Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Wednesday December 31 2008

With much of the snow having melted, today was the first time we could hit the trails horseback in a couple of weeks. The horses were a little on their toes - who knows what could have taken up residence behind the sagebrush in that time. Things like... Horse Eating Monsters, just waiting to snatch some unsuspecting horse into their gaping maws!

It was a Horse Eating Jackrabbit that, soon after we started out, almost devoured Surri, who was leading Jose down the road. Surri skittered on ice, and Carol turned him right up the steep hill right after that killer jackrabbit. Jose followed, amused at the naivete of Surri and his Horse Eating Monster.

Near the top of the climb, Surri found his jackrabbit, which turned out not to be a Horse Eater after all, but what Surri DIDN'T see, and what Jose DID see, was the COUGAR on the hill.

Neighbor Charlie is, among other things, a sculptor, and he has a unique cougar sculpture on a hill. If you get a fleeting glimpse of Charlie's cougar on the hill from a distance, your heart will skip a beat and you'll do a double take - there's no mistaking what it is supposed to be.

As Jose and I followed Surri up the hill, to our left on a parallel hill, standing out on the ridge Jose saw something that struck every fiber of his prey-animal-being as danger. His head snaked high in the air, his ears pinpricked, his eyes grew wide as saucers, his nostrils dilated, and he snorted and inhaled and blew, trying to get (although fearful of getting) a scent of the cougar that he clearly saw.

I could feel his pounding heart shaking his body with great thuds, and it wasn't from exertion from the hill we were climbing.

I stroked Jose's neck, and told him there was really nothing to be afraid of, and he couldn't smell danger, but Jose knew this really could be a genuine Horse Eating Monster. One great thing about Jose is that he doesn't panic, and when I asked him to turn away from the cougar and keep moving, he did, though he was clearly alarmed. I let him turn to look back at it a few times - "See Jose? It didn't move" - but he kept snorting until we'd moved well past the danger, out of range of a big Horse Eating Cougar with big claws that might jump on our backs.

The rest of the ride was relaxing, and Jose found many fresh piles of horse poo on the flats to sniff. Wild horses? It was probably a rancher's horses turned out for the winter - we came across a herd of them last winter, though they certainly acted like wild horses.

Back at the ranch, Jose told his Horse Eating Cougar tales to his pals gathered round the hay feeder. A golden eagle flew in and alighted in our tallest tree and listened in.

I would bet that's not the first cougar, sculpted or real, that Jose has seen or smelled.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snow Tales

Tuesday December 23 2008

Drive down the highway through this high desert country, and you might say, wow. Barren. Nothing there. You might even stop and get out a pair of binoculars to look around - and you would probably say Wow - nothing there.

But wait for the winter, when a snowfall reveals the secret tales of the desert, a land swarming with wildlife if you take the time to sit and watch and wait.

Wake up in the morning and find a very fresh deer kill in the neighbor's front pasture. The neighbor thought he saw cougar tracks, but they were perhaps obliterated afterwards by innumerable canine tracks. A pack of coyotes or neighborhood dogs. The deer was dragged around in a square path till it went down, or it went down and was tugged about as a carcass. Absolutely nothing left of the deer a few hours later but fur, blood, and remains of entrails. It was devoured. The Ravens and magpies also left tracks in the snow. They got a share of the prize too.

Walk up the Bates Creek drainage in the evening while storm clouds gather around the Owyhees, and winter light throws shadows in the freeways of tracks and tells more stories.

Quail tracks, wandering the snow, looking for seeds. We've had an abundance of quail this year, at least two hatchings.

Possibly quail. Too small for Ravens, too big for juncos and sparrows.

Jackrabbits in the creekbed.

These are a mystery! Anybody?

Deer and jackrabbit junction.


This is a coyote. Going and coming. He drags a foot or two in the snow.

The foot-dragging coyote on a jackrabbit highway.

Deer art. A party?

And my favorite, quail taking flight and landing. Soft feathers on soft snow. Bird art.

With all the tracks, you'd think I'd see birds and animals everywhere. I only flushed a hawk, some quail, and two jackrabbits. But they're all out there. And they are watching me.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


Sunday December 21 2008

One person in Owyhee wakes up, bundles up, looks out the window: Snow, Cold. Wimpers. Gets a cup of coffee and brownie and goes back to bed to curl up with a book and the dogs. Dreams of warmer climes and how one might get there if the roads ever again become driveable.

One person wakes up, bundles up, steps outside: Fresh snow, Cold. Inhales a deep breath. Holds it. Gets intoxicated. Snowflakes bombard cheeks. Does a snow dance while feeding the horses. Buries head in a thick warm equine coat while the snowflakes fall in human hair.

First person sticks pins in second person's effigy.

Winter observations:
By first person: "The horses look cold and unhappy."

By second person: "The horses look warm and happy!"

You've probably guessed that I'm the second person.

The winter here in Owyhee is glorious! I can't get enough snow. The horses only look sad about not getting 20 servings of grain a day and 85 pounds of alfalfa every day, but that has nothing to do with the winter.

Every morning, like clockwork, the Three Musketeers - Rhett and Jose and Mac, are standing by the fence waiting for their grain. They were gone this morning with Dudley and Finneas.

It had snowed about 2 more inches overnight, and they'd been gone a while - no fresh tracks in the snow around here, and a layer of snow on the big hay bin that they are usually crowded around.

I bundled up and hiked up-canyon to look for them. I saw no fresh tracks going up that way at all - so they'd indeed been gone a while.

I walked a mile up the canyon in the 3" of snow before I finally saw them, across the creek, near the fence line - behind some hills out of the wind. I was so hoping that when they saw me and heard me calling to them, they'd come galloping down in snow along the creek toward me so I'd get these fantastic galloping-in-the-snow pictures, but oh no, as soon as Rhett saw me, he thought I was either 1) a monster or 2) going to catch him. They almost took off running in the other direction as I approached.

They teased me by finally walking my way a little bit, then stopping. I eventually had to give up and go up with them. They actually have plenty of grass up there, easy enough to get to, and they are sheltered by the wind there.

They sure didn't look unhappy to me, even though they all had snow and ice on their coats or blankets. I sure wasn't unhappy, standing ankle-deep in snow, in the falling snowflakes, taking pictures on a beautiful Owhyee winter day.

More snow is in the forecast. Bring it on!

Winter just depends on your perspective. But don't ask for my take on a hot summer day.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Fairy Dust

Wednesday December 17 2008

It's a chilly minus five degrees F (!!) as I get up this morning. A bit cold for southern Idaho.

As the sun comes up over the ridge, fairy dust begins to fall from the clear sky, minute ice crystals that shimmer and sparkle as they float down. It's quiet and crisp and frozen and bright.

The horses have ice crystals on their whiskers and in their noses. Dragon smoke from their breaths rises in the air and floats away.

The temperature rises with the sun... it's up to zero degrees now.

The creek is frozen over. I bust a hole for the horses to drink from. (One water trough for one group of horses has a stock tank heater - I'm still working on the stock tank heater for the other group). Hoary frost decorates the tumbleweeds and rocks in the creek.

The horses are walking on high heels - big ice balls packed in their hooves. Even Jose is walking carefully. Not easy to romp and play on high heels.

The horses take a break from eating, turning broadside to the sun to absorb the warmth.

Saturday the high - the HIGH - is supposed to be 7* F. That's after another round of snow that's supposed to come through.

Urban myths have it that the Inuit have many words for snow: some say 4 words, some say 100 words, some say 400 words. I have just two: fascinated and obsessed.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Snow Day With Jose

Tuesday December 16 2008

What can I say? Jose is just a hoot.

Here he is having fun in our first real snow of the winter.

Messing with Finneas while Finneas is trying to roll.

Having a roll himself.

Bolting up.

Shaking off.


Cantering off.

Prancing back.

Pawing the snow.

Cantering off again.

Coming back from the other direction.

Time to get the others to play!