Saturday, January 23, 2010

My Life with Emma: The Wisdom in Emma's Discipline: Part II --- Stay

In the winter, Emma and I often share my office chair. As she curls up, I sometimes cover her with a small polar fleece blanket from her crate. The house can be cool when the snowflakes fall through the aspen and Canadian cherry trees outside my window. There’s no question we must negotiate the space and the negotiations do not necessarily result in equitable comfort. I must admit she most often wins her space.

This inequitable balance and fit is disrupted when I need to leave for a cup of tea or to change the laundry. As a puppy, I worked on the stay command with her in this same chair. In the beginning after I said, “stay,” Emma would stand up and look at me as if to say, “Are you sure I’m OK here and are you really coming back.” And any number of times she would jump out and come downstairs only to return with me back up to my office. Complying with “stay” was a different challenge than “sit and wait.” “Stay” required that Emma exert more self-control by staying in her place for a longer period of time.

Through that first winter we worked on her ability to control her fear that she would be left out of the next event in our life together if she stayed in the chair. Eventually, I found she had no problem staying if the classical music from my computer continued to play. If, however, the music were no longer playing, she would leave our chair and come padding down the stairs after me, realizing I don’t return if I’ve turned the music off and put my computer to sleep. Over time, her ability to control the impulse to flee untenable feelings of abandonment in my office chair has grown strong.

I’ve admired Emma’s strength for I know how hard it is not to flee. I face the urge to take flight when I can’t face a revision of a piece of writing. I face the urge to take flight when I’ve made a commitment that begins to grow larger than I anticipated. But I know if I stay in my chair and face the revision, I may find that moment of breakthrough or inspiration right around the corner. I know if I stick with my commitment but face my personal limitations and demands from others, I will face the challenge of living honestly with myself and others.

I also know we will both need encouragement in the days ahead. When we work on the table obstacle in her agility runs, Emma needs to go into a down and stay for five seconds. With more play ahead of her on the agility course, she will, from time to time, question my command. With a couple of repetitions, she can been successful. When I tell her to stay in her bed by the kitchen stove when company comes, she has great difficulty. She will go lie down, but after a few brief minutes, Emma is walking in and around the legs of company, looking up, just hoping for someone to notice her. Success at that point is at least an acceptable decorum.

Without knowing it, Emma encourages me, too. I know that the presence of a goal in my life has helped me stay steady with its completion. I’ve always exercised all-year-round. In order to do so I establish a workout schedule and stick to it.

Two days ago I needed to take a short run. The day before I’d cross-country skied for two and half hours and felt tired. Late morning, Emma came out from under my desk a couple of times and looked at me as if to ask, “Is this all we’re going to do today?” She gave voice to my conscience. I had promised myself I’d exercise mid-day and not let the opportunity get lost in the needs of the day.

It’s in those transitional moments that Emma’s inquiry nudges me to remember my dedication. I rise up out of my chair and mark an important separation between my immersion in the task at hand and the commitment to walk out the door and exercise. Emma’s elation is immediate: she barks for her coat and she barks at me to hurry up. Once I’ve tied my laces, she screams out the front door looking back at me as if to say, “Are you coming?” And I gratefully join her, the brisk January air an awakening to the rewards of remaining loyal to the discipline of my commitment.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Mountain Lion Update

I was unable to reach my friend, Junior, who has hunted mountain lion most of his life in western Colorado and eastern Utah. So, I contacted the local Department of Wildlife to verify my suspicions of the track I found. I promptly received an email from our local Department of Wildlife officer, Mike Middleton.

He said, "Mary, you are correct. It is probably a mountain lion track. Lions ususally follow the deer west but our winter is so mild a few may be hanging around taking elk calves instead. I think you and your livestock and your pets are safe. When you snowshoe take your dogs (lions do not like dogs) and your camera."

I smiled as I finished reading Mike's email. He thinks I'm probably safe as long as Emma and Griz are with me and that I may even have the opportunity to capture a mountain lion on my camera. I'm not sure how excited I am about that prospect. I think instead I'll hope for more serious winter weather and a western migration of the lions!
If you didn't see the original post, More Tracks: Was It a Mountain Lion?, dated January 9, 2010, please see it for the full story.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Riggs Narrowly Survives Colic

The phone rang first thing in the morning. On the other end it’s Andy calling from his barn, “Is Dad there?” Andy usually chats a bit before asking for his dad and I quickly wondered if Sugar had taken a turn for the worse. Sugar, Andy’s favorite two-year old, has been sick with a secondary bacterial infection. I call Pete to the phone and it was apparent Riggs, our main herd sire and show horse, was down. Beth, the barn manager, found him down in his stall when she came in for the morning feeding. She immediately walked him into the arena so he couldn’t hurt himself if he thrashed around in response to the pain. As Pete gathered his coat and hat he related Riggs condition: in addition to acute pain, his gray oral membranes indicated his obvious cardiovascular distress.

By the time we arrived, the vet had conducted a preliminary examination and diagnosed Riggs with some type of colic. The term colic refers to general abdominal pain and includes conditions of gastrointestinal tract as well as other causes unrelated to the intestinal tract. There are three general categories of gastrointestinal colic: a simple obstruction such as an impaction due to food material, a stricture formation, or foreign bodies; obstruction due to a displaced, obstructed, or twisted intestine; and a constriction of the blood supply due most often to an infection. Additionally, causes of colic that are not related to the gastrointestinal tract, such as an infection or abscess, need to be considered. What type is difficult to diagnose in the initial stages.

Continuing to work on Riggs, Courtney inserted a nagogastric tube to relieve any pressure from gas, listened for abdominal abnormalities, and performed a rectal palpitation. Next she conducted an abdominal tap to determine whether or not there was any internal bleeding. Thankfully, the tap was clear. However, Courtney indicated that there could still be bleeding and it just hadn’t settled to the bottom of the abdominal cavity. The next step would have been to take an ultrasound to see whether or not there was an obstruction or impaction of the colon.

At this point however, she felt, whether or not there was an obstruction, Riggs was critical enough that we should make arrangements to take him to the nearest veterinary clinic where there was a veterinary surgeon. If his condition required surgery, it would have to be done on an emergency basis. Two and a half hours away, Glenwood Springs was the nearest location where veterinarian surgeon, Dr. Tom Bohannon , was available.

As Pete drove away, we all wondered if Riggs would survive the trailer ride. Standing outside the barn with Dr. Diehl, she recognized our difficult decision. “It’s all you can do. He could die here if you don’t do anything and he could die on the way. But at least you’ve done what you can.” Even with surgery, which is very expensive, the survival rate is 50%, with 20% of those survivors dying within a year. All of us struggled with what felt like the imminent possibility of Riggs dying, with or without surgery. We just couldn’t believe a young, athletic stallion would be in such a desperate state. His condition had developed overnight.

When Pete called to say Riggs had arrived alive at the veterinarian clinic, we couldn’t believe he made it. The receiving veterinarian conducted a similar exam as Dr. Diehl had back at the barn. In addition, she performed an ultrasound in order to determine whether or not there was visible sign of obstruction: a misplaced or twisted intestine, a blockage, or any abnormality in the abdominal cavity. The ultrasound was clear so Riggs was put on an IV for antibiotics for possible infection, painkilling medications to keep him comfortable, and settled into intensive care overnight. The receiving veterinarian in consultation with the surgeon determined emergency surgery was not indicated at that time and they would watch Riggs carefully and perform additional tests on Monday morning.

To be continued…

Saturday, January 9, 2010

More Tracks: Was It a Mountain Lion?

Emma and I headed out just before noon today for our regular snowshoe up the TV Tower (referring to outdated signal equipment on the summit). The skies were a Colorado blue and the air thankfully not as bitter as the last few arctic days: the temperature was a reasonable 20 degrees when we left the house.

When Emma and I go alone, our hike is usually quiet. She runs on up ahead and from time to time looks back to see where I am. Today, she runs much further ahead of me and I can only think her energy has built up from being housebound so much these last few frigid days. I’m tempted to remain quiet but sometimes I think it’s a good idea to make some noise if there is any wildlife that might not be so friendly also in the neighborhood. But I felt peaceful and opted to watch for elk on the hillside above our trail. I didn’t see any, but noticed that they were traveling up higher than I had seen their tracks before.

As we headed up from the year-round spring on the last steep pitch, I began to see a number of new tracks: plentiful sage grouse walking from scrub oak to scrub oak, a wily coyote making his way up the hillside in my snowshoe track, and teeny footprints that could only come from a mini-mouse or rodent. As soon as I made my last few steps to the summit, I quickly realized I’d come upon something new. There at the top was a set of footprints that were clearly not elk, bear, or coyote. Approximately three inches wide by four inches long and counting four toes, they sent a chill down my back.

Before I left the house, I’d grabbed my camera even though I didn’t think I’d find anything of interest today. I’ve taken many wintertime pictures on the hillside while exploring with Emma. Little did I know today that I would be shooting the evidence of my find.

All I could think of was a recent conversation with an old friend who asked me how my winter was going. In reply I said, “You know, I just love to go out my backdoor and go snowshoeing on the hillside.”

He inquired instantly, “Do you carry a gun?” He knows the landscape and terrain because he rides here in the summertime.

“I’m not very fond of guns, but I do carry a mini-can of mace.”
He laughed, “You’ll be too close if you’re shooting a bear or lion with mace. You need my 9 mm.”

I left our conversation still comfortable with my past approach to safety on the hillside with my canister of mace. That is until today.

Once I took a couple of pictures of the clear and relatively fresh set of tracks, I turned on a dime, snowshoes and all, looked briefly at inspiring Zirkel Wilderness, and told Emma we were headed home. Every so often down the trail I looked back wondering, if I they were mountain lion tracks, could the cat still be around? I watched to my left most of the way down where the scrub oak are spaced further apart and where Emma on two occasions had been interested in something beyond her reach in the deep snow. We’d each heard something there several days ago, but I couldn’t identify it at the time. I’m still not sure what it was. But today, I wonder what was it?

I will give my photo to a friend who is also a long-time mountain lion hunter and hunts every fall just over the ridge from the TV Tower. If he verfies my suspicions, I will disappointed to think I could be at risk on the hillside where I go to be renewed and inspired each time Emma and I make our way to the top.

To be continued…

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Winter Life Revealed

With holiday feasting behind us, Pete and I set out on snowshoes early one afternoon after Christmas. We crossed the meadows and headed for our nearby hillside where we climb over 800 feet to the top. Just as we cross the last fence, Pete asks, “Are those elk tracks? Let’s stop and take a look.” As I look down into the well of one of many tracks, I see elk hoof prints and turn to follow their path as it crosses the fence and proceeds toward the bale feeder for the young colts.

“Boy, that’s not good so early in the season,” Pete moans. “I’ll have to move the colts' feeder in behind Mark’s cabin.” Mark rents our small cabin and works at the Steamboat Lake State Park. He loves to watch all the animals: horses, elk, deer, and dogs that wander through the ranch. The bale feeder behind his house should be safe from the elk herd. We’re not sure why. Perhaps, they don’t seek it out because it’s closer to human activity. But it’s important to prevent the elk from feeding on the hay because it’s costly to our hay supply as well as unnecessary to the elk’s survival.

With the snowshoe track well set for the season, Pete and I carry along up the first grade of the hillside. We comment on how the elk have moved in just during the last week, probably from the north side of ridge. Their tracks crisscross our path showing their movement across the length of the hillside from the base all the way up to the top.

I often see any number of wildlife tracks on my snowshoe outings. In their silence they tell a story of a small ecosystem on the hillside. In the wintertime the ermine move among the oak brush, nuthatches brush the surface as they hurriedly take flight, small rodents scurry down the path to the next safe haven, and the elk and a new resident group of white tail deer travel through the heavy brush, one draw to the next.

Tracking footprints is like receiving special information from a world I live in but I’m not always privileged to witness firsthand. By its sign, the footprints describe a life that goes on here even though it is often invisible and silent as I pass through. I am reminded that we do not lay sole claim to this landscape. We clearly share in the enduring cycles of life with the wildlife on the hillside as well as the landscape’s invitation for exploration, retreat, and renewal.

*For a related posting on elk coming and going here at the ranch, please see “Wintering Elk” posted February 19, 2009.