Thursday, September 30, 2010

Fossil Quest!

Words: Greg
Photos: Trina and Greg

Fossil Quest!

Sunday was scheduled to be Color Sunday by whoever schedules such things. We, being more inclined to enjoy our mountain-escape-time with a slice of mutual solitude, turned tail and ran the other direction. So instead of wallowing through crowds of people visiting the local high mountain to see if the aspen leaves had turned yellow, we found a more quiet escape. Our escape location even had a few brightly glowing groves of aspen trees. But the main fun-quest was our search for fossils.

Science-y Moment: Upper portions of the cliff area we visited are made up of the uplifted layered sediments of the Green River Formation, laid down beneath intermountain lakes, science says, over a period of 6 million years, about 48 million years ago. "Each pair of layers is called a varve and represents one year. The sediments of the Green River Formation present a continuous record of six million years. The mean thickness of a varve here is 0.18 mm, with a minimum thickness of 0.014 mm and maximum of 9.8 mm." [source] The formation is well known for well preserved and detailed fossils that are found in Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado. In our area, most fossils are plants and insects. In other areas where the formation is exposed, diggers have found fossilized fish, birds, turtles, palms trees, shrimp and even bats.

This 6 million years about 48 million years ago has been measured with a fair degree of accuracy by, well, science, using at least two systems of measurement: astrochronology and radiometry. Both systems are in close agreement. (Though I'm sure they don't know if it all started on a Wednesday or not.) For those of you using a more crude tool of measurement, like say, the Bible, your results may vary -- er, by about 47,995,641 years -- to a convenient 2348 BC or (2348+2010= 4358, wait! Do I count the 0?) about 4359 years ago. About the time Noah was floating around in a boat with probably the better part of a million pairs of creatures, most of which were probably beetles, (Really! Over 300,000 species!) during a flood that covered the whole earth (somehow missing -- among other places -- Egypt, whose chronology continued throughout) and which layered up what now appears to be 6 million layers of mud interspersed with dead plants and animals, and also birds, for instance, of species which no longer exist these days, which is weird, since two -- male and female -- of every living bird were gathered into Noah's boat and if those kinds of birds were living they should have been in the boat and if they were in the boat it seems like we would have found them flying around somewhere in the time since, but we haven't, which I guess would mean that Noah's boat held creatures that have since disappeared (like maybe even dinosaurs) which means that there actually may have been several million (or more!) pairs of creatures onboard (along with the food they needed to eat) which would have made for a pretty interesting boat ride, and one I guess I'm glad to have missed, and not just because I probably would have gotten stuck in the compartment with skunks and saber-toothed tigers and mosquitoes.

But I digress.

The fossil areas Trina a I visited are well enough known. People more ambitious than us had dug out small areas and scattered rock slabs down the hillsides. We were mostly content to dig through their scraps, seeking small, overlooked fossils, or splitting open discarded slabs to find lots of nothing, and occasionally something interesting. We found a number of partial leaves, a few complete leaves, lots of plant stems and fragments, a few roly-poly-looking critters. And Trina kept finding insects or insect parts, including what looks like a dragonfly wing. Fun!

While we dug rocks, the dogs rousted about digging for gophers or watched ravens fly past dragging their shadows across the cliffs. We found that it was kind of addictive. It was rare that we'd find something, but common enough that we felt impelled to keep looking, even after we had enough to display on a shelf at home, trying further to find something "really cool". We burned through most of the afternoon before we decided we'd had enough.

Then we went for a bike ride on a nice gravel road, the dogs running, me still babying myself while my wrist continues to heal inside its cast. The light turned golden as we rode, and the air was sweet with the scent of autumn. We only stopped our bikes a couple times to look at yet another fossil site or two, and ended up riding back into the last rays of the day's sunshine. Yet another day well spent in pursuit of the Interesting.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Spiders: They are Cuddly

Words and photos: Trina

Look how fuzzy and cute this little guy is! You just want to squeeze his little spider cheeks!

More cuddly fuzzy sweetness:

Spiders provide ambience on the patio:

For another, slightly contrary perspective on spiders: Spiders: They are Scary

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Scruffy and Scrappy Go to the Races!

Words: Greg
Photos: Greg and Trina

Take a few dozen small, ferocious, mostly white-and-tan dogs and throw them all into a park for the day with some big toys, and what do you get? Terrier Fun Day!

We drove over the mountains to the big city and joined a group of terrier enthusiasts for this not-at-all serious version of a more serious Terrier Trials event. This one featured most of the same dog games as the real event, but without any real competition or prizes. And open to anyone who wanted to let their dogs try it. Our scruffy dog Zeek, being a proper terrier, was welcome of course. But the organizers said our scrappy dog Sprocket was welcome to come and play, too. And Baxter, the little rescue dog we'd brought over to leave behind, had a chance to play.

First event, the Races! No, actually, the first event was seeing a whole bunch of cute-yet-ferocious Jack Russell Terriers lined up in pens or being led around. I've never seen so many before. (Maybe I've led a sheltered life...) It was somewhat gratifying to see that the typical dog-butt-sniffing greetings were frequently punctuated with fierce growling warnings. We thought it was just OUR terrier who was prone to this kind of rudeness. But apparently, it goes with the breed.

The Races: Zeek had raced before. We strapped his muzzle on him and Trina shoved him in the back of the starting chute and shut the lid. The gate opened and half-a-dozen little furry maniacs burst forth to chase frantically after a plastic bag that was pulled along the ground by a string attached to a motor winch. Zeek was right there at the back of the pack, more interested in harassing the dog next to him than in getting the plastic bag.

Sprocket and Baxter took a turn with other novice dogs. We muzzled each one and stuffed them, along side four others, into their chutes -- despite their wriggling protests. The gate opened, and out burst a couple of the dogs, lunging for the runaway plastic bag. A couple more dogs stepped out of the gate, saw the two running and ran off after them. Sprocket stepped out, having wrenched his muzzle off, looked around, and decided to have fun running along with the dogs running after the dogs running after the plastic bag. While Baxter, poor little stressed rescue dog, just wandered out of the gate, into a corner, where he tried and tried to get his muzzle off. We rescued him from that, too, but didn't send him back into the races.

I guess we have to take the blame for this: Zeek got disqualified after a couple more races because he kept harassing the dog next to him -- something we realized we've been training him for. See, whenever Zeek runs, Sprocket, who is faster, runs along and harasses him, causing Zeek to snap and snarl at him. So by letting our two dogs run together, we had inadvertently trained Zeek to snap and snarl at the dog next to him. Oops.

Meanwhile, Sprocket loves to run with other dogs, and he was happy to do that with each race. (He was never happy with the muzzle rule -- not once did he emerge from the gate with it on.) He also never understood the point of chasing the plastic bag. And I guess I don't blame him. Now, if you'd have tied a live squirrel to the string, I'm guessing our dogs would have done better. (Though the Save the Squirrels Coalition would have had problems with that...)

Many of the other novice terriers were having similar troubles. Clawing at muzzles, running to owners instead of after the bag, or just looking around wondering what was going on. There were some puppy races, too, and they actually did great. They didn't need to wear muzzles, and the instinct was strong with some of them, who went careening off after the bag with no prompting. About halfway through the racing, they added pipe hurdles the course which made it even more fun for the experienced dogs, but which caused a few endos among the novices.

Next event was the Lure Chase. The same electric winch/plastic-bag-on-a-string setup. But this time, instead of a pack of dogs chasing the lure down a straightaway, it was a single dog chasing the lure that went through a series of pulleys that zig-zagged across the field. Most of the terriers were extremely focused on getting the bag. They would chase frantically as the lure zipped across the field. Their focus was even more astounding, since there were a couple dozen other terriers lined up on the side of the start area, all waiting for their turn and yapping, snarling, pawing and lunging toward the plastic bag.

Neither Zeek nor Sprocket saw the allure of the plastic bag. Zeek was more interested in barking at the barking dogs on the side of the course. (Are you barking at ME? I'll SHOW you who you're barking at!) Sprocket was off-put, too by the barking dogs, but seemed like he'd rather be somewhere else with just a couple dog friends, wrestling and playing happily. I did rattle the bag and he started after it, but when it hit the first corner, he kept going straight and started looking for something more interesting to chase, like maybe a squirrel.

While the Lure Chase was going on, the third event got underway, too. Zeek LOVES the Earth Dog trials! He gets to duck into a tunnel that twists and turns toward the big prize: a live rat! The faster the dog scuffles through the tight tunnel to the goal, the better his score. We weren't keeping score, but Zeek was still pretty fast. and the rat is safely in a cage, so no one gets hurt. The two rats didn't even seem stressed. I think they're used to their job.

Sprocket got to do a couple practice runs through a straight tunnel that he could see the rat at the end of. A good start, but though he loves to chase, he was only partially attracted to the mostly-just-sitting-there rat. Zeek, however, did run after run, happily dashing into and through the twisting tunnel to the rat at the end.

After a while, though, the course marshal told Trina to give Zeek a break. So she took him back to the field to try again at the Lure Chase. The plastic bag started moving out across the field. Trina turned him loose, and... he went running back across the field, right back to the tunnel with the rat. Nice.

The event finished up and we took our dogs across the large park to turn them loose. They almost immediately found a squirrel to chase, and hit their highest speeds of the whole day. We had a good time at the Terrier Fun Day. But unless they trade out the plastic bags for live squirrels, we're not sure we need to go back again. We'll just have to make due with the occasional squirrel and our bike rides.

Squirrel patrol:

The way we usually run. And me, getting back to it, even with just one functioning arm.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Crawdads, Frogs and Alligators

Story and photos: Trina

A gal - or a dog - might have to get up early to catch the worm, but fortunately for my little dogs, you don't have to get up very early to catch the crawdad or the frog. (No crawdads or frogs were harmed on this adventure, only pursued fruitlessly.)

The boys and I went on a late afternoon creek tromp up our usual secret creek where we usual-ly don't do much more than lolly gag, read books, play scrabble and maybe, if we're feeling ambitious, wander slowly and distractedly a very short way up the creek, stopping for every interesting sight and taking hundreds of photos.

With Greg out of town, there was no one to protest when I announced this afternoon's rule: "Ok, boys, we will NOT be stopping every three minutes for a photograph!" Consequently, we hoofed it upstream at a brisk pace, not letting ourselves be distracted by anything beautiful, and made it ten times further up the creek than ever before, where we discovered, yes, crawdads and frogs... and some really big (too big to fit in a single photo frame), really deep (deep enough for alligators), really wonderful (emerald green) swimming holes that will definitely warrant return hikes with Greg. If we can get that far with him and his camera along.

Baxter Black-and-White

Story and photo: Trina

Picture a woman with a soft spot for dogs. The soft spot isn't really just a spot; it's rather bigger than a mere spot. It's pretty much her whole being. Picture this woman meeting a new dog, squatting to say hi, petting him. Picture the scrappy, skinny little dog snuzzling up to her like he hasn't had even so much as a loving touch in weeks. Picture the dog's owner arriving with a "What's going on here?" look on his face.

"We're just saying 'hi.' He's really sweet!" the woman says.

"He's a pain in the ass is what he is; you want 'im?" is the gruff reply.

Having no ability to walk away from a dog in this kind of situation, this woman, who looks a whole lot like me, finds herself rescuing dogs on a verrrry regular basis.

I don't actually recall how Pickle, the lanky black lab that raised me from birth, came into my family's life, but I do know that every other dog I've had in the three decades since The Pickle Era has been a rescue dog of one kind or another. Whether they came from the pound, turned up mysteriously under the back porch, were impulsively selected from a cardboard box in front of the grocery store, or were found lost and hungry with no collar, my dogs have always been orphans.

The key to rescuing dogs is not falling in love with them. This is where I fail miserably. Some of the dogs I fall in love with I end up keeping; some of the dogs I fall in love with I end up placing in new homes. Either way, I end up falling (helplessly, pathetically) in love with all my rescue dogs.

It's ok. It's how I ended up with both Zeek and Sprocket. But two is the magic number for me, so now, even when I do fall in love with a rescue dog, as I did with this latest one, Baxter, I still have to let him go.

This past weekend we had a few reasons that justified a 4-hour drive over the mountains to the big city. Delivering sweet Baxter to Jack Russell Rescue of Colorado was just one of them.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

High Trail to the Edge of Autumn

Story: Greg
Photos: Trina and Greg

A sharp edge in the air, a corner waiting to be turned, a warm breath held. The angle of light proclaims the change as we ride west on the city grid near sunset, the bright beams rolling toward us down the tree-lined streets to stretch our shadows behind us over dirty pavement that glistens in golden light.

Cricket chirps boil from gardens in audible froths as the daylight fades and night begins, begins so early, now, as each day contracts into balance with the night. From our own garden there is also an overflow of food that spills onto our plates, filling our senses with ripeness and sweetness, fullness and satisfaction. Melons are cut and shared, the sweet juice running over fingers and faces. Beets bleed their rich, earthy flavors across the plates to mingle with the dark leaves and bright stems of chard. A ripe bell pepper tussles with small, bright tomatoes for a supremacy of redness. Early carrots, plump and sweet, bulge from the ground beneath their green plumes. A few new potatoes emerge when we re-cultivate to drop in seeds for our autumn greens.

This fecundity of harvest leads us into the harvest season. But if anything like a "normal" season is ahead, and if we are vigilant gardeners, there will be fresh food coming from the garden for another two months. So to revel in the approaching change of season, we head to the high country where the edge is sharper, the corner closer.

High Country, High Culture
Trina has taken this trip in past years, but this was a first for me. We drove from the city through the brown valleys of late summer and turned upward into the mountains. We followed rivers that turned to streams that turned to rivulets. We passed through green meadows into pine forests and green-leafed aspen groves as we crossed a high mountain pass. We found a campsite near 10,000 feet and claimed it with our tent while the dogs acquainted themselves with the local squirrels. Then we stood in the dirt behind the open doors of the pickup and dressed ourselves up in fancy clothes and drove to town.

Town! A little mountain town with a year-round population of 300 people surprises by hosting some amazing professional theatre. We saw a very interesting black box performance the first night and then drove back to camp in the dark and changed back out of our nice clothes.

We camped out for several nights and did our usual relaxing small explorations in the wild world, walking slowly, or sitting and letting the world roll past our senses. And a couple nights later, we dressed up and went to another play. A very pleasant mix. The late summer mountains to satisfy our wild sides. Plus in interesting and quirky town filled with pleasantly decaying old buildings and a scenic graveyard from the height of a mining boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And... A cultural event of a quality we rarely see in our home city.

The edge of the season was sharper in the high country. We had a wisp of frost one morning. Warm daytime breezes on the hillside above camp set the leaves of the aspen trees to quaking in a vibrant green. But among the green leaves were a few bouquets of yellow and red, the early adopters, setting the fashion trend that will soon sweep through the mountainsides.

We tromped through creeks and past waterfalls. Through meadows, tired and brown. Over the crisp crunch of the forest floor, littered here and there with drying mushrooms that had sprouted mere weeks ago after the late summer rains. Past cliffs and canyons carved into harsh rock. Amid sweeping views that stretched away toward high mountains that cut to the edge of blue sky.

Edge of the season. Corner... turned? As we headed for home, we drove back over the high pass through groves of aspen trees. They had been green on our trip out. But now they were beginning to shimmer with gold. Summer's warm breath, held, had begun to blow cold toward autumn.


Trina's shots:
They say happiness comes from within. I say it comes from BBQ within, which is how we launched this trip. This no-frills BBQ stand was hastily plunked down in the corner of a grocery store parking lot. The proprietor (not in the photo, unfortunately, because he had dashed into the store for more ribs) wore cut off jeans, high top sneakers, a greasy ball cap and a southern accent. The BBQ sauce was in a mason jar. It was down-home-good!

Just when you thought you'd never find a source for those skunk pelts you were needin', here are four to choose from.

Breakfast in the morning sun at the Mermaid Cafe.

Hops vine stealing in through the screen door.


Aesthetics of decay

Greg's shots:
Faithful dogs.

Small things.

Wider views.

Late summer swim.

The start of color.