Forest Treats

In my own quirky way, I'm saying goodbye to friends and trails I've enjoyed in Idaho.

Today, I met friends Jim & Jane and their dog Pixie for a hike on Squirrel Creek trail. We've all done this trail several times in the past three years. This is the same trail where, just over a year ago, the girls and I had our close encounter with a bear and her cub. I hoped that, being December, the bears were now snuggled warmly in their dens.

Three miles in, Maia found a stash of elk feet. Clearly, a hunter had killed and dressed an elk nearby. Four lower legs - knee joint down - were laid neatly near a log just a foot off the trail. Being cold (upper 20s) we humans went right by them, smelling nothing. But Maia - the girl with the excellent nose - stopped and grabbed one.

I've never seen Maia so happy. She pranced and showed off her find, knocking me, Jim and Jane in the shins as she moved around us displaying her trophy and accepting our praise. Pixie quickly found her own leg. Finn was ahead of us on the trail, apparently going right by the legs. (I've noticed he's all about sight; his nose isn't that keen.)

In the photo above, Meadow, seeing Maia and Pixie in trail dog bliss, went looking for her own elk leg.
Found it! Finn - with the help of Jane, who pried the last leg from the frozen ground - got his own, too. Almost as big as he is! Jane commented that the elk fur was the same color as Finn's.

As any reader of my blog knows, I'm no fan of hunting. But, since the elk had already been killed and only these small parts remained, I was happy that our dogs got such joy from finding them. Happier still that there were four legs for four dogs - no one left out!
While Maia enjoyed showing me her prize, she wouldn't hold still for a close-up.
Meadow briefly dropped hers to check on what the other dogs were doing with theirs, making sure she wasn't missing out on anything.
Ah. A dilemma. To drink? Or to guard the resource (elk leg)? About a mile from where the legs were found is Squirrel Creek, our turnaround point (and where the girls and I saw the bears last time). By this point, Finn and Pixie had dropped their elk legs. Trust me - elk forelegs are heavy and the smaller dogs tired quickly of carrying them. Not my girls, though! Bonking the calves and shins of we humans as they kept pace with us, they proudly carried them along the trail. When we arrived at the creek, they were thirsty. What to do?

Meadow walked right into the stream, elk leg still firmly in her jaws, and stood there with a look of puzzlement and annoyance on her face. I expected her to drop the leg into the water and feared it would get washed downstream. She must have had the same concern. She took the safe course and came back out of the stream.
Maia said to hell with the water and made herself comfortable for a good gnaw. With paw on the hoof end for leverage, she started chewing on the exposed joint. If there's a Malamute Nirvana, in Maia's book, this is it.
Meadow, still conflicted. She knows if she leaves the elk leg on the bank to go drink, Pixie will come in and steal it.
Maia is unsympathetic. She's going to town on the joint. It's hard to describe how happy this scene made me. Especially after all Maia's been through with her recent surgery.
I did my best to coax Meadow in for a drink, but she refused to leave her prize unguarded.

We headed back the way we came. Eventually we crossed some small streams. Meadow finally dropped her elk leg into a stream to drink; Maia stole it, leaving her own behind for Meadow to sample.

As we neared the trail head, I threw the elk feet far down a bank. Such prizes could lead to arguments at home. And who needs the smell? Bad enough that my gloves smelled like decaying elk hide.

Finn never seemed concerned that the girls had something he didn't. He's just not into the non-moving critters, apparently.

We had a wonderful eight mile hike on a trail that would normally be deep under snow by now. We humans enjoyed it immensely, and I got to say a fond farewell to Jim and Jane. I'm sure I'll see them soon, in Washington - we trail runners are like an extended family.

For the girls, it just doesn't get any better than being on a quiet trail deep in the forest with friends, finding an elk leg to carry. Their necks might be a bit tired tonight - heaving lifting, even for a Malamute. But so, so worth it.