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Friday, September 30, 2011

Chill out

To me, the natural world feels like my home. I delight in it daily - the luscious summer wildflowers, the brilliant autumn leaves, and the winter immaculate snow. R agrees with me - he is more attuned to the forest than most of us can imagine.
Yet again, the authorities want to log/burn our area, in the name of protecting against wildfire and its potential impact on the watershed that feeds Denver. Last night, I went to a meeting to try to influence the Forest Service Plans.

But first, I walked the Labraduo at sunset. It calmed my soul to be with them in our spectacular world.
At the meeting, many residents questioned the clearcutting, thinning, and prescribed burn plans. We pointed out that the last operation was never completed, and our forest contains huge piles of dead branches and saplings that were never disposed of. Moreover, the areas where the logging and burning was actually completed are now covered in noxious weeds. Finally, the loggers left behind garbage and logging roads that the residents had to deal with after the loggers departed.

The reply that we received outraged me. More than one ranger said: "The locals always care the most about forest aesthetics and the effects of the logging/burning on their daily lives. Frankly, those issues are not even part of our planning process. We have far more important things to think about.".

Believe me, the word "locals" was used with derision dripping from his voice. It was as if he thought that we were a bunch of idiots who only serve to get in the way. In fact, I think that we understand the forest ecosystem better than any "official" who doesn't live in the forest.

Here's what R had to say about his attitude!
We're allowed to "object" to the plan. However, after questioning the process, I finally wrangled the bottom line out of a ranger. The Forest Service themselves will make the final decision about our "objections" - so you know ahead of time how that decision will turn out. The only alternative is to hire attorneys and bring a lawsuit. You can imagine how mad that "fair process" made me.

R told me to quit being a drama queen and chill out, just like he does.
When it comes to irreversible actions like reaping destruction on our forests, with little regard for our wildlife or aesthetics, I'm not adept at chilling out.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Seeing red among the sea of yellow aspens

Our world is so gorgeous right now. I can barely ride my bike because I want to constantly take photos of the autumn beauty.
So, you can imagine my dismay when K and I rolled out onto the trails this morning and found some subtle things amiss.
First, there were truck tire tracks in a no motorized vehicle forest (I'm told that it was a US Forest Service truck by those who saw it). Second, the truck had tried to go through my favorite sinuous path in an aspen grove behind my house.
Of course, the truck didn't fit on the foot path. So, what did the brilliant USFS employees do? They cut down aspen trees - gorgeous and wondrous aspen trees. That was not subtle - that was egregious.
This is the start of what superficially seems like a logical wildfire "fuel reduction" plan. However, it shows the same blatant disregard for nature's beauty as our local Forest Service has displayed numerous times in the past. In fact, they've reaped destruction in our forests twice in the past 14 years in the name of "fuel reduction". I'm seeing red. There are ominous clouds on the horizon.

Finding the photo below on my wildlife camera certainly took a giant step toward cheering me up. Can you say "Doe Eyes"?
A doe and two youngsters hung around the camera for about five minutes. The fawns have lost their spots and look like miniature moms.
Oh how I love autumn, I love our mountains, and I love our aspen trees.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

In the dark of night...

And, in the brightness of an autumn day...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Splendid colors

Our world has suddenly changed colors. Now yellows dominate...
And, K's fur and eyes look different with the golden hue around her.
Some deep red hues also have popped out. Wild rose bushes have blood red leaves and candy red rose hips, and they covered the ground in areas like where K stood in the photo below. When K stands in the reddish landscape, her fur takes a rusty hue.
Both K and R think that rose hips are a delicacy. K nibbled on one as I took photos.
As I took the photos of K in the rose bushes, the sun was setting behind me in a kaleidoscope of reds, purples, and oranges, making the rose bushes look even deeper red.
Just as the world fell into darkness, a fiery orange danced above the Continental Divide.
This time of year is like Nature's last hurrah before going to sleep for the winter.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Unbridled joy

We have a favorite spot, a little lake that sits at around 10,000'. The best part is that it has no trails that go to it. We hike cross-country (a relatively short distance) to visit it year after year. We call it "Dog Leap Lake". Can you figure out the origin of the name from the next photo? Look for the stick flying through the air above the trees.
Since there are no trails that go to this lake and it doesn't appear on any "recreational" topo maps, we always have it all to ourselves. Our dogs adore it.
I laugh and giggle as I watch them frolicking. The unbridled joy of a Lab Duo playing in the water is unmatched.
Every dog who has ever been part of our pack, except for Rover who died before we moved to Colorado, has visited this lake. As our dogs played with this stick, I wondered whether it was the same stick as our previous dogs had fetched many years ago. Probably not - but it was a wonderful thought.
As the sun started dropping toward the horizon, it was time to hike out across high elevation meadows dotted with ponds that are still being fed by melting snowfields.
This day was part of our celebration of K's birthday. We believe that you can never celebrate a wonderful dog too much!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Autumn alpine hike: the story

K and I took a hike up high on the day before her birthday as a way of celebrating our years together.

I was elated that she was able to be climbing the rocky slopes with me for, one year ago, she was having a toe amputated. She seemed to feel fabulous right from the start. When we were still down in the land of green and red vegetation, she sparkled, ready to climb high.
Alas, I rapidly realized that I was the weak partner on this hike. Every step hurt like someone putting a hot iron against my back and then sending electrical jolts down my leg. Often, however, I am surprised to find that I get better as a hike goes on. So, I kept hiking upward with my girl.

I forgot everything else as I reveled in the autumn color of the tundra and K's reddish chocolate fur.
We rapidly exceeded our highest hike of the season to that point. We gazed down upon places that we'd hiked earlier this summer.
K found snow, fresh snow that had fallen in the previous few days. She stopped at each patch to cool her belly and eat a birthday snow cone.
I was feeling a familiar high altitude happiness except for that awful soul-shaking pain. My back pain wouldn't leave me alone, not for a single step. Although I tried to ignore it, I found myself emitting loud sighs of pain which evoked worried looks from K. When we reached the point in the hike shown in the photo below, I knew that I wasn't going to be able to climb to the top of the mountain. I climbed it last year with no problem. Not this year...
K didn't seem ready to give up on the climb yet.
But, being an easy-going dog, she was also happy to play on the tundra, leaving the peak for next year.
I found the mental strength to climb up to the edge of the mountain, where it appears that the far side of mountain fell off, leaving jagged and steep cliffs, covered in a glacier that feeds turquoise lakes.
K expected that we'd keep climbing, and she focused on the peak as I tried to explain to her that I couldn't go up there.
I took lots of photos of her in the glowing alpine light. You can see the fresh snow clinging to the cracks in the mountainside to the right of K.
Finally, she turned around as I pointed us down the mountain.
Oh what amazing views. I wished that I could stay there, on top of the world, forever.
We descended as the sun fell lower in the sky. I knew that we had plenty of daylight to make it to the car but I'd brought a headlamp just in case...
We chatted with a family of marmots on our way down (we hadn't seen any humans since the trailhead parking lot). They looked fat and ready for a long winter's sleep which will undoubtedly start soon. It won't be long until this mountain gets its first real coating of snow.
As the sun fell behind a pointy mountain, I captured a soulful look from K, my gorgeous birthday girl. Despite my back pain, I was giddily happy to have spent the day above treeline with her.
On that day, I wondered which of us was aging faster. It might very well be me.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Happy Birthday K!

Happy 8th Birthday to K! This hike was a celebration for her.
A friend just sent me this quote:
"It came to me that every time I lose a dog they take a piece of my heart with them. And every new dog who comes into my life, gifts me with a piece of their heart. If I live long enough, all the components of my heart will be dog, and I will become as generous and loving as they are." --Unknown

K has become a "heart dog" for me and as was her departed predecessor, Acadia. At one time, K was my "new dog" who had just come into my life. I cannot believe how many years, bike rides, hikes, and hugs we've had since that day. K has woven her spirit into the fibers of my heart and become a part of my spirit.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Celebration hike and mountain lion visit

A long time ago, I earmarked today to have K's birthday adventure, an outing for the two of us to hike up high into the alpine tundra. It's been our annual tradition but, last year, K had to have surgery on her birthday due to what we eventually learned was a bone infection in her toe. In the end, it led to the amputation of her toe. The vet said that K might not be able to mountain bike or do tough hikes after the amputation but, to my giddy delight, K still does those things without showing any pain. I've just scaled back the length and difficulty of our hikes and rides, and it's worked beautifully.
This year, I am determined not to miss her celebrations (we also plan to celebrate as a pack in the near future) but I have a very sore throat this morning. I'm going to try to pretend that I'm not sick so that we don't miss our big day. I hope that we can hike up above treeline since we both love it so much!

Earlier this week, I mentioned that a mountain lion had passed through the middle of our trail network at 4 PM on Sunday, a relatively busy time for human hikers on our trails. The lion visited a scentpost where numerous animals have marked over the past year, including multiple mountain lions, bobcats, and coyotes. Both deer and elk visit the spot to sniff the markings. This mountain lion was drawn to the spot like iron to a magnet.
After sniffing, he set up to scrape the ground with his hind paws and urinate, looking very Zen as he did it.
But then, something startled him - I'll never know what it was. I suspect that a hiker passed by on a trail that sits about 50 yards away from this spot, and the lion whipped his head in that direction.
He walked directly to the position where it's possible to see the trail without being seen by whoever is on it.
Then, he stood there for a long pause before walking onward.
I believe that I've photographed this lion many times in the past (examples include January, August, and earlier this month). Interestingly, this lion is active in daylight more often than other lions. I've never seen him mark his territory before. Generally, males mark far more often than females so I'm now guessing that this is a male.

Only one other mountain lion has ever marked this scentpost. All the others sniff it and walk by without leaving their calling cards. The lion who marks it possesses bulging  muscles and has avoided being collared over the two years that I've photographed him. I suspect that he's *the* dominant cat around here. You can see his behavior here and here.
I made a flipbook video of the recent mountain lion visit which you can view here or at Youtube.
I absolutely love getting photos of these elusive creatures.