Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lonely Snow

It's official.
It's officially official.
After endless stops, starts and stutters SE Idaho is finally and deeply embedded in winter.
For the past handful of days I have woken up, walked into the living room, pulled back the curtains and been greeted with a frozen mist that overnight had dropped down to ground level, settled, and then become frozen in inch thick ice crystals on every surface.
It shrouds the city in a way that is welcome and comforting and every morning I am reminded of what a beautiful season winter is.
A few mornings ago I took my time waking up.  Drinking coffee in my pj's I caught up on emails, took my dog out back to do what dogs' do, and then went back to my coffee and emails.
By mid-morning the frozen mist had mostly cleared, and on a cloudy, cold and silent day I finally worked up enough motivation to get dressed.
As always, Kory immediately followed me to the bathroom and then sat outside the door watching me as I got washed up.  And then watched me as I wandered back into the bedroom to get dressed.
By the time I went into the office, sat on a chair by the desk and began to put on my boots, she could contain her enthusiasm no longer.
Throwing her head from side to side and barking wildly, I rushed to finish getting bundled up against the cold.
By the time I made a final grab for my phone and my camera she was already at the front door, and by the time I reached the front door my dog was jumping higher than my head.
OK Baby.  Let's go................
It had been warm for a few days during the day, but freezing cold at night.
Between the snow that melted during the day, and remnants that refroze overnight, there was ice all over the place and I walked carefully, trying to step on rough snow and hopefully not land unceremoniously on my ass on the ground.
When the world is filled with ice crystals I have to stop at this place. 
 It is a piece of property that is filled with many trees, and beautiful views of both of the Twin Buttes.  It is a nice piece of land at other times of the year, but in the winter it is the most lovely...............
This old tractor and old car have sat in the same place, unmoving and uncared-for, for as long as we have lived in Atomic City.  
There is no way of knowing how long they have sat here.  Two years?  Five?  Ten?
There is no way of knowing, but as with so many vehicles that sit just like this - some in the yards of occupied homes and some in the yards of homes that are unoccupied - I always wonder why.
Why owners abandon them and why owners keep them................
Kory and I were headed for a long walk on BLM land.
We would walk to the far left and in back of town, pick up a trail, walk that trail until it was time to cut across country, and then circle back to pick up another trail that would eventually take us to the far right and in back of town.
I was armed, Kory ate plenty of snow so did not need water, and as I kissed LC goodbye I told him that we would be gone for about 90 minutes or so.
The four silos on the outskirts of town, covered in snow, and (as always) standing in military formation and silently watching over the desert................
It is the same town and the same desert, regardless of whether the season is winter or summer.
But there is something so different about this place in winter.
The little nothing town of Atomic City transforms from a slightly run-down and parched community, into a beautiful little town filled with frozen, artistic, still-lifes.
A leafless tree becomes a work of art.  Long forgotten yard tools that have been carelessly discarded behind a shed take on the forms of sculptures.
Fences become picturesque focal points frozen solely for the benefit of my camera.
The desert no longer feels like a desert.
Rather, it transforms into a vast, wide open, white, endless world.  A frozen playground for both me and my sweet dog.
On days like this one, the mountain ranges in the distance were gone.  Completely obscured in cloud cover and the remainder of not-yet-burned-off frozen mist.
The buttes close by were an ever changing vision as I stood and watched the mist swirl and gradually dissipate.
The quiet of summer turns into the absolute silence of winter.
A silence so deep that I can almost FEEL it wrapping around me, and I like it.
It truly feels as though Kory and I are the only beings in the world..................
Looking from a trail intersection back towards town..................
There is pure, uninterrupted simplicity in some of these pictures.
Click on any picture to enlarge................
We continued walking further away from town, and further into the empty, vast, desert.
All the buttes were a long way from us.
The mountains were gone.
And in front of us was nothing but snow covered trail and snow brushed sage.
The day was silent, and periodically I would stop, stand on the trail, glance over at my pup, and look around me.
Uncomplicated territory that was easy on the eyes, and easy on the heart.
On this day - in this place - I was content to walk alone with my dog................
With such vast distances, it was impossible to really gauge how far we had walked on trail.
Walking had been slow.  The trail was covered with snow, and felt like I was walking in sand - take a step and slide backwards half a step, take a step and slide backwards half a step.
Maybe two miles?
I was not sure and simply guessed the distance, but more to the point we had been wandering for a while.
Atomic City was now out of site, and as I looked back one last time I made the decision that it was time to begin bushwhacking across country and begin circling our way back..............
Right after stepping off trail I looked up and then stood still for a moment watching Kory.
She was standing 30 feet into the field, standing behind a snow-covered sage brush, and was moving very excitedly.
What had she found?
Continuing to watch her, she was obviously digging and working at.......something.
I made the assumption that she had found something living - maybe a rabbit or a field mouse.  Maybe even a bird.
Whatever it was, I suddenly and unexpectedly had a very excited dog.
Trudging through the snow I reached my animated dog and realized what she had found.
The remnants of a deer.  In a black plastic bag.
Somebody had obviously been poaching, cleaned their deer, dumped the remnants out in the desert.
They had tossed it all in a trash bag, had driven down the trail, picked a place to dispose of the evidence, and then walked off trail and tossed the bag behind a sage bush thinking that it would never be found.
Certainly anticipating that coyotes would get it all.
They didn't count of a woman and her dog stepping off trail at this exact point, and then it all being found by an energetic and adventuresome three year old Florida dog.
It took a couple of calls, but finally Kory broke off from the deer carcass and rushed to catch up with me, as I continued walking through surprisingly deep snow...............
Within 10 minutes of walking through the snow I was deeply regretting that I had not brought snow shoes with me.
I had no idea that the snow was so deep - ankle deep in places, sometimes shin and knee deep - and I spent a lot of time post holing in the snow.
Walking was tough.
Actually, it was VERY tough, but I was in no big rush, it was cold but not freezing, and both me and my pup were having a really nice walk..................
 I had been preoccupied with sinking into the snow with each step, and busy taking pictures of snowy scenes around me, and when I finally looked back I realized that Kory had wandered too far.
She wasn't trying to make a break.  Rather, she was just wandering wherever her nose and her curiosity took her.
Calling her, I stood in one place and smiled as she sped back to me.
I love this dog..............
Together again, we continued wandering in the field, gradually making our way over to the trail on the far side of town.
And then suddenly unexpected noise pieced the up-til-now complete silence.
I looked behind me, surprised at the sound of a pack of coyotes yelping and barking noisily.
They were over in the direction of Big Butte.  Not quite that far, but in that general direction.
And then suddenly I heard another pack of coyotes - this time over on Rattlesnake Butte just outside of Atomic City.
Glancing down at Kory, she had heard them as well, and was looking around and listening attentively.
For a few minutes the two packs yelped backwards and forwards to each other, and then finally fell silent again.
OK.........I felt a little unsettled, but both packs were a long way off, and I called to Kory to begin moving again.
Within a few minutes the world had moved from uninterrupted silence, to the awareness that two packs of coyotes were active in the area.
I was still enjoying the walk, but suddenly more alert than I had been.
Five minutes later I heard coyotes again.
This time to my far left.  Beyond BLM public land and over on the desert land that belonged to INL.
For a moment I stood still, trying to process this unexpected development.
Another pack?
The pack from the Big Butte that was on the move?
In the time that we had been in Atomic City I had heard two packs communicating with each other on a number of occasions.  I had never gotten the sense that there were three packs out here.
But that third coyote-break in the silence was good enough for me.
Standing in the middle of a huge section of BLM land I looked to both my right and left. 
The trail that Kory and I had come in on was closer, and I immediately made the decision to head back to it.
Once on the trail, Kory and I could get back to town quicker, and after hearing three different occasions of animated coyote barking, it was time to head back to town.
I snapped this picture once we got back to the trail.
Zooming in as far as I could, I took this picture of Kory looking towards the Twins and town.
It looks as though we are close to town, but that is really an optical illusion brought on by a zoomed-in camera, the light and the snow.
I like this picture very much.................
Close to town, and looking back towards Big Butte, that was just beginning to make its appearance, after being shrouded in clouds and mist all morning.
We never heard the coyotes again, but it felt good to be closer to home anyway.............
One more optical illusion.
From where I stood on BLM land, the open shelter was 1/4 mile away.
The Twin Buttes were 12 miles away.
I love the lighting in this picture..............
A very good walk that we cut short.  But both Kory and I had the opportunity to spend time together and enjoy the white world that we now live in.
LC's now-tarped fishing boat, patiently waiting for spring.............
The snow itself is lonely or, if you prefer, self-sufficient. There is no other time when the whole world seems composed of one thing and one thing only...........Joseph Wood Krutch

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