Thursday, December 31, 2015

Quiet Winter Trip In The Desert

A few days before Christmas I walked with Kory to the edge of town and stood at the edge of the trail, unleashed my dog who was silently pleading with me to set her free, and begrudgingly pulled off my insulated gloves.
My hands were instantly freezing cold but I ignored them as I dropped my snow shoes down to the ground, and then fumbled with the buckles and straps as I slid my boot covered feet into them.
Not the most gracious of moves on my part but I got them on.
Standing upright in my newly snow-shoe-footed-feet I scanned the white landscape in search of my dog.
She hadn't gone far, and was quickly moving from sage bush to sage bush in the field immediately to the left of the trail, as always in search of bunnies.
Satisfied that I knew where she was I looked ahead of me.
I stepped onto the trail and instantly sank to my shins in new snow that had been untouched up until now except for the tracks of both deer and coyotes.
Feeling pleased with myself that I was the first human to break the snow pack I snow shoed up the trail.
As I approached the edge of that first trail I briefly debated whether I would continue straight and walk through the field or pick up the trail to my left.
At the end of that left trail I would eventually run into another trail that I had already snow shoed a few days earlier.
I knew that the snow was packed down from where I had traveled before, and walking would be easier on that trail.
Still indecisive, I stood at the edge of the trail and looked to my north.
The mountains looked huge.  
A seemingly endless wall of snow covered mountain.
Glancing straight ahead I was surprised to see our small herd of town deer standing in the middle of the field looking my way.
Instantly I looked to my left, in search of my dog.
She was standing frozen beside a large clump of snow covered sage bushes.  She had seen the deer and was staring, seemingly mesmerized by them.
For a moment I stood watching her, convinced that she would not chase them since she had seemed over the fall to lose interest in deer after being bluff chased by two momma deer on two separate occasions.
Both times had scared her badly and I was glad about that.
Best to learn to stay away from them................

A moment later Kory took off in a full on sprint, headed for the deer herd.
She had already covered a football field by the time I yelled at her.
KORY!!  NO!!
At that she pulled up short and turned to look at me.
A moment later she turned back and continued her single minded sprint towards the deer.
I tried to sternly call to her one more time.  
She continued running, and at that point I knew from experience that calling her again would simply be a waste of energy.
She was now officially In The Zone......................
I hated that she was chasing the deer.
She is not aggressive and I knew that she wouldn't hurt them.  She just wanted to chase them.
But it was a dangerous game to play with yearlings who were still traveling with their mothers.
And at this time of year the deer needed to conserve as much energy as they could to survive the winter.  Not spend that energy running from a dog who thought it was all just one big game.
Regardless, chasing she was, and being chased they were.
As Kory got closer the deer all turned as one, and single file began to run and four-legged-jump their way across the frozen tundra.
Within only a couple of minutes they were a mile away and still going, and I silently watched the procession with satisfaction, realizing that as fast as Kory was, the deer were pulling away from her...................
Click on any picture and all of them will enlarge.
Slowly snow shoeing into the field I watched as the entire procession continued towards INL land unabated.
Watched until each and every animal (including mine) finally disappeared over a rise.................
Most of the time I tracked her down myself, but there were a few times over the summer that I ended up calling LC and asking him to bring one of the vehicles out onto BLM land so we could go retrieve a dog who was now miles away from me after gleefully chasing a bunny all the way to God-knows-where.
The trails and fields were all covered with deep snow on this day, and Kory had wandered over into the No-Mans-Land of INL (Idaho National Laboratory) land.
If she was going to find her way back to me she was going to have to do it herself.
 And so I began the typical find-my-dog routine that I have done many times before.  
Head in the general direction of my last sighting of her, and just frequently call her name.
Eventually she finds her back.
One day during the summer she ran after a rabbit and I called her name continuously for 15 or 20 minutes.
Eventually I looked to my left and saw dust flying in the air.
The sage bushes were tall and I could not see my dog, but the dust was moving in my direction so I knew that it was her.
A few minutes later she came sprinting towards me, effortlessly clearing sage bushes along the way.
She had found a deer leg and was carrying it in her mouth as she ran and jumped, and she single mindedly carried that nasty thing all the way home.....................
As I trudged through the deep snow calling to my dog I looked around me.
This is our third winter in Idaho, and by far we have had more snow this year that the two previous winters.
The world looked incredibly beautiful.
And I have spent almost every day for the past couple of weeks either snow shoeing or cross country skiing.
Cross country skiing is still very new to me, but it is SO COOL to be able to ski on the roads in town.
And it is cool being able to do that right outside the front door of the house.
Yes..........the world looked beautiful.................
She had been gone for about 20 minutes, but finally I saw a brown streak headed in my direction.
As fast as she had sprinted after the deer, bounding and seemingly barely encumbered by the deep snow, Kory was now sprinting back towards me.
It was good to see her.
I know running and chasing is what she lives to do, but I always worry until she is reunited with me again.....................
As my wayward mutt finally reached me I spoke sternly to her and told her to come to me.  She did.
Telling her to sit, my dog obediently sat in front of me and looked up at me with that cute and big-eyed puppy look that dogs are so good at giving whenever they either want something or know they're in trouble.
Looking her over, she was uninjured.
OK...........time to move on.
I couldn't stay angry at my dog.  She tries so hard to do the right thing, but when there are things to chase she's got to chase.
Turning around in the middle of the vast, frozen, snow covered field I debated which way to go.
We would cut diagonally across the field and pick up the trail at the far end of town.
Snow was deep, going was slow, but although it was cold I was pleased to be outside on this most beautiful of days.
Perfect winter days that compel you to be outside.
This was one of those days.
 As we finally picked up a trail I looked up at the sky.
It was alive, and silently speaking to me in that language it and I knowingly share with each other...............
I had just turned down the last trail - the one that would circle us back towards town - when I saw him.
A huge, upright, completely white, snow shoe rabbit.
This cute thing bounds all over BLM land and all over town, and has done so for the past couple of years.
He OWNS this land.
I saw him bounce and jump and hop and run across a field while following a fence line, and instinctively turned in search of my dog.
Too late.
She had seen the snow shoe bunny and the chase was on.
Bunny was fast.  Kory was fast.  And Karin watched as both bunny and Kory covered crazy amounts of real estate in no time flat, before they both disappeared over one more rise.
That's it.  I had no intention of trudging through one more field, and so I slowly continued to snow shoe on the trail while (again) calling repeatedly to my dog.
My throat was beginning to hurt.
Too much calling......................
By the time I was only a few hundred yards away from the trail head and the road I could see Kory slowly making her way back in my direction.
She dawdled, got distracted, investigated, sniffed and marked her way, slowly criss crossing the field, knowing exactly where I was but in no particular hurry to get back to me.
The entire trip back I alternated both patiently slowing my walking and calling to her impatiently, but eventually we became traveling companions again.
My dog had an outstanding and adventurous journey.
I had a good trip as well.
One more quiet winter adventure in the desert...................

 The shed of leaves became a cascade of red and gold and after a time the trees stood skeletal against a sky of weathered tin. The land lay bled of its colors. The nights lengthened, went darker, brightened in their clustered stars. The chilled air smelled of woodsmoke, of distances and passing time. Frost glimmered on the morning fields. Crows called across the pewter afternoons..................James Carlos Blake

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Chinook Snow Shoe

 The week before Christmas we saw seemingly endless waves of snow fall.
One day it was sunny and cold.  The next day was snowy and cold.  The days after that?  More sun and then more snow.
By the time I snapped these pictures tiny Atomic City was a beautiful, cold, snow filled place.
More snow already in the third week of December than we saw in total through our first two winters here in Idaho.
I love it.  Very much.
It makes the world look beautiful.
It makes the expansive  and endless square miles of public lands behind town look even more expansive and endless.
It smooths out every rough edge to be found in Atomic City.  
And this town has many rough edges.
Over the past couple of weeks I have had many opportunities to snow shoe.
I have even had opportunities to cross country ski.
I bought skis while living in Juneau, but with a work schedule that was always long, unpredictable and stressful I did not have more than a couple of chances to try out my new used purchase.
I snow shoed a few times while living in Juneau.
Thankfully the learning curve was short and the first time I used them was actually to head out into the mountains with a group.
I loved it immediately.  Excellent exercise and a chance to wander in deep snow without endlessly post holing.
These days it is to wander on BLM land with Kory, who loves the snow as much as I do.
For the longest time we thought that Kory was a Belgian Malinois (with perhaps something else in the "wood pile" because her ears didn't stand up).
Everything pointed to a Belgian - the smooth double coat, the intelligence, the athleticism, the even temperament, the loyalty to owners, the long lean body, the muscular shoulders, the territorial nature, the running and jumping ability.
Not long after we came home from a trip to Glacier National Park (after a whirl wind visit with Chris) he called me and told me that he did not think that Kory was a Belgian at all.
He thought she was a Chinook.
A what? 
Neither LC nor I had ever heard of the breed.
After I got off the phone with my son I Googled pictures of Chinook.
Some of the pictures did not look like Kory, but as I continued wandering through the pictures I found some that looked exactly like her.
The more I read the more I became convinced that he may be right.  A Chinook.  A New Hampshire sled dog:
 It was obvious the first time she saw snow that Kory had never lived in New Hampshire.
She had never seen snow before, and for a short while that first snow fall (until she realized that she loved it) our new dog was very upset and confused with this new development in her still-new world.....................
 On a cold and very calm day not long before Christmas I bundled up in multiple layers, attached Kory to her leash, grabbed my snow shoes and headed toward the Hay Bale field in back of town.
I had snow shoed in town but not yet out on BLM land since we had had a week of frequent snow falls, and I was eager to play in the snow with my dog.
While standing at the very back of town and still on the snow covered gravel road I unhooked Kory,
\ secure in the belief that she would head in the direction that she knew she was supposed to go (unless she saw a rabbit, and then all bets were off).
As she stood in the snow unsure of whether she should wander towards the trail head or wait for me, I quickly turned towards the mountains.
The wall of mountains, that began 30 miles from us and extended for a hundred miles or more both to the north and west, were covered with snow.
More beautiful in a world that was now completely beautiful.
Snapping a couple of quick pictures I turned back to my pup and moved in the direction of the trail.
Eagerly Kory followed me, and I knew that she ready for snowy adventure.....................
 I watched as Kory began to bound through the deep snow before dropping my snow shoes in the snow, pulling my gloves off, and awkwardly fitting my snow covered boots into the shoes.
Kory wasn't the only one wanting to wander in the snow.....................
 The snow was deeper than I had realized and I slowly broke through the snow pack with each step, in no rush since Kory was happily breaking through the snow herself.
I smiled while I watched her because she so obviously loved where she was and what she was doing, and even though the snow was dog-belly-deep she easily bounded from one place to another, quickly criss crossing her way through the large field.
When I reached the fence that separated the two fields I stopped for a moment and looked around me, trying to decide whether to turn around and snow shoe back the way I had come or continue into the second field.
Kory led the way (as she does so often when we go on walks) and made the decision for both of us.  We headed into the second field, and I snow shoed through the deep snow towards the old and abandoned potato silos........................
 I don't know when these silos stopped being used for their intended purpose, but in the two and a half years we have lived here I have only seen someone else on the property (aside from me and Kory) twice.
The silos are old and built strong and stable, but even so portions of the roofs are beginning to falter.
The beams and poles still look solid, but the hay bales that were used to insulate each of the roofs of the four structures are gone in places.
Occasionally Kory jumps the fence leading directly to the silos and occasionally she climbs up onto one roof or another.
Thankfully she seems to understand that these sections have been compromised and stays clear of them.  But I call her back quickly anyway.  Trying (sometimes successfully and sometimes not) to keep her away from the buildings......................
 Big Butte - with road leading to the top closed to vehicle traffic for the winter now - looked mystical and magical covered in snow.........................
 I snow shoed across the length of the second field, wandered through another open gate and circled around to the front of the silos as I had done many times before.
Kory was...........somewhere..............exploring one huge tower of abandoned hay after another.  
The same routine she played out each and every time we headed this way.
Climbing on top of the towers so that she could play Queen of the Castle.  
Sniffing at the base of each tower and poking her nose into every nook and cranny, certain that she would find a rabbit to chase.
I stood in one place for a few minutes looking out over Big Butte that was 18 miles away and then called out to be dog.
As usual I could hear the tags on her collar before I could see her.
She ignored my calls.  Wasn't ready to come to me yet.  Still busy searching for something to chase.
Patiently I continued snow shoeing, picture taking, enjoying the silence and the beauty of a late day that was getting very cold very fast.
The sun was going down, but we still had a little more time, and so I gave my dog a little more time..................
 Passing in front of the silos I stumbled while climbing over a fallen gate in the snow.
Awkwardly picking myself up I brushed snow off my gloves, finished stumbling over the partially snow-covered and partially downed gate and snapped the picture below.
And then I called for my dog again.
And then again.  OK Kory - it's getting very cold out here.......
The sun was almost completely below Cedar Butte by this time and I could feel the temperature dropping very quickly.
We were only a half mile or so from home but we needed to move on.
I saw my sweet dog appear from the far end of the silos and I called her name again.
Quickly she ran to catch up with me.
It was all about tone of voice and she knew THAT tone of voice............
 The main road leading out of town.
Blackfoot is 30 miles down this road if one wanted to stay off the highway......................
 The main road leading back towards town, with the sun shining through the window of one of the BLM Fire Station buildings.....................
 Kory running to catch up with me
It was time to go home............................
 It is the life of the crystal, the architect of the flake, the fire of the frost, the soul of the sunbeam. This crisp winter air is full of it...........John Burroughs

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Colder And Clearer

The day after our first big snow storm of the year I wandered onto BLM land in back of town with Kory.
Unlike the previous day, this one was both colder and clearer.
The sky was indescribably blue, I was bundled against the cold, and the combination of blue sky and a region suddenly filled with snow, meant that the world looked beautiful.
There are two trail heads that I walk very often - one to the far left of town and one to the far right.  
On this day my enthusiastic puppy and I walked the roads, trudging through the snow, to the back right of this tiny community.
As soon as we arrived at the edge of the trail I pulled Kory closer to me, and she patiently stood waiting for me to fumble as I unclipped her from the leash.
With a familiar "Go Baby!" my energetic dog immediately began to run, eager to explore even though she had explored this same place hundreds of times before...................
As I noisily trudged through the snow on the trail I glanced to my right.
I stopped for a moment, greatly enjoying the sight of the mountains
 The optical illusion of the mountains in winter always takes me off guard.
The wall of mountains extends for a hundred miles, but in the summer the mountains blend seamlessly with the desert.
In winter, suddenly (and every year unexpectedly) they seem to grow in height  
They dominate the landscape to the north of us, and endless mountain ranges stop blending with the monochromatic terrain and suddenly demand your attention.
They are beautiful.
In fact, this entire region looks beautiful at this time of year.
In the summer I never forget that I live on the Snake River Plain (the desert).  
In the winter I live in remote and extraordinarily beautiful emptiness....................
Trudging through snow again I searched for Kory and found her eagerly sniffing a snow covered sage bush in the middle of the field.
Satisfied that she was close I looked down at the trail.
No vehicle tracks and no human footprints.
But the ever predictable line of multiple coyote tracks.
The coyotes are with us all year long, but aside from the occasional howling and barking I give them little thought during the summer.
In winter they are impossible to ignore.  Their tracks are everywhere.
All over trails.  All across empty BLM land.  All through town.....................
At the end of the first short trail I looked down at the tracks.
They veered in multiple directions and I visually followed them in each direction, following the tracks until they disappeared from sight.
Glancing across the field I again searched for my dog.
She had moved on to another sage bush, hoping to find a rabbit to chase.
All year she has happily chased rabbits, and my dog now has bunnies on the brain.
In and out of the house, over and over again all the time, simply hoping to find one more bunny to chase out of the yard.
Hopefully sniffing one sage bush after another, certain from experience that one will dart out from beneath the sage so that she can give chase.
The simple life of a dog..................
I turned left and picked up one more trail, walking the three quarters of a mile or so through the snow on trail that parallelled the back road of Atomic City.
By the time I reached the end of that trail I called to my dog one more time, and she ran through the snow to catch up with me.
We had played out the same routine more times than I could count over the past two years through both winter and summer.
I have no idea how many times I have watched her chase a rabbit until she (and bunny) were out of sight this past summer.
One time LC was with me, and we watched as our squealing dog took chase.  It was stunning just how much distance they could both cover in such a short period of time.
A minute after she had begun running she was almost out of sight.
And then suddenly we saw the rabbit move it into overdrive.
Literally saw the rabbit running fast and then stunningly he threw in the afterburners and was...........gone.
Neither of us ever knew that rabbits could do that and we turned to each other in surprise.
Who knew?.....................
The day was unbelievably beautiful.
I would take puppy home and go snow shoeing.
Walk across the road from the house, pick up a power line trail that heads down towards the highway, pick up a trail that circled all the way around to the opposite side of town.
In the days since it has snowed I've had a few chances to both snow shoe and cross country ski.
Thank goodness for the first snow, it was a reminder--no matter how old you became and how much you'd seen, things could still be new if you were willing to believe they still mattered..............Candace Bushnell