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Monday, February 28, 2011

Spring is coming!

I pedaled up high early this morning, with K by my side, arriving just after the sun had risen.
K and I didn't linger long. Although the air was relatively warm (25°F), a cold wind whipped off of the Divide. We just stopped long enough for a couple of photos.

The photo below is posed but in an interesting way. I've taught K hand signals so that I can direct her to climb up onto a boulder pile by an easy route and stand in a certain spot. Then, you can imagine that I didn't want her to leap off that tall boulder to the ground below her after the photo. I wanted her to retrace her steps, taking the easy way down. Hand signals did the trick again. It's amazing how much we can communicate to our dogs if we train them. I learned the "hand signal trick" back when I did canine search and rescue.
As K stood atop that boulder, I noticed twinges of pink near the tips of the bush that was almost touching her left shoulder. I looked more closely. Hooray!!!! Buds! Spring must be on its way.
After our impromptu photo session, K and I discovered that the condition of our trails improved substantially over the weekend. Sections were dry and wonderful!
But, then, less than 3 minutes of riding away from the dry spot, we hit snow that was as deep as my wheel axles under the trees. K ran through a shallow spot toward me, chomping on a rose hip as she galloped. She *loves* rose hips!
Several of you have asked about my cameras. When I ride my bike, I carry a bullet-proof, shock-proof, freeze-proof, crush-proof, and waterproof Lumix point-and-shoot camera. The photos so far in this post were taken with that camera. When I'm not on my bike, I use a Canon Rebel 2Ti SLR camera (a gift from my Dad in memory of my Mom's love of photography). Later in this post, I have a few photos from the Canon that I took during a hike with the Labraduo. I must admit that the Canon has spoiled me so I don't appreciate the Lumix photos like I used to.

After K and I finished our ride, I headed out to snowbike solo, determined to ride a favorite loop that deep and unpacked snow has closed off for weeks. After riding through packed snow to get to my favorite ridge, I found parts of the ridge trail to be bone dry. In the photo below, I was almost on the crest of the ridge and had glimpsed the mountains to my west.
The ride was wonderful, mainly because I enjoyed visiting the ridge so much after a hiatus. Huge drifts covered parts of the trail, and no humans had attempted to cross them. The drift below had been crossed by a bobcat and by a coyote. Those two species tend to avoid each other so I suspect that their passages were separated by hours.
Further along, I hit another dry section with a view that I love. Whenever I'm snowbiking on this ridge and see the ski area, I realize that I've found a way to be very happy despite my doctor's moratorium on telemark skiing. Telemark skiing used to be one of my favorite things to do.
I arrived home happy and tired. It was over 40°F, sunny, and bird songs filled the air.

In the afternoon, I took the Duo for a hike. My plan was to hike into a very snowy area, remove a wildlife camera that had sat dormant with no animal visitors for too long, and then hike to a sunny meadow to post the camera in a new spot.

The trail to the area where my camera was posted was comprised of packed snow so it was easy hiking if you chose to stay on the trail. Of course, my wild canine companions didn't make that choice. Here, R was mesmerized by something off the trail. (The rest of the photos are from my Canon - but storm clouds rendered the world very dark so the photos aren't the greatest).
R couldn't stop himself from wading into snow that was up to his tail. I called him back, and he porpoised and leaped toward me.
After hurdling the bush in the photo above, something caught his attention. He literally stopped in his tracks as he landed to stare into the forest. As I watch R's lithe and agile movements, I wish that I could have his athletic ability just for one day.
K was equally curious about something in the deep snow. At one point, I thought that she might need to resort to doggy paddle to escape the bottomless powder!
But, despite all that she's been through in the past year, K is still very strong. She leaped out of the snow, arriving at my feet.
The antics of my dogs never cease to make me smile!

Despite being distracted by the canine comedians, I achieved my goal. My wildlife camera that was in a snowy area is now on a sunny and dry slope surveying an opening between two meadows. My fingers are crossed that some animals walk past it. I'll be moving another camera soon - in an attempt to figure out where the wild animals wander in the winter months. My lonely cameras have taught me that the animals abandon many of their summer routes after the snow starts piling up in the forest.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Ecstatic wriggle

Yesterday, the Duo and I reveled in an evening hike. R looked distinguished in the tall golden grass of the meadow.
And, for once, K was the goofier one in the Duo, rolling and wriggling to her heart's delight. She seems absolutely fine after my mistake yesterday. Thank goodness. And, thanks to my vet for advising me, several years ago, to choose a food for R that wouldn't kill K if she ate it.

Thanks to all of you who helped me to stop be angry at myself about my mistake. Your comments were so supportive.

During yesterday's hike, to prove to me that she felt great, K demonstrated the art of an ecstatic snow wriggle:
When preparing to get up, use your head for leverage.
Shake as you get up.
Try to pull yourself together when you realize that a camera is pointed at you.
Say: "Who me? I wasn't being goofy."
After hiking and wriggling to the sounds of chickadees singing their spring songs and woodpeckers drumming on hollowed out tree trunks, we arrived up high to see the sunset.
We explored the plateau for a while, waiting for the final glory of the sky and mountains. As we explored, I slipped on an invisible ice patch and hit the ground hard. I lay still on the forest floor taking inventory of my body to see if I was OK (I was fine except for a sore neck). Meanwhile, the Duo sprinted over to me. You might think that they were running over to rescue me like Lassie might do. But, no, they were checking if my treat bag was open when I fell. They've learned that a wild tumble sometimes means a treat bonanza. Now that's true love.

Actually, it is. After finding a dearth of treats on the ground, K sat next to me, leaning against me in a comforting way. She stayed that way until I clambered to my feet like a stiff octogenarian. Ah, the love of a dog...

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My mistake

Yesterday, we waited and waited and waited for the internet repair technician to arrive for his 8AM appointment. His arrival time? 4:30 PM. And, to top it off, our internet was working perfectly when he arrived so he could do nothing. He did suggest, however, that a neighbor using a cordless device at a 900 MHz frequency (like a cordless phone, a baby monitor, cordless headphones) could easily completely knock out our internet. That's probably the problem but tracking down a seemingly benign device like that might be impossible.

The backyard birds waited along with me. My favorite, the pygmy nuthatch hid from the snow under pine boughs. Apparently, on very cold nights, hordes of these tiny birds huddle in sheltered places, like tree cavities and bird nest boxes. That's a wonderful vision.
On a neighboring tree, a Hairy Woodpecker looked hulking by comparison to the nuthatch.
When the Labraduo and I finally headed out for our afternoon hike, it was late and dusky although the new coat of snow brightened the world.
As we did a little bit of training, R gave me a heart-melting look. He seemed to say, please, please, can't we run? Yes, but after training.
This morning, to make up for our very brief foray last evening, the Duo and I were out snowbiking at the crack of dawn and watched the sunrise. The tranquil rest just before sunrise has become my most treasured instant of the day.
The Duo enjoyed it as well, as they sampled the breeze for interesting scents.
The dramatic pose... Um, actually, R was ready to bolt and play rather than stand around. That paw up was preparation for his exit!
We circled almost the entire trail network. It was perfect animal tracking snow yet I saw ONLY coyote tracks. I'm beginning to believe that many animals evacuate our forest and head to lower elevations or south-facing slopes when winter weather takes hold.

This is my first winter of having a number of wildlife cameras spread out in the forest. In places where multiple animals pass a camera per night during the spring, summer, and fall, I haven't captured a single animal in months. The coyotes are the only regulars, and I'm thinking that I should move a couple of cameras to their usual routes and learn more about their pack dynamics.

A coyote passes through our clearing every single night at almost the same time. Often, he doesn't stop under the birdfeeders. He just trots on through. We must be on his regular route.
After rolling around the entire trail network, I brought the Duo home, planning to feed them a quick breakfast and head out for a solo ride. In my hurry, I made a big mistake. I gave R's food to K and vice-versa. In most packs, this mistake would be no big deal. With K, it might be a very big deal. She has chronic pancreatitis that we've had under control for a couple of years now through very strictly controlling her diet. She eats special low protein and lowfat food to ward off pancreatitis.

I had a temper tantrum when I realized my mistake. I considered inducing vomiting in K (the vet wasn't open yet). But, before taking that drastic action (which can go awry), I went and re-read the nutritional data on R's food. I decided that it wasn't *that* bad for K. It's venison and sweet potato. It contains more protein than she should eat but the fat content isn't off the charts. So, I decided to watch and wait, hoping that K's system can handle it.

In the meantime, I went out for an intense bike ride, flogging myself to exhaustion because I was so angry about the fact that I might have hurt K. The vets have warned me that pancreatitis, especially the third or fourth bout of it, can be fatal - that's why I was so upset. The trails that I rode my snowbike on were pretty but I barely noticed. I just pedaled my anger out into the snow.
I arrived home and sprinted into the house to find K snoozing just like normal and obviously puzzled by why I was looking at her so carefully. So far, she still seems absolutely fine. My fingers are crossed.

R doesn't know that there's anything to be worried about. He just knows that, by some stroke of luck, he ate the fancy home-cooked breakfast that we made for K. He's sleeping like an angel.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Stormy skies

Yesterday afternoon, at our normal sunset hike time, the sky already loomed dusky as a storm moved into our area. The only brightness was a glimmer of color on the eastern horizon.
An impromptu pose on a shelf of boulders by the Labraduo...
The main elk herd, numbering over a hundred, was restlessly moving around in the forest and meadows that surround our house during our hike. As we started our hike, I could see that they'd recently marched close to our house, just skirting our clearing. I hiked toward the meadow to see if they were visible, and I saw another "superhighway" of elk tracks going in the opposite direction from the first elk superhighway. But, I saw no elk in the flesh.

One black Labrador was obsessed with the prospect of elk in the area. We've worked so hard to train him never to chase wildlife that I confidently let him off-leash. With the scent of elk in the air so strong that even I could discern it, we practiced many stays and recalls. Whenever he found a high point with a view, he stopped and stared in the direction that the elk had gone most recently.
When we moved further from the elk scent, R became more relaxed. He posed with his sister with the invisible Continental Divide behind them.
Near the end of our hike, I'd leashed the Duo because the forest seemed dark although it wasn't very late. As we passed the main meadow behind our house, I spotted the entire elk herd walking toward us, obviously planning to take a route that intersected with ours. They came to a halt and a hundred long necks with thick dark fur stretched upward, heads swiveling, as they assessed me and the Duo. The Duo was excited, but not overly so, much to my delight. In the fading light, I could take no photos but it was a special moment. I gazed back at the elk and then we moved along so that the elk could follow their chosen path without dealing with us.

Overnight, the promised storm started dropping snow on our forest. A coyote passed a wildlife camera near our house, and he looked up in an odd way. I wonder why? My best guess is that I'd just turned on a light because K had, uncharacteristically, asked to be taken out. I bet this coyote watched us as I took the leashed K outside. It's because of the wildlife that we absolutely never take the dogs outside after dark without leashes.
By this morning, only a couple of inches of snow had fallen. However, it was just enough to cover the ubiquitous ice patches that I've been whining about in recent days. Consequently, I rode very carefully today.

As I pedaled up higher, K climbed atop Coyote Rock, the rock that a coyote mounted to survey his surroundings one evening recently. The rust-colored rock with a coating of fresh snow against the steelshot gray sky was beautiful in a stark way.
The snow really whipped out of the sky sporadically. Our tracks were disappearing almost as fast as we made them. I saw absolutely no animal tracks, aside from the wide trampled trackways left by the elk herd last night.
K seemed enthusiastic, enjoying the new snow and running in the forest. Since her toe amputation in late November and subsequent rehab, her verve has fluctuated from day-to-day. I love the days when she's "on" like today.
All too soon, we were home, passing the same wildlife camera as the coyote passed last night.
My solo ride was disappointing. One look at the road told me to stay off of it, out of fear that a vehicle might lose control and hit me. So, I couldn't ride to any nearby trail networks with better conditions than our own. Indeed, when I returned from my short ride in our forest, a car had spun out nearby, landing next to the road with both airbags deployed, all four car doors open, and no passengers in sight. Within an hour, the passengers had returned to take their belongings from the non-functional vehicle and the authorities were on the scene. Remarkably and happily, no one was hurt due to the wonders of the safety features of modern automobiles. If only modern vehicles would prevent people from driving too fast in the first place, we'd all be safer.

Although I wished for a bigger adventure than riding on the trails behind my house, it was peaceful and relatively safe!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Life is good

Can you imagine how scary it is to be a rabbit living in the forest? As a rabbit, you'd be a prized meal for almost every carnivore in the area. In our forest, your enemies would include weasels, pine martens, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, and coyotes. That's not even including the aerial assaults by hawks, eagles, and owls.

One of my wildlife cameras keeps getting photos of this little rabbit, with a notch in his ear. I visualize that one of those predators almost captured this little guy. I'm rooting for him. He gets my medal of courage for today.
At a nearby camera, I frequently get coyote photos. It's a deadly game of canine and rabbit.
Every day, I try to spend some time exploring our forests, off-trail, searching for signs of animals. Two days ago, the Duo and I found undeniable signs that a mountain lion had visited a discrete overlook above where K and I watch the sun peek over the horizon at dawn. The lion had left behind a scrape in the snow and dirt, created with his gargantuan hind paws. For good measure, he'd also left some scat. I'm contemplating whether I should put a wildlife camera in that spot, for I know that lions have visited it regularly (but that can mean twice a year or twice a month, depending on the incomprehensible minds of the lions). While I investigated the scrape that the lion had made, K propped herself on a boulder, gazing down at our sunrise lookout spot.
It gave me the chills to see K adopt that classic predator pose because I visualized that a lion would do exactly the same thing. He'd be invisible from below but would have a view over a large plateau that deer and elk love to visit.

In the meantime, K and I are slightly more "on our toes" as we watch the sun rise. Today, the wind was blowing off the Divide, and K's ears flapped in the gusts.
Because K doesn't like the wind, I shepherded her to more protected spot.
I asked her to do a trick that she learned as a puppy. But, like many tricks, she had the misconception that she needed to stand at my feet to do it. So, for the fun of it, I've recently taught her to "take a bow" without scooting to my feet first.
K is a poster dog for positive training methods. Given her delicate disposition, she'd wilt under the pressure of "corrections" or me looming over her as the all-powerful alpha. Instead, we've developed a partnership, based on gentle teaching, that works for both of us. It's worked so well that I use it with R also, even though his disposition might be able to tolerate tougher training methods. I prefer the partnership and positive approach. It's much more fun than the alternative!

Today, after K and I took a snowbike ride together, I pedaled by myself to visit another trail network. Along the way, I saw a splinter faction of the elk herd. When the whole herd is together, they number well over a hundred. This year, I have the impression that they are under increased lion predatory pressure, based on lion tracks that I've seen near the elk. Perhaps that's why so many smaller groups of elk are wandering our forests and meadows.
As the sun emerged from behind some clouds, I passed a meadow dotted with aspen trees.
I rode through pine forests, catching glimpses of snowy mountains through the gaps.
And, finally, I emerged from the dense forests and saw glorious snow, aspen trees, and the deepest blue sky that I could imagine at an elevation of almost 10,000'.
That was my turnaround point. I rode home with the wind at my back and a nearly constant slight downhill pulling me toward home. I love snowbiking!

As always, the Duo and I headed out for a short sunset hike later in the day. R did a trademark enthusiastic recall, kicking up snow crystals behind him.
K let us know that she was not impressed.
Then, the sun fell low in the sky, lighting up the clouds in brilliant orange.
I captured the Duo in that sunset light.
Life is good.