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Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween in the Mountains

Halloween is a quiet holiday around here. We never get trick-or-treaters at our house - our road is too rural for kids to walk (or even ride in a car) from house to house. So, we didn't buy any candy (for the first time) this year. That probably means that we'll actually get trick-or-treaters!

Halloween is always in the midst of the hunting seasons here. While I love having the beautiful elk around, there's a tension in the air until the hunting seasons end. Then, we heave a sigh of relief, put away all the orange gear, and feel more relaxed when we're in the forest.
We were shocked last night when two deer didn't run from us during our evening hike (they usually flee from us during hunting season). Perhaps they know that they are in a relatively safe place. Based on size, we thought that this one was born last spring. Her spotted coat has given way to a winter coat.
And, this one was probably her mother. Mom looks pretty tough. I'm not sure I'd want to mess with her. I hope she and her daughter stay hidden for the next few weeks.
Shyla has become quite good about leaving alone the deer and elk who we see during our mountain bike rides. I can call her away from them in a few steps. Dead stuff seems to fascinate her more than running wildlife.

Today, Shyla's main nod to Halloween was a funny face she made this morning - her dracula face!
And a trick - so that she could earn a treat!
Shyla doesn't like costumes. Moreover, people (especially children) wearing costumes scare her so we stay away from town on this holiday. And, while she'll tolerate me putting a hat or other costume on her - she never looks happy about it so I've stopped doing it.

But R was glad to wear an orange hat in celebration of Halloween! What a dude.
For us, Halloween is usually the true beginning of winter. The time changes back to standard time so our "evening" hikes become "afternoon" hikes. And, usually the snow starts flying regularly soon after this holiday. The Divide sure looked wintery today!
Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Winter: Amazing light and mountain lions

Shyla and I have been making it out in time to see the sun crest the eastern hills early in the morning. I adore the color that the rising sun paints her fur.
With the sun so low in the sky, it makes sun puddles in specific spots on the edge of the forest, and the rest of the forest in dark behind them.
It is the only part of the shorter wintery days that I truly love - seeing this special warm light on my girl.

The other morning, at about the same time as Shyla and I were worshiping the sunrise, our favorite pair of mountain lions was deep in the forest.

You can see the light of the sunrise barely filtering through the trees as the mother mountain lion arrived in front of my camera.
 Soon, her kitten, who seems to be growing exponentially bigger, bounded onto the scene.
 They appeared to play like a pair of puppies (or perhaps "kittens" would be a better analogy).
 They rolled and nuzzled each other for a long time. I love seeing these two.
Like last time, I picked up their images at more than one site so I'll be sharing more footage soon.

When I first moved to mountain lion territory, I imagined that mountain lions were everywhere in the forest when it was dark. I also imagined that they were nothing but killing machines. My photos have shown me that they are fairly numerous but only in certain places. Moreover, they are complex beings with a strong social attachments and a love of playing. They are not simply the scary predators that we humans believe them to be.

I hope that they continue to flourish. Having a strong population of top predators is important to our ecosystem. I also personally think that it's good that we humans are sometimes not at the top of the food chain.

On a different topic, I'm feeling worried that I might be heading into another phase of cluster migraines. I'm going to try to head it off with extra rest so I may not be visiting quite as much as usual in the near future. I hope it's a short phase.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wordless Wednesday - Funny Animals

Funny Face

Funny ears

Funny Elk!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Scary Ride

Today started out seeming like a good day, an ordinary day in the mountains. Shyla and I had a peaceful morning mountain bike ride. We saw that the past few days have brought snow to the mountains, down to about 1000' above us.

Here's what the Divide looked like on Sunday.

And this was today! Winter is marching downward, toward us.

On our ride, I gave Shyla a new toy, a purple Wubba, and she seems to love it! It was a gift to celebrate her accomplishment of learning how to behave when unsupervised around the house.
Then, I headed home to quickly drop off Shyla and head out for a bit more riding. While I was in the house, a migraine aura hit. It was so visually disturbing that I couldn't do anything but take my meds and go to bed. Thank goodness I had an open schedule so I could just stop in my tracks for it.

Finally, after a long time with my head under the covers, I started to feel a little better, and I thought that I'd go out for an easy spin to keep my spirits up. After all, very soon, it will be real winter when I can't even ride on some of my favorite trails because they build up such deep layers of snow.
During my easy spin, "it" happened. A reckless driver almost hit me.

The loop I was riding was 95% trails but there was a short dirt road section to connect two trails. The vehicle came up behind me on a blind curve and didn't slow down to pass me. As he approached me, he swung out onto the wrong side of the road to pass me (even though I was hugging the right side of the road). At that instant, a car came around the blind curve from the other direction, nearly having a head-on collision with the reckless driver.

To avoid the head-on collision, the reckless driver behind me swerved back into our lane and then I heard a super loud high pitched noise very close behind me. For an instant, I thought the sound was a cop's high shrill siren. I glanced over my shoulder, and the reckless driver was just about to hit me from behind. His brakes screamed as it his car was barely under control. So, I blindly swerved off the road, landing in the deep ditch next to it.

Here's the part that truly put me over the top with anger. The driver did not even stop to say "sorry" and see if I was okay - he looked at me (I saw his face), and he drove on. What kind of human being does that? Not one with a heart or any kind of morals.

I didn't move for a while, paralyzed by the knowledge of what a close call it was. But, I was okay, and I was still alive. So, eventually, I got up and finished my loop, giving thanks for what did not happen. Needless to say, the "event" had not helped my headache.

Both dogs knew things weren't right with me when I got home. I had a loving Labraduo licking my face and snuggling up to me. I am so thankful for them.
Seize the day, for you never know what might happen next.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Small Step for Shyla

Shyla represents my first foray into the world of raising a fearful dog. Prior to her, I'd always had dogs who I raised from early puppyhood, and I socialized them as much as I possibly could when they were young. I didn't have that chance with Shyla.
Over more than two years, I've spent tons and tons of time doing "real life training" with Shyla (with the guidance of an amazing trainer). That has included teaching her how to cope with almost everything about our world.

When I first met her, there were very few aspects of our world that did not terrify her. Even walking through unfamiliar doorways was scary. She was a perpetual bundle of nerves, right on the edge of a meltdown almost all the time.

If you were to meet Shyla now, on our home turf, you'd probably think she was normal unless you have a very keen eye for canine body language. I still warn people that she's shy, because there is an occasional person who she doesn't want to meet (and I don't want their feelings to be hurt). But, she's thrilled to meet about 90% of people at our house or on mountain trails.

That percentage is lower, substantially lower, out in the bustle of the town but I've simply decided that it's always Shyla's choice whether she meets someone. That works remarkably well because there's no pressure on Shyla. I suspect she'll continue to adapt, at her own pace, over the coming years.

Although we've come so far, every new step forward still feels like a huge victory that I want to shout about from the rooftops. She had one small step today!
But first, I have to tell you a little background. When she arrived at our house, she was too scared to actively do anything remotely "bad". At the beginning, she never chewed anything or destroyed anything. In the words of our trainer, she was completely "shut down" - and just tried to fly under the radar around the house.

Then, a couple of months after she arrived, we had a fateful day when Shyla suddenly took an interest in chewing. I took a shower, leaving Shyla loose in the house for those few minutes, like I'd done every day since her housetraining had become reasonably good. While I was in the shower, I left the door to our clothes closet ajar.

During the course of that one shower, Shyla managed to chew the zippers out of FOUR expensive jackets. After that destructive spree, the rules changed instantly, and Shyla was crated whenever she was unsupervised.

Fastforward until early this year... it had been a long time since Shyla had destroyed anything besides a dog toy. So, at the start of the year, I started leaving Shyla loose in our bedroom when I was going out for very short periods. Because she was successful, I gradually increased the time that she spent loose while no humans were in the house with her.

Then, after almost a year of preparation, I puppy-proofed our bedroom this morning, and I left Shyla loose in the bedroom for several hours while I was out.

Guess what? She was PERFECT! Yes, Shyla, you can shout it from the mountaintop! PERFECT!
Here's to my girl. She's learning about this crazy human world, one tiny step at a time.
And, here's to all she's taught me. When I first met Shyla, I wanted to "fix" all her problems immediately. Through these two years, I've learned a thing or two about patience. It's okay to dream big but those dreams need to be tempered with the knowledge that, after the critical puppy phases of rapid socialization, helping a fearful dog is a slow process.

I love this girl. I've always thought that courage is only really tested when someone is terrified. Shyla has more courage than almost anyone I know.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Black and White Sunday: A Cranky Skunk

Fortunately, the other morning, both dogs avoided a big stink. Shyla was not chasing a skunk in this photo.
But, a couple of hours earlier, a spotted skunk had taken a disliking to my trail camera. He bounded toward it.
Did a handstand (I never knew that they actually did handstands before spraying until I saw this photo)...
And hit the camera with his tail as he pointed his lethal end toward the red glowing enemy.
Some people say that our high altitude spotted skunks make a stinkier spray than striped skunks. He may not have sprayed - I didn't smell it on the camera.

But, because our pups avoided this skunk, they are both resting easy... bath-free and happy.
Thank you, Labraduo, for avoiding that cranky skunk!
Due to the central role of the black and white skunk in this story, I am joining the Black and White Sunday Blog Hop!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Orange Days

The elk have been circling our place for the past week. They arrived a few weeks early for their winter near our home. Unfortunately, those are a critical few weeks.
Due to the elk arrival, the humans with guns have been circling too. The good news is that it's been quiet so far today.

So, orange has been the theme color for the week as we all try to be super visible in the forest. Shyla wears an orange vest whenever she's outside, and she even retrieves bright orange objects. In this case - a hat!
Her next retrieve was funny. In mid-jump, the hat flew up in her face but she landed the jump beautifully anyway!
I do take off her vest for a few photos. I've found, in past years, that I end up with an entire month's worth photos that I don't want to use for anything because they have the horrible orange vest in them. So, this year, when we are totally alone, I take some photos without it.

We played a retrieving game atop Hug Hill when the lighting was sublime. I love when Hug Hill is sunlit but the Divide is in the shade. We are working on having Shyla retrieve one of two toys, and I tell her which one with a "left" or "right" verbal cue.
We are mostly working on the "left" cue right now.
It's amazing how she does each retrieve with such incredible passion and energy!
Being able to play with such abandon lets Shyla totally relax after our games.
We are having some warm autumn days - perhaps the last ones. I am typing this on my deck. It was 60° earlier and now it's 50° (my lower limit for deck time)!

I cherish these days all the more knowing that winter is almost here. I also cherish the flashes of color in our landscape, like this wild geranium leaf glowing in the sunshine.
Enjoy your weekend!

Friday, October 24, 2014

Mountain Lion Mother-Kitten Adventures

Today, I want to tell you about the travels of a mountain lion mother and kitten. One afternoon recently, I captured a series of photos and videos of the pair.

You've already seen a few still photos from their escapades, the ones where the kitten knocked a trail camera off the tree.

I made a video of all of their travels that afternoon (I spent many hours learning to use the new iMovie to do this - ugh!).

I want to point out a few special moments in the video before showing it so you'll be alert to what's happening. I was amazed to see the part where the mother mountain lion appeared to be teaching the kitten to be alert and pay attention. She arrived at one camera first, and she appeared to hide on the side of the trail, awaiting her kitten.
Then, she leaped onto her kitten as s/he arrived. The mother was either being very playful or teaching the kitten an important lesson.

Another fascinating moment occurred at the next camera they visited. A deer had been through about 8 hours earlier.
When the lion pair arrived, they made a beeline for the spot where the deer had emerged from the forest.

Last but not least, there were the sweet moments in front of one camera where the mountain lions appeared to let down their guard. The lay and rolled on the ground together.
There's no way to see this side of mountain lions without using remote trail cameras. I adore getting glimpses like these ones!
Without further ado, you can watch the video either here or at Youtube.

It comes with the Shyla Seal of Approval!
 Happy Weekend!

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Solar Eclipse!

Our pack stopped everything to watch the partial solar eclipse this afternoon. As you know, it's not safe to look at the sun without eye protection. R was ready!
Shyla kept cheating, peaking out from the glasses with one eye.
My camera was ready too. I had a solar filter from back in 2012 when we saw the annular solar eclipse on K's last trip to the desert.

We saw the second half of the eclipse today. Here, the moon was taking a large bite out of the sun. You can see that there were sun spots - several of them - visible through our funky glasses and my special lens filter.
The sun was fairly high in the sky for when the eclipse was maximum but some clouds drifted across the sun at times.
The next one looks like a Halloween decoration! Spooky dark clouds gathered at the bottom of the sun. You can also see the shadow of the moon "rolling" to the left compared to previous photos.
As the eclipse was winding down, the sun was also setting. So, the sun took on a honey-like beautiful color and thin clouds added a touch of mystique.
As the sun dropped in the sky, the clouds over the Divide started changing colors.
At the very end of the eclipse, there were no clouds obscuring the sun, and the sun sat just barely above the Divide. You can see the tiny bit of shadow of the moon in the upper left of the sun.
Finally, about 3 minutes before the sun dropped below the mountains, the whole orb blazed again! The entire sequence of photos was over about an hour.
And patient Shyla sat glowing in the setting sun's light after the eclipse was over.
It was a fun and relaxing afternoon, seeing something that is so rare. In the next decade, there will be only three solar eclipses visible from anywhere near our perch in the mountains so I'm glad we took the time to sit out on K's rock (where the banner photo was taken) and watch this eclipse.