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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Migraines and Alert Dogs

Some of you have inquired about my migraines. I decided to stop writing about them very much because they were taking over my life, and I imagined that my posts must be repetitive. Indeed, I had about 15 separate migraines in March and, so far, I've had 7 separate events in April. Each one affects me for at least a full day and usually multiple days.

I'm scared to write that I might be on the right track because I always get a migraine right after writing that optimistic view. But, I now have a neurologist who is very sharp and caring, and I'm on preventative supplements and medications. The medications do make me feel sleepy but that's better than having migraines.

I'm also working hard at learning to moderate my lifestyle a bit. Every afternoon, I meditate and I also wear my Cefaly TENS headband (just approved by the FDA). It's hard to know what part of my routine is helping the most because I'm doing multiple things at once. However, just the other day, a bad headache was starting, and a round of treatment with my headband stopped it. So, the headband might be playing an important role.

I've read several articles about "migraine-alert dogs". These dogs sense that a person is going to get a migraine before the bad symptoms hit. They alert the person, who can then take measures to reduce the severity of the oncoming migraine. I truly hope that I never need such a dog (because I'd prefer not to get lots of migraines) but I am going to watch Shyla closely to see if she naturally gives me subtle signals that a migraine is sneaking up on me. She is the most sensitive dog I've known so it seems possible that she can play this role.
In the midst of it all, I try to consistently do the things that make me happy, even when I'm not feeling well. I love mountain bike rides and hikes with the dogs. As you know, Shyla and I are out in the morning every day, even if my head is throbbing.
We like the sunny days the most, like this morning (as long as I wear my dark glasses - bright light seems to be one of my most consistent migraine triggers).
Shyla amazes me with her athleticism almost every day. By watching her and playing with her, I forget everything else - the perfect therapy for me.
I love watching our dogs sampling the scents in the air that I don't even know are there.
I wonder whether it's scent or behavioral changes that forewarn a migraine-alert dog of an imminent episode. I plan to read more about it - the uncanny abilities of our dogs never cease to astound me.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Bounce Back!

I wonder what Shyla was dreaming of this morning as she gazed into the sky.
Perhaps she was dreaming of never feeling scared or worried again - always standing tall and proud.
That's how she acts when we're alone in the forest...
...until she sees or hears the first sign of someone approaching. Then, her demeanor and facial expression change dramatically.
The good news is, that although she may never feel totally comfortable and confident around people and dogs she doesn't know well, she has learned to cope with them. She musters her courage to interact, and, after we're alone again, she bounces back to her normal demeanor almost right away.

And starts dreaming again. The sky is the limit.
Really, I can't ask for anything more. "Bounce back" is a great quality in a sensitive or fearful dog. It means that they can relax soon after something strange or scary happens. Shyla has great "bounce back" now.

So, after her minor scare this morning, we enjoyed the signs of spring all around us on our bike ride.
Shyla wagged and I smiled.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Wintery Sunday

It's a cold Sunday here. Snow was in the forecast but only a few flakes have fallen so far. Here's what Shyla had to say about the return to winter!
The early blooming flowers all can close their petals tight when it gets cold. This Ball Cactus sits on a dry south-facing slope. Its flowers were barely open yesterday but they'd closed for business today.
The Pasqueflowers did the same thing, closing up to protect their important parts.
Shyla and I enjoyed a fun bike ride under gray skies. She does love when it's cold because she can run even faster than usual. And, I'm super happy with my new summer bike. It gives me confidence on tricky trails that I thought that I'd never have! I find myself rolling down tough sections of trail without even thinking about it. Fun!

But, even as we enjoyed our ride this morning, we dreamed of sunshine, like we had last night during our evening hike!
R wishes you a happy, sunny, and warm Sunday!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Practice Makes Almost Perfect

Practice is how you master new skills. I've spent a lot of time in the past year learning to capture reasonably sharp photos of my dogs running at full speed. I've improved although it still requires my full concentration to click the shutter at the right instant.
The next photo is a different picture taken a few minutes later. Notice Shyla's absolutely identical body position as she leaped. Look at the position of her front paws. Look at her head angle. I actually had to check twice to make sure I hadn't uploaded the same photo multiple times.

Obviously, Shyla has perfected her running leap in the past year while I've been working on the timing of my camera's shutter.
As I've been practicing my photography, I've also been training Shyla to cooperate. She's become a superstar model for me, most of the time (except when she smells mountain lions). In fact, this photo is a product of me learning to focus very precisely on one of Shyla's eyes while having the shallowest possible depth of field - which Shyla made much easier by staying perfectly still for me.
This is her contemplative look, with her chin resting on a paw. She loves to lie in this position in the sunshine.
I've recently taught R to rest his chin on the ground or on his front paws like Shyla is doing in the photo above. I think it makes him look even cuter than usual. I trained him to do this using a clicker, and he learned at lightning speed. It is incredible how much R loves clicker training and tries so hard to earn his click/treat.
Happy Saturday! I'm enjoying my Saturday, sitting on my deck for only the second time this year. Of course, the forecast calls for snow tonight but I'm not thinking about that right now.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Life with Lions

I have a particular area in our forest where I like to take photos of the dogs. It's a high point, where the horizons are visible to the east and west, including the mountains. The area catches the first sun rays in the morning and the last ones in the evening - making for wonderful photography light.

Unfortunately, it has been gray and cloudy almost every evening that I've hiked to that area with the Duo. The evening is my prime time with R, and I'm looking forward to some sunshine! Despite the gray skies, he looked magnificent last evening.
It's also the area where I go with Shyla in the mornings, to enjoy the early morning sunlight.
To the west of the plateau, a pine forest filters the sunlight. Big patches of snow still linger under the pine canopy. Shyla loves to lie on the cold snow after running for a while at this time of year.
Over the past several days, Shyla has been obsessed with the scents in that particular pine forest. I keep a very close eye on her so she doesn't follow her strong instinct to sneak into the forest, following the scent.
Today, I decided to let her follow her nose and to shadow her. She led me to a fresh deer leg that was very near a trail camera. I put the deer leg out of her reach (I hung it in a tree), and then I checked the camera. Here was the last photo on the memory card.
This mountain lion was watching something. I captured a whole series of photos of his antics next to this huge Ponderosa Pine tree, which included rolling around on the ground. I'll share them soon.

However, this photo really gave me pause because the dogs and I spend a lot of time near this spot - and we were probably nearby when this photo was taken. As I mulled it over, I decided to engage the reasonable part of my brain, and I realized that this lion had been near us but had avoided us, like almost all lions will do, if given a choice. Moreover, I've had a trail camera in this spot for about 4 months, and this is only the second series of mountain lion photos that I've captured. I know, based on tracks, that more lions have walked through this general area. However, no one saw them - as they've stayed hidden from human eyes.

It's amazing how having fierce predators above me in the food chain changes my thinking about the forest. I love having them present, because it gives us humans the humility that we so often lack. It changes my attitude immensely to know that there's an animal in the forest that is capable of killing me. That fact makes my senses more alive, as I vigilantly search for signs of big cats.

It also teaches me to "listen to my dog". Shyla knows much more about what's going on in our forest than I ever will, due to her amazing nose. I should have checked this area on the very first day that she showed a keen interest in it. The strength of a dog's sense of smell is incomprehensible to me.

Happy Friday to all of you. I hope you have a leaping good weekend!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

A Dog and a Bobcat

This morning, the freezing air felt like winter but the light told me that it's springtime.
It's the season of early sunrises, and Shyla's deep chocolate color resonating with the pine tree canopy above her.
We enjoyed south-facing trails that are almost clear of snow, with Shyla running along side my summer bike! Then, we traipsed through deep snow on a shady north-facing slope to check on a trail camera where there was lots of bobcat activity last month.

A couple of months ago, I showed you some photos of a bobcat enjoying an elk femur that a local dog had dropped in front of my camera.

I didn't show you a photo of the dog because my rule (for myself) is that I never publish photos of people or their dogs on the rare occasion that I capture them. However, I forwarded the photo of that dog, who I'll call "B", to his owner, and I recounted the bobcat's antics.

B's owner, a friendly neighbor of mine, replied that I was welcome to publish the photo of B, and that he would cherish the photo. It turned out that B, unknown to me, was suffering from cancer, and he'd placed the bone in front of the trail camera on his last outing in the forest. Rest in peace, B, and know that I appreciated you as one of the true mountain dogs, with an easy-going personality and an absolute love of our forest.

His owner said that B had brought the elk femur to the spot in front of my camera over the course of several snowy outings. During each outing, B had systematically carried the heavy bone about a half mile or so toward my trail camera. On his last day in the forest, B dropped the big bone in front of my camera, like a gift.
At least one bobcat has loved this gift. Here was a bobcat who was interested in the bone, just after B left it there. The bobcat was rolling directly on top of the femur, looking ecstatic.
And, then, more recently, a bobcat spent a long time with the elk bone in front of my trail camera. After checking it out, he proceeded to spend several minutes in front of the trail camera grooming. It's the longest series of photos of a bobcat that I've ever captured. I made the series of rapidfire still photos into a video, which you can watch here or at Youtube.
Thank you, B. Your spirit has changed this place, with your dogged determination to place that femur, like an offering, in the spot where it still lies. We all miss you, and I hope that you are running free, without pain.

Our bobcat thanks you most of all.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wordless Wednesday

The Retriever

The Cutie (whose elbow must feel good if he chose this position!)

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Earth Day

Today is Earth Day, and Shyla and I gave thanks for the incredible mountains and forest around us.
We looked up at the trees in wonder, thinking about how many seasons they've seen in their long lives. They were born before either of us, and most of them will outlive us by many years. We are specks in the life of Mother Earth.
We also thought about our impact on the world around us. We love frolicking in the forest...
... but we do our best to leave the forest as we found it and not to scare the wildlife. After all, it is the time of year when baby animals are most abundant in our forest. This is from almost exactly 3 years ago.
Happy Earth Day to you.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wary, with Good Reason - A Mountain Lion

Wide eyed, we started our morning a little later than usual. It was a rough weekend health-wise, and I wasn't quite at my normal energy level this morning. That seems like it's never true of Shyla - she is always ready to move at warp speed.
She was a happy girl as I took a few photos in the forest before we headed up higher. But the sun was so bright, she needed shades! Unfortunately, she hates Doggles.
Then a couple of things happened that put Shyla into a wary mood. One was an encounter with a not-so-nice dog. It was my fault for not getting out early this morning. It happened just after she relaxed on her favorite boulder. The dog put Shyla on the ground, yelping in fear, but there was no physical harm done. However, she was less carefree for the rest of our ride.
A while later, up higher in our forest, she caught a scent that fascinated her and made her very wary.
When she caught the scent, we were on our way to check a trail camera. Before knowing what the trail camera memory card held, I took the photo above of Shyla about 30 yards from it. Guess what we found on that camera?
You guessed it - a portrait of a mountain lion, taken just hours earlier. There was a whole series of him, over a couple of days, which I'll share in the future. He's a handsome dude, isn't he? I'm almost certain he's a male because he scraped the ground multiple times in front of the camera.

After I glanced at the photos taken by that trail camera, we headed for home! I thought it seemed prudent not to hang out next to a spot where a lion has been multiple times recently. I must admit, however, that the mountain lion photos made me smile!

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Easter Bunny and the Bobcat

Shyla was watching for the Easter Bunny very early this morning while hiding under the pine trees.

 She used her nose too, trying to sniff him out.
It turned out that he'd come in the middle of the night.
But there was a BIG problem. Mr. Bobcat was watching for him too.
Since the Easter Bunny did his job, delivering goodies, we assume he eluded Mr. Bobcat.
Thank goodness!