Saturday, April 25, 2020

The time I hurdled a rattlesnake

I hiked happily along the Wenaha River trail. The temperatures hovered in the high sixties, the arrowleaf balsamroot looked like little patches of sunshine, and nobody was around. I had been worried that the window to hike here was closing: this is a known poison ivy area and is one of the snakiest places I have ever been. But so far I had been able to maneuver around the ivy, and the snakes were nonexistent.

Or were they? I began to step over a stick, when it moved! Eeek! I was straddling a rattlesnake! Instinct took over; I jumped over the snake and ran. Another close call, disaster averted.

Giggling to myself, because you have to admit that if someone had been watching it would have been quite humorous, I headed along the trail, which parallels the sparkling, beautiful Wenaha Wild and Scenic River. A huge fire roared through here in 2017, and the area is recovering. Still, I could see where the fire had burned with such intensity that no trees had survived.

It's 6.5 miles to the Crooked Creek bridge, but there is no bridge anymore. It was a casualty of the fire and has not been replaced. The water was too high to cross safely, but I had my sights on a sandy beach I had camped at before. Arriving, I was dismayed to see that the river had broken free of its usual bank and this area was inaccessible too. Lack of a bridge has changed the visitor use patterns and the old trail has fallen into disrepair. There are a few campsites, obviously used, back in the trees, but dead snags lean over them menacingly. I don't risk those types of sites.

I decided to backtrack; surely I would find a campsite. Only, every place flat and near the river was guarded by more dead trees. I didn't mind much; it was such a beautiful day to hike. My hike ended up being about 12 miles before I found a suitable spot in the pines.

A perfect campsite
No other snakes appeared, and it was a peaceful night. Three other groups had passed me heading to Crooked Creek and I could only imagine the marginal sites they had crowded into there. Sometimes it is good to be picky.

No other snakes appeared, and to my relief, the ivy wash I used worked. A tick, unnoticed, embedded itself into my skin, though. I froze it (always good to do in case you get a rash; these can be tested), but so far no rash either. I felt lucky; everything had gone my way. Just 24 hours away from the rest of the world was enough to last me for a little while.

Saturday, April 18, 2020


Meet Spruce. Normally we would not have gotten another dog so soon, but he needed a home, we are at home working, and who can be sad or upset with a puppy?

He is 15 weeks old and weighs 38 pounds already, and his paws are as big as Ruby's, which makes me wonder how big he is actually going to get.  I sent away for his DNA but the only thing for sure is that he is a husky. Which means being stubborn! Being like a husky myself, I get this. You only should do what you want to do, right?

So far he has been on a couple of short adventures, skinning up the ski hill and running down. I think he will end up being a good trail dog (and maybe a skijorer).

Ruby isn't quite so sure. They play together, but she isn't sure about sharing her toys. I don't blame her, I don't want to share mine either! He ignores the cat, but has not met the feisty cat yet.

I am well aware I am going into a situation that will break my heart later, but the joy of having a floppy, snuggly puppy and a trail companion will help. There is tons of training to do. One of the best things you can teach a dog is to hike behind you when they need to. A lot of people aren't fans of dogs running up to them, even fluffballs.

I can see many cracks in people lately; my friend backed out of a hike where we were going to hike separately but together because she was afraid of judgment. Others are being really judgmental about everything. I think how you handle this situation is a measure of who you are, and I did all right until yesterday, when I was going on a relaxing walk and saw plate after plate of out of state tourists driving happily around the lake. I lost it! But then I snuggled with the puppy and decided that I needed to take a big bite of a calm down sandwich. From now on, I'm just going to enjoy the puppy and the hikes I can still do.

There are a dozen "what were we thinking" moments, because life was pretty easy with one trained dog. But here's to not staying in your comfort zone. Welcome, Spruce! You are going to have a great outdoors life.

Friday, April 10, 2020

Making it work

"My life hasn't really changed," my friend typed. I don't know too many people who can say that. If your life hasn't changed, you must not need to work, don't have friends you see, and not really be an outdoors person. Also, you must not have people you worry about.

A long conference call can take place on the porch.
How do you live an outdoors, adventurous life if you have to stay home? People are getting really judgy. Some say that you should only recreate if you can walk to your destination. The people who say this don't have to live in unsafe places with no sidewalks. It is easy to judge others if you live in a neighborhood with multiple trails and little traffic.

I have had to readjust my thinking. Though there are trails here that are still open, they aren't great for running. I have had to venture onto the pavement, which isn't the best thing to run on. Backpacking can't really happen right now--it's still snowing and the trails are deep. So I decided to mix it up and go kayaking.

I hadn't been in my kayak for a year, shameful as that is to say. I hauled it from its resting place, and was disturbed to note that it bore the distinctive aroma of cat pee. Shoving the boat in the back of my car, I hoped for the best.

It's only a mile to the lake, so the Judgy McJudgersons can't say much--though some say if you do high risk activities, this diverts SAR from dealing with critical patients. But anything is risky. You have to live your life.

I pushed off into the calm water, marveling at my luck. If it had been a normal weekend, I probably would have driven to the Wenaha river to go backpacking. A part of me mourned this lost opportunity. But I'm doing what I can, and I am fortunate I made choices along the way that allow me to live here.
It takes about two hours to circumnavigate Wallowa Lake, and it isn't really a cardio workout, but it was a nice change. Only a few fishing boats dotted the lake. Everyone said hello. While this is a friendly town, I have noticed people are much friendlier now.

I used to be a wilderness kayak ranger, and two hours was nothing in a normal day of work. We paddled for eight to ten hours at times, in often hazardous conditions. I would have scoffed at such a leisure tour. But, things change. I'm grateful for what I have.

Saturday, April 4, 2020

The end of an era

There once was a pack of three dogs: Sierra, Cale, and Aluco. In a town where people recognize your dogs before they know you, these dogs were icons. They hiked, ran behind skiers, hung out at the ski area, and backpacked. Dogs don't live long enough, and Aluco and Sierra left us within a month of each other, four years ago.

Cale, the remaining dog, mourned them the rest of his life. Sometimes he howled for them. When Ruby came along, he didn't want anything to do with her, but then he fell in love with her, just like anyone who meets her does. The two dogs became intensely bonded. If one of us tried to go off with just one dog, the remaining dog would cry and pout and try to go along.

Last weekend, Cale left us. He stopped eating, and after many procedures, the vet found stomach cancer. We could have woken him up and kept him with us for an unknown time, but it would have been selfish and unfair to him. I'll never forget him walking bravely into the vet's office, and we could not go with him because of this stupid virus. His last hours were with someone else, not us.

I have a number of friends who will never get another pet because it hurts so much when they leave. Right now there is a big gap in our hearts where this white, fluffy dog used to be. I look over at his bed and he isn't there. He isn't in the yard, lying under his favorite tree. There's no more howling. Ruby is very sad and still looks for him everywhere.

I know in time there will be good memories of him and the great life he had. We're just not there yet.

Losing Cale feels like the end of an era, an era when we were younger and ran farther and skied steeper and believed none of that would ever change.

But here is something really strange. I am not a person who believes in these things, but on Cale's last day, I saw a white dog run through the yard, though there was no real dog. I know I saw this. I believe it was Sierra, come to lead the way for Cale. Run on, white dog pack.