Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hiking in December

Long ago, in a land far away...

Ok, it just feels like that after an entire month of two foot snowpack. We're not used to that around here. I swear, people are still shoveling off their roofs.

Anyway...over a month ago, Chandler and I went hiking with friends in southern Connecticut. The snow was less than a foot deep, the air was pleasantly brisk, and the two English Shepherds and one Border Collie got along well.

That's Helo on the left, me in the middle,
and Kinnon the Border Collie on the right.
I like being on point.

The snow was probably about 10 inches deep, just enough to make it easier to stick to the trail that had been blazed through the preserve by an ATV. The dogs had a lot of fun running along the trails and through the deeper snow.

That's Helo running.
Another photo of Helo.
Mom is extremely envious of how much easier
it is to photograph shaded sables in the snow.

The dogs were having a great time just trotting ahead and sniffing, but the real excitement started when Kinnon decided to grab his owner's scarf and take off with it. Unfortunately for Kinnon, Chandler is a party boy, and thought that playing keep away with the scarf was a great game...if he had the scarf. As a result, Chander quickly confiscated it and took off.

I've got the scarf! I've got the scarf!!!

Kinnon took off in pursuit...

I've got the scarf! You can't get it!

...but he quickly backed off as Helo decided to get into the game. The two English Shepherds have more assertive temperaments than Kinnon, so the Border Collie seemed to decide that scarf chasing was a spectator sport as long as the other two were around.

Hey, when did you start chasing me?

Trying to grab it, eh?

Ok, I've still got the scarf...at least this end of it.

Eventually the scarf was rescued from the dogs, slightly worse for wear. I'm now pondering whether a cheap brightly colored scarf would be a good investment as a dog toy for future hikes...or an invitation to bad behavior. Maybe a long braided tug would be a better option.

The upshot of the entire scarf chase was that Helo decided that Chandler was Mr. Fun.

Helo really, really wants me to play.

From what I understand, he doesn't play with other dogs very often after having some bad experiences, so it was a treat to see him plowing through the snow after Chandler.

Uh oh, he's almost got me.

Whee! Escaped!!!!!!!!!

Dodge! Dodge!

Oh yeah? You want to play chicken?

It was also a real treat for Chandler. He loves to play with other dogs, but I have to be very careful which dogs he plays with because of his loose hips. Chandler has a long fuse before he stands up for himself, and prefers to avoid problems rather than start an argument in most cases. If we encounter a bully that won't let Chandler stop running, we have problems. The big risk is Chandler overstressing his hips trying to get away. But if we find the right dogs that allow pauses in play, things are great and everyone has fun. This hike had a very good mix of dogs, and I think all had a good time.

It is nice to have friends. :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

To my Ashke: Happy Birthday

Ash is 16 years old today.
It seems that time has flown by so fast, and I feel blessed that he is still with me.

It is actually his estimated birthday, as his cage information at the Denver Dumb Friends League said that he was four months old. Valentine's Day was a fitting birthday however, as his name means "beloved". He's reciprocated fittingly, as he is a momma's boy who loves only me. This is not to say he is aggressive with other people. He tolerates them, and is largely indifferent, unless he is trying to notify somebody that it is feeding time. His trilling mew, purr, and happy kneading are reserved for me.

I had waited over 15 years to get a cat when I picked him out at the shelter. He would meow back at me when I talked to him and chase my fingers across the Plexiglas front of his cage. During the wait for an adoption counselor, I was irrationally frightened that somebody would try to adopt him before I could. Once we were in the adoption room, he climbed all over me.

He was large for a four month old kitten, almost cat size. Perhaps this explains why nobody had yet scooped him up. He grew into a large cat, fully three feet long from nose tip to tail tip, although I do truthfully have to say that he has a very long tail. At his top weight he was about 14 pounds, and he never got fat like so many pet cats do. Now that he is 16, he has lost some of that muscle mass and weight.

I think Ashke is an unusual cat because he is very responsive and easily trainable. I taught him to use the scratching post by plucking him off the couch when he started scratching it. I'd them stick him onto the scratching post and scratch it myself. He would happily pounce on the post and have a scratch fest. After a few repetitions, he left the couch alone and went straight to his scratching post.

He's also amazingly responsive to verbal cues. I can actually call him off if he is annoyed and smacking Chandler over the head for being a mischievous dog. Unfortunately Ashke and Chandler get a bit jealous of each other. I'm fairly sure Ashke thought I went insane when I introduced an uncouth puppy into the household. He probably made puppy raising a little bit easier for me, because he enforced the "no dogs on the furniture" rule better than I could, and also instituted a "no zooming in the apartment" rule. He didn't need to swat Chandler for this; fourteen pounds of annoyed grumbling cat jumping to the floor was usually enough to quash things.

He's aged a bit since then. He's gotten a bit creaky, and is no longer as agile as he used to be. He's had a few health crises, which have thankfully turned out to be treatable. Most of the time he'd prefer to be curled up on the bed, even if I am offering a half hour escorted outing into the backyard. He seems to have decided that being a housecat is the best of lives.

Who am I to argue with that?
Happy Birthday Ashke. I love you.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Does your dog have a vivid imagination?

I've grown up reading comics where dogs sometimes fantasize about imaginary adventures. Snoopy as a World War I flying ace is probably the most familiar icon of the genre. I'd always thought of such stories as fiction, and never really considered how imagination might appear in a real dog. Of course, ethologists might argue that a fantasy life is unique to humanity...

...but sometimes Chandler makes me wonder.

Nice eh? Don't worry. That's his Really Fierce! face. He's not serious. Usually it is seen in combination with a play bow when he's trying to tease a cat into playing "swat at the annoying dog" or when he's playing "chase the toy" with me. Interestingly, most "dog people" I've shown the photo to either start laughing hysterically or say something like "what a goofball!" Unsurprisingly, most non-dog people get a bit alarmed.

The funny thing is, when I took the photo Chandler was at the top of a huge snowbank and I was standing below him in the street shooting photos. He was playing by himself at the top of the snowbank; there wasn't anybody nearby. I can only wonder what is going on in his mind during this photo sequence.

"Go ahead, make my day!"?


"You shall not pass!"?

Sometimes...Chandler really does make me wonder.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Somehow, I don't think that is Santa Claus on the roof.

When last we left our narrative, Chandler and I had just returned from a walk around the neighborhood to find that the roofers had arrived and were shoveling the snow off the house. Chandler was unfortunately less than thrilled, although he listened to me and did not bark.

I don't care what you say.
Those shovels are highly suspicious.

The house had looked like this when we left it.

That ladder was from Grandpa checking the snow on the roof,
not the evil shovel-wielding invaders.

Chan had a short barking fit once we got inside, but calmed down when I brought him to the window and showed him the snow falling as it was shoveled off the roof.

You mean there is a good reason for all this bumping and thumping?

Ashke looked like he could care less, despite the noise.

Hey, cat trying to sleep here. Point that camera someplace else.

Rowan wasn't as unflappable as Ashke, however.

I'm safe under the bed.
I'm safe under the bed.
I'm safe under the bed.

The sun came out and we could see the shadows of the workers on the roof.

I have been told to relax. I will not bark.

At least we could see the shadows when a shovelful of snow didn't block the view.

I will NOT bark...

It took the shovelers most of the afternoon, but the end result was a cleared roof...and huge mounds of snow all around the house.

Good, they're finally gone!

Around the neighborhood

We've got over two feet of snow here in Connecticut. It's difficult to say how much at the moment, due to drifting, minor melting, and freezing rain. The bottom line is that it is pretty deep out there, and that has been putting some unfortunate restrictions on Chander's exercise. He's not fond of bounding through deep snow. Usually he makes a few bounces, and then decides to settle in and start snacking on the stuff. There isn't anyplace cleared enough for hiking, so we have been limited to walks around the neighborhood.

These walks are far from boring however. In this weather we are practically guaranteed to meet people chipping at ice on their driveway or attempting to find their mailbox in a snowbank. In many ways it has been great for Chandler's continued socialization. However, on Saturday I really wished I had brought my camera. We encountered the local volunteer fire department and their ladder truck while walking by the elementary school. They were busy strapping a snowblower to the underside of the ladder truck's platform. It isn't every day that you get to see a snowblower danging thirty feet in the air while it is being lifted onto a school roof! Chandler was unfortunately less thrilled than me, but I could not really blame him.

Afterward I thought that it might be nice to chronicle one of our walks through the neighborhood, so I took my camera on Sunday. We didn't see any firetrucks, but I did take some photos that show the amount of snow in the area.

As you can see, we are still dealing with the "snow canyons". Most of our walk takes place on a thin strip of sidewalk bounded by high walls of snow. We're very lucky that the entire neighborhood has sidewalks and that the vast majority of the residents are very good about keeping them clear.

*grumble* I can't see much because the snow is so high!

This is a typical driveway. Everyone has huge piles of snow. One of the common complaints on Saturday was that people were running out of places to put it.

Yes, this is what the view would be if I could see over the walls of snow.
In many places the plow has left a snowbank covering a significant portion of the side of the road. It is like our two lane streets have suddenly become narrow one lane roads. This has caused some difficulties with mailboxes, as many are now up to six feet away from the open part of the road. Some people have carved out large chunks of the snowbank so the postman can get to their mailbox.

Mailman? I really don't like the mailman. Whuff!

Others go for a more minimalist approach.

Ok, he does bring me things so I'll admit he's not all bad.
But I still don't have to like him.

With the lack of running exercise, it seems to me that Chandler is acting a bit more silly. One of his favorite things to do is flop down in the middle of a walk and roll in the snow.

Rollin' rollin' rollin'

One important concern when there is this much snow is making sure that the fire hydrants are all accessible. The volunteer fire department can't uncover all of them, so local homeowners are encouraged to help out and make sure they are clear. Whoever cleared this one did a really good job; there is a large area cleared around the hydrant and openings to both the street and the sidewalk.

No, I did not pee on it. That would be too cliché.

Many of the houses have icicles on them.

Yawn. Icicles. Boring.
You can't chew on them if they are stuck to a house.

Some of the icicles have gotten a bit large.

Ok, those two are almost at chewing level...

Some houses have entire sides covered with them.

Not safe? You won't let me get near them? Awwww...

As can be seen in the previous photo, many houses still have their Christmas decorations. I think many have been left where they are because snow has made it so difficult to take then down. However, some decorations must be kept current.

Football? I think I've fetched one of those once.

Unfortunately, because of the cycles of snow, sleet, and freezing rain we have been experiencing, some homeowners have a bit more trouble clearing their sidewalks. I've been very grateful for my snow cleats. I suspect that I would have taken many falls this season without them.

This is the icy downhill sidewalk of death.
I'm not in the photo because I have to walk behind when we get to this hill.

However, the sidewalks are generally preferable to the streets, where the huge snowbanks make it difficult for motorists to see pedestrians. Crossing a street should be done with great caution. Fortunately, many of the people in the corner houses have kindly tunneled through snowbanks so people can quickly return to the sidewalks. Some of these openings can be ten feet long.

They're very popular places for scent marking too!

Unfortunately, not everyone is good about tunneling from the sidewalk to the street. I guess the snow piles can be intimidating.

We end up walking to the tunnel by the mailbox
when we cross this intersection.

Portions of the landscape end up seeming very unfamiliar. That white mound to the right is a holly bush. No, really. It is a bush. See the leaves?

Believe it or not, there is a post and rail fence under there too.

I did mention Chandler likes to roll whenever the snow is not too deep, didn't I?

Rollin' rollin' rollin'

This is a sight you see on many of the houses. People have taken snow rakes and tried to clear snow off the edges of their roof. With all that snow melting on the roof, there is a risk of ice dams forming in the gutters. More than a few houses around the neighborhood are experiencing water damage because the melting snow cannot flow away through the blocked gutters.

Yes, all week there has been at least one person in the neighborhood
trying to clear their roof, every time we walk

Some of those ice dams can be very impressive. Here are some neighbors posing with a block of ice that has been chiseled off the edge of their roof. You can't see it in the photo, but that block was at least four inches thick.

I like visiting them.
The man once gave me cheese while he was barbecuing hamburgers.

...and here is the roof from which that ice came.

It looks like there is a lot more ice up there.

Fortunately for my family, we really haven't had those sorts of problems with ice. My parents are very much into home insulation, so very little heat escapes through our roof. However, the sheer weight of over two feet of snow can be a bit worrisome. There have been several roof collapses in Connecticut over the last week or so. With several more storms predicted, something needed to be done about the problem. Unfortunately, Chandler wasn't quite as happy as the rest of us about the solution.

Ack! Rooftop invaders with highly suspicious shovels!
Woof! Woof! Woof!

However, that is a tale for a later time.