huge way, and told the vet to go home. She is pugnaciously embracing life as I write this. She's not out of the woods but she's claimed some more time in this old world.

To understand both Chloe and smrp, you need to understand that Chloe was extremely afraid of humans and couldn't be handled when smrp first met her. Smrp worked her magic - a potent combination of love and training - and, in a post this summer, brought me to tears with a video of her grooming and playing with Chloe. The bond between the two of them is undeniable when you watch that video and imagine that Chloe would have never allowed a human so close to her just a year before.

If you have time, please go over and visit smrp and Chloe at Dream Valley Ranch. I think that Chloe will capture your hearts. As an aside, four incredibly cute dogs and an entire herd of flowery horses, all rescued, live there as well!

I've had Chloe on my mind a lot lately, and I thought about her last night as R and I watched dusk take over our sky. As we stood completely still gazing at the horizon, three mule deer, two does and a youngster, pronked past us as if they didn't see us. 
This morning, as I prepared to walk K and then ride my bike, a veritable deluge of Noah's Ark proportions fell out of the sky. As the rain started, the air temperature plummeted. Within a half hour, it was snow rather than rain. During our walk, K and I didn't dilly dally for many photos - getting her cast wet is a major mistake. She had three layers protecting it, and we made it through her walk with a dry cast!
Several of you have picked up on my excitement that K has less than 2 weeks left in her cast and have asked if she'll be allowed to run again. Unfortunately, no one knows. We don't know how successful the surgery was, and we don't know how much function she'll regain in her paw. Right now, I'm simply happy that I know that she'll be able to walk further than she can now. If she can run again someday, that will be wonderful beyond words. If she can't, we'll take special hikes and find other things to do together. I know that I'm lucky to have her in my life, no matter what.

After K's little walk, R and I headed out into a furiously windy, sometimes snowy, and generally wild forest. R sizzled with high voltage energy, hurtling toward me when I called him.
Yes, the poor boy still needs a muzzle to prevent mushroom eating. The problem is that squirrels harvest mushrooms and hang them in trees to dry for winter eating. On windy days like today, mushrooms rain from the forest canopy. One even landed on my helmet as it dropped out of a tree. R spent part of our ride trying to master a technique for pulling a dried mushroom into his mouth through the gaps in his muzzle. He was not successful, thank goodness.

At our turnaround point, we stood in a meadow with snow blowing horizontally off of the invisible Continental Divide. The wind and snow stung my face, and I had trouble standing upright without swaying with each wind gust, measured at up to 60 mph. I hopped on my bike and started pedaling hard to get home before I froze.

Alas, less than a mile later, a blue hole in the clouds had opened just above us. The sun shined on us while glittery snow still whirled through the air. I dropped my bike to enjoy the sight. Then R hopped up on a big boulder to pose. Look at the cerulean sky with SuperDog in the foreground!
We wended through an aspen grove that was a tunnel of dense yellow leaves just a week ago. The wind stripped the trees of almost every leaf overnight.
After I dropped R off at home, I did a wildlife camera check. No animals except me had walked in front of any of my cameras. Such is life.

However, near the same spot where I found bear scat a couple of weeks ago, I found another fresh bear scat, again filled with kinnikinnick berries. I've learned from the Minnesota researchers' updates on their collared bears that, at this time of year, bears generally stay very close to their dens when they're not actually curled up inside the toasty hideaways. Based on that information, I suspect that there's an occupied den very close to this scat. Now, I need my bear-expert friend to come look around with me!
I rode a bit further but never strayed too far from home. It felt like a true blizzard could descend on me at any moment. To the east, blue sky dominated. To the west, a huge storm brewed and dumped snow on the high mountains. As I rode tiny trails that consisted only of a 6" wide swath of trampled grass, I came upon a spot that I've visited before, a long time ago - a former fire lookout tower that's no longer in use.

I know that I *used* to be afraid of heights but I believed that I'd conquered my fear with all of the exposed boulder scrambling and mountain biking that I've done. Wrong. I confidently started to walk up the steps of the lookout tower and my knees literally started to shake and my palms started to sweat on about the tenth step. I stopped, took a deep breath, and took one more halting step upward. Then, a gust of wind hit the tower - it stood solidly without a vibration but I'd lost my nerve. I could barely make my legs work smoothly enough to descend the steps because I was so scared. I guess that I was wrong about having conquered that fear!
But, as you might have guessed, I already have it in my head to visit again on a still day and climb to the top of this albatross. If sweet Chloe can so courageously fight her life-threatening illness, I can climb to the top of a fire lookout tower!