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Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Wordless Wednesday: A Sunset

This sunset took my breath away...

Sunday, July 27, 2014

A Black Lab's Summer Fun

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Journey

I've realized that the next couple of weeks are going to be very busy, with little time for posting. In addition, I finally have a new computer but I have a lot to learn before I'll be up to speed with it. I have a backlog of fun wildlife footage that I will finally be able to collate into videos and share with you!

So, I'll probably have a few short posts in the coming couple of weeks - so please don't be surprised when I'm not on my usual posting schedule. I promise that I'll be back to normal before too long.

Today, I'll share a little bit more about the mountain escape that Shyla and I made earlier this week, hiking up the Continental Divide on a perfect summer day. The wildflowers were sublime, the air was warm, and we were happy!
Heading up the Flowery Trail
I think that my favorite thing about the high mountains is that they give me perspective. The towering peaks remind me that we are specks in the universe.
A Lab's Perch
The high mountains also give me perspective on the passage of time. I get all the way up to the Continental Divide only in the summertime. Consequently, it is frequently true that a year has gone by since the last time I visited a certain spot in the mountains. It makes me wonder how many more visits my life will allow, but that thought is too somber to contemplate now.

On this past hike, I was thinking of how much Shyla has changed in the past two years. Literally, by the month, I am seeing her blossom. When she's in the mountain environment, she now views most strangers as potential friends. She wags when people look at her and does a good job of "reading" whether someone wants to meet her or not. If they do want to meet her, she wiggles her whole body with happiness as she gently greets the person.

And, she's not afraid of hiking poles anymore!!! On our first alpine hike together almost 2 years ago, she repeatedly attempted to pull me off the side of a mountain to escape passing hikers who were using hiking poles. The other day, she walked past hikers with poles with no signs of fear. Wow!
Smiling at the Panorama
I'm so proud of my girl, and I feel so lucky to be part of her transformation. When I first met her, her fears scared me because I didn't know if I'd be capable of helping her to live a happy life. I now have no doubt that she's a very happy dog. She'll always be more sensitive and prone to fear than any dog I've ever had in my life - but I now know that we can cope with almost anything together.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

High in the Mountains

I wanted to tell you about our recent alpine hike but I am having some technical troubles. I am still awaiting a new computer so I guess it's to be expected that I'm running into some glitches.

Here's one photo from that day. It sums up all the beauty of that day - the flowers, the towering peaks, the blue sky, and my beautiful girl.
I love the high mountains!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday: An Alpine Escape

Yesterday was one of those picteresque summer days that I cannot bear to miss. After our morning meeting the the bear and her cub, I canceled everything on my schedule, and I escaped to the high mountains, together with Shyla.
Alpine Columbines

Swimming Lab in the Rockies

Leaping Lab in the Rockies
What an amazing day!

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Magical Meeting with a Bear and her Cub

Shyla and I headed for a normal bike ride this morning, in sunshine and warmth. She was her usual happy self.
I started by taking a few photos of Shyla, like I usually do in the morning. Then, we set out to ride through a pine forest on a sinuous trail perched on a steep slope.

At the start of the trail, I heard some loud sounds of branches breaking, like there was a large animal right ahead of us. Just as I realized that we should probably stop, we rounded a curve in the trail - and I saw a mother bear and a cub very close in front of us.

They'd been lured to the area by the Buffalo Berries that I wrote about the other day. They are ripening now, and the bears seem to love them. There are many bushes of them in our neck of the woods.
I mentioned previously that I took a field course on bear behavior in Minnesota last summer. Today, all the things that I learned in that amazing course came into play.

The cub reacted to us by climbing the nearest Douglas Fir tree. The mother fled downhill and stopped about 15-20 yards away behind some low pine trees.

The mother then started vocalizing while standing still and watching me, Shyla, and her cub. Her vocalizations were not even slightly aggressive. Rather, she grunted to the cub repeatedly, just like I observed wild mother bears do last summer in MN. When a sow's cubs are in a tree, the sow often grunts to them from the ground.

However, this mother's grunts were interspersed with moans. I learned last summer that moaning is a sign of extreme anxiety and fear in a bear.

Fortunately, Shyla showed absolutely zero interest in going near the cub or the sow. She stood very close by my side.

I started talking to the sow, just like I heard my instructors talk to black bears last summer. Don't worry - I didn't believe that the bear understood my words but I wanted to display confidence and calm in my tone, to try to keep the sow calm. I told her in a soothing tone that I was going to leash my dog. Then, I calmly told her that I was going to take one photo of her cub. Finally, after what was probably only a minute but seemed like ten minutes, I told her that we were turning around and leaving.

As Shyla and I started to walk away (I had the leash in one hand and was pushing my bike with the other), the sow increased the cadence of her grunting to the cub. The cub immediately descended from the tree (we were only about 10 yards away) and ran downhill to his mother. Then, the two them seemed to vanish without a trace into the thick forest.

Here was the one photo that I took as I talked with the mother bear. Isn't that a beautiful cub? Look how big his/her ears are relative to his/her head. It's as if cubs are born with adult-sized ears and their heads have to grow into them.
I was never afraid. I knew how to act around a bear - and it seemed like my calm demeanor kept the whole situation calm. I don't think that I could have handled such a close-up encounter without being scared if I hadn't spent the time in Minnesota intensively studying bears last summer.

It was truly a magical experience that I'll never forget.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Dogs' Day

Most of my posts are about my morning bike rides with Shyla. Not only do we do a mountain bike ride together, but we also play training games during our morning outing. The photo below is from another of the silly games that I made up!
When Shyla and I get home from our morning ride, R is usually sacked out, pleasantly tired after running with the Runner.
Our evening outings, usually around sunset, are much less extensive than my morning ones because we're all tired by then. I occasionally get some photos of the Labraduo during that hike.
But, R isn't as "into" the camera as Shyla is. I get lots of photos like this one.
So, when we were out for a smoky red sunset the other night, I started by taking photos of Shyla alone, figuring that R wouldn't cooperate. Moreover, a red sunset makes Shyla's fur glow in a way that black fur can't.
So, imagine my surprise when I tried to photograph R just after that sunset, and he cooperated! What a handsome Labradude. I love when I can capture the softness of his eyes in a photo. He's a wildly enthusiastic Labrador - a trainer once called him "a 10,000 volt dog". However, he also has a sensitivity that is sometimes apparent in his eyes.
I love these days when we can linger at sunset in the season's warmth.
Happy Summertime.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Wildlife on Sunday

Our wildlife are now into their mid-summer patterns, which means that I can see them almost anywhere. Shyla usually gives me the first hint that an animal has been someplace unexpected. She was definitely focused on something besides me for a while on our morning mountain bike ride. I kept an eagle eye on her for a while to make sure that she stayed nearby, and I never knew what caught her attention.
So, I visited some trail cameras after my ride with Shyla, and I discovered that a yearling cub is feeling his/her oats. I don't think that we've seen this bear in photos before.

The yearling arrived at a mangled bear marking tree and sniffed it.
Then, the little bear decided to try his back-rubbing moves. The white mark on the bear's chest plus the almost uniformly black fur differ from the other yearling we've seen on multiple occasions.
Just like the big bears, this yearling used a paw to grab the tree up behind his head, pulling it into his head for better marking.
Next, he started his shimmy moves, as he moved his back up and down in the tree trunk.

Finally, the yearling departed. Because the trail camera was pretty far from the tree, I am not certain whether this yearling was a male or female. Females stay near where they were born for their whole lives while males disperse and tend to move long distances each summer.
Just to give you perspective, here are photos of a big male (Milton Jr.) marking that same tree earlier this summer.
Milton Jr. was taller than the tree.
One piece of great news for the bears is that the Buffalo Berries are finally emerging. They usually appear in early July so they're about 3 weeks late. We have lots of Buffalo Berry bushes nearby. We know where these berry bushes are the densest, and we stay away for a few weeks each summer to let the bears forage in peace.
Last, but not least, the same trail camera has shown a bobcat carrying prey past it on multiple occasions over the past few weeks. In this photo, I believe she's carrying part of a rabbit. Repeatedly carrying prey in one direction usually means that a bobcat has kitten(s) stashed in a den. Like past years, we might get to see the kittens' maiden journeys with their mom!

Enjoy the remainder of the weekend!

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Long Days!

We've been out for sunset many evenings lately. Some evenings, there's even some sun that we can see! R was gazing toward it last evening.
Then, we try to get up early for a bike ride the next morning. I'm afraid that "burning the candle at both ends" has caught up with Shyla, and maybe me too.
I love the long days, with late sunsets and early sunrises, but seizing each one can leave me yawning, just like Shyla!

Today, we continued learning our new game, where sometimes Shyla retrieves her toy and sometimes she runs past it to come straight to me. She is definitely still in the learning phase.

On our first try of a "recall" where she was supposed to run past the toy to me, she stopped next to it and did a tongue flick, a classic sign that she was uncertain and a little anxious about what to do.
Of course, I helped her out by reminding her to "leave" the toy and come to me.

On the next one, I asked her to bring the toy. I loved how she sneaked a peek at me as she picked it up.
She loves retrieving much more than ignoring the toy and coming to me. She is a Labrador Retriever, so that makes sense.
She did a whole series of repeats perfectly, either leaving the toy or not, depending on what I asked.

Then there was one that made me laugh. I had asked her to "come" - which means leave the toy and come directly to me. She tried to sneak up behind the toy.
I reminded her to "leave it", and here was her reaction.
 She quickly righted her course.

What a good dog!

With Shyla, the most important thing is that I keep everything fun and upbeat so she doesn't get worried about making a mistake. So, I cheered her on as she retrieved the toy on the next repeat!
We had a super fun time playing our game.

After I left Shyla at home at the end of our short ride, I headed out for an easy ride. I'm hoping that some easier-than-usual rides will alleviate my fatigue. I stopped a lot to look at beautiful flowers. A wintergreen in bloom...
I love this time of year... I had a nice easy ride, and I'm hoping to feel some zip in my legs during my bike ride tomorrow!

Friday, July 18, 2014


A Friday of sunshine. Yay!
As Shyla and I headed out on our mountain bike ride, butterflies fluttered all around us, flitting from one flower to the next in the meadows we traversed.
Then, we arrived at Hug Hill, and we worked on a new game. I placed a toy that Shyla likes to retrieve atop Hug Hill. Then, I either called her to me or I sent her to the toy. She needed to distinguish between the two cues by either sprinting directly to me or by retrieving the toy.

She is such a smart dog. She figured out the game super fast. The first time that I sent her to retrieve the toy, she hesitated to pick it up, waiting to hear encouraging words from me as she contemplated it.
Then she went for it, picking up the toy and bringing it to me.
Then we did a few recalls, where she had to run past the toy, without retrieving it, to come to me.

The next time that I sent her to retrieve the toy, she didn't hesitate.
And, she zoomed back to me with it.
We had so much fun! What a glorious summer day!
Happy Friday!