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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Out of kilter

I woke up this morning in undeniably bad pain. My herniated disc (L2-3) that sits adjacent to a fused section of my lumbar spine undoubtedly has been tweaked. Walking and standing hurt... but the lesson that I've learned over the past 20+ years of dealing with my back pain is NOT to stay still, no matter how tempting it may be. So, I tried pedaling a little. Amazingly, that hurt much less than walking. In fact, the further I rode, the better I felt. So, I rode through the forest with K by my side.

My sensitive K knew that my world was out of kilter and clung nearby watching me closely. As long as I stayed on my bike, I could move almost normally. As soon as I dismounted, I wanted to cry out of frustration with this never-ending battle with pain. It seems endless on some bad days, vaguely like the long view from a hill nearby, but nowhere near as beautiful.
Our world is bustling with life right now. In the depths of winter, if I stop, I sometimes hear no noise in the forest at all - just complete silence. That's never true in the summer. Birds sing, squirrels chatter, bugs call for mates, and aspen leaves quake. K and I stopped deep in an aspen grove whose columbines have just burst into bloom. The song of summer played loudly for us.
Oh, Columbines, how you embody everything wonderful about summer.
The pine pollen fog machine continues to spray our world in fine green particles. I wipe down the counters, leave for a couple of hours, and when I return, the counters look green and dusty again. The billows of pollen obscured the views of the pine tree covered hills and a mountain behind them.
But, those same pollen particles created amazing lighting early in the morning.
One event during our ride left me bewildered. Let me ask you, a general non-biased audience, how would you feel if someone who you've always allowed to cross your land to access a trail informed you that s/he'd paid to have your property surveyed a number of years ago to find out if s/he could assert a legal irrevocable right cross it? Said person admitted that the survey showed that there was no legal passageway so s/he needed our permission. However, I was appalled that this whole process happened without me being informed- so appalled that I actually forgot about my back pain for a little while. And, why did s/he inform me about this event now, years later? Didn't s/he know that I wouldn't be happy about the covert operation that had taken place on my private land? The thoughts and questions swirled through my brain with a dose of anger on top of them but I managed to remain polite during the conversation.

On much less controversial note, I've only photographed mammals from the carnivore family to date on Black Bear Trail - many bears, a mountain lion, and bobcats. Yesterday, a mule deer sneaked past a camera, looking very nervous.
He held his head low, like he was peeking for danger.
I think that the prey animals don't like black bear trail even the slightest bit because of its usual traffic of more dangerous animals. My camera showed that the velvet antlered deer quickly veered off the trail and into the forest.

This blogger was planning a mountain trip and a break from blogging starting tomorrow. So, if my back allows it, don't be surprised to see no posts for a little while. If we stay in town to wait for this spinal flare-up to hopefully pass, you may see another post or two.

I hope that you all enjoy the long days of summer! I'll keep enjoying them no matter where this wild ride of spinal degeneration takes me. I'm sorry if today's post isn't the most uplifting ever - but I can't fake joy. I'm sure that you all understand. It's best to be genuine.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Bears everywhere and my new mtb partner!

On Saturday night, we had typical bear-season night, where the dogs erupted into frenzied barking every time I started to drift into a deep sleep. We awakened to find a bear-proof garbage can overturned but intact. I headed out to check the wildlife cams and found no bear photos. Then, just 10 minutes later, the canine guards went berserk yet again... and I looked out the window to see a bear 5 yards away. I happened to have my camera in my hand.
His jet black fur glistened with water. Either he found a puddle to wallow in or he rolled in the dew on the grass. He was magnificent! Big, but not huge, and moved with a swagger. The sad part, as you'll see, is that a green tag embellished his ear. That means that he's been in trouble with people in the past. I'm so glad that all of our "bearproofing" efforts meant that he found no food here.

He went over to the base of the bird feeding station, first walking on four legs.
He contemplated how to break down our "bearproof" contraption.
Then, he assumed the pose that all our first-time bear visitors use, reaching up the birdfeeding station's cement-anchored pole. Way over his head, pipe "branches" extend horizontally with birdfeeders hanging from them.
He tried to shake the pole. No luck.
He tried to reach higher, and his head towered out of the camera's field.
I'm sure that I can reach that, he thought... And, I must mention that I'm pretty sure that he's a male based seeing him stand on two legs.
Next, he considered trying to climb the pole like he would climb a tree. Alas, his claws got no traction.For comparison, I stood at the base of the pole and put my "paws" on it after a bike ride. That bear is bigger than I am!
Finally, he gave up on the pole and contemplated other options.
He considered climbing a tree near the birdfeeding station. Here, he walked toward it before rejecting that idea.
He gave up on breaking into the birdfeeding station but surveyed our home for other signs of food.
Finding none, he took a slurp from the bird bath. This solved a major mystery for me - the mystery of why all the water in the bird bath disappears overnight occasionally in the summer. I think that the bears drink it! Sorry for the photo quality - it was via my window.
Thirst slightly quenched but still hungry, he lumbered out of our clearing.
I feel sad that this bear has an ear tag, meaning that he will be killed the next time that he does something bad. But, despite that, I always revel in seeing these mighty beasts in the forest around our house. He looked strong and fit. And, all our bearproofing worked! A good day...

Later that same day, I had the honor of mountain biking with my new riding partner. He rocks!
And then, he and his brother had a rock concert for Father's Day!
Recently, we've started each dog outing with recalls, recalls, recalls, to keep the dogs sharp in case we see one of the many bears wandering the neighborhood. K pranced to me this weekend.
This morning, the forest had an eerie ambiance as the sun filtered through clouds of green pine pollen. K and I mountain biked and enjoyed the world's unique hue.
Even the mountains behind K appeared shrouded in a pollen haze.
And the flowers sang a dazzling tune.
Bears, flowers, mountain biking - it must be summer in the mountains!

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Bear dens

I had a fascinating hike deep in the forest with a friend yesterday, exploring bear signs in our area. We found more "bear saplings", obviously freshly used, and contemplated new wildlife camera locations. Here was a dramatic sapling, whose top was snapped off at least a year ago but its branches were freshly snapped in the last month by a bear. Fur stuck to the recent wounds, showing us that it was the work of a back-scratching bear.
The top of the tree lay brittle dry on the ground at the base of the tree.
Black bear trail has been a haven for bears for a long time, based on the old claw marks on aspen trees and the many "bear saplings" that line it. We treaded softly hoping not to deter any bears from passing that way.

We wandered through a pine forest, noting a maze of animal trails and casually scanning for new den sites. We eventually made the arduous hike out of our way to visit the den that my cameras monitored last winter - we had a very hard time re-finding the den - it is SO well hidden. We discovered from the memory card on my wildlife camera that two bears, likely a female and male in hot pursuit, had visited more than a week ago. I believe that the "scarfaced" male is the same one who visited in April. Here's a short video of their visits and a bear traveling on Black Bear Trail.

This morning, we hiked/ran as a foursome, deep in a pine forest. K looked resplendent in the pine-filtered sunlight.
Her eyes glowed gold in the sun.
We briefly emerged from the forest, and saw a snowy mountain through a collage of green aspen leaves.
After the other three pack members headed home, I started on a very familiar trail that I'll never stop adoring.
But then, I explored, rolling my wheels over terrain that I've NEVER visited before. I love the feeling of being on the edge of lost... but still blindly trying to find my way. Do you see my trail here? The 12" wide path is deep in the foliage.
I crossed a spectacular meadow, so richly green that I almost couldn't believe it.
Then, I re-entered the forest, following next to a creek. I heard an animal crashing through the water-loving shrubs at one point, and I guessed that it was a bear but wasn't sure. Then, to my utter surprise, I found what I'm almost certain is a recently used bear den.

The hole under the boulders is about 24" wide and 18" tall, and the cave is deep. The ceiling never exceeds 18" (these dimensions are very similar to the active bear den that I monitored last winter). Moreover, the top of the entrance is well-rubbed by animals wriggling into the den. Moss and lichen cover every last inch of the boulders, except the inner walls of the den entrance - those have been rubbed clean. Wow, what a find!
Near the entrance, I found a well chewed and degraded humongous log. Just above the entrance, a bouquet of penstamons bloomed. I'm sure that the scene isn't so colorful in the winter!
This bear den is a fair distance from my house but I think that I'll visit with a wildlife camera after the world freezes this winter to see if the den is occupied. I absolutely cannot believe my luck, finding two dens in one year!

I finished my ride by plunging insanely straight into a forest in a direction where I had a vague notion that someone might have built a trail. After much bushwhacking, indeed, I found a buttery smooth and sinuous dirt trail heading down into a gulch. I connected it to a trail that I know, and VOILA - I have a new riding route. I love exploring!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Mountain peace

Early this morning, I sat on the deck with my coffee to watch the day begin. Hummingbirds frantically buzzed around the deck, vying for sugar water from our feeder. When the males became obsessed with their territorial squabbles and escalated to sparring, the females would silently sneak in for a sip. Meanwhile, the flycatcher couple called back and forth to each other, "I'm here", with the reply "I'm over here". Occasionally, one of them would flutter under the deck, trying to evade my notice as they tended to their eggs.

Then, from a nearby meadow, a lone coyote raised his head in song. Our black lab, R, lifted his snout to the air and joined the song. For a moment, the two canines seemed to sing back and forth, and then both fell silent.

I sat back and knew that this was why I lived here- the peacefulness, the beauty, and the animals.

Soon, R relaxed next to me, his coal black fur soaking up the early morning sun.
Eventually, I mustered the impetus to pedal onto the trails with K. It was a postcard perfect morning. K and I pedaled to a viewpoint and conferred about where to go next. A whole world stood open to us.
We decided to go west through wildflowers, pine forests, and aspen groves.
She explored over a small rise and I called her.
Over the rise, she sprinted a beeline to me.
As we swooped along, K stopped in an aspen grove that will soon be overflowing with columbine flowers. She sniffed the air. I wonder if she smelled the buds just opening all around her.
Oh how that gray muzzle that has emerged in the past year scares me. K is part of my soul and I hate to hear the ticking of the clock.

When we reached our turnaround point, two mule deer bucks stood statuesque in a meadow, each with soft velvet antlers. They pronked, kicking high in the air, in opposite directions, one toward the forest and the other toward the mountains. K restrained herself and did a perfect recall. I took the opportunity to practice a few more recalls, with K starting in a sit exactly where the deer had stood. Their scent must have been overwhelming to her. Can you pick out K sitting at the very end of the trail?
She galloped up the meadow's rise to me, with the enthusiasm of a puppy. Perhaps that gray muzzle is no big deal.
Those almost neon yellow flowers in the meadow were Golden Banner, the flower that I've mentioned frequently recently. This is their time to shine!
On our way home, K covered my back while I enjoyed a Boulder Raspberry blossom. These bushes flourish in the most harsh and unlikely spots, like in the midst of a boulder pile with no visible soil.
Today encompassed why I love my home in these mountains. Now, I have the luck of getting to hike with a favorite partner who is as fascinated with our animals as I am. What a day!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Summer beauty cures all pains

As any of you who suffer from chronic pain know, some days ain't so easy. Today was one of those. Rather than go on and on about it, I'll focus on the beauty around me.

Yesterday evening, we took a short hike and ate a picnic while watching the golden orb fall toward the snowy mountains.
During our outing, my hiking partner and I commented that it's easy to overlook the brilliance of our Golden Banner flowers because they're everywhere. So, we stopped to appreciate one single plant. Look what was on that plant - the most beautifully camouflaged bugs (I don't know what kind) that I've ever seen. We then searched adjacent plants... and found no more of these exquisite bugs.
This morning, I knew from the instant that I opened my eyes that it wasn't going to be one of my best days physically - the pain from the knots in my neck muscles had ratcheted up an octave. But, I also knew that the race of summer is underway. There was NO way that I was passing up mountain biking time in the forest with my chocolate best friend. We stopped in a peaceful spot, listening to the wind whoosh off the mountains, and K made a funny face. She makes me smile every single day!
When we stopped in a meadow that we visited for the first time this season, K walked the balance beam for me and then briefly paused to ponder a scent in the air.
As we stood there, a flash of red passed over us and landed on a pine branch - a Cassin's finch, posing just for me!
As we wound through an aspen grove, I heard raucous squawking from a hole in a large tree. Then, I noticed a male Hairy Woodpecker perched nearby with a bug in his beak, waiting for me to leave so that he could deliver it to his brood. The animals are so busy in our short summer!
Only a few yards further along, I noticed a plethora of short-lived flowers, Shooting Stars, that flourish in wet grassy areas. After our weekend of rain, they're having a wild party, the wildest that I've seen in a long time.
How can a girl stay morose with a world like this one surrounding her? It just ain't possible.