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Saturday, January 20, 2018

The Grayer Parts of Life even on Sunny Days

It's been a bad luck health week. First, I had a day of feeling blue and very lethargic. I should've known that feeling - it means that a migraine is coming on. However, I always try to pretend that it's not happening - as if ignoring the signs will ward it off. That strategy never works, and it didn't this week.

Then, just hours later, my lumbar spine seized up incredibly painfully. I had this exact pattern of pain in my left lower back and down my legs in late September. It eased a fair bit with my first PT treatments but it took about six weeks before I was back to my "normal". With roughly a third of my spine surgically fused, my "normal" is not the same as most people's normal but I've become used to it. This time, my PT wants me to make an appointment with my spine doctors, including the surgeon. Dang - I didn't like hearing that.

My motto in these bad phases is to keep moving - even if it hurts to move. My doctors used to prescribe "bed rest". It took me a while to realize that lying still all day was about the worst thing that I could do. Moving gently and carefully is a much better strategy.

So, I was out this morning with Shyla, taking special happiness in watch her gallop without pain.

She simply loves to run and does it with such grace and ease! This one was from a recent snowy day. Shyla was maneuvering through a rock and shrub filled part of a meadow. She took a low posture, snaking through the obstacles.

For me, photography is an activity that utterly absorbs me. I forget everything else (except for very bad stabs of pain). I love it. It's also wonderful to have a model who I love so much.
By the way, you may be noticing how fast Shyla is going gray. She's only 6 years old. She started going gray when she was less than a year old. The first places to go gray were where she had puncture wounds on her face when she joined our family (from an attack by another dog, we were told). Then, the gray fur started spreading fast. Our vet told us that a large study showed that fearful dogs tend to go gray much earlier than more confident dogs. She prepared me for Shyla to be more gray than chocolate before too long. So far, Shyla's paws are almost completely white, her chest is streaked with gray, her muzzle is completely gray, and her face is speckled with gray.

It seems that strangers and even a few friends can't help but blurt out a comment about how fast Shyla is going gray. It hurts to hear it every time even though I am fully aware of it. However, I barely see it in my everyday interactions with Shyla. Shyla is beautiful to me, no matter what.
Thanks for reading!

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Moose Meeting

Today, we met a trio of moose. A mother moose, a young male calf, and a youngish adult male with asymmetrical antlers. He disappeared into the forest fast so I didn't get a photo of him.

The mother and her male calf didn't disappear so fast. We came up pretty close before I saw them. I hopped off my bike and started backing away. Fortunately, Shyla has trained herself to be amazing around moose, She stayed behind me, backing up in tandem with me.

When we'd gotten far enough away, the mother moose stopped giving me her stern and angry look so I lingered to watch for a bit. The mother resumed eating aspen twigs so I pulled out my point-and-shoot (that has 40X zoom) to take a few photos. It doesn't take great quality photos but it's perfect for when I see animals from far away on bike rides.

She's a beautiful animal with her typical moose goofiness.

She reached up high to chomp on some aspen twigs.

Then she brought her head back down to chew them.

Twigs must be tough to eat because she chewed for a long time. It is so hard for me to imagine that a huge animal like a moose can survive by eating tree bark and twigs all winter long. Yet, that's all that I see them eat.

Then her calf emerged from behind the brush. You can see his antler bud above his eye. He was obsessed with chewing on one spot on his side.

He then mimicked mom by eating the lower aspen twigs.

Then, he and his mom walked into the denser forest with nary a look in our direction. Shyla and I still respectfully made a large detour around where they'd gone before continuing on our way.
Even though I tend to think that it wasn't wise for our state to introduce moose to the area, I still enjoy every sighting. They are cool animals when they're feeling docile!

After that great luck, I ran into bad luck with my health later in the day. I'm heading to bed to nurse a migraine and a seized back.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Thankful Thursday

Recently, due to the short days, most of my outdoor time has been spent with Shyla and very little is with our Black Dog. That means that almost all of my photos are of Shyla. However, I am so thankful for both halves of our Labraduo.

I still do R's elbow exercises with him daily. I often start out feeling tired and overwhelmed, as if his exercises are just one more thing on a long "to do" list. However, his amazingly enthusiastic attitude pulls my spirit into the game within minutes. We have such fun as he dances his way through the exercises, often barking with excitement while I move around the equipment to do the next exercise. I am always grateful for this "chore" by the time we are in the midst of it!

Each day, Shyla is my "partner in crime" as we go riding through the snow and enjoying the sunrise.

She can be peaceful as we watch the sunrise.

She is always incredibly athletic. Her grace awes me.

And, with some people, she is very social. She is waving to you!
She loves to wave to me when I come into the house through the basement. She sits at the top of the basement stairs and waves as I walk up them. It makes me laugh and smile.

I am thankful for the lift to my spirits that the Labraduo gives me every single day!

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Wordless Wednesday - Sunrise in Snow Dust

Shyla takes off at sunrise

Meadow floor covered in ice crystals
The second photo is my Dogwood Week 3 Challenge photo - the challenge was to use either aperture or shutter speed to enhance my creative intent. In this case, I used a wide open aperture (very low f number: f/2.0) to make a single blade of grass covered in frost stand out from the forest of grass blades on the meadow floor.

I used a similar technique for the first photo. I used a wide aperture (f/2.5) so that Shyla would be in focus while the forest behind her was not.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

How Nosework has Helped Shyla

Shyla and I have continued with her nosework even though we haven't competed yet, and I'm not sure that we will in the future. I started nosework with Shyla to help build her confidence, especially when dealing with bustling environments that usually scare her. That is still my primary goal.
My goal is to help her be as confident in a town as out in our forest

For those who don't know, "nosework" is a dog sport where scent sources are hidden, and dog/handler teams must find them. The scents are usually essential oils - birch, anise, and clove. One or two oil-soaked q-tips are placed in a ventilated tube and then attached to something in the search area.

It's not a simple sport because there are so many skills involved. For the dog, she first has to learn that her job is to search for these particular scents. Then, as she gets more advanced, she has to figure out how to find the source of what can be visualized a big cone or cloud of scent in the search area.

I think that nosework is great for building up a dog's confidence because it's a sport where the dog is the driver. The human cannot smell the scent sources. The dog is the one with the amazing sense of smell who is in charge, leading the human to the scent sources. In a sense, the human's job is primarily learning how to read her dog's body language to know when the dog has picked up scent.

No doubt, nosework has helped Shyla learn to cope with scary environments. She gets so focused on her "job" of finding the scent sources that she doesn't obsess about the scary stuff around her.

I want to show you an example of Shyla searching on a bustling road in town. In Shyla's first couple of years with us, I took her to this road innumerable times, trying to help her learn to navigate the urban bustle using tried-and-true socialization techniques. It never worked. I finally gave up, and I decided that we would avoid places like that in everyday life.

Fast forward 4 years and we've been doing nosework for 2 years. I took Shyla to the exact area that used to scare her so much. I set up a search *on the sidewalk* of this busy place. People walked by talking loudly and cars zoomed past but Shyla kept searching. I was doing a happy dance in my heart! She is transformed when doing nosework, and it's starting to extend to simply navigating scary environments when she's not doing nosework.

Here's that search in a short video. There were three scent sources hidden. When you hear me say "alert" and give Shyla a treat, you know that she just found a scent source. You can watch here or at Youtube.

The one thing that Shyla still cannot handle is strangers watching her search. Some pedestrians stopped to watch her in a search that we did after the one in the video, and Shyla froze up. There's something about people staring at her (even from a distance) that terrifies Shyla. That's part of why I'm not sure that we'll ever compete (judges would have to stare at us). To be honest, we're achieving my goal for nosework so I don't feel the need to try to do formal competitions.
I love my Shyla. She has taught me more than any previous dog in my life as I've tried to learn to see the world through her eyes and thereby help her to learn not to be afraid of our world.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A Bobcat Family Plays

Bobcats walk our trails daily. Every time we get fresh snow, I see their tracks. Then, in the days after the snow fell, the bobcats walk in my fatbike tracks. I love seeing their little paw imprints in my tire tracks.

I get photos of bobcats on my trail cams so frequently that I never post some of them - I file them away under the keyword "bobcat". However, the mother bobcats do catch my attention. Most summers, I capture photos of them carrying prey to the dens where their kittens are cached. This one is carrying a squirrel.

And this one is carrying a rabbit, reportedly their favorite prey. When they're carrying prey, they are cats on a mission, moving fast, which means that the photos are often blurry.

Some years, I get the treat of footage of the mother bobcats moving their kittens from one den to another, like in this frame from a video of a bobcat family.
The reason why the trail cam is in this position is that there is a bear marking tree in the picture. It is the small pine to the right of the frame. I've found that bear-marking trees frequently turn into generalized marking spots, perhaps provoked by the scent of the bear urine at the base of the tree.

In this photo, the two kittens and their mother were obsessed with a rock in the general vicinity of the base of the tree.

And, they played with each other while rolling around on the ground.

Although this happened in the summer of 2016, I never shared all of the footage of the family playing in front of my camera. I decided to do that today. Over the past months, I've made a habit of sharing wildlife photos and video early in the week, usually on Mondays. In the winter, the wildlife activity decreases dramatically so I may pull out oldies, like this one, that I didn't share previously.

I hope that you enjoy watching the bobcat family! (you can also watch it at Youtube).

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Sunrise Sunday

My sunrise buddy, Shyla, and I have seen some truly incredible sunrises recently. I find it so hard to get out of bed when it's still dark so that I'm ready for sunrise but the rewards are stupendous.

The clouds have been the source of amazing skies recently. Just this morning, the clouds made a brilliant pattern in the sky.

When I stand on the ground outside my house, I can see only pinkish hues through the forest. I don't know what I'll see when I pop my drone up above the trees. I usually start by looking east (photo above), and then I start to rotate to other views. This morning, I turned a little to the south, and I was dumbfounded by the unexpected colors.

Then, I turned toward the west. This view usually reveals snowy mountains below pinkish clouds. To my surprise this morning, the vibrant pink-orange clouds completely obscured the mountains. Alas, a cloud front over the Divide that completely obscures the mountains usually means big winds, and I was just about to encounter them.

Just as I snapped the photo to the west, the wind started to carry my drone to the east. Believe me, the air was perfectly calm when I started this flight and only about 2 minutes had passed. From experience, I've learned how to handle this situation, pointing the drone toward me and giving it full throttle. I know that I might have to wait out the wind gusts before it will be able to make progress toward me. In a worst case scenario, I'd land it in place if the motor weren't strong enough to overcome the wind. That didn't happen today. The gust died down, and it returned to hovering over me.

I was in a big hurry to get it on the ground for safety but I had time to snap a couple more photos as it descended. This one was my favorite.
I have been so happy to get to see the 360° view of sunrises using my drone. However, flying it requires more practice and knowledge than I expected. I think it's difficult because I'm flying at high altitude in the mountains where the wind can kick up in an instant.

My rule is that I must have had my morning coffee before I can do a sunrise flight. Trying to fly it while sleepy would not work!

Just in case you're worried, I don't think that any neighbors notice that I'm flying it at sunrise (no one has mentioned it and none live very close). It stays over our land and is high enough that it's not easily heard. I read that people worry about being spied upon by a drone - but consumer drones have cameras with such extremely wide angle lenses that people are too small to see in the photos (if flying at a reasonable/polite altitude). You probably can tell that from my photos.

Happy Sunrise Sunday!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Silliness and intensity on Saturday

The other morning, we were out in the early morning light. I love the interplay between shadows and light at that hour.

Then, Shyla gave me what I think of as her "disapproving mother" look.

 So, I decided to make things more fun for her (and me!) with treat games. Then, her eyes opened wide with anticipation.

It's a tricky game for me - tossing a treat with my left hand and taking photos with my right. Do you see the "incoming" treat?

The moment that I love is when she is tracking the treat so intently...

She catches a lot of them these days. She's really learned with practice. Her head tilt while staring at the treats between tosses tells me that she wants me to toss another one! I kept playing "toss the treat" until my hands were too cold to continue!

I hope that you're having some silliness and fun on this Saturday!

Friday, January 12, 2018

A Snow Dusting

We finally got a little bit of snow last night, making everyone feel like our world is more normal. I took this photo yesterday at sunrise which shows the dry state of the forest below the Continental Divide. You can also see the pinkish alpenglow on the mountains.

Yesterday, the clouds finally started building, and we got our first snow in quite a while last night. It was less than an inch but every little bit helps. The pre-storm clouds over the Divide are behind Shyla in this photo.

We awakened this morning to that dusting of snow, and we headed out into "cold" air (20°F) for the first time in ages. My body has lost what little cold adaptation it had achieved early in the winter so I felt chilled during our entire time in the forest. This photo of my bike tracks shows what a silly little dusting of snow it was.

My fingers froze while I took photos of Shyla in the sunrise light.

No matter how cold it is, the sunrise light is such a wondrous sight to me. It literally is the motivation for me to get outside early in the winter.

I'm hoping that this little gust of winter weather is a harbinger of more to come. We rely on the snowpack here as the major source of water for all living things, both plant and animal. Please do a snow dance for us! We really need it.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Thankful Thursday - We All Shine On...

Whenever I'm feeling thankful, a certain set of lyrics plays in my head. I'm not certain why this particular set of lyrics becomes an ear worm... except that I love the beauty of our world.

Well we all shine on
Like the moon and the stars and the sun
 John Lennon (Instant Karma)

We have a lot to be thankful for this week so those lyrics have been circling through my brain all the time! I decided to show you "the moon and the stars and the sun" in today's Thankful Thursday post.

This was the full moon rising during wildfire season. The smoky air turned it magenta.

And these were the stars during a recent trip when there was no moon. A meteorite seemed to shoot out of the Milky Way.

And finally, here is the sun taken from the sky this morning.
This sunrise also was gorgeous, to my eye! And, it mostly fit the Dogwood Challenge this week. That weekly challenge asked for complementary colors on the color wheel, and it focused on composition. I wanted to do all my Dogwood challenges using nature as my subject. The problem is that there isn't much color outdoors at this time year except in the sky.

This sunrise photo gave me the yellowish sun as it crested the eastern horizon and the complementary blue sky (the pink clouds are just a bonus). I positioned the sun at one of the key points in a photo in terms of composition. It's at the crosshairs described by the Rule of Thirds for photography.

Why are we so thankful this week? Of course, we live a life that lets us see the glorious beauty of nature. Moreover, this week in particular, we are celebrating the good health of our black dog and our Shyla. R doesn't have cancer, and Shyla's seizures are under control!
We are so thankful!

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Wordless Wednesday - Sunshine

My friend Mary, from Tales from the Back Road, recently taught me a key step in processing my photos. Finally, the colors on my screen look like what I thought that I was photographing at the time! Thank you, Mary!

Sunrise, with my girl...

The sun shining through a dried wildflower...
There's still beauty out there, even though our world feels dry and needs snow!

Thank you for all of the celebratory comments yesterday. It's so wonderful knowing that our Black Dog is as healthy as he looks! And, he's celebrating because the vets said to feed him more calories!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Great News!

Our black dog has great news. His last test results came in, and all indications are that he does not have adrenal cancer!

I feel as if we beat all the odds. He has multiple nodules in his spleen, which were initially given a 2/3 chance of being cancerous. Needle biopsies found no cancer cells. He has one nodule on his right adrenal gland. Again, it had a 2/3 chance of being cancerous. All signs say that it's not. I think that we were very lucky this time!

I think that it's time for a celebration and a great big sigh of relief. We can relax for now.
It's a happy Tuesday in our house!