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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

River Otters at Lab Valley!

We visited Lab Valley last weekend. In addition to pondering the scintillating topic of sconces, I checked a few trail cameras.

I had heard through the grapevine that there might be a few river otters in the creeks in the Lab Valley area. River otters are considered "extremely threatened" in our state. At one point, they had vanished from the state but then wildlife officials reintroduced them in 1976.

They've gradually increased in numbers since then. A friend said that she'd seen their tracks on a snow covered creek in the spring months. You can imagine that I was motivated to set up a couple of cams to try to get footage of them on the creek that goes through Lab Valley.

Believe it or not, I got some footage of an otter, and some of the footage was in the daytime. One cam captured him bounding along on the snow atop the creek. Another cam captured footage of him playing under our bridge! He swam under the ice, doubtless fishing.

I am so excited to have River Otters in Lab Valley! Check out the video.

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Hachi Chronicle

Despite the chaos of our lives, Hachi is doing pretty well. We humans are coping with construction decisions, and I am sometimes cranky about them. I think that remodeling a house is "death by a thousand decisions", and each of those decisions seems to be required *right now*. Today it is bathroom towel racks and which side to have the hinges on the basement door. Oh my...

No doubt, our stress affects Hachi. It becomes most obvious when we go back and forth between our places. He needs about 24 hours to settle in after a switch. That is understandable. I need 24 hours too. But, with Hachi, I need to work harder to remember to be more careful for those 24 hours.

In the first 24 hours, he doesn't play as well with me and the Runner. He will play a tiny bit and then check out his surroundings. Sometimes, he will spend half of a 10 minute session checking out his surroundings. We never pressure him to play. We simply make ourselves available to play if he wants. 

He almost never says "no" to playing with Shyls!

He also occasionally gets a little growly with Shyla in those 24 hours. That happened this weekend soon after we arrived at Lab Valley. We were out on a short hike, and it appeared that Hachi thought that the Runner was about to give him treats (although he was mistaken). He growled/snarled at Shyla who was next to him. Shyla barely seemed to notice but we humans did.

So, the lesson from this week is to be aware of the possibility of resource guarding when Hachi might be trigger stacked. I need to remember that what feels like a fun transition is also stressful.

This next photo was a fun from an indoor photoshoot when Hachi was about 4 months old. I love seeing the trio together. I remember Hachi's resource guarding from that day (no one else was supposed to get treats, in Hachi's opinion) - and that memory made me realize that how much better he's become since then. It is less frequent and less intense. That is a Victory!

We have accepted where we are with Hachi. We have wonderful days with him. Sometimes, bad behavior emerges. I have learned to analyze it and then let it go. It has taken me a couple of years to reach this point of acceptance, and I'm glad to be in this place. 

We are so glad that Hachi is part of our family.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Black Dog Sunday

The definition of joy. 

Happy Black Dog Sunday.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Shyla Saturday

She watches my back while I am engrossed in photographing wildlife. As long as the animals are alive, she is totally reliable about leaving them alone (but all bets are off if it's a carcass!).

She is an amazing athlete who easily mountain bikes with me to this day. She can run like the wind.

How utterly wrong her previous owner was who said that she was "useless". Yes, keeping a puppy in a crate for the first 9 months of her life creates some psychological problems - but that owner did it anyway. I'm so glad that we invited Shyla to join our family and never looked back. In Shyla's case, love erased her past.

Happy Shyla Saturday.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Nature and Feline Friday - Wildlife plowing through winter

A wonderful animal trail is now gone, bulldozed for a road. I've been going through my footage from that path and making videos to give others the sense of what a special place it was.

Now, I cannot go to that area because it makes me too sad to see the desolation where there once was a path so heavily used by animals. Since we are moving, I have decided not to try to figure out how the wildlife adapt to the loss of this key corridor. They have been coping with our transgressions for years, and I choose to believe that they will adapt this time too.

Let's enjoy seeing the wildlife activity from last winter, starting in November and going until the first bear marked a tree in April. For me, the "first bear of the year" marks the start of springtime. Enjoy the video!

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Thankful Thursday

I am thankful for signs of spring. I love when mountain bluebirds puff up their feathers against the cold.


I love when the swallows argue. They seem to argue more than any other birds who I know. Fortunately, they also seem to forget their arguments very easily.


I love when the mountain bluebirds glide past me.


 And I love when Shyla is happy.

We probably have a lot of snow days still ahead of us but the warmth of the sun, the brightly colored birds, and being outside with Shyla make me smile.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Wordless Wednesday

There's still lots of snow in some places (and it's snowing again)

But some intrepid birds are here anyway (Western Bluebird)


Tree swallow

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Full moon setting

Almost every month, I go out early in the morning to try to get good images of the moon setting. "Try" is the most important word in that sentence because I don't always succeed. Some months the clouds get in the way. Some months the composition that I visualized doesn't work out. And some months I make too many mistakes - plain and simple.

Some months I walk away with a gorgeous cloud formation whipped up by the mountain wind but no good moon photos.


And then, every now and then, I end up with more than one moon photo that I like. That can happen because I usually go out for multiple days around the full moon. This was a second-most-favorite photo from a recent month. Moonset was a little later than sunrise so there wasn't alpenglow but I still like it.

I started my "full moon setting" project about 20 months ago. I think that I'll keep at it. It's a fun way to spend an early morning or two each month.

Do you have any full moon traditions?

Monday, April 5, 2021

The Hachi Chronicle

Even though we've been at our old place for a while now (construction is too intense for us to be at Lab Valley), Hachi has had a good week. He has been so affectionate with me and the Runner, spontaneously giving us kisses and snuggles. 

In bigger news, he's continuing to have a more muted response to strangers on the trails. Sometimes, if they are at a great enough distance, he doesn't even bark. That blows my mind when it happens.

Every single day, we play the "bucket game" for handling with him. I won't lie - it is going slowly. We are both feeling as if plain old counterconditioning might be working better. However, we will keep at it as long as our behavior team still thinks that it might work.

We also still play with Hachi every single morning. All three of us love it, and we humans think that it may be the single most important thing that we do with Hachi. While we play, Shyla gets personal time with her "machine", which is a Pet Tutor that is set to a program that delivers treats when she is quiet for a certain period of time. I think that her Pet Tutor time might be Shyla's favorite thing all day!

We also try to do Hachi's Relaxation program every day. It's a short training session that is designed to teach Hachi to relax whenever he's on a certain mat. It seems to be working but we still do it only at times of the day when he tends to be sleepy.

Moreover (this is a time intensive dog!), I try to practice putting on Hachi's harness every day. Putting on his harness has been a long term issue for him. It seems to terrify him, and his body language while it's being put on worries me. Just today, I managed to put the harness over his head without him becoming so worried. That was a great moment!

I decided to list all the stuff that we are doing with Hachi just so you'd know that it's a big undertaking to try to help a dog like him. Through a couple of years of having him in the family, we've become very committed to him so we are willing to spend the time. I still believe that there will come a day when we'll look back at his early years as a long-ago memory, kind of like how I have trouble remembering how fearful Shyla was as a youngster. 

I think that we'll be back at Lab Valley soon so he can resume outdoor playtime with Shyla. Despite the lack of playing for the past couple of weeks, he's a happy Hachi these days!

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Black Dog Sunday

Shyla joined our family in 2012 as one of the most fearful and meek dogs who I'd ever known. From the start, our Black Dog loved her.

One day soon after Shyla's arrival, I came home to find our Black Dog lying in a sun puddle with her. I grabbed my camera to take a photo of their Labraduo snuggles. However, sweet R chose that moment to give his sister some kisses. I felt so lucky to have my camera out and ready at that moment.

Shyla looked sort of shocked - perhaps because of her retiring personality. Over the years, she came to expect spontaneous affection from our Black Dog and reveled in it.

Happy Black Dog Sunday!

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Shyla Saturday

This girl is the best forest exploring companion who I can imagine. We've been hiking in the mornings rather than biking because there's so much soft snow. Hiking is good for our bond because we move more slowly and have more time to interact. Shyla gallops happily on the snow crust, sniffing and exploring. I call her over for treats and pats, and then we walk onward. 

We have no particular destination. We eschew the trails because they are so pock marked with peoples' footprints that they're very difficult for walking. Instead, we follow our noses to wherever the footing is best. 

Then, some mornings, there are glorious sunrises, and Shyla shifts into model mode!

Happy Shyla Saturday. What a sweet pup she is.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Nature and Feline Friday: Mountain lions, bobcats, and dogs all share a scent post

A scent post was started by mountain lions at least a decade ago. Over time, the spot became less secluded with hikers and bikers turning a tiny path into a bigger one. Over time, mountain lions have visited less frequently, and dogs have been the most common visitors. But, wildlife still marks the spot too, with feisty bobcats marking it most often.

Watch the dogs - they show strong interest in the spot. If you're curious about where wildlife mark in your forest, keep a close eye on your dogs. They will show you!

Check out mountain lions, bobcats, and dogs all in the same spot in this video.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Thankful Thursday

Yet again, I am grateful for the happiness of our pups. Their happiness makes us humans smile with gratitude.


At Lab Valley, we have a long driveway that is plowed. It is a great place for us to walk and the pups to play when the snow all around it is deep. You can see how tall the wall of snow is along the driveway when they sprint along the driveway.

Sprints like that one often end in some playing. I love Hachi's body language when he plays. I think that playing with Shyla makes him happier than almost anything.

 And sometimes, they even dance together.

The unbridled enthusiasm of our dogs for play is one of our great joys in life. We thank our lucky stars that these two get along so well. We humans walk along "supervising" and smile ear-to-ear.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Full Moon over the Mountains

It was the morning that I thought that the setting moon over the Divide would be most pretty. That meant an early alarm clock. As I hopped out of bed, I could hear the wind buffeting the house, and I wondered what it was going to be like up at our viewpoint with a direct view of the Continental Divide. When I read that the gusts were over 60 mph, I knew that we'd be lucky if we could avoid being blown away but I steeled myself to head out into it anyway. Soon, Shyla and I set out in the dusky light for the snowshoe hike to our photographic spot.

When we arrived at our exposed spot, I had to very carefully set up the tripod while always keeping one hand on it so it wouldn't blow away. Then, I got out my camera and attached it to the tripod. After the camera was attached, I spent the whole time leaning on the tripod to keep it from becoming airborne. 

Even in that terrible wind, my sweet Shyla had my back, lying just behind me.

We watched the alpenglow warm up and the moon sink to the Divide. It was gorgeous. I love seeing it even when it is cold and very windy.

After most full moon photoshoots, I hang around to watch the sky for a while after the moon disappears. Not today. I packed up my tripod, and then I noticed the scowl that Shyla was giving me. The wind was coming from behind her, and you can see the fur on the top of her head standing up due to the wind. She did not look pleased.

Thank you, Shyla, for watching my back despite those winds. You are the best.

Monday, March 29, 2021

The Hachi Chronicle

Hachi has had a peaceful week. It's springtime in the Rockies so he's been playing in snow a lot.

Unlike our pure Labs, Hachi isn't always crazy about snow. However, if he has his sister to play with, he usually forgets that snow is cold and makes his poor shaved belly cold (it was shaved for an ultrasound when he was sick).

One really nice note of progress for him is that he seems to be reacting less strongly to strangers who surprise him by driving down our Lab Valley driveway or by appearing in the distance. He still barks but it's not quite so strongly. Also, he's recovering from it faster than before. When workers arrive at Lab Valley, they disappear into the house. Hachi seems to forget about them very rapidly. That is a good thing!

For any of you who have reactive dogs like Hachi, you might enjoy a podcast called "The Bitey End of the Dog". The host (Michael Shikashio) interviews experts on helping reactive dogs and their owners. I am learning a lot and also discovering just how common our journey is. One of the experts focuses on the human end of the relationship - talking about the long process of accepting that your dog won't be cured instantly and how to cope with the various phases of that acceptance. It was helpful to me.

All in all, it was a good week for Hachi!

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Black Dog Sunday

No one in the world taught me to appreciate each day, no matter what the weather, more than our Black Dog. On this day, the snow was up to his chin. He tilted his head as he examined whether I might have a treat in my mitten. Surprise - I did!

That snow brought us amazing flowers in the summer and sweet moments of happiness as he and I shared the wildflower beauty.

His sunny outlook on life taught me so much and still brings me joy.

Happy Black Dog Sunday.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Shyla Saturday

We arrived at Lab Valley for the weekend, and the chaos is almost unbearable. There is construction equipment littered throughout the house, and some rooms are completely filled with it. There is fine dust on every surface. I am wearing an N95 mask inside the house to avoid an asthma attack. Thank goodness that we love the land or we would have turned around and headed back to the old house in seconds.

The good news is that they are making great progress. Phase 1 should last only a few more weeks. Then, we get a break before the next phase.

Regardless of what else is going on in our lives. Shyla is such a source of happiness for me. I love spending time in the forest with her. We play games, hike with wide eyes, and do photography.

She's the best friend that I could ever ask for.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Winter at a pee-mail spot

It's a spot in the forest that does not look special. It's a normal forest path but there's one spot along it where the pine needles often get rearranged by the paws/hooves of passing wildlife. I first noticed the spot due to mountain lion scrapes left there.

I previously showed you a fall installment of the activity there with lots of mountain lions marking the spot. As fall cooled into winter, other species dominated. First deer visited frequently, particularly during the rut. One deer was followed by a mountain lion.

Then, the red foxes (including the black-colored morph of the red fox) and the bobcats took over. Watch closely when the black-colored red fox meets the red-colored red fox. One of them had their tail straight up in the air which I've never seen before. Do you think that they were friends?

Whenever a bobcat comes on the screen, watch their tail. It always seems to me as if they cannot control their tail twitches. I love how expressive their tails are!

Check out the short video if you have time!

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Thankful Thursday

Winter has decided to stay for a while. It has snowed almost every day for a couple of weeks. After one snowfall, I spotted a red-tailed hawk perched above Lab Valley. I first saw him at dawn, and he was still perched there three hours later. He looked like he'd had a cold and damp night. He was in a good spot for catching the rays of sun when the clouds briefly cleared.

While Shyla and I did a little fat bike ride that morning, we spotted a coyote who was walking on the the crust atop the snow. The only season when coyotes are easy to spot is winter because they stand out against the snow. On this morning, he was keeping his eye on me and Shyla.

One of the best parts about snow is how much the pups like playing in it. Shyla finally has all of her enthusiasm back for playing since being sick. She loves the snow.

After a winter of so little snow until recently, we are thankful that it is finally falling. Not only will it help spring to have more bountiful flowers but it also makes Shyla so happy!

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

A Project with Spring Overtones

It's technically spring now even though it's been snowing almost every night here. In the spirit of spring, this is a post about a bird that I saw last spring, a Western Tanager. These birds love pine trees, and it's really hard to get a good photo of them that isn't filled with dark twigs and other stuff. In this case, he flitted out of the pine canopy briefly, and I snapped a photo.

I used this photo in a course about using Photoshop for art work. The idea is that you use a photo that you took, and you use tools within Photoshop to give your subject a different background. It is not meant to trick people into thinking that your new background is real. Rather, it lets you use art to highlight your subject.

In this case, I wanted to make a background for the Tanager that reflected the deep green and textured background that the boughs of a pine tree create. I also wanted to use colors that complement the Tanager's colors. This is what I came up with.

I have no idea if it is "good" but I do know that I loved the process of creating it. I was totally engrossed in trying to use certain colors to complement the Tanager. It was such a relaxing project.

It will still be a couple of months before I see a Tanager this year but this one has made me smile through the recent snowstorms!

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Hachi Chronicle

Hachi is so filled with joy when we can return to Lab Valley. He can run off leash at full speed.

And, he can play with his sister. I love when I catch a moment of eye contact like this one.

I have to admit to some recent moments of discouragement with our efforts to help Hachi. Some of the training games seem to move forward more slowly than a slug. Yet, when we have our monthly meeting with his behaviorist, I can see that we've made tiny bits of progress. We hope that, by being consistent in doing our training games with him, a day will come when his trust blossoms so that many different fears fall by the wayside. I still believe that will happen someday - and our job is to keep "showing up" for his training to make it possible.

We love Hachi like crazy. There's a sweet heart inside his fearful outer shell.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Black Dog Sunday

Our Black Dog was an affectionate and sweet big brother to Hachi. He played with Hachi so gently and nicely in the early months of Hachi's life with us.


Our Black Dog was affectionate and reassuring to Hachi just like he'd been to Shyla when she was young. Despite how things evolved as Hachi matured, their friendship in those early months is a memory that we cherish.

Our Black Dog always had such a sweet disposition. He assumed the best in dogs and people. It made my heart swell as I watched him navigate the world projecting sweetness to everyone. He often went to a university campus with the Runner, and the students would flock to him wanting to pat him. That happened the most during exams so we often joked that R should be a therapy dog for students! As a mature dog, he had the perfect disposition for it.

Happy Black Dog Sunday!

Saturday, March 20, 2021

Shyla Saturday

Shyla is the sweetest pup who I can imagine. Her heart is huge, forgiving anyone who upsets her almost instantly. She has forgiven Hachi many times, and I am so grateful for that. She is the perfect big sister to him.

I remember this day back around the winter solstice but somehow I forgot to post the photos back them. At dawn, we saw the sunrise lighting up the sky brilliantly, and we sprinted up to where we could see it better. Because she is my muse, Shyla hopped up on a boulder for some howling and photos.

After howling, she sniffed the wind, learning all about the happenings in the forest.

My gratitude for having Shyla in my life is endless. I am realizing that even more acutely as I am starting to see more signs of aging in her. The "tic toc" that I hear in the distance when my pups are seniors has reached my heart recently. I hope for many more years of wandering in our beautiful world with Shyla.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Winter is the hardest season for our wildlife

I've had a trail camera at a local pond for years. Every year, I am struck by how the demeanor of the animals tells me that winter is very hard for them.

After the pond freezes, some animals eat snow while others lick the ice surface when they are thirsty. Except for the youngest elk, the herd seems consumed by survival - drinking water, eating grass, and saving every calorie of energy that they can. The local bobcat trudges across the pond slowly, with no extraneous movements.  Only the coyotes still move fast, trotting briskly across the pond.

Check out the video!

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Thankful Thursday

The joy of our dogs when they can romp and play makes us smile.


Cold and snowy weather makes them want to play even more.

We think that play is so important to Hachi. It helps him to relax for a long time after the play ends.


Our driveway at Lab Valley is a favorite play site. It is plowed so they can run hard on it. That's not currently possible in unplowed places. Three feet of heavy snow makes it difficult to run very fast!

Today, we are thankful for the joy of dogs playing.