Things start out innocently enough. The first half-mile is down our road. We greet Denali, who is always happy to see us (probably because we've started giving her a little treat). Sometimes, we meet up with Dakota, another neighbor's Spitz, who crouches down and gets ready to pounce when Carly trots by--they play and romp a bit, and we move on.
Sometimes, they'll continue on with us for a bit and turn around when they feel like it, making their way home. Other times, they don't bother following at all; or, better yet, they'll come the entire length of our walk. It's up to them and we enjoy the company.
But it's here that we get off the road and onto a trail (some old logging road). Leaving any potential car interactions behind, the dogs are free to roam, and things get interesting. There are almost always new animal tracks along the trail--deer, elk, raccoon, skunk, turkey, coyote, and yes, even bear. We've seen deer, elk, and coyote (that's when the leash comes out), and honestly, I'm glad I haven't seen a raccoon, skunk, or bear. Regardless, knowing they're right here in our neighborhood is pretty cool.
|Getting onto the trail|
|The Tribe and Us|
You'll note that these are not little sticks. No. They are more like mini-logs. Sometimes Carly's mouth is open so wide to take a stick in, when she finally places it in its correct position in the forest she must rotate her jaw back and forth to get it un-cramped before she can get going again. Sacrificing her comfort in the name of designing a better forest, I guess.
I can't tell a good stick from a bad stick. I'll suggest some sticks to Carly that may be out of place by pointing them out or shuffling them a bit with my foot, but alas, no. Only she can determine the true misplaced stick.
So I give up on helping her re-arrange the forest, and concentrate on the visuals. We walk along the Mogollon (prounounced "Moe-ghee-on") Rim, which is actually the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau--the geologic formation that gives us Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands, and the Colorado River. The Mogollon Rim stretches for nearly two hundred miles between Williams, AZ and the Arizona's eastern boundary with New Mexico, splitting the state geographically, topographically, and climatically, in half. There's southern Arizona (hot low desert, mesquite bosques, grasslands), the Rim, then northern Arizona (forests, cool weather, snow, and cold high desert). The Rim is where several vegetation types mix--pinyon/juniper habitat mixes with ponderosa pine, which mixes with firs and spruces. The Rim is also where you can get a nice view; these photos don't do it justice.
|Atop the Mogollon Rim|
|View from the Rim|
|A hardy Alligator Juniper|
|Further on down the trail, another nice view|
|Making our way through the meadow|
|Reaching the entrance to the canyon|
|At the canyon bottom--groves of Gambel's oak,|
large ponderosa pines, and often, Carly with a stick
After walking back up through the canyon, we loop back onto our regular trail and go back the way we came, sometimes diverting off onto other game trails--trails made by wandering elk (or more likely, cows and feral horses, which we see regularly).
|No humans made this trail--animals did|
We get comments from our neighbors who often ask if Carly can drop her sticks off at their house, because they'd like the firewood. She ignores them, and instead keeps trotting homeward. When we get to the ditch in front of our neighbor's property, Carly starts slowing down and pondering where her stick should go. Sometimes she brings it all the way home and into our yard. Other times, she drops it off in strategic locations along our neighbor's bar ditch. I don't know if he's ever noticed the growing number of sticks that magically appear along his ditch--if he has, he either doesn't mind, doesn't know it's Carly, or just doesn't really care. He's a nice guy.
At our house, though, at some point, we have to collect the sticks. We have two piles, here's one:
Sometimes, especially during the winter when we're relegated to just walking the roads because the forest is too muddy, snowy, or wet, Carly ends up having moved most of the accessible sticks and she can't find ones to carry. So, we toss the pile of sticks we've amassed into the bed of Bruce's truck, and Bruce drives down the road very slowly while I sit in back and "salt" the road with the sticks--repopulating the forest with misplaced sticks (I know, I'm so mean). I can see Bruce in the driver's seat, shaking his head thinking "I can't believe I'm doing this. I'm a man, dammit, not a slave to this dog." Dream on, buddy. We're both slaves to this dog.
And that's my morning. Can you not see how addicting it is, just knowing that new things await me in the forest--maybe new tracks, maybe another Dusky Grouse; maybe we'll see that pair of nesting Northern Flickers feeding their babies in that one tree. I know when to start listening for Spotted Towhees, and where the Western Tanagers and Plumbeous Vireos generally sing. I know it's really spring when the Western Bluebirds start appearing. I become aware of the rhythm of the seasons. I'll look behind me on occasion to see Carly tagging along, stick in mouth, and I know my Sun Salutation is working. I'm ready for what lies ahead because this morning, I saw beauty, animals, trees, and vistas, despite how obviously messed up the forest is with those darn messy sticks. I'll leave that one highly critical detail up to Carly.