Four Legged Fur(r)y – 2017.03.10

Four Legged Fur(r)y

  • Saturday 10 March 2017
  • Broomfield County Commons Dog Park, Colorado
  • Time 1308
  • Elevation – 5,335’
  • 41℉, mix of large puffy white and stomy gray clouds interspersed with occasional blue sky
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Coada chases a new friend

I’m finding that a key to keeping this project going on a weekly basis is flexibility. I had planned on one location yesterday and my schedule didn’t allow for it. This morning I awake and as I let the dogs out in the still dark morning I see large raindrops on the back porch. Back to the proverbial drawing board.

Later in the day, without a car, I saddle up my mountain bike, grab one of my two dogs and we slowly make our way north 1.7 miles to the local dog park, my place to sit and observe for one hour. I want to sit in various public places and while it is still fairly cool today, I feel there will be some good activity at the newly redesigned dog park.

Joining me is my 6 ½-year-old spaniel/hound mix Coada (pronounced Kwah’-duh). Leaving behind my older dog Izy is a difficult choice but she doesn’t do well with hard running anymore so I sadly leave her at the house as we head out.

I find a bench, sort out my things and encourage my pup to go play. The initial ratio of dogs to people is 2:1, with about eight dogs running about. I tune in to some crows cawing and prairie dogs chirping in the background. But the main focus of my attention is confined within the fence of this park. The energy early on is building as a dog comes flying in front of Coada and me. Only after he passes do I notice that while he has front wheel drive intact he only has one leg driving in back. He moves so fast that it is easy to miss that he is only three-legged and he doesn’t seem to care one bit.

Eight minutes into our watch Coada lies down in the gravel by the bench. He is hyper alert and can’t sit still for long. Yet, he does not engage with the other dogs and begins his barking and howling, mainly at me, but sometimes at dogs that come close to us.

I throw a ball and he surprisingly loses to a cattle dog that has poached the tennis ball that I have thrown. The cattle dog is quicker, more nimble and on watch for any loose balls that are thrown. I dub him “King of the Tennis Balls.”

An adorable four month old Norwegian Elkhound saunters underneath my bench. His fur is soft and clean, and as I stroke him he caves in to my touch, clamoring for more. Coada jealously nudges him out of the way.

The mood of the park is of general good fun, people converse, the dogs breaking down the social barriers, as folks inquire about names, ages and such. I note what I hear for a few minutes. It’s banter that you would only hear if you were at a dog park or a day care center.

  • “Are you a mountain goat?”
  • “Shavano, c’mon. Good boy!”
  • “Oliver? Come here.”
  • “Shavano (in a gleeful tone), you have a runner to play with!”
  • (In a low rumbling voice by a young woman) “Hey! You’re adooooorable!”

At 30 minutes Coada has become territorial, guarding the 20 yard radius of the bench upon where I sit. He is barking more than not and basically being anti-social. I break my rule of sitting in one spot and we head about for a walk of the space. He seems a bit out of sorts without his good friend, Izy, as they are rarely separated. As we walk he does not leave my side and I have to encourage him to engage with the other dogs, but he really doesn’t want to and when he does he runs at one or a few, begins to howl and then runs back to me. He is the loudest dog in the park. A gentleman with a black labrador remarks that if a dog can’t bark at a dog park, well, where can he bark?

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There are easily now twice as many dogs as when I arrived and the energy is very high. Dog parks are mainly about posturing among the canines. If the “babysitting adults” were not in the way they would probably have an even greater time amongst themselves.

Back at the bench I notice an “outsider” walking on the outside with her human. She looks in at the dogs but is more interested in the prairie dogs that scamper about outside the chain link fence. Our little area is also very popular because I have a small water bowl that most of the dogs with long snouts drink out of. Those with broad snouts are out of luck because they can’t force the fold of the flexible bowl open in order to get at the liquid relief.

Many of the dogs come running as I take photos with the camera, seemingly hamming it up but instead are fooled because they think I have treats, especially when my hands goes in and out of my pocket. The regulars know how to work it, they were not born yesterday.

As I near the very end of the hour the whole mood has changed and somehow nearly all of the dogs have disappeared. There remain just two pointers running about that have Coada’s attention as he makes a run at one of them only to come bounding back to me. We pack up our things and make our way back to my bicycle for the slow ride home. It was good to bring a fine friend along for my venture. He’ll earn an extra scoop of kibble for his help today once we arrive home!

A Prelude to Change – 2017.03.02

A Prelude to Change

  • Thursday, 2 March, 2017
  • Roxborough State Park, Douglas County, Colorado
  • Time 0945
  • Elevation – 6,785’
  • 45℉, blue skies, light wind, sunshine
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Only caps remain from acorns that dropped the previous autumn from the Gambel Oaks.

It’s been years since I have been to this park and I’ve only been once, probably more than fifteen years ago. So much time has passed that I don’t remember what it was like. Having been sick for two weeks, I’m happy to be outdoors. I missed last week’s trip of sitting outside because it was too cold, too windy and I was having trouble getting healthy.

But today is sunny, it is going to top out at 50℉ and the feeling of my feet hittting a dirt trail is soothing to my soul. Heading toward Carpenter Peak I don’t have a spot in mind as much as a place of respite. I’m seeking a feeling, not a destination, and when I come to a split in the trail I opt for Elk Valley instead of Carpenter Peak, the trail showing fewer tracks in the snow versus the icy path moving higher.

I make my way to my chosen spot in the valley after having walked in from the northeast and then back out of it to the west. As I explored the upper reaches there didn’t seem to be as much “life” to the area, so I backtrack and find a spot nestled between three Ponderosa Pines.

Looking across the little valley my eyes tell me it is still winter. Thin snow covers the hillsides to the south that face north. I am on the north side of the valley that roughly runs east/west. On the large mountain behind me the terrain is dominated by Gambel Oak, mostly barren now at the end of winter. I’ve heard Gambel Oak also called “Scrub Oak”. It is more like a shrub than a tree, growing about chest high with crooked branches that reach out in all directions. It provides food and cover for black bears, wild turkey and mule deer. It has an extensive root system from which it spreads. Acorns provide food for wildlife, and birds forage on the ground beneath fallen leaves. It is so thick on the mountains in this area that if a fool were to attempt to walk through it from the bottom of the mountain to the top, he would  exhibit scratches from head to toe on exposed skin, and clothing that covered the body would likely suffer tears in the fabric.

As I close my eyes I am fooled into believing that it is spring. Bird life is abundant here as they sing, chirp and squawk. A fly buzzes by my feet, the first insect that I have seen this year in my time afield. On my right cheek I feel the cool breeze and chill of the air. Conversely, on my left cheek and shoulder the warm radiance of the sun, as winter and spring play a game of tug of war with my senses.

My ears tune in to the breeze as it builds in energy creating different sounds around me. As the invisible force moves through the pine needles of the ponderosa it creates a soft whisper. A few leaves hang on the oaks behind me, spinning, rustling, a natural wind chime here in the valley. My own body creates a disturbance of the moving air as it buffets my chest, resulting in more of a deeper tone. It all takes on a pleasant air as I embrace the wind in lieu of shuttering away from it. The force uses all that is in its way to create music in the outdoor world; my body, the trees, the contour of the mountain acting as reeds creating a symphony in nature.

From behind comes the now familiar sound of rustling leaves on the ground. All morning I have been slightly startled by the noise. The fallen oak leaves litter the spottedtowheeground, crunchy in texture as they sit on the dry mountainside exposed to sun, wind and drying elements. It sounds as though someone or some little thing is raking the leaves, persistent, moving about as the leaves take on a life of their own. There is a flutter of wings and I see the spotted towhee, somewhat difficult to pick out on the ground as it searches for food among the leaf litter. I’ve posted a photo to the right of one I saw from my walk in. Can you see it? Look for the unusually colored eye, then you might see the rest of it.

A hawk soars above the valley and flies north. At 36 minutes a hiker comes along the trail, merely 30 yards below me. I sit still and watch. He is intent on the trail, trekking poles in hand, click-clack, click-clack, a light pack on his back and a large brimmed hat on his head. He never sees me as he heads through the valley, lost in his own world enjoying the first days of March.

The spot I am in is so comfortable and cathartic that I could easily stretch out and nap. I’m brought out of my daydream by incessant chattering from a pine squirrel in the fold below. It is immediately met by the scolding of a steller’s jay. The jay silences the squirrel, a feat upon itself, and then flies through the valley allowing me a glimpse of this striking bird of blue and black with its signature crested head.

I scan back and forth taking in all that Elk Valley has to offer to the eye. To the west about 300 yards away I am sure I see some faint movement. Binoculars reveal a mule deer doe barely moving, almost imperctible as she forages in the dense cover of oaks moving toward a small grove of aspens. She blends in so well that I can not make out her full body, just a head, then the horizontal line of her back. Behind her another deer appears out of the brown oaks. As I check out this deer the other disappears not to be seen again this hour.

My time here ends and I know there will still be some snowy days yet to come. Yet my spirit lifts in knowing that as the days lengthen and warm in the coming weeks, that there will be an abundance of birth and growth in the world outside. Nature is about to begin its second act entitled Spring.

Shift Change – 2017.02.18

Shift Change

  • Saturday, 18 February, 2017
  • Brunner Reservoir, Broomfield County, Colorado
  • Time 1711
  • Elevation – 5318’
  • 60℉, slight breeze
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Streetlights on a walkway reflect upon the water as night falls and in my mind act as landing lights for approaching waterfowl.

I break out of the house for the last hour of daylight, the last hour of the week for my project. Having been down and out with a bad cold, some kind of inspiration flows through me and I grab a jacket, two different hats, the camera, journal and walk down the street.

I  move toward Brunner Reservoir, sit on the south bank and look north over the little body of water that lies east of the community senior center. To my right is my neighborhood, behind me are ball fields, a linear open space park, condominiums and a skate park. This is classic surburbia.

Canadian Geese fly in from the west, some landing on the open water while others head to soccer fields beyond. Red Winged Blackbirds’ musical trills echo across the water emerging from cattails, brown in color, devoid of life, a better indicator of the season than the unusually warm temperatures that we have been experiencing of the last few days.

Sitting on the bare dirt, it is comfy enough. A breeze picks up from the west. People are still out and about. There is a bicycle, and in the background my ears detect the smack of skateboards, the proverbial dog barking in the distance, geese honking occasionally.

Halfway across the water, a Bufflehead, my favorite duck, dives under the water. He is back up, then gone again, repeats the cycle and drifts with the current.

A parent pedals by over on the street with a child in a trailer behind. A dog walker is out. A gull flies over, makes a loop, keeps flying.

The banks of the reservoir are comprised of large pieces of rock, big chunks too heavy to carry.  As I gaze at the east bank I notice a ring along the bank, much like you’d see in the bathtub after a crusty kid has exited. It tells me that the current level is down a good foot from whenever that high water mark was last made.

18 minutes into the hour I reflect on the previous 36 hours, most of which I have spent in bed, down and out with a bad cold. Fresh air is welcome and I am grateful to get out for the last hour of light for this week. Illness will not interrupt my hour of stillness. A fool? Perhaps. But this spot is within walking distance of my front door, a card in the deck that I can play when I need it.

Unfortunately, the Bufflehead and a buddy of his are reluctant to come close to my side of the water. Children’s voices can be heard from two parks close by; one to the west and another to the northeast.

A radiant brilliance lights up the west sky halfway through the hour and coincides with me being able to breathe deeply, if just for a few minutes, which feels so nice.

An accented adult voice moves in from my left circling the sidewalk that runs fifty yards behind me. There are three bikes and a little scooter, the scooter ahead of the bikes. A father and three boys, too far away for me to make out complete sentences, I tune in more to the pitch of voice. Dad herds the three like a good shepherd would on a mountainside, reminding me of shepherds I had met while living in Romania. “Go left, go left”, the father shouts as they move north into the neighborhood, a train of bodies on wheels heading home after time together on a wondeful, warm February Saturday evening.

Back on the water, silhouettes of ducks move closer to me, yet not close enough to photograph. They look to be either Northern Shovelers or Mallards.

Skateboards still click and clack behind me in the distance. My raspy cough breaks the quiet at my immediate spot. At 5:49 it is still 61 degrees, the sun behind the mountains to the west and there is a slight chill in the air. It is still light, the days are lengthening as February rolls by. A dog barks again and I roll my shoulders to warm up a bit as I decide to stand for the last twenty minutes of my vigil.

Moving from sitting, to crouching, to standing, I look to my left and see a muskrat 30 yards away. He must sense me and disappears under the water, later appearing as his wake gives away his direction heading for the cattails on the west side of the reservoir. One Red Winged Blackbird signals. I realize they have been largely quiet for some time.

47 minutes and tail lights from cars in distant streets become more prominent in the twilight. A number of streetlights on a bike path just north of the reservoir reflect their light back across the water.

I’m about to wrap up my time. I look at my watch, three minutes left. I’m ready to go home and eat soup, read a book and curl up. Wait! Again I am amazed at what remains in just a few minutes. To the north coyotes begin to yip and howl just as the light from the day begins to fade for good. They carry on like children getting out of school, reaching a quick crescendo. Then, behind me the honking ensues and flock upon flock of geese, numbering well into the high hundreds, too numerous to even begin to count, fly onto the small reservoir. I barely make out that geese already on the water make way for the new arrivals. It’s a flurry of activity that harnesses an intense energy completely different from the first 57 minutes of this hour.

I think about the refuge this water offers for all of these geese that are flying in from areas of the south, where they have been feeding throughout the day. As the coyotes begin to sing and carry on I think about how this world is about to change in the coming minutes, as humans seek refuge in their lighted, warm homes and in nature the night shift comes on for duty.

Aquatic Eagle Paradise – 2017.02.08

Aquatic Eagle Paradise

  • Wednesday, 8 February 2017
  • Barr Lake State Park, Adams County, Colorado
  • Time 0718
  • Elevation – 5098’
  • Soft breeze, cloudy to blue skies, 41℉
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Frozen Barr Lake is an oasis for wintering Bald Eagles. Binoculars are a must for viewing the expansive lake in order to view dozens of eagles.

I make my way to another one of the 42 state parks in Colorado. This time it is Barr Lake State Park. The park is popular for birders and fishermen and boasts of a massive lake which is encompassed by an 8.8 mile trail.

I read where the Bald Eagles are en masse at the park right now, so I decide this is a great place to come spend an hour. I park at the visitor’s center and take a very short walk out to the boardwalk that leads to a covered platform.

The forecast calls for stiff winds throughout the day but just past sunrise there is merely a light breeze. I am on the south shore of the lake gazing north. The lake was originally a natural depression and in 1908 a dam was created combining two smaller reservoirs into what is now Barr Lake. I can see the front range mountains from here on the prairie but they are partially shrouded in clouds, prohibiting a view of the Continental Divide. The sun has broken the horizon off the back of my right shoulder but my attention is on the ice.

The lake is not completely frozen and is not at its full capacity as evidenced by the rocks directly underneath the platform I am standing on. Yet, only a few more feet away there is a mix of ice and open water. Canadian geese are both on my left and off to my right. Over the next hour they fly in and out of the area like planes landing and taking off.

In a stand of trees a few hundred yards east of me an immature bald eagle roosts. He appears to be busy either eating or preening himself, but at the moment I am overwhelmed by the number of eagles on the ice. I use my 8×42 binoculars to begin to check out the majestic birds. I get so busy glassing the ice that I miss the fact that the immature baldie has vacated his perch. I mentally kick myself because my camera is not of the type to get photos of the eagles that are hundreds of yards and miles away from my viewing spot. I have missed the best opportunity for a decent photo of one of the eagles.

Before I know it, time is racing by. Already 30 minutes in, I decide to scan the lake and make a count of the eagles. Most of them are sitting on the ice, a few are in flight over an open channel of water in the middle of the lake. There are a some that are solitary on the ice far from open water. Many others congregate in groups ranging from a pair to nearly a dozen. At one spot I probably count fifteen as I scan the ice and far shore. I can see mature eagles roosting far across the lake, their white heads creating a sharp contrast as they catch the morning sun. Where there is one in the trees, there is usually a pair. Making what I hope to be an accurate count involves intense concentration and focus. It takes me five minutes to do the job and I know that I must have missed birds and perhaps misidentified others. At best I am a very amateur birder, but I tally 73 eagles. (The past weekend a photographer had counted 53 and I messaged the park after I got home and they told me that there have been counts of 75 in past years) Certainly there are dozens upon dozens of eagles. Ironically, the lake itself is home to only one nesting pair, yet many times that congregate here over winter.

I narrow my focus following a few that are in flight. One flies from right to left, soaring above the water and then moves lower, lower and is merely inches away from the softly lapping water. It lifts gently and then lands next to three buddies on the ice.  Others circle much higher overhead, diving down to the water only to pull back up and get a different vantage point as they hunt for fish. A few others put on an aerial display like fighter pilots twisting, climbing, diving and turning. Upon reflection, it seems the mature eagles fly together and the immature keep their distance in their own groups. Or perhaps that is just me thinking it is that way.

As I continue to observe their behavior, I notice that the breeze has now changed to more of a windy disposition. A sudden “crack” causes me to break away from the magnifying eyes I am looking through and brings me back to things immediately in my vicinity. Ice begins to creak and groan off the catwalk. I watch as it ever so slightly heaves and then lowers, the wind pushing the water beneath it as it takes on an almost respiratory quality. It makes me think of all the signs in my neighborhood that state “Ice is never safe!” Looking at the ice in front of me I think, “You’re darn right it isn’t safe!” and with that I make sure my camera, notebook and belongings are secure from becoming victims of Barr Lake’s waters.

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A lone mature bald eagle in a fly by

While my focus has been on the Bald Eagles, our national bird, I have also seen Buffleheads, Mallards, Gulls and many other birds that I could not identify. A birder would be busy for hours here yet my goal is to try and encapsulate this magic into one hour. It is tantalizing to be able to see so many eagles, the most I have ever seen in one single sitting and not have them just a wee bit closer. With just ninety seconds left in this hour four white capped eagles rise up and fly southwest over the water, coming closer than any others have all morning. One breaks formation and  circles northeast in front of me. I make a feeble effort at getting his photo. As he soars back over the ice he seems as though he dips his wings to me like a Navy pilot making his way back off into this aquatic eagle paradise.

The Witch’s Cauldron – 2017.02.01

 The Witch’s Cauldron

  • Wednesday, 1 February 2017
  • Winiger Ridge, Roosevelt National Forest, Boulder County, Colorado
  • Time 0825
  • Elevation – 8000’
  • Windy, 40℉
  • Distance one way  from car – 1.6 miles

 

This marks the fifth week of this project for 2017. Not until Wednesday did I get out this week and thus, I’m making my first entry for the month of February. I head to a predetermined area expecting to experience one thing; at the end of the hour I end up in a much different place.

I traverse over a mile and a half from the car. My original intent was to trek most of the day and find a spot to sit. But my work schedule changed and I need to make this a morning venture.

I arrive at  Winiger Ridge, an area I have visited many times before, but always in late summer or autumn. This is elk wintering ground and where deer live year round. On my drive in I passed by a herd of elk so I’m guessing I won’t find them on this ridge today.

The wind is strong from the west and while it is not cold I don’t want to endure an hour of the wind in my face. I find a spot at a charred, living Ponderosa Pine. I remove my glove and touch the bark. My finger picks up the charcoal and I make a note not to lean back against the tree and muss my jacket. Sitting at the top of a draw below the ridge and out of the wind, I know it is a good spot because three feet below me is a bed from an animal. The area is swept clean of debris where the ungulate created a space to rest. It’s a typical spot, high up in the draw, but below the ridge. The vantage point is a good one. 

I face south/southeast. Glancing left in the draw the area is barren, with little in the way of trees. The hillside contains cactus, a few large rocks and grasses. No snow lies on this south facing east side of the draw. Gazing down and then up the west side of the ravine the landscape is much different; completely snow covered, a nice stand of Ponderosa Pines, a smattering of Aspen trees and some shrubs. The snow is covered in elk tracks up and down the hillside. This is where they were.

Again, I have a big view. It is the season of dormancy. Nothing is growing and the birds are quieter. There is not much in the way of smell. Because of this, I tend to go for a bigger view of things, to gaze upon a grander scale.

A weather phenomenon is taking place. I drove through it, and then up and out of it when I came here, almost 3000’ higher than where I started back at my house. Today, an inversion is occurring. It’s not uncommon on the front range of Colorado. Cold dense air (24ºF this morning) becomes trapped below warmer air (about 40ºF where I sit) that reigns higher up in altitude. Fog remains trapped in a valley below, or in this case, the plains which begin to spread east from the Rocky Mountain’s front range. 

As I have driven and then climbed higher than the inversion I am now witness to the spectacle below me. I gaze toward Eldorado Canyon and see the fog and clouds fighting to climb out of the valley to the higher elevations above. Tendrils rise in and out of the ridges, allowing me to see more easily the topography and definition of the mountains to my southeast. I am able to count nine ridges between where I sit and Eldorado Mountain, the rising clouds assisting in delineating the different ridgelines.

I hear birds below me and with the aid of my field glasses I can make out a few flitting about in the pines 100 yards away to my right. My mind drifts to spring, the sounds and smells, but I discipline my mind and attention to stay in this moment, this hour, 28:20 into the winter watch.

At 32 minutes I don my lined, deerskin gloves over top of my wool gloves as the chill sets in. To the west, the sky is brilliant blue. In the east there are clouds and horizontal lines in the sky. Opposing views battle for my attention. The drama playing out in the east wins this morning.

The clouds, or rather, rising fog is mesmerizing. I feel as though I am watching a boiling witch’s cauldron. The rising and falling of the smoky steam, lifting, dropping, growing, evaporating. Over the past 40 minutes the fog has lifted slightly west and gained altitude. It moves faster and collects above the ridges, three banks merging in an attempt to collect as one unit.

My fingertips and knees grow chilled at 45 minutes. The area, so tracked up from wildlife is devoid of animals this morning. It matters little as I gaze at the fog in the valley that now appears as ocean spray. Waves curl back as the surf moves in, and repeats its cycle, then goes calm as I sit patiently for the next wave to come forth.

A train whistle blows, battling to be heard above the wind. As I close this hour, I’m grateful I walked five more minutes to gain the vantage point I currently have. Had I stopped on the east side of the ravine I would have missed the spectacle of the morning’s inversion.

These times, the hours sitting out of doors, bring about the unexpected. I ask each week, “What could I possibly see that is different in nature, from previous weeks?”

“I have so much to show you”, nature replies, “give me your time and you’ll have no regrets.”

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Of Frozen Fall, Raven and Moss – 2017.01.23

Of Frozen Fall, Raven and Moss

  • Monday 23 January 2017
  • Elk Falls, Staunton State Park, Park County, Colorado
  • Time 1035
  • Elevation – 8600’
  • Calm, silver grey skies, 36℉
  • Distance one way  from car – 5.5 miles/ 2 hour 15 minute hike
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The ice queen, Elk Falls, frozen. My pack is the speck at the bottom of the falls.

This is my first time coming to Elk Falls. I’ve hiked many of the trails in Staunton State Park, one of Colorado’s newest state parks, which opened in May of 2013. The hike in is pleasurable, with the sun attempting to play peek a boo among snowflakes and grey skies.

After more than two hours of hiking, the anticipation is great of this new place to explore. As I come to the bottom of a large canyon I am surprised by the silence. Winter has stifled a mammoth cascade and frozen it in her icy grip. I confess, that initially I am underwhelmed and disappointed but it is only 4 ½ minutes into my hour watch here at Elk Falls.

Again, this week, I face south with steep rock walls all around me. This place, on a quiet, grey Monday morning with tiny flakes of snow bouncing off my knees, feels like a catacomb, tomb like and eerie.

Far off I hear the chirps from birds but the opposing mountain is so vast, so grand that I cannot begin to make out where the songsters are located. Shortly thereafter I can identify different birds; a raven, a jay and a distant bird of steel with engines, a ghost in the clouds above me.

The raven becomes raucous below me, upset about something. Two now banter back and forth and suddenly one is close by. I see him fly up the canyon now! A shiver goes through me with his throaty croak coming loud and louder as he flies closer. And as he comes even nearer I can now hear the beat of his wings, adding to the sinister nature of his arrival. He alights on a high branch of a Douglas Fir, takes note of the surroundings much like a scout, and then descends southwest and then southeast out of the twisting canyon.

Rock faces opposing me hold an angle of which this morning snow sticks and does not slide off. Nor has it been warm enough that any snow melts except for the flakes that settle on my gloves, my body heat rendering them to liquid, then to gas as they disappear.

The rock is granite. Part of a large formation called the Pikes Peak batholith, it is colored in pink, grey, black and sparkles even on this overcast day. It is covered in lichens adding a seafoam green color to the granite rocks. I then notice a softer, hairy, darker green moss as well. The moss, being a plant, is much different from the lichen. I can gently comb it’s hairs with my gloved finger, soft enough that it yields to my pressure, whereas the lichen is brittle, dry, more expansive and like parchment coating the rock.

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Moss, lichens and granite

I marvel that at 35 minutes into my watch I have become lost in moss, it’s texture, how it creates a shelf for the soft, fluffy flakes of snow and I feel as if I am in a terrarium, ant like if I were to be seen from the high trail above me that I, myself, cannot see.

Gazing to my left at the frozen falls I can discern movement in the lower reaches of this blue sculpture. Listening intently I can hear a glub, a pop, but not really a trickle. At 50 yards away I can barely hear it and appears to the eye much like a darker vein running under milky, paper thin skin. It is the only evidence I can detect of moving water under the falls. In late spring, early summer it must ravage off the cliff with the snowmelt, but today, in late January, it is frozen in time.

At 51 minutes I stare at the green and brown trees to take in the falling snow. So light, so dainty, that it does not fall as much as drift through the air. Now, the lightest of breezes carries it diagonally and as I turn the page of my journal, there are darker spots where the flakes have  been trapped between sheets, sheets that were once trees but are now instruments to capture graphite as it scratches across lines to retain my thoughts of this hour, this week.

With two minutes to the hourglass, the sun strains to shine through the clouds and causes me to squint as I look at it’s orb; a final stamp of beauty to the hour just passed.

Winter’s Solace – 2017.01.16

Winter’s Solace

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A “fish-eye” view of windmills, grasses and the front line of the front range of Colorado

  • Monday 16 January 2017
  • Jefferson County, Colorado
  • Time 1603
  • Elevation – 5955’
  • Calm, overcast, four inches of snow from morning, 36℉

My goal is to sit on a ridge for the last hour of daylight. That changes when the trail I need to take to get there is closed due to muddy conditions. With four inches of fresh snow on the ground, I am looking forward to the contrast, allowing me to scan a larger area where wildlife might “pop” out against the white landscape.

I head back to “option two” of which I had passed earlier on my way to “option one”. Having already forgotten my gloves this is not panning out in the way I had hoped. Thus, I end up creating a rule of sorts. “There shall be no switching plans in hopes of a better hour, better observations and better reading”. Stick to the plan, stay committed, it’s all part of the process and project.

I pull off the road and park the car. Shuffling along on a sidehill I find a spot overlooking the Rock Creek drainage. I want to drop far enough off the road to avoid being seen by traffic. I grab my little insulated pad which will protect my bottom from freezing.  I have a 180° view as I sit facing south overlooking the Rocky Flats National Wildlife Refuge, which, oddly enough is host to vast wildlife including deer, elk, coyotes, bears, mountain lions and a proliferate bird population. I say oddly enough because the government used to manufacture plutonium triggers in a factory on the site during the cold war. There is a plan to open parts of the area to the public this year. I’m not sure I’m comfortable trekking out there when they do, but I’ve seen a herd of up to 100 elk from this little spot where I’m currently sitting, so I feel it might be a good venue for an hour to sit and hang out.

To the west seven wind turbines stand at attention unmoving. There is a plant beyond the turbines where they produce expanded shale and clay lightweight aggregate. A large smoke stack emits what I guess to be steam and for my interest today acts as a wind indicator. The steam moves straight toward the heavens confirming that it is a very still day. The clouds hang gray, heavy and low over the prairie. I am privy to the foothills that run from the city of Boulder south to Golden. I can make out Eldorado Mountain and Goshawk Ridge, which was “option one”.

Air traffic moves overhead from the nearby airport and there is a constant hum of vehicular traffic behind me. I block out the vehicles for the next hour focusing on what lies to my fore. The vista is open prairie, looking down into a drainage and upon closer inspection I’m able to make out that there are numerous valleys between me and a larger mesa in the distance. I remember from many past trips here in car and on bicycle that wildlife can quickly escape from view because of the undulating nature of the landscape.

Immediately below me is a lot of scrubby brush and yucca plants. The name of the yucca plant escapes me and I realize that I am harried and mentally scattered. I gather the binoculars to narrow my field of vision, somewhat overwhelmed by the miles of views in front of me. I scan the areas where I know game can hide from the naked eye. In less than a minute I see bodies, ears, heads and make out about eight deer. Before long they disappear into a ravine.

Being bare handed is not yet a concern. It’s amazingly comfortable even sitting on the snowy ground due to the fact that it is so calm. I sip from my bottle of hot tea, so hot that I add snow to my beverage to bring it down from scalding.

At 35 minutes my hands begin to chill and even without the indication of the sun, I can sense that the day is ending and evening begins to make its presence felt. A silent, soft breeze comes from the south. I look to the smokestack and see that the steam is now leaning north, pointing like a giant finger out of the sky.

41 minutes into my watch bright red blinking lights catch my attention. Fixtures on the wind turbines which burn brightly in the darkening sky.

Birds chirp, but I never see them, can only hear them and in turn sense the direction that they are flying. In other months this drainage can be filled with color. Today white on black is the dominant color theme. It is indeed the deep of winter. I often think about the animals that make these lands their home. Food is scarce, and today snow covers much of it. Animals, large and small, are careful not to expend energy and burn calories unnecessarily. Ironically many of the female elk, deer, moose and bears are carrying young in their wombs. Their gestation period happens during the hardest time of the year, growing these babies inside so that they can deliver them during the best time of the year, the spring, when the natural world is more gentle and forgiving. Mothers bear the burden of the harshest of seasons to carry their newborns into an appropriate time to find new life.

At 53 minutes I begin to think about how much I miss each and every day. Distractions abound, my mind can wander, attention spans can run short. Behind me I hear the “thump, thump, thump” of bass from a car stereo. I’ve done well over the past hour to mentally drown out the constant drone of traffic. Now it brings me back to the present. I check out of my daydream having lost track of time and discover I am 30 seconds beyond my hour for today.

Finding Flags – 2017.01.08

Finding Flags – 2017.01.08

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  • Sunday 08 January 2017
  • Inner Harbor, Baltimore County, Maryland
  • Time 1353
  • Elevation – Sea Level
  • Strong northwest winds, clear skies, 23℉

Not wanting to be overwhelmed by the music and people I walk out to a pier where the USS Constellation is moored. I am at Inner Harbor, or more technically, the Port of Baltimore, a 300 year old port. The Inner Harbor contains the Patapsco River which eventually flows out past Fort McHenry to the Chesapeake Bay.

The sun beats strongly and I opt to face south, seated on a bench, hood pulled over my head to shield me from a strong west wind. The air is cold and biting with the wind strong enough at times to send my little journal sliding across the bench even though my body acts as a windbreak.

Noises! Sirens sound shrilly to the west. Music emanates from the Bubba Gump Shrimp Factory mixing with song from other restaurants. It beckons to patrons that are largely non-existent on a blustery, bitter Sunday afternoon in January.

Gulls abound and determine that I am a poor source for food and handouts, thus leaving me to myself. I have just one that nests on the walkway a few feet from my own perch here on the bench.

A Water Taxi pulls out with one passenger as the Captain takes her away from the dock. In the distant southeast, my eyes strain to make out the different buildings, construction cranes, boats and landmarks. The Domino Sugar building stands out against the rest.

People watching is scarce with most hearty souls bundled up in heavy jackets moving from point A to B. No loungers keep me company. A seagull squeals and a helicopter flies rather low from east to west and will come by again later.

Across the harbor the American Flag stands at attention, ablaze in the light against the pale blue sky. A pair of Mallard ducks float past me and then a bitter gust of wind blasts across my body, carrying with it grains of snow, abrasive like sand blowing in the desert.

I look in my 360 degree circle and note how the wind curls around buildings belying its actual direction. Thirty-one minutes into my watch sirens sound again, this time from the northeast.

The USS Constellation, an old civil war ship staged here for tours, creaks eerily. It moves with the wind, protesting its mooring. I believe it begs to sail again, to live its life as it was meant to be, on the open seas, not as an object to be taken pity upon, an old warhorse lying immobile.

As boredom and complacency fight for my attention, I begin to play a game of “find the flag”. Pivoting in my seat I attempt to pick out as many official flags as I can. This…is much like looking for a bedded deer in the forest. I focus as I look for a tip of a pennant catching wind from behind a building. Here, not far from where The Star Spangled Banner was written by Francis Scott Key, are many flags. After a few turns I count 25 different national, state and local flags.

Counting flags brings about a different sentiment; one that surprises me. It is one of history, national pride and all that has gone before me and this country. Forty minutes of exposure to wind and cold has stripped away a leathered layer of my personality and exposes appreciation. Pride surfaces as I think about my nephew currently serving in the US Army, my son enlisted and preparing for boot camp with the US Navy and an 8 month old great nephew with a future ahead of him and very little in the way of day to day worries. Familial and national pride sends my chest swelling and I’m very surprised by this feeling, for it was not what I anticipated to come forth from this time. I’m brought back to the present as the sun plays peak a boo with a stray cloud and Pat Benatar belts out “Love is a Battlefield” from across the water.

To my east I look at a submarine and the National Aquarium and with five minutes remaining on my watch the ¾ moon appears over the cityscape. It is a ghost rising up, preparing for the night shift as the sun makes its exit for this day. As I finish, 15 seconds have yet to tick off as I stand from the bench, turn to face it and see the wind blow my items onto the brickwork below emphasizing the end to my time here.

New Year’s Sunrise – 2017.01.01

New Year’s Sunrise

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Peering through Eldorado Canyon, Standley Lake shimmers below vibrant orange clouds.

  • Sunday 01 January 2017
  • Walker Ranch, Boulder County, Colorado
  • Time 0638
  • Elevation 7291’
  • Strong west winds, 32℉

It is 16 degrees when I leave the house. I am hoping for warmer temperatures even though I will be 2,000’ higher at my destination. Gratefully, it is twice as warm at the parking lot, but with increased temperatures come strong west winds.

Darkness reigns, with clear skies, but no moon as I make my way down the trail at Walker Ranch. I have a specific spot in mind for this first official “hour of stillness” for 2017. Picking a specific time, (sunrise), on a specific day, (New Year’s Day) means I am at the mercy of the weather. As I arrive at my designated spot, light just begins to emerge from darkness with the sunrise another forty minutes away.

I crawl below the high point of the hill and settle in on the leeward side, which offers me a 180 degree view. As I nestle down on the ground I adjust in my spot placing my left hand on the ground. My first sensation of this spot, still very dark, is one of a sharp prick and I realize that a small cactus has poked through both my glove liner and heavy lobster claw glove. Over the next hour I am careful not to  place my hand there again. I have picked my spot and I need to make do with it, adjusting to the surroundings, a visitor on this mountain, a spectator to nature’s first sunrise of the New Year.

A juniper full of berries is on my right shoulder, sheltering me from the wind. Immediately to my left is a Ponderosa Pine, limbs shifting in the gusting wind. I face east, looking through Eldorado Canyon and can see the shimmering water of Standley Lake. There are many blinking red lights in my view as I also look toward the National Wind Technology Center  located south of Boulder. Rocky Mountain Metropolitan Airport is off in the distance. As I was coming into this spot a train rumbled on the south mountain, its train whistle blowing in the stiff wind and lights ablaze in what appeared to be a passenger car.

As the minutes pass my eyes adjust to the increased light in the expanse below me. My index finger chills on my pen and my knees are cold pressing against my pants as I sit cross legged. I begin to notice my breath in the cold air as I exhale. The sky on the horizon brightens and my eyes play tricks on me as I think I see an aircraft, or perhaps a UFO. Focusing my field glasses I realize it is a high, lonesome cloud.

I stretch my legs and my metal water bottle, which contains hot coffee, falls and clatters loudly against the rocks causing an unnatural sound as it is muffled by the hum of the wind.  

No animals are stirring as 2017 makes its fierce entrance; maybe a morning for wildlife to sleep in, nestled under pine boughs, escaping the wind. I’ve seen no deer, elk or grouse this morning; all creatures that I have seen in this area on past trips.

The sun breaks the horizon in earnest at 7:19, forty minutes into my morning watch. Five minutes later the dawning light fills the mountain, brightening winter grasses as tremors settle into my body from the chilly morning. I now squint as I look east and turn to the right behind me to escape its rays.

Four minutes remain of the hour as I snap photos trying to capture “good light”. As a mere two minutes remain nine deer suddenly appear to my right, coming around the corner of the hillside 30 yards away. We all see each other at the same time, with a few of the lead deer bolting down into the draw. The others look at me, cock their heads this way and that and eventually make their way toward the others. As the clock expires on my hour, I quietly go about gathering my gear. My binoculars case has blown 15 feet below me and I scramble down to get it as the deer mill about, feeding, moving and seeking cover from the blustery day.

Walking back to my car, I fully realize the force of the wind as it makes its cold presence known chapping my cheeks and causing me to burrow down into my jacket. On this, the first day of a brand new year, the wind is the star of this morning premier.

 

Staring Contest – 2016.12.23

Staring Contest

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“As soon as the breath escapes my nostrils the forest explodes and ten of the eleven deer bound out of sight. The closest one remains, a beautiful doe with dark eyes and a dark nose, highlighted by white around its edges.”

  • Friday 23 December 2016
  • Boulder County, Colorado
  • Time 1023
  • Elevation 7623’
  • Blue skies, strong west wind, 45℉

I didn’t choose this spot as much as it chose me. I venture to a trail I have not been on before, with a destination in mind. But I follow an old road in the forest, not the official trail, as I’m often prone to do. Like a child following a trail of candy, I follow a set of week old elk tracks in the snow.

My plan today is to perhaps find a spot to sit and observe the world  for an hour. I say perhaps, but I have my camera, a small brown leather journal measuring 3 ½” x 5 ½”, pen, small pad to sit on so as to be comfortable and clothes suitable to endure an hour sitting still in December.

I crest a small undulation and the forest erupts in movement. I see bellies, legs and necks heading in various directions much like a game of  Hide and Seek and someone has called out “Olly, olly, oxen free!”. Attempting to count the mule deer my mind can process eight or more but then they are still, running, hopping and one is still in its bed. The small herd has not vacated the area entirely and after a few minutes of crouching on the ground I find a soft spot to sit down.

For the next forty minutes I remain as still as possible and find myself in a staring contest with eleven does and yearlings. Even though I am close to a national forest boundary these are “city deer”. The younger ones are nervous, bounding off at times, only to make their way back to the herd. Always, there are at least five sets of eyes on me at any one time. The mothers, typically the most wary while their youngsters are frolicking are habituated to humans. They keep a close eye on me and even venture closer, not exactly sure what this lump on the ground is.

About twenty minutes into our game, I hear a loud snort behind me and can’t help but whip my head to my left behind me just in time to see another deer bound off. I can’t tell its gender but while I have been preoccupied with the eleven fore of me, one snuck up surprising me. I don’t think the eleven have seen the one behind, but only heard it. They are on high alert, as am I now, but they don’t move off. Now nearly all eyes are on me. I attempt to relax in my posture, thankful for a yoga practice that has begun to hone core musculature as I seek comfort in this spot. In that vein, I slowly exhale through my nose, but it is just slightly audible, yet not so much that if I were in a quiet room visiting with others that they would notice. But now, amazingly, with the closest deer perhaps 25 yards away, as soon as the breath escapes my nostrils the forest explodes and ten of the eleven deer bound out of sight. The closest one remains, a beautiful doe with dark eyes and a dark nose, highlighted by white around its edges.

I fear the gig is up, but after a few minutes, remarkably, the deer all begin to return again. They move about to more feeding and move from in front of me to my right and south. Something has changed in them, and while they find me slightly unsettling, I feel the heavy winds beyond this depression unsettles them more and they will tolerate a human or strange presence rather than be out in the open.

This new level of their comfort allows me to pull out my journal and frantically make notes, fearful that I will forget many details of our encounter if too much time passes. I see twigs close by that are mangled from the browsing deer, ruminants that have four chambered stomachs and therefore chew their cud, breaking down plant matter to stimulate digestion. I watch the beautiful doe as she reaches up to nibble on a Douglas Fir, which surprises me. I wasn’t aware that mule deer ate evergreens.

I notice the plant life around me and am surprised that the kinnikinnick still has its leaves. Back in September the kinnikinnick at 10,000’ had lost its leaves. Maybe the late warm autumn that has just passed spared this plant to lose it leaves as of just yet.

As I sit on this little overgrown road that runs north/south I feel the sun on my right side as it warms my face and right shoulder while my back left shoulder is considerably chilled in the shade. I’m amazed now with just minutes left in this hour how quickly it has passed. The observations of the deer has allowed me to miss so much more that is around me. But the exercise I have chosen is to be for precisely one hour, not more, not less.

I stand with just four minutes remaining to see a bit more of all that is around me. I determine that my field of vision has been no more than 60 yards, as it is rather dense here with the tall Douglas Firs. I can just make out the back side of Bear Peak which juts up in front of me as I have been facing east for the last hour.

I pack up my items, double checking not to leave any sign of my presence behind. I’ve come 1.54 miles from the parked car and will make a bigger loop back there as I process what I’ve been privy to over the last hour, a trial run of single hours that will come in 2017. I determine that the test run has been a success.