Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Grand Adventures! And snow...

Well, actually, before I will "let it snow", I think I must acknowledge my dog's latest adventure.... And although I'll leave this one pretty much un-commented upon -- trust me, I will fill in later exactly why this is so important...

So, without further ado, Rilke's Grand Adventure:

On Tuesday, I was just starting out on Rilke's morning walk when suddenly he disappeared. Completely. Now this is not unusual for my dog. So originally, I was not concerned. After all, he knows he has it pretty damn good with me, so he's not so stupid as to not eventually come home. So really -- if he wants to be an independent little (shit) guy, than I'm cool with that.

Plus, I could hear a chain saw buzzing along the road in front of me, and a dog occasionally barking, so I was pretty confident where he had disappeared to -- after all, he was quite convinced that every new person and especially every new dog was his new BFF.

And if you do not know that term, I am not explaining it.

So I approached the two guys cutting up wood for the winter and their adorable German shepherd -- and realize a small white fluffy thing is nowhere to be found. Uh oh. This is actually cause for a concern... Rilke is not one to have not spied humans and dogs first (if you can follow that double negative!), in fact, he was so good at spotting "fresh meat" that he had learned to stop whenever I called him to "come" and immediately check around him in case I was trying to corral him prior to meeting any other trail travelers.

This meant I needed to start back-tracking and attempt to find him.... Considering it's been a good 10 minutes since I've seen him (and been whistling for him), there is a world of trouble he could have gotten into -- and indeed he did. He finally came running, and he was licking his chops, had stuff all over his scruff, and smelled... well, funny. Oddly enough, the first thing that came to mind was cattle grazing....

Which clearly makes no sense. Clearly.

Long story short (intermission is playing with the German Shepherd of course), we start the return home and he takes off again -- up a steep bank... And I know immediately what is happening, and why I now need to scramble up this steep bank and follow him.... Clearly he had indeed found "fresh meat" -- of the literal kind...

This is what I found:

And yeah, I don't want to talk about it, except for sharing my horror with all of you... And letting you know that of course this was right at the top of my drive, just on the other side of a low rise (foreboding, foreshadowing scary music starts to play), and that yes, I did dispose of all of this -- don't ask, except that yes, a very large animal could get at it if they wanted, but my dog cannot (foreboding, foreshadowing scary music starts to play) -- and yes, my dog and myself did get a bath.

The good thing was that the winter storm predicted had not yet started -- which meant that the aforementioned bath could actually take place "properly" (ie, outside on the deck, not inside in a shower). But come the storm did....

And I would like to blame "Rilke's Grand Adventure" on my grand adventure later that night....

My Grand Adventure:

You would think that because I planned in advance that after I attended book club that night I would park my vehicle at the top of my drive due to the seriousness of the coming storm, that I would have actually thought it through.

Not just a hat rack. Really.

And yet somehow, I thought through the idea of putting in the heavy things I need to take to the city this weekend, putting snow boots in the car for walking down the drive, and wearing a warmer jacket and heavy gloves. But I did not think through that it would be dark when I got home.

Not just a hat rack. Really.

And not just dark, but pitch black, complete nothingness dark. You know, that whole cloud cover thing that happens when it snows out? That just happens to umm.... obscure the moon and the stars, and those twinkly lights that happen thanks to Mother Nature?

Um yeah. Not just a hat rack. I swear.

So I arrive home around 8:30 at night to a light snow falling. I carefully park my car at the top of the drive, facing out just in case.

And perhaps I ought to digress a moment here and explain exactly why I was bothering to take all of these precautions. See, Ms. Not Just A Hat Rack does not yet have a vehicle with 4WD. I also happen to have a driveway that is approximately 600 feet long and drops 500 feet in altitude in that distance. You do the math, and that means my drive is approximately a 10 percent grade. Yeah, good times...

(Though it does make a killer sledding hill... Literally. Just ask my niece and her friends.)

So. I maneuver the car into place where it is facing out, not blocking the drive or the road, and start gathering my things to walk down to the house. And it is at this moment that I finally realize that I ... do... not... have ... a ... flashlight....

Oh. My. God. Crap, crap, crap. And another crap for good measure. And as a prayer to my mother, Holy Shit.

I step out of the car, shut the door, lock it, and the lights from the car go dark. I turn towards the drive, and see.... Nothing. Somewhere, far off, what looks like 10 miles away, I can see a dim light that must be my front porch light.

Oh. My. God. Crap, crap, crap. And another crap for good measure. And as a prayer to my mother, Holy Shit.

Because all of that had to be said twice in the hopes it had more power that way.

I pull out my "somewhat smart" phone, and push a button to get the screen to light up, and hold that in front of me. I can barely see my feet, let alone anything beyond them. And of course the phone immediately goes to sleep to save power.

Without cell phone reception in the area, cell phones constantly search service -- which means they go into "auto save" mode in order to have the battery not run down immediately from the constant searching. So mine did.

I hit the button again, and start to slowly walk towards that dim light in the distance, jabbing the button repeatedly...

I get about 20 feet down the drive, stumbling a bit during this period as this is the very steep hill at the top of my drive (which is actually the only part of the drive my car cannot handle in the snow -- the rest is twisting and sloping enough to manage), and swear I hear something behind me.

I stop, but refuse to turn around. And am positive I hear a low growl perhaps 10 feet behind me. POSITIVE.

So I, of course, continue to refuse to turn around, and do the only thing I can think of doing: start walking again. I do not run because, well:
1) I can barely see where I am going in the first place, and felt tripping and falling flat on my face was much worse than slowly making forward progress;
2) Just about all wildlife advice says never run. Let me repeat that: Never Run. As you are then a target to be pursued. Let me repeat that: A Target.

I then do the only other thing I can think of: I say outloud, "Whoo boy! It's good to be almost home."

And my neck hairs start tingling, and suddenly "identifying myself as human" seems like a very very very bad idea. I have no idea why. But as my grandfather used to love to say: "Ours is not to reason why, ours is but to do and die."

And um, yeah. I'm thinking die is actually an option here, so... yeah. I didn't reason with this sudden thought that I should not actually identify myself as human, and therefore I needed to stop talking now.

I keep walking, breathing shallowly, and do the only other thing I can think of to do: start whistling. Do not ask me why I think whistling is somehow "less human", please just refer to Grandfather's Motto above. No reasoning, just doing or dying. Period.

And not just any song of course, but the absolutely only song appropriate at this moment and time -- the song from the Monty Python movie "Life of Brian" at the very end: "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life".

(And if you do not know this song, please do follow the link and watch the video... It may save your life some day. Seriously!)

So I whistle, and I walk. Slowly, deliberately, one step in front of the other.  Still refusing to look behind me, still focusing on the barely there light from my phone, and the very dim and distant but slowly getting closer and brighter front porch light in front me. The hairs on the back of my neck go down.

I finally reach the cabin, and realize I have also not done one other thing that I usually always do before I even get out of the car when it's at night: get my house keys out and have them in my hand.

Oh. My. God. Crap, crap, crap. And another crap for good measure. And as a prayer to my mother, Holy Shit.

Because third times a charm, right?

And now it's almost getting funny, because it's like I'm in the middle of a Hollywood horror movie. I fumble for the keys in my purse, pull them out, and immediately drop them. I am still resolutely refusing to look to my right and back up my drive. I pick them up, trying to pull out the door key, and immediately drop them again. Finally, I manage to get the key in my hands, put it in the lock, and open the door. Rilke immediately jumps all over me.

Which means that instead of immediately fleeing inside, locking the door behind me, and peering out of a window, I have to drop my stuff, turn around and let Rilke out for a potty break. He immediately bounds up the driveway, barking.

I scream "TREAT!" For once, it works.

Which is actually less reassuring than you think. (Think about it.)

We retreat inside for about an hour before I'm willing to go outside for his potty break, and by that time, all seems quiet. Except that now it has gone from maybe an inch of snow on the ground and lightly falling, to at least two inches and falling heavily.

I go to bed, and wake up to snow... snow, glorious snow.

And then I discovered the facet of snow I had not previously considered: that new tracks show up much easier in snow... And I saw tracks leading down my driveway toward the cabin....

These were not "brand new" tracks (ie, fresh since the snow stopped falling that morning), but instead were clearly tracks that had been made since the snow started, but much earlier, as they had been filled in half way with fresh snow. IE, made perhaps when several inches of snow were on the ground, and a bit more snow had fallen since...

I follow the path of the tracks, and they go past the cabin, around to the other side, and start towards the confluence. I go back inside, pull on boots and my jacket, and decide Rilke and I are immediately going for his morning walk.

The tracks at first almost look a human footprint, they are so large -- and too vague to note any "identifying marks" thanks to having been filled in by fresh snow. After studying them more carefully as I walk along the path, I realize that it is actually two tracks in one. That is, the animal clearly was stepping such that its back paws were landing in or very near to where its front paw had originally landed.

Ummmm..... My wildlife book says that's what cougars (aka mountain lions, because they're crafty enough to deserve two names... in fact, actually three, as they are also known as pumas) do. I quote:
Mountain lions frequently use an overstep walk as their primary gait. ... Step lengths in this gait vary from 15 to 30 inches. Cougars may also direct register (where hind feet step inside of where the front feet had landed), when moving through deeper snow. A variety of faster gaits are used when chasing prey or escaping danger.
Ummm. Especially when moving through snow...?

Of course, it turns out coyotes also use the overstep walk:
Coyotes utilize a variety of gaits, including walking, trotting, loping, and galloping gaits. One of their favored gaits is an overstep trot, where front and hind feet on the same side of the body land close together, with the hind landing slightly ahead of the front. These trotting gaits leave a line of tracks that is very straight and narrow.
And, of course!, so does the American black bear:
The American black bear travels over the landscape mainly by walking, but it can also trot, lope and gallop. These bears often travel in an overstep walk, in which the rear track lands ahead of the front track.
 Um. Great. In fact, for good measure:

Oh. My. God. Crap, crap, crap. And another crap for good measure. And as a prayer to my mother, Holy Shit.

And that is why I chose to spend most of the day inside, in bed.

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