Friday, November 21, 2014

Holiday Pet Photos

I decided to feature Charlie on the holiday cards this year. After tackling this somewhat hectic task, I have a few tips for you: 

1. Keep the "sessions" short.
2. Use "high value" treats to keep their attention on you!
3. Have an off-camera helper to hold treats above or near the camera to keep your pet's eyes on the camera.
4. Have fun! Don't get frustrated; let this be a fun experience for everyone. 

You might have to use a not-so-perfect picture, but it'll be funny and memorable.
Good luck!

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Birthday Hike + Bullshit Weather

I awoke this morning to a bright blanket of fresh snow outside and immediately felt the need to go for a walk. Before breakfast or even coffee, Charlie and I headed out onto the neighborhood sidewalks as the day lightened, although no sunrise was visible through the clouds that were still snowing on us. The motion of walking and listening to the snowflakes land on my jacket helped invigorate my tired brain.

It's amazing how tiring the grieving process is.

I go through my daily routines: working, eating and sleeping, and even though I'm getting enough sleep, I'm tired all the time. I have to literally force myself to get up and take Charlie for a walk, which always makes me feel better, but just the same, it's an effort I have to talk myself into doing.

But today is my dad's birthday and I wanted to honor him by hiking and getting outdoors. He was an avid outdoorsman and I inherited that quality from him. And even though my family wouldn't be together today, we were all going to be doing the things he loved in his memory.

After a short deliberation and weighing the current road conditions, I decided to stick close to home and hike the remaining (and newer) portion of the Plover River Segment of the Ice Age Trail, where my tribute to my dad began almost a year and a half ago. Amazingly, I had never completed hiking this segment. Every time I arrived at the parking area, I automatically headed toward the trails that were familiar to me.

But my dad was always up for an adventure and often took the path less traveled, so instead of heading south today, I went north. I had seen pictures of the beautiful boardwalks that were recently built for this new trail and couldn't wait to see them in person.

What follows is a super long video (17 minutes!) of part of our hike today, condensed down from 2 hours. I was surprised that the video didn't fully capture just how beautiful the woods were today, but it'll give you an idea. The snow was crunchy under my boots but otherwise the woods were quiet; surrounded only by the sound of snow falling from the tree branches, and once we heard a flock of cranes in the distance.

During the return walk, I slipped and tripped numerous times and fell twice. The first time I fell, my boots slid on a patch of wet leaves beneath the snow and my butt landed firmly on a glacial rock in the path. I slid a few feet down the slope and suddenly noticed that I had peed my pants during the fall. Wonderful. Thankfully the camera was put away in my backpack by then.

But I didn't let any of that get me down. Quite the opposite actually. I surprised myself by laughing out loud as I wiped the snow off my pants. From that point on, every time I slipped, I let out a little "whoa!" and then giggled to myself. It's a strange sound to laugh at yourself in the woods, but I'm sure it helped heal the hole in my heart just a little bit. Although Charlie probably thought I'd totally lost my mind.

Tonight, as I reminisced the sweetness of today's hike, I overheard the weather forecast for the week and had to yell, "BULLSHIT," at the top of my lungs. I got a laugh out of my mom for that one, but seriously??? What is with this early cold-snap? I'm thankful that I got out into the woods today because with temps dipping into the single digits this week and a winter storm warning, I think I'll be hibernating for the rest of the week.

Please, please, please tell me this winter is NOT going to be like last year.

Love you, Dad. Always. Happy Birthday.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

A Time For Everything

To every thing there is a season, 
and a time to every purpose under the heaven;
A time to be born, and a time to die; 
A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;
A time to kill, and a time to heal; 
A time to break down, and a time to build up;
A time to weep, and a time to laugh; 
A time to mourn, and a time to dance.

I don't mean to get all "biblical" on you guys since I'm not really that religious myself. My kind of religion involves spending time with Mother Nature, not in a church.

But the time to say good-bye to my dad is near and I'll be taking some time to rest and heal.

Charlie and I will continue to hike and explore, but they will be private and introspective hikes; not something to be shared.

I know you'll understand my short reprieve, and in the meantime, I'll leave you with this adorable video of Charlie. She found a giant-sized Kong toy on a recent hike and it was like Christmas morning to her; she was being so cute and silly.

Don't you just love the simple joy of a dog?


Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Fox and The Hound

This is a cautionary tale of hiking with a dog off-leash. Even though I preach about the responsibility of keeping a dog on-leash, I regularly seek out opportunities where Charlie has a chance to run off-leash. It's only normal for a dog to be able to run free when the opportunity presents itself!

This doesn't mean, however, that I allow her to pester people or other dogs or even break the law, rather, I choose a good location where I can somewhat predict that no other people or dogs will come near us, or if they do, I'll have enough space/time to get Charlie back on her leash before it becomes a problem.

I don't put other people's pets at risk and I try to respect other people's space in case they are fearful of dogs.

This is typically a calculated risk, but a risk nonetheless.

Today was the perfect example of this kind of risk...

Charlie and I were enjoying a beautiful fall day hiking at one of our favorite parks (on-leash). The trails were busy today with horseback riders, mountain bikers and other hikers with dogs. 

As we passed more and more people, I realized this hike was becoming more of a tug-o-war game between us:  me pulling Charlie away from horses and dogs, her pulling forward to greet the next person or animal to pass us. My shoulder began to hurt from pulling her back and she even choked a few times when the harness pressed up on her esophagus. 

I was becoming agitated and the hike was no longer full of fun and frolic for either of us.

Instead of cutting it short and heading home, I decided to take a detour off the busy trail and head off-trail into a forested peninsula where we had never run into another person or dog before and were pretty much guaranteed to have all to ourselves.

Once we were far enough off the main trail and surrounded by water on three sides, I let Charlie off her leash. She bounded forward leaping over logs and headed over to the shore to search out the best stick.

I shuffled my feet through the deep layer of fallen leaves making a <<CRUNCH-SWOOSH>> noise as I went, trying not to trip over rocks or roots. I had to stop occasionally to listen for Charlie to see where she was since she had run far enough ahead to be out of sight.

The third time I stopped my noisy crunch-swoosh-shuffle and looked up, I was surprised to see a beautiful red fox with a big bushy tail heading straight toward me! 

It took my brain a minute to register what I was seeing and everything seemed to go into slow-motion. 

The fox looked like it was leisurely cruising through the woods and barely even noticed when it passed within ten feet of a human. That's when I realized Charlie was in hot pursuit only 15 feet behind the fox and it looked like she was gaining on it.

As they streaked past me, I snapped out of my reverie and began to shout, "CHARLIE-COME!" over and over. I stood there in disbelief unable to stop her pursuit. Charlie's recall command is shaky at best, and once her prey drive kicks in, it's nearly impossible to get her to stop. 

In the past, we've only come across deer or squirrel in the woods and after a short chase, she comes back to me, winded but unharmed.

I had no idea what would happen if she actually caught up with this fox. Images of horrible bite wounds and scratches all over her body raced through my mind.

I called her name loudly over and over as I quickly made my way back the way we had come, trying fruitlessly to catch up to them. I didn't like the high-pitched, panicked quality of my voice as I yelled out. I had a feeling this was going to end badly.

But suddenly, Charlie was trotting back toward me and as she got close I bent down to inspect her. She was breathing heavily, but miraculously was unharmed!

I couldn't believe how lucky we had been. I've read and heard enough tales of dogs tangling with wildlife to know how horribly this could have ended.

Both our hearts were racing and our bodies were pumped full of adrenaline from this brief encounter. That was enough for me; we headed back to the main trail and went home. Our hiking excursion was over.

Charlie curled up on the front seat and eventually dozed off on the drive home. I opened the sun roof for some fresh air, turned off the radio and allowed my mind to replay the scene over and over. It's so weird how the brain works in situations like this and it still feels like it happened to someone else, not me.

This event probably won't stop me from allowing Charlie off-leash, but I will definitely be more careful about where I choose to allow her to run free from now on. I love this little dog and it's up to me to make sure she's safe. Just because I've never seen any dangerous wildlife near a well-used hiking trail doesn't mean that they're not there.

10/28/12:  Two years ago Charlie and I found bear tracks at this park. Yikes!