My personal favorite way to capture the sun's rays is running. So a-runnin' we went this morning in the forest near the house.
We went just before 9:00 am, to give us time to do our run before the snowmobilers got going. We succeeded, finishing just as they started reving their engines in the parking lot, belching horrible smelling fumes. I just don't get the appeal.
On a winter morning, at that early hour, the sun is just coming up over the higher mountains to the east, filtering through the tall ponderosas and tamaracks. I love the play of shadows and light on the snow, on the groomed road, on the girls (top photo).
Eventually, about three miles up, we came to an area I've come to call the aspen grove (second photo). I've learned, since moving here, that aspen trees grow in clumps because new trees grow from the mother tree's roots, very near her. If separated from her roots too soon, they die. From a distance, you can see these groves woven into the stands of evergreens, their different texture and leaf color - especially in fall - contrasting beautifully. In winter, the white bark of the aspen blends in with the snow on the ground. Aspen are my favorite non-flowering tree.
Just past the grove and after three miles of steady uphill, we were rewarded with a flat open spot that provided a gorgeous view of Brundage Ski Resort across the valley - our summer and fall running playground. It's in the background of the closeups of the girls (third and fourth photos).
After taking those closeups, we continued on. But just after taking the last photo in the sequence, when we got to the point where the road disappears into the shadows, Maia became very still. As you can see in the photo, both girls' tails were down, a sure sign that they're wary of something in the area. We all stopped to listen, and both Meadow and I tried to follow Maia's gaze. I was hoping to see a wolf. I didn't see anything. Quickly, Meadow became very alert - nearly vibrating with anticipation - so I think Maia spied or heard an elk. Their prints are everywhere in this section of forest. Meadow's reaction is what I've learned is normal for her when elk are nearby. We've only encountered a wolf once, but her reaction to him was more like Maia's - tail down and cautious. Today, Meadow was ready to give chase. Luckily she knows the snow's much too deep and it's a useless endeavor.
Nonetheless, I figured if Maia wanted to turn back, I wasn't going to argue with her. I trust her. Summer before last, driving by this very spot on the way to a trail head one sunny morning, a wolf dashed across the road ahead of us. There's a pack here, and Maia is often nervous traveling through this area. I'm sure the wolves monitor us. I just wish I could see them.
I admit - as we turned to start back the way we came, and the girls ran well ahead of me, I looked over my shoulder once or twice, feeling rather exposed at the back of the pack. To Meadow's credit, within a few seconds she stopped and turned to wait for me. She knows who feeds her.