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Dec. 21, 2003

I thought it might be nice to show another photo from last week's expedition in the snow. The tiny black dog-shaped spot you can see in the center of the picture if you look hard is my buddy and hiking companion Junie Moon, hard at work keeping watch for tigers and bears, but most especially for squirrels.

On this week's hike Junie and I used the same path down into Falling Rock Hollow as before, but on Saturday we pushed on past the side hollow where the bluff overlook and the waterfall are located and made our way over to the upper reaches of the main hollow. We walked along the top of a bluff and came to the point where the side and main hollows meet, and although the bluff there is not as tall as the trees growing below it, I still had a good view down the hollow, and out in the middle of all that winter gray and brown there was a single tree on the slopes of the hill across the way that still had leaves and was shining orange, backlit by the afternoon sun. And to my right just a little way up and across the side hollow was the bare bluff of the overlook surrounded by a small stand of pines, another island of color in the winter woods.

As we continued along the bluff the hollow rose to meet us, and soon we were maybe only twenty or thirty feet above the floor of the ravine and the creek that flowed there. After sitting quietly for a few minutes during a rest stop, I began to notice motion here and there down in the creek bed and up in the trees and watched as eight or ten squirrels went about doing whatever it is that squirrels do on a warm and sunny winter afternoon. Apparently one thing they do is defend territory, as at one point I saw one chase another literally up one tree and down another.

Farther on as we stopped again for a moment, I heard a crashing through the woods that seemed at least as loud as the noise I make when I'm stomping along, and off in the direction of the sound I could see brush shaking and leaves and dirt cascading down an incline; so I thought there must be something pretty good sized coming. Junie was beside me and we both were staring big-eyed waiting for a bear to appear, but what came snuffling and snorting into view was instead an armadillo, rooting through leaves looking for a meal. As soon as she recovered her composure, Junie took off after the critter, but broke off when I told her to stop. Outstanding, Junie, outstanding.

So I guess that's proof that asphalt highways aren't the armadillo's only habitat and that they aren't magnetically drawn to their doom under the wheels of speeding automobiles.

The bluff broke up and pretty much gave out before we reached the point of the hollow; so there wasn't a waterfall there to speak of, at least not at the level we were at, although there still might have been something higher in the drainage. Our objective reached, I thought that instead of going back the way we came, it might be interesting to work our way higher into the hollow's upper reaches and then at some point break off and go west cross country back to our starting point.

So up we went. We had to skirt what appeared to be a burned out area that was choked with brush and briars, and farther on found ourselves having to work our way along a wall of the ravine populated with house-sized boulders, and finally made it up out of the hollow and onto level terrain by scrambling straight up a steep hillside about 200 feet, which doesn't sound like much, dear reader, but looks pretty considerable when you're standing at the bottom of it.

As we were pausing at the top so I could catch my breath, I noticed across the way a bluff that looked like it might have a nice unobstructed view down the hollow and to the hills and lines of mountains to the south, and I'm hoping we can work our way over there and check it out on our next expedition, but not this time. The sun was getting low and I was unfamiliar with the way back and consequently didn't know how long it would take; so we had to be off. But fortunately it turned out to be a level and easy walk from there, part of the way along an old logging road, but mostly through dark pine woods, pretty much due west the whole way, and though I had my compass in the pack it was easy enough just to head 30 or 40 degrees to the right of the sun, about a third to a half of a right angle, to stay on the right bearing, and we got back to the car in plenty of time.

I made the mistake a couple of weeks ago of taking Sophie out for a run the same day she had her stitches removed. It caused the gash in her leg to open up and bleed a little, and it still does when I take her walking; so she hasn't been able to return to the real woods for a hike yet. But on Thursday we went for a stroll along Lake Fayetteville, timed so that the sun would set during the outing, and as we were coming back along the top of a hill above the lake, we came up alongside and eventually passed a procession of ducks swimming out in the middle of the passage at the east end of the lake. There were at least a hundred to a hundred and fifty of them arrayed in a line that stretched a hundred or so yards front to back, and every so often I would see one plunge headfirst into the water, and then bob back up in a few seconds, whether with or without a meal it was too far for me to tell.

The sun was lighting up the trees below and across the way, and that golden light was reflected in the green water, along with blue from the sky, and the colors were stirred together in the rippling water. Farther on in the fields, the sunlight coming through the trees on the lake's edge fell in bands on the tall grass and lit up tiny tufts of filaments so that the field seemed filled with clusters of lights hanging in the air, and marching off to the right was a palisade of evergreen trees with the orange western sky showing between them. And finally there was the sun itself, setting behind and glowing orange and later red in a thin bank of clouds on the horizon.

As you can imagine, I thought that was worth a repeat performance; so I decided on Sunday to have another sunset stroll along the lake, but unfortunately this one had quite a different outcome as shortly after we started Sophie ran through something, briars I suppose, that superficially cut her on the inside tip of one of her long, floppy ears. Though the cut may have been superficial, it bled like a water tap, and soon Sophie was absolutely drenched with blood. I tried to stop the bleeding there on the trail, and did, several times, until it looked like I was wearing read gloves, but every time I did Sophie would shake like any wet dog does, and that would start the bleeding right up again. I finally decided that I would have to get her home and wash the blood off her if I was ever going to get her to stop shaking, but of course that meant a 15 minute car ride home with a dog bleeding and slinging blood everywhere. Reader, picture it: blood on the windshield, the dash, the seats, the dog bed in the back, blood on my shirt, my jacket, on my face. The inside of the car looked like a crime scene. My white hat is now a speckled hat. The next day I even found blood on the rear bumper of the car.

I finally did staunch the flow at home, but it took a good half hour or 45 minutes of compressing the wound until the bleeding stopped, letting go, Sophie shaking, then repeating the process, only next time hanging onto the ear longer. I guess my little dog has those great big ears the same reason an elephant does. They're filled with blood vessels that can help regulate body temperature, like a biological version of a car radiator. Good to have on a hot day, no doubt.