I know I blather on about the sunsets in Idaho. Have I mentioned the dust?

Shortly after arriving in Idaho, I asked a neighbor when it had last rained. He couldn't remember. Western Washington is having a similar dry summer; in fact, it didn't rain the entire month of August in the Seattle area, which is almost unheard of.

Lack of rain here in Idaho's mountains means DUST. The forest roads and trails are thick with it. If the trail is used by mountain bikers, it's thicker. Deep. Almost over the top of the shoes deep. The dust is a very fine powder. It's impossible to keep it from permeating your shoes and socks. It's also impossible to keep from breathing it in. Blowing my nose after a morning on the trails can be a nasty undertaking.

This morning, the plan is to take Finn for a run on Brundage ski hill. We start up the less-traveled north side. About half way up a steep, boulder-strewn hill, less than a mile from the car, I look uphill and see a could of dust. I'm puzzled - I don't hear any vehicles. The dust cloud hovers above where I know a resort service road crosses the mountain. I call Finn to me. We stop and listen.

Then I hear it: "Baaaaa; baaaaa." Sheep. 

Damn. This is one of the hazards of going out into the Payette Forest with your dog. Sheep ranchers pay miniscule amounts of money to the federal government to graze their sheep on public forests in the summer. They hire shepherds (usually traditional Basque herders) to move with the sheep through the forest all summer long, setting up camp wherever they find themselves at dusk, accompanied by a horse or two packed with supplies. They also usually have several sheep guarding dogs. It's impossible to predict where they'll be on any given day.

It's the guard dogs I worry about. Often Kuvacz, or Great Pyrenees, they're trained to eliminate any threat to the herd, including wolves, coyotes, and dogs. Especially dogs like Finn that might think dashing into a herd of sheep is great fun.

"Finn, we're going home." He looks at me with surprise, since we've just started out on a route we do all the time. But he cheerfully follows me back down the way we came and to the car. I'm convinced the reason I've been able to play in the wilderness - usually with just my dogs for company - for so many years without mishap is my willingness to turn back when faced with an unexpected and potentially dangerous obstacle.

Having failed to satisfied my need for time in the forest, later I take Meadow for a walk on a forest road close to home. The dust here is thick as well. Turns out since my last visit, they've been logging - thinning, not clear cutting - this section of forest, and the heavy machinery churns up the dirt roads, increasing the dust.

Meadow in the Payette Forest, wearing her Do Not Hunt Me vest.

The odd benefit of the logging in the forest is that the road through my neighborhood which allows access to the forest has been oiled, and is watered every morning, to prevent dust when the logging trucks go up and down. The amount of dust inside the house this summer is significantly less than in years past.


Before this trip into the forest, Meadow was actually clean and mostly white. She got a haircut about a week before leaving for Idaho. She is white no more. The forest dust forms a nice tawny layer on her face and lower portions of her body, especially her legs.

Meadow becomes a dust-colored dog.

It's not easy to get the dust off of her, either. If I used my hands to try to brush it off, static electricity quickly builds up and a charge crackles every time I touch her. I was told the humidity has been around 4%; it's incredibly dry here. I'll wait until it's time to go home, then hose Meadow's legs off as best I can. Malamutes HATE getting their bodies wet. It'll be a struggle, but just getting her legs clean will be a victory. I prefer to leave the Idaho dust in Idaho where it belongs.
Rebecca WallickComment