Changing Colors

Autumn is arriving. Fast. The foliage of the shrubs growing under the pines is in various stages of red and orange. The grasses, weeds and wildflowers are brown and nearly dead. Dust is thick everywhere. The tamarack needles will soon be yellowing, providing a beautiful contrast to the evergreens alongside.

The girls and I enjoyed a nice early morning walk through the Mud Creek area today. Most of the free-ranging cattle have been taken to lower, warmer ground for the winter. It's not quite full-on hunting season. I soak up as much peace as I can, while I can.

Yesterday, Finn and I ran to the top of Brundage again. The only photo-worthy moment would have been impossible to capture with my small digital: Finn flying after an elk. We were nearly to the top of the mountain, in a flat area just below a big scree field - the same area as this photo of Meadow taken this spring:

Finn was being so good all morning - staying on trail, coming whenever I called. Then he must have seen movement through the trees, because before I knew it, he was GONE. Deaf, too, apparently; he didn't respond to "Finn, COME!" I could hear the loud and distinctive clomp ... clomp ... of a running elk or deer - all four feet landing nearly at the same time, then a brief pause, then another clomp, full weight landing on and breaking tree branches and duff on the ground as they leap and run through the forest. Unexpectedly, the elk ran back across the trail up ahead of me, so I got a fleeting glimpse of Finn in full pursuit. I was astonished to see him right close behind that elk. He's much faster than I ever dreamed, given his small size and the undergrowth he has to crash through to keep up. Occasionally he'd spring up, like an antelope, to get a better view.

If I hadn't been so mad, I would have been proud.

The day before, I had taken the girls up the same route. The plan was to hike up three miles, then right back down the same way; with Finn, I take the long way down in an effort to wear him out a bit. When the girls and I arrived at a spot about two miles up, Maia suddenly stopped, her tail dropped, and she stared about 100 feet off into the trees. Meadow came up behind us, stopped, and also stared. But I sensed that only Maia saw something. Still, I grabbed Meadow's collar to make sure she wouldn't chase anything. After a minute or less, Maia turned to retreat back down the trail a few feet, stopped and stared at that same spot in the forest - tail still down, but eyes and ears very intent. Then she looked at me.

No argument from me. If Maia sees something that she doesn't want to mess with, I'll take her word for it.

We turned back.

I never saw or heard anything move. Maia reacts that way to only two creatures, that I'm aware of: bear, and wolf. Given where we were, my guess is she saw a wolf watching us come up the trail.

I was more alert than usual as Finn and I went past that same area the next morning, although I knew, logically, that whatever Maia saw was only moving through, since the dogs and I have been through that area many, many times this summer. I worry about Finn - that he would chase after anything that moved away, whether deer, elk, bear or wolf. I'm not sure he's got Maia's smarts to avoid the creatures that will defend themselves with their teeth. But - at least on the ski hill - I don't have to worry about Finn being shot by sheep herders, or mauled by their guard dogs. Somehow, I think he'd do fine against any natural predator. He's fast enough, as he demonstrated with that elk.