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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Seeing red

I was sitting on my deck on this glorious summer day, enjoying the buzzing of hummingbirds, chirping of Flycatchers, and the sound of wind through the pine trees.
Then, I caught a waft of smoke. Yes, smoke.

It dissipated so fast that I thought that it was an apparition. So, I returned to enjoying the day. A few minutes later, another waft hit me. That's odd, I thought.

I went inside to get a drink, and when I returned to the deck, there was absolutely no doubt that I smelled smoke. It smelled fresh and close. I remember that horrendous day last September when a huge wildfire broke out nearby much too well to ignore the smell of smoke. Here's what I spotted during my bike ride that day.
So, I stopped lazing around on the deck. K and I went for an upwind walk, searching for the smoke source. I was headed toward a spot where a non-resident neighbor likes to have camping parties, where I knew that that a fire ring sat surrounded by the carnage of dead trees, felled for the building of a house that never materialized. Someone camped there two nights ago so I thought that maybe the fire had been smoldering for that long and today's wind had whipped it up.

As we approached, the smoky stench seemed to disappear so I thought that my hunch was wrong. However, for my peace of mind, I wanted to see the fire ring with my own eyes. K and I wandered around the vacant property, finally finding the ring of stones.

And, yes, flames and smoke were flickering up from it, despite the fact that there was no one in the vicinity. The light wind was pushing the fire and smoke toward our house. I turned and hurried, as fast as my body would go, back to home to call the firefighters. I had visions of the view from near our house during last year's fire that fueled me to move fast.
The sheriff and firefighters responded quickly and put out the fire. Thank goodness.

Imagine what would happen if another fire like last year's erupted. Our Mabel and her cubs would be dead.
The precious bear trees, marked every summer for decades, would be charred sticks.
The beautiful spotted saxifrage would vanish.
The delicate fawns would flee for their lives and maybe outrun the flames.
And, it would be decades before Columbines would bloom again.
The Prince's Pine would take years to regenerate.
I cannot bear the thought of what a wildfire would do. Most of all, I cannot bear that other people don't cherish and protect our little paradise. It makes me see red.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Storms nipping at our heels

Storms have been nipping at our heels all week long. Even first thing in the morning, the columnus clouds have puffed up above the Divide.
Then, during my bike rides, clouds move in from all sides.
The high peaks spawn the storms which usually hit sometime after mid-morning.
I finished my bike rides in pleasantly chilling rain many days this week.
On some days, the sun would reemerge and dry the flowers like this Western Spiderwort (Tradescantia occidentalis) that I found blooming in a pocket meadow on a steep hillside. I'd never seen one before but I loved its delicate details.
We often hiked under ominous skies in the evenings this week. You can also see in the photo below how fast R's "brindling" is transforming his face. Today, a stranger questioned whether he was truly a Lab. An outrageous question, don't you think? R was mortified.
All of the storms and clouds have painted stunning sunsets.
You'll notice in my narrative that I'm continuing all my normal activities, except really hard alpine hikes (which are not "normal" for me), despite the intensified spine pain. Like my commenter, Marilyn, I find that staying active is the key to dulling the pain and preventing its escalation.
Many years ago, when my spine staged its first horrendous rebellion, my doctor prescribed bed rest. It was the worst thing that I could've done but I didn't have any wisdom about managing spine pain yet. I've learned, through trial and error, to keep moving, no matter what. Even after each of my spinal fusion surgeries, I've started nagging the nurses to let me try to walk the hospital halls within hours of waking up. I think that I was the nurses' worst nightmare patient but moving is my answer to pain!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Days of our animals

Many of you asked about R yesterday. He is feeling much better! Our vet says there's been an epic outbreak of GI infections due to a plethora of standing water with bacteria growing in it. Yes, R has been known to take a slurp from almost any body of water including muddy puddles!
K is feeling good too, standing tall with storms behind her. I had planned to take her for an alpine hike today but the stormy weather and my back pain deterred me. I hope that we get up high sometime soon.
My health has been the biggest problem in the past couple of days. My fused neck and lower back are hurting more intensely than usual. Fortunately, I've found treasures at my wildlife cameras to distract me while I hope that the electric pain passes.

This is a gorgeous buck with velvet antlers. His facial fur looks a bit too thin and his face looks scarred. However, otherwise, he looks super healthy!
A bear visited a couple of cameras. Mating season is over so the ursine obsession with marking trees has waned (although they'll still mark trees occasionally all summer and fall). Now, the bears are focused on getting as fat as possible before fall hibernation. Believe it or not, most bears keep losing weight through mating season. It's only now, months after emerging from hibernation, that they'll start to lay down fat for their winter sleep.

In this season, unlike mating season, even adult bears notice my cameras. I'm pretty sure that my scent near the camera caught this bear's nose because he was already turning toward my wildlife camera when the first photo was snapped.
Then, head down, he oriented fully toward it. You can see his soaking wet fur. He'd been out in one of our intense afternoon thunderstorms that roll off the Divide almost daily in mid-summer.
He started sniffing the area.
He sniffed the area some more. Perhaps he recognizes my scent since I visit all the nooks and crannies of our forest!
Finally, he decided that it was time to move on without ever looking directly at the camera. That leaves no doubt in my mind that scent, rather than the sight of the camera, was what drew him toward the camera.
One of my goals with these cameras is to map out the routes commonly used by our carnivores, including black bears. I finally put together another piece in the puzzle. About 0.4 miles away, this bear turned off the main path and headed up a gully.

Again, he took interest in the area around my camera.
He decided to take a seat near it, looking down the gully like my camera does.
He was very relaxed. Obviously, the presence of my scent near the camera didn't upset him. He settled in for some scratching.
After scratching his chin with his hind paw, the bear ambled away. I don't know where he went next. That'll be the next piece in the puzzle for me to untangle. The lives of our wildlife are a never-ending mystery for me to contemplate.

I love my wildlife cameras. They give me glimpses into what the animals are doing during each phase of the year. One of my favorite parts of living in the mountains is sharing the forests with fascinating animals.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Sights from the past week

A hummer perches

K contemplates

Amazing caterpillar (Does anyone know what kind it is?)

Prince's Pine

Regal and healthy K!

Not so regal!

Storms at sunset

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Lion, fawn, and bear cub!

Our internet connection has become completely non-functional again. After giving our current company many chances to make things right, we've decided to have a new (satellite) system installed tomorrow. My fingers are crossed that I'll have a good connection after the installation. Many people have warned me that satellite internet has many frustrating characteristics but we're betting that it's better than no internet at all! On the positive side, we have a 30 day trial period so we can quit if it turns out to be no good.

Fortunately, my trail cameras are still working beautifully (unlike my internet). A collared mountain lion, one who looks familiar to me, passed a camera last night.
Then, this morning, a fawn came on the same scene and paused.
The fawn must have smelled the lion because he sprinted away with his spots in a blur!

About a mile away, the rebellious cub who we've been following all spring and summer visited a scent post. I feel certain that his mother and obedient sibling were lumbering by the scent post out of view of the camera. They've been foraging on a nearby hillside that is now covered in Buffalo Berries. Meanwhile, this independent cub wandered off to investigate the popular scent post. This is the site where I've photographed numerous mountain lions, bobcats, coyotes, deer, and elk.
I made a flipbook video of the cub's short visit to the scent post which you can watch here or at Youtube. He's looking healthy and is growing fast! However, I bet that he's giving his mother gray fur with his curious forays!

Meanwhile, we've been having more stormy days with afternoon thunderstorms, creating gorgeous skies and very green meadows.
However, we've been squeezing in dog romps between the storms. Poor R is suffering from a GI upset so he's a little under the weather. In a reversal of their usual roles, K is romping with more abandon than he is.
I'm betting that R will be back to 100% very soon now that he's taking medicine to eradicate all those bad bacteria in his gut.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Photos from our alpine celebration!

K and I hiked toward the sky on Friday. We climbed up a mountain path carved into a mountainside.
Wildflowers dotted the mountainside, especially early spring flowers like the Globeflowers in the foreground. The snow melted from this trail only last week so the wildflowers are weeks behind their usual blooming times.
K eagerly looked toward the top, wanting to keep heading up toward the Divide.You can see her shaved belly from the ultrasound that she had the day before this hike. I forgot to put sunscreen on it but it didn't burn.
But, we had to pause for a photo with the mountain Columbines. Usually, the mountainside is covered in these delicate gems at this time of year but they're saving their full glory for later this year.
K stopped at each snowfield for a wriggle. You can see the leash. In fact, K spent most of the day on leash in this wilderness area but I briefly unsnapped it for most of the photos.
At the edges of the snowfields, Glacier Lilies bloomed.
Soon, K and I reached the Divide. K gazed at the craggy west face of the mountains.
We also gazed at the lakes on the west side of the Divide. One lake that's known for its Columbines (in the left of the photo) was still snowbound although its turquoise color barely shined through the snow.
K seemed to want to go visit that lake as her laser-like attention focused on it.
Instead, we hiked along the Divide to a lake nestled under its peaks. Surprise, surprise - we were the only ones at the lake!!!
Since we were alone, I let K take a dip. She swam around in circles, staying in the frigid water for longer than I thought was possible. You can imagine how cold the water was based on the snowfields melting into it.
She scrambled onto a boulder after swimming.
Then, she lay among the yellow Alpine Avens that dotted the ground.
Although they can't be seen in the large view of the lake, Alpine Forget-Me-Nots thrived near the lake. These tiny jewels bloom only on the alpine tundra.
All too soon, it was time to start descending. We paused for one more peaceful view to the west.
Then, we turned our view to the east and the valley that we'd be descending.
I love sharing this beauty with my K, especially since it had been such a journey to get her healthy enough to climb to the pass. Much to my delight, she didn't get even slightly sore after the hike, despite navigating alpine talus slopes with her three-toed paw for the first time. I am thrilled!

Many thanks to my good friends who let me use their fast internet connection so that I could upload the photos!