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

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