Friday, November 30, 2012

Dogs In Our Lives

A few days ago I took my pup for a walk on BLM land close to the house.
The last few times that I have taken her out for a long walk Jamie has come home, slept and then woken up limping.
She is slowly but surely becoming an old dog.
When we lived in Alaska we routinely walked together on trails for many hours and for many miles.
So it went in Wyoming when we were here last year and so it went during our time in Tennessee
I am beginning to realize that I cannot do that anymore, and that I am going to have to be increasingly mindful that her hips are bothering her more and more.
On this trip I decided that we would walk mostly on flat land.
Still exploring, as she and as I love to do, but not as far and not as tough as before.
Jamie is a wonderful and loyal dog, who will go wherever we want to go anytime we want to go.
On this day she walked point, compelled to lead the way as she has always been compelled, eager to wander and explore.
On a warm day we walked down to the end of our dirt and gravel road, turned left onto a short trail that led directly onto BLM land.
Within minutes we were heading on trail, and walking irrevocably away from civilization.
As we turned right at the fence line and headed south, my dog and I soon realized that we had an audience.
There was a small herd of horses grazing on brown and tough grass and sage in a large fenced area, and when I looked up towards Carter Mountain I saw them and saw them watching us..................
One by one these very beautiful animals made their way towards the fence line, walking as close to us as their wood and wire barrier would allow, curious and wanting to be near us..................
Even as Jamie ignored them completely and was more interested in leaving her mark on multiple sage bushes, I stood on the trail for a few minutes watching the horses.
They were beautiful, healthy, watchful of us.
I have been in Wyoming long enough to recognize that the horse on the right in this picture was likely one of the wild mustangs, and likely one of the horses that ran wild and free at McCullough Peaks not far from Cody.
The wild horses are shorter and stockier than domestic horses, with long hair that runs down to and often below their eyes.
Every year a large number of wild mustangs are captured and adopted out to ranch owners throughout the country.
An effective way to control the herd size and ensure continued health of the herds.............
I smiled at these wonderful animals and then began walking again, continuing our journey away from the house and pleased at this unexpected and quiet encounter.
As Jamie and I continued walking on trail I was surprised to see that the horses were following us.
One by one the horses that had spanned the length of the fence began to head in our direction, apparently not yet willing to let us go.
As I turned often to watch them and follow their progress I smiled at them again, content that our unspoken encounter with each other was not yet over.
They were beautiful and the sight of them pleased me.
I knew that they would not be with us long.  They would run into more fence soon, and would not be able to go any further, but that was alright.
Right now they were with us and right now I liked them......................
We were not heading into the hills.
We were staying primarily on flat land, and in reality Jamie and I were not very far from civilization.
We were headed for the house in the picture.
Just beyond that house was a trail that would drop us down to the irrigation canal.
I knew from previous explorations that I could walk beyond the canal and pick up another dirt road that would lead to paved road.
Basically we would be walking in a very large square.
The canal at this time of year would be dry.  When it is filled with water I could not walk to the canal with Jamie - there was no way to safely get her across the meandering canal that snakes its way through the basin and that irrigates fields throughout the region.
At this time of year we should be good-to-go...............
Still following us, this horse had been totally focused on me and Jamie.
The rest of the horses were following us, but really were following this intensely focused leader.
But now she was done. 
James and I were going to pick up a trail that took us directly across country, and so the corner of the property was as far as she (and they) would be able to travel with us.............
I snapped this picture of a private plane quickly and blindly and without a lot of thought, not certain (and not really caring) whether it turned out or not.
Surprisingly there are still a good number of private planes coming and going at the Yellowstone airport.
During the summer air traffic is almost non-stop - a continual and endless series of commercial commuter air crafts and private planes.
With the park closed for the winter I had assumed that air traffic would be almost non-existent at this time of year.
That is not the case.................
As we walked a series of rolling hills I watched Jamie with concern.
She took each small and rocky hill easily and without effort, and I watched her eagerly lead the way - she with the pigeon toed front legs, bow legged back legs, curly tail wagging happily from side to side.
She was OK and therefore by extension so was I................
There was a home directly behind me.
I knew that once we dropped down towards the canal we would quickly find more homes.
But I stood at the top of a small hill disregarding this last home and instead looking out over the huge, empty, desolate, isolated expanse of BLM land that was in front of me..............
I can't even count how many times I have run into the canal during walks, bike rides and truck drives and have had to turn back.
It weaves its way throughout the region during the spring, summer and fall - feeding livestock, feeding crops, providing much appreciated and abundant green to an environment that would be barren all year 'round without it.
One of many up-close interactions with the canal:
Jamie and I walked down a steep and rocky trail, wandered through sage lined trail and then stood in the now dry canal looking in both directions.
I had never stood IN the canal before and I smiled at the novelty and newness of this brief experience before moving on with my pup..................
Jamie and I stopped again, briefly watching the jet (and the long, clearly defined jet stream) as it made its way towards Carter Mountain.
In a sky containing multiple shades of watery blue, the white line in the sky was compelling to watch.
Another one of those quiet and simple things that pleased me...............
When we arrived at the canal for the second time I stood with my dog looking at this unexpected sight.
I had run close to this place all last year.  I had walked this way a few times this year.  I had never seen this before.
Curious, I wandered closer.  Abandoned vehicles are not something you see often in this part of Wyoming.  Wood piles wrapped in and around the old cars was also not a common sight.
I had (and still have) no idea where this all came from.................
I do not know why this was all laying alongside a small stream adjacent to the dry canal, nor do I know where it all came from.
It was a curious and unexpected sight, made all the more astonishing because it so completely disrupted the endless acres of empty and neutral terrain I had just been walking through.................
It is almost impossible to walk on any part of BLM land without running into remnants of an animal.
Over the course of the past year I have run into two separate "killing fields" - large numbers of bones, hides, skulls, body parts - all evidence that a larger predator routinely takes his kills to a favorite safe place to eat.
I have also seen random animal skulls, random animal hides, and certainly many small bones and fragments scattered over sometimes large areas.
They are all testament to, and a reminder of, the fact that there are predators that live on BLM land.
Last year we used to see large antelope herds running full speed across BLM land close to the house.
This year we did not see anywhere near as many.
Last year we saw many deer close to the house.  Although they still live in pastures within only a couple of miles of the house, we did not see as many this year wandering in the yard and our neighbors yards.
Last year we never heard any coyotes.  This year we heard many.
Jamie and I found more bones during this walk.
Sun bleached, all small bones, they appeared to have been in this place for a long time...............
When James and I first dropped down into the valley close to the canal I thought that I would come out by the road at a point I knew well.
As we continued to walk the trail beyond the first and then second crossing of the canal I realized that I was mistaken.
I had turned off one trail and onto a second trail too soon.
It was not a concern because I knew where I was and how to make my way home.
As we approached this gate I realized that I had only seen it from the opposite side up until now, and did not know if it was chained and locked or open.
As we approached it I mentally looked it over, trying to figure out how to get through it - or over it - or under it - with my small four-legged trail partner.
Happily it was unlocked and we simply walked through.
Picking up the dirt road I headed in the direction of the paved road that I knew was about 1/2 mile away.................
A view of our third pass over the canal, taken from a low bridge.
I have stood on this little bridge many times, taking pictures of the water-filled irrigation ditch and one day even capturing ducks as they swam in the fast moving water.............

When we hit black top we walked along the road and met up with five friendly and curious dogs who came to say hello to us.
After petting all of these friendly mutts four of them wandered back into their yard and the fifth dog walked alongside me and Jamie as we began to make our way back to the house.
We were still about 1 1/2 miles from the house and as we continued on our way I fully expected Dog #5 to turn back at any moment and go home.
He didn't.
Instead he happily followed us to the end of one road, and then happily followed us as we turned onto our road.
He frequently wandered away from us to explore in front yards, only to catch up with us again after each yard inspection.
With 3/4 of a mile to go I tried to shoo him away, sharply telling him to "Go Home!".
This friendly big dog, with the floppy ears and the wide open and friendly face refused to go home.
With half a mile to go I finally resigned myself to the fact that if I did not do something soon this big beast would probably follow us all the way to the house.
Reluctantly I called LC, explained our friendly-dog-conundrum and asked him to come and pick us up.
Saying good-bye to sweet and friendly dog we drove home after a quiet and very wonderful walk on BLM land.
Jamie slept all afternoon.
By that evening she was limping.  Both one of her front legs and one of her back legs were painful and she could barely climb stairs in and out of the house or climb up onto the couch.
She rested the entire next day and is again acting fine and without pain.
With only a few exceptions we had walked on mostly flat land, and had been gone for only about 90 minutes.
It was too much for her.  Next time we'll try 60...................

The dogs in our lives, the dogs we come to love and who (we fervently believe) love us in return, offer more than fidelity, consolation, and companionship. They offer comedy, irony, wit, and a wealth of anecdotes, the "shaggy dog stories" and "stupid pet tricks" that are commonplace pleasures of life. They offer, if we are wise enough or simple enough to take it, a model for what it means to give your heart with little thought of return. Both powerfully imaginary and comfortingly real, dogs act as mirrors for our own beliefs about what would constitute a truly humane society. Perhaps it is not too late for them to teach us some new tricks..............Marjorie Garber

Monday, November 26, 2012

Instantly Wyoming

I have not been able to blog over this past week.
Apparently I have downloaded as many pictures as I am permitted to download under my current plan (which has not been free, but has been cheap for the past year and a half).
Which is fine.
Only neither LC nor I can figure out how to pay for more time.....or space.....or whatever cyber-thing it is that allows me to blog.
We will have to take my lap top to someone - likely a young person at the computer store who no doubt was embedded in the neck at birth with that same computer chip that everyone under the age of 30 seems to have received at the hospital, but which those of us over 30 did not receive.
I figured out this morning that I can download pictures from previous blog posts so that is what I did here.
There's no real rhyme or reason to these pictures aside from the fact that they all make me instantly think of Cody and of Wyoming when I see them.
The picture above was taken across the road from where we live, about four miles outside of town.
It was very early on a morning in mid-summer, and as I headed outside (still in pajamas and carrying an over sized cup of coffee with me) LC pointed across the dirt road, smiled at me and simply said "Look".
So I looked and instantly smiled.
The sun was barely above the horizon, but the rapid expansion of color that was beginning to stream across the BLM hills was already beautiful.
I lay my coffee cup on the wood box that is right outside the front door and walked back into the house to grab my camera.
Still in pajamas I walked to the end of the driveway, walked across the road and stood beside the fence line of our neighbors' house to watch the sunrise, suddenly very glad that I was up so early.................

I have photographed this statue many times.
This particular picture of Buffalo Bill Cody was taken during a walk at the downtown park with my dog this past summer.
The first time I saw this wonderful and over-sized statue of Cody looking skywards while carrying a child on his shoulders, was the same day we first arrived in town in March of 2011.
(Was that only a year and a half ago?  A lifetime ago?  A world ago?)
LC and I had parked our loaded down trucks on a side road, and were doing our first walk-through of town.
Downtown Cody, in mid-March and in pre-tourist-season, was completely quiet.
Wide open and clean streets, icons of cowboys and buffalo and big horn sheep visible in signs throughout the mostly closed store fronts, sunshine and warmth.
After the figurative and real-world cold and closed-in feel of Juneau, this place was welcome and welcoming but also slightly disorienting.
So different than what LC and I had become so used to.
Together we walked the quiet streets with our sweet and well-traveled dog, taking this western town in and we eventually found our way to the downtown park.
And to this statue.
I loved it then, on that first day.  And I love it now.............

I drove past War Memorial Park a number of times before finally stopping to see it.
I am not certain why it took me a while to muster the courage to stop at this place.
Maybe it was because I know that the Vietnam War still affects LC, even after all of these years.
Maybe it is the fear I felt during the two tours of Iraq that my youngest son Chris served.
Maybe it is just the sheer sadness I feel when I think of the so many young men who died serving our country.
Maybe it is the realization that we just end wars now and never really win them anymore.
Maybe it was all of that.
And so one day I stopped and walked this quiet and clean and respectful place that overlooks Beck Lake.
There are monuments layed out throughout the small and neat park, in loving memory of those who served and died in all wars since WWII.
There are names, and inspirational quotes, benches for sitting and contemplating and remembering, and views of the water.
Three icons at the top of three different monuments.................

I took this picture of the general store in Cooke City, Montana early in the summer.
Cooke City is a rustic and rugged town located about 20 miles or so from the North East Gate of Yellowstone Park.
During the winter (when the tourists are gone and the gates to the park are closed) this town feels to me like the logging towns of northern Ontario.  Four wheelers, open bars and gas stations and not much else, stubble-faced men wearing rugged jackets and serious winter boots.
Cooke City undergoes a stunning transformation in the summer.
Rows of tourists walk along and across the streets while visiting pop-up vendor booths selling "dinosaur bones" and polished stones and white frosted fried bread and sno-cones.
Rows of motorcycles park along the street while their owners eat burgers at flower-basket covered outdoor patios.
Rugged and winter-isolated "logging-town" turns into bustling summer-tourist town in the mountains.
This bison sign is located high on the exterior of the general store.
Below it is a similar brown bear sign, and high above it and on top of the roof is a huge statue of a grizzly bear.................

The Shoshone National Forest is located everywhere.
You head east toward the East Gate of Yellowstone you run into the forest.
You head south down the Southfork you run into the forest.
You head to Clark and you head up towards Dead Indian Pass on Chief Joseph Highway, you run into the forest.
Needless to say, these signs are also located everywhere.
This picture was taken part way up the winding and steep climb that leads to Dead Indian Pass...............

This Native American metal statue is located at Dead Indian Pass.
The first time LC and I visited the pass was in March or April of last year.
We had left warmth and sunshine thousands of feet below us in Cody, and by the time we arrived at this place we were facing hurricane force winds and absolute freezing cold.
Leaving Jamie in the truck we stood at the overlook, reading the signs that provided a history lesson on the pass, and fought the winds while loving the sight of the endless mountains that towered in front of us in all directions.
We were cold but in no hurry to leave.  Because we were smitten.
We were both enamored with the beauty of the state we had inadvertently found ourselves in.  Enamored with the western culture and history we were now embedded in.  Enamored with the ruggedness of the weather and the mountains.
This statue is now gone for the winter, but will return.............

Last summer LC and I had planned on heading down to the annual balloon festival early in the morning to watch the hot air balloons take off.
It would be a new experience for both of us - neither of us had ever seen a balloon festival before so were greatly looking forward to it.
As I stood in the yard at the house that morning, drinking coffee and looking out over the mountains, I suddenly saw a balloon in the sky.
And then another and then another.
Disappointed that we had gotten the time wrong and missed the take-off I rushed back into the house to grab my camera, hoping to be able to at least take pictures of them floating in the sky off in the distance, before they disappeared.
As LC and I continued to watch the growing number of balloons in the air, and as I continued to snap pictures, we suddenly realized that they were headed in our direction.
Really?  Were they really coming our way?
We laughed in delight as we saw a balloon begin to descend onto the BLM land just down the road from where we lived.
Quickly I ran into the house, got dressed and washed up in record time, and we both climbed into the truck and rushed down the road.
Unexpectedly and wonderfully, we watched in delight as one balloon after another flew directly over and around us, and then landed in front of us.
Too unexpectedly cool.
This past summer we did make it early enough to Mentock Park in town, so that we could watch the official take-off.
Neither my Mountain Boy nor I had watched before as balloons were filled with helium, loaded with people, and sent into the sky.
It was a great way to spend a cold and clear morning....................

We didn't make it to the annual Indian Pow-wow last year so were determined to watch it this past summer.
After paying $10 a person to get through the gates we wandered in and out of craft booths that were set up, and then found a corner of a bench just before the dancing started, and truthfully ended up only staying for a short time.
This event is held every summer and is always a hugely special and well-received event in Cody.
The locals love the pow-wow and so do the tourists.
LC and I?  Not so much.
Everything was too contrived, too colorful, too big, too perfect,too manufactured.
Between the heat and the lack of shade, the craft booths that contained the same from one booth to the next, and the too-colorful-and-for-the-tourists-costumes, we ended up leaving pretty quickly.
Again - it is a beloved event in the community, but was not for us.................

LC, Jamie and I spent a LOT of time on BLM land this summer as we searched for and found the wild mustangs.
These wild and free mustangs live freely and unencumbered on thousands of acres of BLM land not far outside of town.
To watch them is a very special experience. 
To get to know some of them by sight - to recognize horses that have caught your attention - to watch as new foals are born and then watch as they grow and thrive with their herds - to begin to recognize herds and animal individual behavior - to watch as they face and overcome challenges - is nothing short of magical........................

I snapped this picture only a month or so ago, while I was walking on BLM land behind the house with my dog Jamie.
On this sunny and warm day, woman and dog climbed gradually up into the hills and then wandered along the ridge line exploring the rocks and small caves and the pine trees.
There are endless thousands of acres of quiet and peace so close to home, and I relish this place.
From the hills I could look beyond the ridge line and look over into Oregon Basin.
Beyond the Oregon Basin I could see clearly all the way to the Big Horn Mountains more than 50 miles to the east.
From this vantage point I could see all the way to the Carter Mountain Range more than 40 miles to the south.
Jamie and I stayed in the hills for a long time before making the first-steep and then-gradual downhill walk back to the house.
It takes only minutes to walk into complete quiet and isolation, and that is very very special....................

One day in the spring of 2011 I rode my bike up into the hills of BLM land behind the house.
Eventually I hit a box canyon, and after some brief internal debate about where to go, and what to do next, I ended up dropping my bike and walking up first one hill and then another and then another.
As I continued to climb I hit a trail and followed it for a while, thinking that it would circle around the ridge.
It did not.
What it did was climb up and over the last of the hills and then drop down into Oregon Basin.
I followed the trail on foot, enthralled by this unexpected turn of events, and after arriving down in the basin explored a short way before turning back to retrieve my bike.
A few days later LC, James and I drove into the basin to explore the huge flat rock that I had seen from a distance.
We named the rock Wind Rock.
A few months ago we found out from the locals that it is actually named Slick Rock, but it is still Wind Rock to both of us.
Wind Rock was an amazing place.
Large, flat, and big enough and steep enough that we spent over an hour exploring the entire thing.
The rock at first glance looks as though it has a flat surface, but it doesn't.  Rather, the surface is filled with circles - huge circles, smaller circles, small circles, that have been carved by strong winds over eons of time.
Somehow short and gnarly pine trees have found a way to grow and survive.
Somehow taking root in the small holes in the rock that exist, and grabbing for life to the small amounts of dirt that the wind has revealed.
The trunks are all twisted in circles as the rock is, and the branches are warped and wrapped around each other.
There is a rustic and rugged and life-affirming beauty to their gnarliness.
One day this past summer we visited Wind Rock again.
It was very late in the day and we headed into the basin on a spur-of-the-moment whim.
In the rapidly fading daylight I snapped this picture while standing on a trail and heading towards our Wind Rock on foot.
It is one of my favorite pictures.................

Built by Buffalo Bill Cody this hotel in the center of town is a step back into history.
It is completely filled with old historic photographs, animal heads, the dark woods and burgundy colors of old decor, and other items that speak to the incredible history of this hotel and this town.
The restaurant food is wonderful and (surprisingly) reasonably priced, and after eating, exploring the restaurant and hotel lobby decor is a must.
We had heard that he visited Cody often, and one day a few months ago we actually saw the actor Wilford Brimley in the Irma Restaurant.
By the time we had both decided for certain that it was him I managed only one fuzzy picture of him before he walked out the front door.
LC ran after him to shake his hand outside on the street and tell him how much he enjoyed his work.
He was wearing an old straw hat and bib overalls when we saw him and it was all very cool................

Yellowstone National Park is a wonderful and wondrous place filled with non-stop adventure around every bend in the road.
But both LC and I have a special love for the 50 mile drive between Cody and the park that passes through Wapiti and that eventually carries you into the Shoshone National Forest.
Nature sightings in the summer in this place are few and far between.
But during the winter large herds of elk, bison, and big horn sheep all travel out of the mountains and settle down into this section of the Shoshone National Forest for winter pasture.
They have begun to make their way out of the mountains now, and a few weeks ago we found our first herd of big horn sheep.
It was a nursery herd - all mommas with their young.
They are very used to people, and are watchful but not wary.
They are loved.  They are beloved.  They are safe in this forest and they seem to know that.
There will be many trips to the forest this winter.  There has to be because they are too beautiful and wonderful to ignore..................

Two pictures taken recently, on a very cold sunset evening.
The colors were stunning and the sky was on fire, filled with shades that could never be replicated on a canvas.
My camera did not do the sky justice, and I snapped pictures both in wonderment and in frustration, as I watched the world change shades seemingly every minute.................

Taken on our last visit to Yellowstone not long before the gates all closed for the winter.
LC, his brother Gary, our sweet pup Jamie and I spent a very long day at the park.
We entered through the East Gate and meandered our way north, eventually exiting the park through the North East Gate just outside of Cooke City.
All day we had seen elk.  Lots and lots of elk.  But surprisingly no buffalo.
LC and I could not believe that we had not seen buffalo all day, because they typically make regular appearances wherever you travel in Yellowstone.
Finally, in the last 40 miles of our park trip we found them.
Herd after herd after herd, grazing in miles-wide open pastures away from the snow and the cold that we had battled for much of our trip.
Now we know where the Yellowstone bison spend their winters...................

A very beautiful young foal with his mother.
This young thing was born late in the summer to a wild mustang, and we watched them both on BLM land for a long time late one afternoon, as we left the truck parked on the shoulder of Belfry Highway.............

One day this past summer I sat on logs behind the horse barn that is on the property we rent.
It was late in the day and as I sat alone for a long time looking out over the valley below me, I sporadically took pictures of the rapidly setting sun.
Just as I was stashing my camera back into the side pocket of the shorts I was wearing and was preparing to head back to the house, I looked over to my right and saw this horse.
It was a horse belonging to one of our neighbors, and as she stood there with the hazy mountains in the background I scrambled to get my camera out of my pocket, all the while hoping that she would stay exactly where she was.
Thankfully she did and I was glad that this picture turned out...............

All summer LC and I watched as narrow bands of rain made their way over the mountains that surround us, and many times we were convinced that Cody would finally be hit by rain.
More often than not the rain circled around the mountains and missed us completely.
One day in September, as they had done so many times before, narrow bands of rain seemed to come from all directions.
LC and I stood on the porch watching as the rain cleared the mountains, and then watched in amazement as the bands of rain continued to move closer and closer to us.
During the summer the rain-bands would appear from over the top of one mountain - we would see them come over Carter or Rattlesnake or Heart or Cedar.
On this day they came from all of them.
Finally we headed back inside the house, battened down the house, and rode out an intense series of thunder strikes and heavy rain that lasted for about 30 minutes.
It was more rain than we had seen the entire summer.
When it was over, lightning strikes had set wild fires on BLM land close to the house and we watched for many hours as local fire departments fought the blaze.
This picture was taken from the front porch of our house, looking back towards Carter Mountain as the rain headed towards us...................

Heart Mountain dominates the landscape in Cody.
I always just thought of it as a mountain until one day, not long after we first arrived in Cody when our neighbor asked me if I could see the Indian Head in the mountain.
She pointed out the face profile, the long forehead, the nose, even the wart on his chin.
I cannot ever look at Heart Mountain now without seeing his face.................

We had many wonderful and stunning sunsets this summer, but some of the most beautiful happened on days when the sky was filled with smoke.
The big story in the west this past summer were the wild fires.
Hot and dry conditions meant that the west was overwhelmed and often-times decimated by wild fire.
Cody experienced only a few smaller fires, but most of the summer we were the recipient of much smoke.
The mountains were often very hazy, and once this small western town was completely engulfed with smoke and the mountains completely disappeared.
The smoke and constant haze had the unexpected effect of producing sunsets that were stunning............