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Saturday, June 30, 2012

A gift...

While I was hiking with K today, I realized that I've allowed a flame of hope ignite in my heart. As I watched K happily trotting through the forest, I thought, "maybe, just maybe, the new anti-cancer drugs are working". I was thinking about this partly because K has a cancer check-up on Tuesday. Indeed, back when I made her upcoming appointment a month ago, we thought that K might not be alive by the time the appointment date arrived.

Then, in the midst of the maelstrom of thoughts swirling through my head, I realized that I actually have what I want right now. A happy K hiking with her happy brother R.

It's hard being human. Our nature makes us always look to the future. I tend to miss the obvious - the gift that is right in front of me.
The other evening, K and I went for an evening hike. Because K hasn't liked to clamber on boulders since her osteosarcoma tumors appeared six months ago, I had her do a "sit-stay" while I climbed out onto a rocky promontory for a better view of the smoky and fiery sunset.
Then, I looked over my shoulder. My K had broken her "sit-stay" to stand guard over me. She's taken this role for her entire adult life. When I'm peering through my viewfinder and not watching my back, she does it for me. My best friend is still here and watching over me.

I scrambled up to her for a big hug. A gift...

Friday, June 29, 2012

Foto Friday

Smoke is hanging heavily in the air, with its acrid smell burning our throats. But, we had no new fires near us today, and that is a victory. Since, in the stress of the fires, I forgot that it was Wordless Wednesday earlier this week, I'm having Foto Friday today. These are images from our recent trip to the high mountains of Colorado. I hope that you enjoy them. They bring back that calm feeling of the high mountains to me, which is a good thing.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


We had big storms today but they were accompanied by brief and intense rain. Consequently, the lightning strikes near us didn't turn into fires. Thankfully, so far, it's been a low stress day for us with no mad dashes to flee any fires. However, numerous small fires are burning throughout our county from lightning strikes. And, the thunder is rumbling out there again. Thanks for all of your kind emails and comments - they are helping my spirits so much.

K continues to amaze us. In the middle of last week, her lungs were slowing her down a lot, and her hind legs seemed weak and clumsy. I feared the worst. Fortunately, the hind end weakness lasted only one day and has not recurred. Moreover, her lungs aren't getting perceptibly worse. We are SO happy that we didn't cancel our weekend camping trip (we almost did because we thought that K was too sick for it). It seemed like visiting our favorite place breathed new energy into K.
Over K's lifetime, we've visited our weekend campsite many times, and she has joined me for countless long and fun mountain bike rides high above treeline near the campsite. Alas, this time, mountain bike rides with K were out of the question but we reveled in our short hikes through the meadow.
As far as I'm concerned, K is now beating her most recent prognosis by a long shot. She's still hiking every day, and seems to be holding her own against this disease, despite many warnings that the disease was winning. I'm taking it one day at a time but we've had a string of good days that have left me smiling about K.

Imagine if K had listened to those prognoses and given up? Imagine all that we would have missed. I'm learning so much about life from K each and every day.

One of the things that I've learned is not to give up on things that K and I used to do together, even though I miss K while do them without her. In that spirit, I went on mountain bike rides while K hung out with the boys during our camping trip. The trails were divine, and I could feel K's spirit sitting on my shoulder as I rode.
K doesn't seem to mind at all when I depart on my bike without her. I think that she understands that mountain biking would be too hard for her now, and she simply accepts it. She revels in what she can do rather than moping about what she can't do. If only we humans could learn to take such an optimistic outlook!

On a different topic, the bears aren't giving up, despite what is looking like an extremely dismal food year. They're still showing some mating season behavior even though my calender says that mating season is over.
This large male was doing the dance of his life! Socks, our 2-year old female came through that night, and she sniffed this tree with interest. I wonder if this male will get together with Socks! Bears get together with multiple partners during mating season. Socks was with Milton, the biggest bear in our forest, earlier this summer.
After mating season, a sow's fertilized eggs hang out in suspended animation until the start of hibernation. The eggs implant in the uterus wall and start developing only if the mother is fat and strong enough to support cubs. If she's not fat and strong enough (e.g., after a drought summer), the fertilized egg never develops. I suspect that many sows will not have cubs this winter because food is going to be so scarce for the rest of this summer.

Indeed, look at this yearling bear who I captured with a trail camera for the first time the other day. He is painfully thin. It makes me so sad to see him barely eking out an existence.
I desperately hope that our bears can survive this incredibly tough drought.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fires, fires, fires

Thanks so much for all of your kind words about the Colorado fires. Although we are extraordinarily worried right now, other parts of Colorado are having a much tougher time. Our thoughts are with them.

Today was one of the more stressful days that I can remember. Our amazing peaceful time in the high mountain meadow last weekend seemed like years ago. Over the weekend, the Duo enjoyed each other while playing in that meadow.
And, K looked regal while standing in front of a towering mountain.
This morning, our world seemed calm enough. The nearby large fire was not growing, and I had time for a bike ride after K and I hiked.

Because of our drought, many wildflowers are not blooming this year. One of my favorites, Prince's Pine (a wintergreen) is suffering. So, a month ago, I chose one plant on one of my usual riding routes to water every time I pass it. Each time I pass it, I give it a little of my drinking water. Well, that one plant had one blossom today! It's such a delicate little flower. Seeing this flower makes me feel like I can help at least one suffering plant.
Later in my ride, views of the big wildfire hit me hard. As the crow flies, this fire isn't that far from us but the prevailing winds tend to blow it away from us. Of course, others are in its path, and we're thinking of them.
I saw the aerial bombardment underway. Huge tanker planes dropped fire retardant...
Helicopters dropped water.
Later in the day, these fiery visions seemed benign. An intense lightning storm came through our area and struck ground in several different places near our house. At one point soon after the storm, at least 3 wildfires were burning within a half mile of our house. It was time for a full-out sprint to put the last things in the vehicles, close all the house windows, unlock all the house doors, turn on all the lights in the house, load the dogs, and escape.

Just as I finished that process, I received word that all the fires that were looming so close to our house were contained. I collapsed into a chair, my adrenal glands depleted. I needed a cup of coffee to get moving again because my exhaustion was so complete.

Now, we're going for a little "sunset" hike to try to relax... More storms are forecasted for tomorrow - our whole community is now terrified of lightning storms. Most of all, I'd far prefer to be having relaxing days with K than be monitoring dangerous fires all day long.

Many thanks to the dedicated firefighters who have controlled the fires that have broken out very near my house in recent days. Now, please, let it rain!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Out of our hands

We had an amazing weekend enjoying the glorious beauty of the Colorado mountains. We traveled up to a high meadow, in the cool air above 11,000'. This spot has been a long-time favorite for our family. K was exuberant the whole time that we were there, rolling in the grass, galloping, yipping, and joyful. She was so joyful that she could barely contain herself at times.
It was as if K knew that we were perhaps in our favorite place as a family for the last time. She wasn't wasting time being wistful but was reveling in every instant. To be perfectly honest, I thought that we were close to the end of her life last week - a whole host of things seemed to be going wrong at once. Now, in contrast, she's humming with energy and as happy as can be. I am so thankful, and I've never been so aware that life's course is out of my hands as I am now.

Over our time in our favorite meadow campsite, we did notice that the horizon became progressively smoky. We listened to the radio and heard about the many fires in our wonderful state. On Saturday, 8 were burning. Today, I think that there are fewer but the remaining ones are huge and out of control.
Indeed, we arrived home last night, and a fire broke out close to us early this afternoon, caused by a dry lightning storm. Nearby forests are burning... and it breaks my heart. This photo is of K in the forest this morning.
We're packing our vehicles and preparing to leave. At this moment, the nearby fire is moving away from us so we doubt that it will threaten our home unless the wind reverses itself. However, with the parched forests surrounding us and more electrical storms forecasted for tomorrow, we know that whether our home burns is out of our hands.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Better to burn out than to fade away...

Summer has arrived all at once here. Every wildflower seems to be blooming now, even the ones that normally don't bloom until August. I think that the heat and drought is causing all the animals and plants to move their schedules earlier.
After romping in very cool weather yesterday, K was a little "off" today. Perhaps it was the return of the heat. We're in contact with her oncologist who wants to take a wait and see approach. I was happy to see that K wanted to run around during our morning hike.
It also didn't stop her from glowing in the morning sun.
I might not have time to post over the next few days. Please don't worry if we are quiet. I promise to post if anything changes with our amazing girl.

"Better to burn out than to fade away..." Neil Young. K lives by that motto so we'll keep having fun.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Few Words Wednesday

My inspiring girl - from this morning

Sunset Light

I'm coming to get you...

Sunset - thanks to the Runner and R for their patience!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Cracker Jacks Box

K had a great day yesterday, despite what is scorching heat for us mountain dwellers. In the morning, we made it to Hug Hill, a big accomplishment for K these days. I like this photo with the mountains and a flying bird behind K.
In the evening, we took a relaxing but still hot sunset hike. K glowed as she ran in the meadow.
And, she glowed happily as I put her on a "pedestal". It was one of those days when I dared to hope - maybe, just maybe, the latest chemotherapy drug is slowing her disease. Our regular vets seem very surprised that K is still hiking based on the state of her lungs, which is why the tiny bit of hope that the new drugs are working appeared in my heart.
But, as all of you know who have been through a journey like this one, hope is scary when a person has started the process of accepting the inevitable ending. Indeed, that tiny bit of hope made it harder for me when K seemed sluggish and tired today.

When it was time to get out of bed this morning, she didn't look thrilled.
When K remembered that breakfast follows getting out of bed, her attitude improved immensely. Then, we had a nice lazy walk, with both of us moving slowly. I know that the heat is finally really getting to me. Perhaps that's what is bothering K as well.

I dragged myself through my day, feeling tired, hot, and sad. I usually love my mountain bike ride - but not today. Then, I found some funny photos on a wildlife camera close to the house. A curious bobcat decided that it was time to check out the funny glowing box on the tree.

First, he walked directly at it with his eyes fixed on it. It's in black and white because the world was getting dark at the time when he visited.
The camera is mounted a little higher than his head so the first view was of his ears. Look at the tiny tuft sticking up out of the tip of his left ear!
Then, he must have put his paws on the tree to get a better look. I bursted out laughing when I saw this one. I love our kitties.
Wildlife cameras remind me of Cracker Jacks Boxes. Remember the surprise toys in the bottom of those boxes? Checking a wildlife camera reminds me of my childhood excitement over the toy in the Cracker Jacks box. When I check the photos, sometimes I find something that really makes me smile!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Astounding K and Bear Questions

K continues to astound me. Despite her dire health situation, she still rises to the occasion most mornings to have lots of fun.
Last week, I believed that we were within a week or two of the end. Now look at her!
I am treasuring these days with her. If I could grab onto time and hold it in place, I would. Alas, that's not within my power. And, K isn't wishing for such silly things. She's loving every day of her life. Her spirit has taught me so much about life and living every single day with all the joy that we can muster.
Today, after I hiked with K, I went to check some wildlife cameras during a bike ride. I learned that "Cinnamon Bear" is fine, and Milton didn't scare him away from our territory. He's still marking trees and searching for mates.

These photos of Cinnamon Bear are from a new camera site. I noticed this tree because the bears have left deep imprints where they stomp their paws as they mark this tree. First, Cinnamon Bear sniffed it.
And, then he marked it! He wasn't hurt by Milton during the chase the other day, that's for sure.
When using trail cameras, I always have to strike a balance between getting close-up photos versus keeping my camera well-hidden from thieves. My cameras are locked but one thief cut my locks a few years ago. So, the photos of this tree are from pretty far away to keep the camera hidden.

You asked some great questions about the "Dancing with Bears" post from the other day. First, K wears a bell on her collar to forewarn wildlife that we're approaching. We bought the bell years ago after K (as a young pup) chased a bear out of the woods and right toward us. The bell has the nice side benefit that I always know where she is when she's off-leash. That's especially good for me, with my fusions in my spine, because I can't twist to look for her very easily.

Second, yes, all of these bears are called "Black Bears". It is a silly name for the species because they can be cinnamon or jet black... but they're all the same species.

Third, yearling bears (like the little girl we've been observing with patches on her sides - I believe that she was one of the cubs we saw last year) sometimes breed. This year, I believe that "Patches" bred with "Milton" because they walked together on the bear path a couple of times within a few days. That's a hard combination to imagine because Milton is many times bigger than Patches! Here's a photo of little Patches from earlier this year. Her patches are not as obvious as in the video from the other day.
Two-year old bears always breed if they're in good health. I believe that "Socks" is a 2-year old female because I captured footage of her being chased away from her mother by a suitor last spring. Last year, Socks acted like she was scared near the bear trees. This year, she's not scared anymore, and I caught photos of her consorting with Milton too! Milton will have a lot of cubs running around here next year. A photo of "Socks" is below (her legs are black while her body is brown. Hence the name "Socks").
Fourth, I believe that the patches on the sides of the yearling, Patches, are places where she scraped against a rock or tree, perhaps as she crawled through a tight space. Her mom had a similar patch last year.
Fifth, Nancy K pointed out that Milton is the only one who actually marked the tree that was shown in my "Dancing with Bears" video. I hadn't realized that fact until I went back through all my footage since I installed that camera in mid-April. It's true! Perhaps, Milton's overwhelming scent scares off all the other males. Milton is undoubtedly the ursine king of our territory.

Thanks to all of you for "putting up with" my love of bears! One of K's nicknames is "KBear"!
This photo of her makes me melt. If only I could stop time from marching forward...

Sunday, June 17, 2012

A great day for R

It's a hot, dry, and dangerously windy day here in Colorado. In the background on my computer, I'm listening to the police and fire scanner - so I'll know if any wildfires are starting. It's that kind of day...

And, my K is relaxing on the deck.
Right from the start of our walk this morning, K let me know that she wanted to take it easy. She wanted to stop and lie under the shade of trees, roll in the grass, and nibble on berries. She most definitely didn't want to move fast. I complied, of course. K's the boss.
We wandered and lingered and enjoyed a day together. At one point, I decided to "hat" K with my "chocolate" hat.
After our funny photo, we walked past endless gorgeous flowers. Everything is blooming at once this year, perhaps due to the heat and the drought. A wild rose...
And a bee diving into a Columbine's pollen...
Some days this spring and summer, due to my sadness about K, I haven't even noticed the beauty around me. I did this morning because K told me that she wanted to go slowly and smell the flowers. New lessons at every step of this journey...
For R, it was a fabulous day. He's been on restricted exercise for 3 weeks because of a sore elbow. R had elbow surgery to fix elbow dysplasia more than 3 years ago. It's been an incredibly successful surgery but, after our trip to the desert, he developed a limp. Fortunately, 3 weeks of rest and Rimadyl fixed the limp!

This morning, he embarked on his first run. R was ecstatic! He leaped vertically as he realized that he was going running!
Come on, let's GO!!!! I'll lead the way!
I had to smile for the Runner and R - they can enjoy their morning runs together again. For a while, R was getting so upset when the Runner headed out onto the trails without him that he'd wail mournfully for the entire time that the Runner was gone. Finally, the Runner decided to trick R by wearing "street clothes" over top of his running clothes. Then, he'd exit the door as if he was going to do something really boring, like drive to town. He'd shed his street clothes behind our house where R couldn't see him. R fell for the trick, thank goodness! We both hated hearing him sound so very sad.

On another topic, many of you asked excellent questions about the bear video yesterday. I'm going to answer them tomorrow when I have more time. Thanks so much - you noticed things that I hadn't noticed!