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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The nose of a dog

I'd love to have the nose of a dog in all except a few putrid circumstances. Yesterday, a young buck walked across a trail behind our house.
A few minutes later, K and I walked past the same spot. I had no idea that that a deer had just sneaked through. K knew. Look how she sniffed and peered in the direction of the deer.
That young buck was no match for this big guy. I've been capturing photos of him shepherding small herds of does through the forest. Today was the first time he's been alone in weeks. Perhaps the rut is winding down.
This morning, K and I walked out into our forest teeming with wildlife. K wore the hated boot because it seemed to make her limp less severe. Despite the evil paw boot, she still enjoyed the scents of our world.
She stood on a boulder gazing over her meadow.
The world shined so brightly that her eyes were closed most of the time in my photos!
Suddenly, last night, the pads on K's paw with the amputation looked horrendous with little disks of tissue jutting up from the pad surface. It looked so alarming that we went to the vet today (there really should be a "frequent patient plan"). It's hyperkeratosis, an overgrowth of tough pad material. We have to baby her paw for a week, applying black tea bags and bag balm. If it's not better after a week of those benign treatments, the disks will be removed by cauterization. Yes, that would be her third round of general anaesthesia in a couple of months. Sheesh.

We're still waiting for the pathology report on one of her paw bones that may tell us how much function K will retain in her front limb. Why do these reports take eons to complete? My adrenal glands have burned out with all the waiting.

I had some bike time with R prior to taking K to the vet. We headed straight to the top of our world. R leaned into the howling wind like a ski jumper soaring over his skis.
Then, when I put his muzzle back on, he did the "get this thing off of me" slide across the snow in the shadow of me and my bike.
Houndstooth asked whether there are some snow conditions that I like better for winter mountain biking than others. Whew - don't get me started! I love very cold packed snow that has never melted and refrozen. I hate slush, and I hate when there's a layer of ice below the snow - like right now. That's how I fell the other day, jamming my wrist into a rock garden. I couldn't see the ice below the snow so I was taken completely by surprise when my tires slid sideways throwing me to the ground. Until we get a thick layer of new snow, I've abandoned my snow bike with the super-wide non-studded tires. I'm riding my relatively skinny-tired bike with 300 studs per tire. Those studs keep me upright even on sheer ice.

As I write this post, I'm sitting by a roaring fire with the pups snoozing at my feet. Outside the windows, the wind is howling and frequent flashes of light explode toward our windows. Those flashes mean that we have animals outside being photographed by my wildlife cameras. I wonder if the alien coyote with green laser beams emanating from his eyes is outside now?

Monday, November 29, 2010

A flying black Lab

Many of you commented on my new banner art by Harriet Peck Taylor. Her art highlights the magical, mystical, whimsical, and exuberant world of animals. Do you recognize the dog with the flopping ears below?
If not, maybe this photo will help. It was taken today, in a snow squall, as R galloped through a golden brown meadow rather than a forest of wildflowers.
My day started with a walk next to the head-bobbing K. I'm not sure why she's limping so much - whether her limp is caused by pain or adjusting to having fewer toes. I'm anxious to get the final pathology report that will hopefully lay my worries to rest. Regardless, she seemed happy to be able to sit tall above her kingdom this morning.
We explored the base of a jumble of boulders that our friend the bobcat loves. If clouds had not surrounded us, you'd be able to see snowy mountains behind K.
As we walked slowly, I noticed an unusual sight - a spider walking across the snow. The temperature hovered around 15°F so I was amazed that this animal could move at all. Unlike most other animals, spiders move their legs using a hydraulic system of body fluids. I'm surprised those fluids weren't frozen solid.
As K and I walked toward home, we passed an aspen grove that was covered in deep green leaves when her paw ordeal began. It seems like a lifetime ago. I recently took a photo of her in that grove at dusk with the aspen tree skeletons and an inky dark sky behind her.
Today, after leaving K at home (a concept that still feels foreign to me but K seems to accept it), R and I rode into the forest on icy trails with snow drifting out of the sky. It was cold, so bitterly cold that I struggled to keep my fingers and toes from going numb and to stifle coughs provoked by the biting air. We stopped briefly atop Hug Hill for R to stand tall on a stump. Soon, however, we were rolling again. The cold crept into the seams of my clothing and my fingers lost feeling whenever I stopped moving.
After my short time with R, I bolstered my armor against the frigid air with more layers and multiple chemical heat packs per foot and hand. I rolled out again, this time alone. It was still snowing and a fresh carpet of white soft flakes paved my path.
As I pedaled, I spotted the elk herd, more than a hundred-strong, spread out across an endless meadow. Before they spotted me, almost the entire herd was resting, lying on the cold and snowy grass. As soon as the alarm sounded, they stood one-by-one, waiting to see if they needed to flee. I snapped a quick photo and disappeared to save them the trouble.
Near the end of my ride, the veil of gray started to lift to our northwest, and a mountain shimmered in the sliver of blue sky with dark ominous clouds drifting past it. It looked like an apparition to my frozen brain and to my eyes that hadn't been able to pierce the clouds all day.
I arrived home completely frozen but happy that my wrist was better than yesterday. I guess it is just a sprain, thank goodness. We don't need another injury in our pack!

To emphasize that the Year of Bobcat is not yet over, Mr. Bobcat visited our clearing (or is it "his clearing"?) last night but my camera captured only his derriere as he sauntered confidently away.
Here's to the bobcat spirit! He's looking strong, fluffy, and very well-fed!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advancing veil of clouds

Yesterday afternoon K and I didn't walk far because she kept adopting this posture, worrying me about her paw.
Fortunately, although she still had a big limp that caused her head to bob with each step, she tugged on the leash this morning, eager to enjoy a wander together. She climbed on one of the myriad boulders scattered across our landscape by a retreating glacier eons ago. I didn't notice until I uploaded the photo that the moon still watched over her.
The sky glowed cerulian, and K noticed a feather perched in the seed pods of a Mariposa Lily. She sniffed it and sneezed! Then, I noticed its gorgeous outline against the sky.
After leaving K at home, I took a long mountain bike ride by myself. I missed having dog company. In fact, I repeatedly thought that I heard R sprinting up behind me like he did yesterday.
Alas, although I imagined dogs running with me, none were there. But, I enjoyed the beauty of the day, as it morphed from a bluebird day to a storm-shadowed day. As I rode along a ridge, the ceiling fell toward me and the air turned bitter cold. I crashed hard yesterday, and my injured wrist starting screaming with pain as I labored up the hills and attempted to control my steed down rocky hills.
I stopped for a rest and I noticed a tenacious Ponderosa Pine growing out of a crack in a boulder.  Not only did it perch precariously, but it endures hurricane force winter winds rocketing off the mountains visible in the background. I looked at it in awe.
Soon, the angry gray cloud veil that had hovered over the mountains swept over my head, completely obscuring the sun. Now, the view to the east had just a sliver of blue remaining.
As I entered the homestretch, I realized that my wrist felt marginally better and concluded that it probably wasn't broken. I even managed to grasp my rear brake lever forcefully to stop and look at these tracks. I believe that they are the tracks of a mountain lion. No other people or dogs, aside from me alone, have traveled this trail since it snowed 10 days ago.
These tracks moved purposefully across my snowbike path and under a pine tree with low boughs. I visualized the lion lying in wait for a distracted deer or elk to wander past. I also imagined how, when the ground is snow-free, I fly down this slope and could easily zoom past a lion under a tree without noticing him. His tracks then exited the pine umbrella and headed north toward a steep canyon wall. I followed briefly and wished our fiercest predator good luck before continuing toward home.

Nearby, I checked a wildlife camera that I've had up for weeks with NO animals crossing in front of it. Yesterday, I moved it by about 10 yards. What a difference a small adjustment makes! Camera placement is the key skill in using a trail camera. I'm still learning...

A buck yesterday afternoon...
A doe early this morning...
Followed closely by her fawn.
Very near here, I've captured multiple mountain lion photos. Now I know what attracts them!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The good part of pain

Do you remember how I wished upon the moon for K to start getting better? This morning, K lifted her noble head toward the warm sun and I realized that the moon was shining down upon her.
K is acting as if she recognizes her paw as part of her body now. She's leaving it alone but is limping a bit more than yesterday. I scaled back our walking today. I have to admit that, for the first time, I fully realized that one of her toes is gone as I watched her standing on a rock. It was an emotional shock... but then I reminded myself that our decision to have it amputated may have saved her life.

I hope that K doesn't have phantom pain from the toe that bedeviled her with infection before the amputation. And, I fervently hope that the pathology report tells us that the infection wasn't migrating up her forelimb.
I had pain on my mind this morning during our short hike because I'm reading a good book called "The Pain Chronicles" by Melonie Thernstrom. Last night, I ran across a quote that described exactly the transformation that I experienced a number of years ago that made my daily spine pain less onerous.

Like all chronic disease, chronic pain involves a bifurcation. There is the normal state, where you used to live, and you are conditioned to that state. Then you face a debilitating circumstance that lasts for months or years. When you're in that second state, you hold onto expectations of that first life. You mourn that first life: you want it and want it a million times over. But people have to let themselves die and lose the old expectations. If they let it die, they can rise like a phoenix from the ashes and can have a new life. John Keltner.

My life was completely transformed about five years ago. During that emotional transformation, I learned to see pain as my companion rather than my opponent. I stopped fighting it and started living again.

Part of what I learned at that stage was to resume doing what I love, pain be damned. I started riding my bike again, largely with the encouragement of the Runner, who went on "pity rides" with me - very short and slow rides that gradually taught me that I wasn't as fragile as china.

Now, I get out into nature on my bike and/or on foot almost every day. It makes life worth living for me, especially when I can share it with our dogs. In some ways, my chronic pain has been good for me. I've stopped trying to achieve lofty and nonsensical goals in my professional life, just for the sake of achieving them. Instead, I do what I love.

Today, after I walked K, I had the honor of R joining me for a snow/ice mountain bike ride. I'm not exaggerating when I say that he makes me laugh out loud at least once per ride. His exuberance is contagious.
Before all of our recent training, I felt like R constantly lived on the verge of careening out of control. After our hard work at training, I can snap him out of his obsessions. Today, he was possessed by his phantom rodent obsession. I say "phantom" because the rodents that live in the juniper bush where he hunted went into hibernation weeks ago.
Yes, the muzzle is still needed for 'shroom protection.

We gazed at stupendous views. The forest was eerily silent because the wind burned out its fury last night. I could hear faint chirps of birds. The sound of my snowbike tires resonated with a deep rumbling. The absence of the wind transformed the forest into a serene and life-renewing place.
Last night, believe it or not, a bobcat visited us again. I think that he heard rumor of the Year of the Bobcat!
He stayed in the camera's view for less than a minute before exiting rapidly in his crouched stalking posture.
Yesterday, a pack of 4 coyotes moved through a corridor, one by one, where I've never photographed coyotes before. I wonder what drew them to the area? Questions, questions, questions. I couldn't find anything to attract a coyote so it will remain a mystery of the forest.
I wonder what fascinating things will happen in the forest tonight? I can't wait to find out!

Friday, November 26, 2010

The unveiling of the paw

Yesterday evening, K and I made a big leap, and we made it to our sunset viewpoint for the first time in about 10 weeks! It's not a long walk but it's been beyond K's reach for a long time. We both savored the moment.
This morning was earmarked as "bandage removal time". So, prior to our morning walk, I took off K's (hopefully) last paw and forearm bandage. I put on a dog boot to protect her tender paw from the crusty snow on our morning stroll. Despite the boot, K was obsessed with her newly unveiled paw.
Although I think that the Ruffwear boots are the best for real hiking, K has always hated them. I had a notion that after 10 weeks in casts and bandages, K would no longer notice a ruffwear boot. Wrong. Here, she told me that she was incapable of walking with a boot on her paw.
She finally convinced me to remove the darn thing. She seemed much happier... but still obsessed over her paw. She hasn't seen her paw in about 10 weeks, and now it's missing a toe. I bet it's a surprising apparition in her mind!
You can also see in the above photo that K's left front leg has atrophied tremendously due to all the time it was in a cast. We have a long rehab ahead of us, but I am SO happy that we're probably embarking on that journey (assuming that the last pathology test doesn't show anything ugly).

Our stroll was short because I wasn't sure if K's paw was hurting her. I covered up her paw and headed out with R for a snow bike ride. Wow, the view from Hug Hill awed me with a veil of winter clouds curtaining the mountains below a brilliant blue sky.
Then, R popped up from the far side of the summit like the Flying Nun.
Here's the flying nun herself.
Pretty good resemblance, don't you think?

Our winter winds that relentlessly buffet us from the west have arrived. The Chinook wind becomes a constant companion when outdoors in the winter, muffling all other sounds and sapping my energy reserves. It's a flow of energy rocketing at us from the mountains, often whooshing so hard that I can't stay upright on my bike. I always wonder - Where is that energy coming from? If we're being infused with wind energy, someplace else must be in an energy trough...

After R's short ride with me, I went out on my snowbike to explore some of the most obscure trails that I know. To my utter surprise, as I struggled up a steep and snowy hillside, I spotted extremely fresh bear tracks. They were so fresh that the snow under the bear's heel was still loose, unlike old tracks that are frozen into place.
A smallish bear had walked through this snow shortly before I arrived. His hind track was only 6.5" long, unlike last week's bear whose tracks were somewhere around 7.25-8" long. Based on information from bear biologists, I am certain that today's track must be from a small male bear because the females probably snuggled into their dens a while ago.

I followed the tracks for a short distance, getting a good idea of the general area that the bear was aiming for. However, I didn't follow the tracks very far because the bear didn't have a big head start. Now, I have another area to search for a den later this winter!

Here's an example of an old track. I ran across a preserved track from the bear who came through a trail in the area more than a week ago. Last week's bear was big compared to today's visitor. The hind paw track has my chemical handwarmer next to it for scale (the handwarmer is 3.25" long).
I'm starting to wonder how much of my fall/winter I'm going to spend following bear tracks through the forest! But, I wouldn't do it if I didn't love it. I get a peek into a bear's life, and that peek never fails to fascinate me.

Thursday, November 25, 2010


K and I had a happy but stinging cold walk this morning. We both felt happy. K's stitches were taken out yesterday, and I'm starting to feel hopeful that we'll be walking further soon. We're still waiting for the new pathology report on her toe that will tell us a lot about our future.

She implored me to walk a little further with those mesmerizing eyes. I cannot say no to those glittering pools of gold.
I tried to say no - but then she fixed this look upon me. Okay, okay, I said... but don't tell our wonderful vet.
We strolled to a new boulder with a nice gradual ramp on its back side that K could easily walk up onto it and then survey her kingdom.
After taking a few photos of her, my fingers were frozen - so no more photo taking. I stuffed them into my pockets with chemical handwarmers cradled next to my white fingertips. I sat on the boulder, briefly, with K, feeling thankful that she's getting stronger.

If K's healing from her toe amputation goes as I hope and the pathology report is good, I think that she'll be gazing from far more dramatic vistas this winter. This photo is from last winter - at my favorite rock viewpoint that is well beyond K's walking range right now.
And, if we're really lucky, K will be romping with her brother through piles of powdery snow late this winter. This photo is from last winter.
After our short walk this morning, I procrastinated and procrastinated, hoping that the temperature would hit double digits before I started my snowbike ride. Alas, I finally gave up on that goal. It was 7°F when I headed out the door, wearing so many layers that I looked twice my normal size.

The sky glowed in eggshell blue, so crisp and clear that I felt like clapping my hands would shatter the gorgeous landscape into a jumble of glass shards. I missed my K. The last time that I visited the viewpoint below, none of the bad luck had hit yet, and she was by my side. She'll be back, I kept telling myself.
As I rode, I found that I was warm, even toasty, at times. I've learned the layering game over the past few winters. I was alone in the forest, aside from the wildlife. At one point, I glimpsed our elk herd on the other side of a hulking boulder outcropping. I dropped my bike, climbed partway up the boulders, and spied on them. I imagined a mountain lion doing exactly the same thing, waiting for one elk to wander too close to his hiding place. This is a small faction from our more than 100-strong herd.
As I rode, my mind danced over the past year and the amazing things that have befallen me. A year ago, I dreamed of getting one photo of a bobcat with a wildlife camera. Now, I have a couple of bobcats who visit my house regularly. This bobcat sauntered out of our clearing as dusk fell last night. In fact, I was quite nearby at the time taking a short walk with K.
Perhaps the most magical thing that happened to me over the past year was that I stumbled upon an occupied bear den just weeks after my neck fusion surgery.
What exactly made me peek in the dark cavern behind the hole in the snow? I don't know but I am still thankful that I did - although my heart rate went through the roof when I realized that I was gazing at a family of groggy bears.

My good luck led to a sneak peek into the secret family life of bears. Here, the two cubs played together. I think that the big one was a male and the smaller one was a female. The male has probably found his own home range far away from here. However, to my delight, the female probably still wanders our forest, having been gifted part of her mother's home range.
 Their mother was never far away, watching and protecting.
Visions of bears in that den accompanied me for most of my snowbike ride today. I think that I had a grin permanently fixed on my face.

I have a camera pointed at that den but I haven't visited it since June. I feared that my scent would scare away potential den inhabitants because bears apparently check out potential dens all summer long. Here, a male who I've dubbed "Scarface" visited the den in early spring. 
He even went into the cave and stayed for a couple of minutes before departing. You can see his rump disappearing into the den in the photo below.
Before Scarface's visit, two other bears had checked out the empty den. After seeing these bears surveying the den real estate, I did my homework and found out that I needed to promise to stay away from the den until the coldest and darkest days of winter so that my scent wouldn't scare away the bears. I've kept my word and will continue to do so. The bears gave me a gift by showing me their den, and I see it as a covenant between us.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you!