Random Thoughts During a Winter Run in the Forest

The following is sampling of the sorts of thoughts that flit through my mind while I’m out running in the forest with my dogs. Since they can’t talk to me (except through their body language), for much of the time we’re out there I’m carrying on an internal dialog with myself. While the specific threads of thought differ day to day, the overall structure – starting out grateful to be outside, then quickly drifting to issues that are bothering me as the physical effort begins before transitioning into neutral territory as endorphins start kicking in, eventually allowing me to finish on a high, in good spirits, ready to tackle with equanimity whatever the rest of the day throws at me – is constant.

Uphill Leg: the hard work (where my thoughts jump from delight in being in the forest to things that piss me off because endorphins haven’t kicked in yet).

I hear new birds! Yay! Spring is coming! I need to work at learning to identify the birds, by sight and sound.

The squirrels are more active in the trees, giving the boys eye candy to go with the nose candy (the critter tracks they follow with their noses) as we move slowly up the mountainside, following the wildlife track, the snow tamped down by a snowmobile.

dogs on snow trail
Heading up the wildlife trail, Conall wondering when we can start running back down.

Crusty snow – it’s loud as we crunch atop it, yet it provides firm footing for me and the boys. Good thing, as this wildlife track goes straight up, no switchbacks, no rest for the weary. Afternoon sunshine and warm temperatures are melting the snow pack, especially under the trees, giving the boys more off-track terrain to explore without sinking into deep snow. And that increases my worry about their safety, that they’ll inadvertently step into a trap.

Trapping is legal in Idaho. In fact, a few years ago, seeing the trend against animal cruelty in other states, the Idaho legislature – with voter approval – opted to add a protection for trapping to the Idaho constitution. Shameful. I loathe trapping, the use of animal fur for any reason. I worry that a random snowmobile track the boys and I are following was left by a trapper checking a trap, that my dogs could step into a leg-hold trap and then what? Do I have the physical strength to release it? Could I swallow my panic long enough to figure out how to release them? My mind always goes to this dark place, briefly, whenever we venture into the forest because it’s our unfortunate reality, but I do my best to chase such thoughts away as fast as they appear while always remaining vigilant. I love Idaho’s landscape; I hate many of Idaho’s laws.

The buzz of a group of snowmobilers racing up the groomed road nearby reminds me of a swarm of angry, enormous killer bees. You’ll never convince me that this noise doesn’t impact wildlife, send them elsewhere in search of peace and quiet. Yet locals love to blame wolves for the supposed scarcity of deer and elk in the forest adjoining this road. I believe that’s called willful ignorance.

The sound of a group of snowmobilers 25-50 yards away, heading up the groomed forest road.

Snowmobiles. I wonder, will they ever go electric? Same for UTVs/Razors. Most of my objections to them (noise, stink from exhaust) would disappear if they were electric, quiet. But men like the roar of an engine….

Pushing up the steepest hills, the boys waiting for me, feeling the burn in my quads and lungs and thinking, “At least I can still do this, and I’ll keep at it for as long as I’m able.” I push myself. We top out at a Forest Service road.

Midway: a flat out-and-back hike on a snowmobile track on the Forest Service road (where my thoughts are more tempered yet still a mix of happy and sad, the snow too soft for me to run on, which delays the much-anticipated and needed full-on infusion of endorphins).

Tumors. After discovering a second lump on Finn’s chest yesterday I made a vet appointment for later this morning. I tossed and turned all last night. I wanted all of us to enjoy time in the forest before the appointment, so I set my alarm to make sure we got out there just after sunrise. I hadn’t planned to take many photos on this outing until I thought, “But what if this day changes everything for Finn? What if he’s got cancer? Won’t I want photos of him being joyful in the forest before our world gets rocked?” I take some photos.

dog on snowy trail
Finn on the snowmobile track on the Forest Service road.

I briefly think about dignified deaths, and why we’re so much better at allowing our pets a good death without prolonged suffering than our family members? I think of my friend whose family asks her to fight her cancer when all she wants to do is rest and go peacefully.

mountain vista
Granite Mountain in the distance – with the fire lookout tower barely visible on the summit – seen through the dead firs and healthy Ponderosa pines.

Granite Mountain and its fire lookout tower at 8,400 feet come into view. I contemplate how the snow there keeps on giving well into summer. The boys and I often climb the trail to that tower through snow-covered scree fields in late June and early July; in later summer, without the lingering snow, it’s too hot and dry for us. The boys love snow, and I love watching them love snow, so we’ll summit Granite again several times this summer, as we have the past several years. I wonder if Kevin the violin maker will be manning the tower again this year?

Mountain landscape
Looking west toward the Seven Devils, lots of soon-to-be-logged dead fir trees in the foreground.

Logging. I’m taking photos of Granite Mountain and the Seven Devils to the west through dead firs alongside the road. The Forest Service has awarded a contract for those trees to be logged this summer. I’m glad the dead trees will be removed, with the goal of stopping the blight from various beetles and bugs, but I’m selfishly anxious about the disruption to our daily lives from the logging, including access to “our bit of forest” and extra dust on the road past my house as the logging trucks take the trees to the mill. But this too shall pass, I remind myself, although I hope they’ll get it all done this summer.

Slowing down. Aging. What will summer running be like for Finn? At twelve, he loves being in the forest as much as Conall and I do. Finn always hopes we’ll take the route leading away from the car when we come to a junction; like me, he wants to stay in the forest as long as possible. He’s always eager for more. But later at home after a long day on the trails he’s prone to some stiffness in the hind end when getting up after a nap. I wonder whether this summer will be when I start him on an anti-inflammatory like Rimadyl, so he can keep enjoying our runs and hikes without pain. Why would I deny him something I grant myself? I take ibuprofen after some hard runs. I’m no spring chicken either.

Downhill Leg: the reward for all the earlier effort, the fun part when the endorphins kick in and all is right with the world.

The snow is so white! Oh, Snow White, the fairy tale! I need to research that when I get home, find out why that’s her name.

Sunlight brightens our path and our moods.

Look at that sunlight, filtering through the tall trees, playing on the snow, sparkling, contrasts of light and shadow! The boys so happy, stealing bites of clean snow to wet their tongues as they trot and lope down the track. If I’m not smiling outwardly, I am grinning like a fool inside.

Running down hills – oh the joy!

If only they’d show their true selves on video! Unfortunately, when I stop moving, so do they, so it’s hard to capture them running with abandon.

Stock market (I admit, sometimes some brief bad thoughts do sometimes intrude) – I lost significant savings/safety net Monday & Tuesday with the big sell-off, but then, it’s money I gained without any effort since the first of the year when the market was roaring. Like life, the market ebbs and flows. I can’t get too wrapped up in the highs or the lows; it will even out in the end. It is what it is. (That’s the endorphins talking, that last sentence.)

The boys and I come to the next fun downhill and whoosh, all negativity disappears as I watch their fuzzy butts bound down the track, happy and carefree. “Be more doglike,” I tell myself. Enjoy the moment. My focus narrows on making sure each foot plant stays within the crusty track that supports my weight, on letting gravity be my friend as the three of us rush down the mountain to the car. Life is good.

***

Vet visit postscript: After our run, the boys and I went to the vet. Good news: Finn’s got typical old dog fatty tumors (as I’d hoped). I asked about a needle aspiration. The vet says cytology is correct only about 50% of time and removing the tumor(s) means anesthesia which is hard on older dogs, so unless he’s going under for some other reason – at which point it might make sense to remove the tumors – he doesn’t recommend removal. I decide to take the wait-and-watch-closely approach. I pay my $55 and we go home, all of us taking a nap, me to catch the sleep worry stole from me last night. The vet’s fee is a worthwhile investment for peace of mind.

Snow White postscript: Disney made the movie Snow White, based on the Brother’s Grimm fairy tale, in 1937. From the Wikipedia entry about the story:

“The jealous Queen orders her Huntsman to take Snow White into the forest and kill her. … However, the Huntsman cannot bring himself to kill Snow White. He tearfully begs for her forgiveness, revealing the Queen wants her dead and urges her to flee into the woods and never look back. Lost and frightened, the princess is befriended by woodland creatures who lead her to a cottage deep in the woods.”

(Let’s not forget that the vain Queen was Snow White’s step-mother. Oh, the step-monster stories I could tell. Someday, I will. But not today.)

Reflecting back on the beauty of the snow-covered landscape this morning that made me initially think, “The snow is so white!” I can easily imagine the Brothers Grimm struggling to come up with the proper name for the protagonist of their tale, one that would extol her beauty. I imagine them reflecting, as they walked through a pristine German winter landscape, on the purity of the bright white snow, and realizing that the name Snow White was perfect.

I remember as a child loving the story of Snow White. A picture book of Grimm’s Fairy Tales that I read as a child was precious to me, holding me enthralled for countless hours. Who knew I would grow up to be a version of Snow White, befriended by woodland creatures, living in the forest, running away from an evil step-mother (and mother, for that matter), searching for acceptance and love?

Life does, sometimes, imitate art.

I’m not holding my breath for that prince, though. I am, after all, a pragmatist.

sunset with moon and Venus
A wonderful day was followed by a beautiful sunset featuring a sliver of moon and Venus above, named for the goddess of love and beauty. Perfect.

19 thoughts on “Random Thoughts During a Winter Run in the Forest”

  1. Rebecca~I enjoy your writing! And pictures are stunning😊 Your life, love of nature and dogs, resonate with me🙌🏻 I smiled when you questioned origin of Snow White and ”dipped” to stock market talk. All circled back to the wonderment of the world.
    PS~so glad tumor was ”fatty”.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, I really love this post!

    First of all, let me say how happy I am to find out Finn did not have cancer. We went through the same thing with Sawyer last year. We also elected to leave them in place but it always gives me an anxious feeling whenever I feel them while petting him, even though I know they are benign.

    It’s amazing some of the things you think about when you are alone with your thoughts on the hike. One of my mantras while hiking (and my dogs are probably sick of hearing it because I often say it out loud) is Up hurts my heart, Down hurts my knees, Level is just right for me, but that wouldn’t be hiking in the mountains. No matter the physical pain I feel it all goes to sooth my soul, and that’s what counts the most.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Ari!
      It’s a huge relief to know Finn’s lumps and bumps aren’t worth worrying about. Glad Sawyer’s are also benign. No one promised aging would be glamorous, for us or our dogs!
      I’m certain you can relate to this post! I’ve always marveled at how my mind travels to so many different topics over the course of a trail run. I tend to work through any bad stuff going on in my life within the first 10-20 minutes, and then as I hit my groove and endorphins flow my mind settles on happier themes. Often I begin composing in my mind an article, or blog or FB post (like this one), hoping I can remember it when I get home! It’s amazing how a dose of nature can elevate one’s mood, eh? And while I enjoy the occasional run with a human friend, it’s not the same; the conversation – while fun – often wears this introvert out, so I don’t get the same mood-elevating benefit that I do from a solo outing.
      I guess I’m saying I’m glad my dogs can’t talk! Just having their companionship as we run in the forest, seeing how joyful they are, is all I need.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Ha ha, yeah, I was definitely feeling the runner’s high at that point, admiring the pretty snow!
      I grumbled a bit at the vet bill since it took him all of five minutes to make his assessment, but decided it was cheap given the sense of peace it brought me. And the clinic was just purchased by the local animal shelter, so a portion of the fee now goes to support homeless animals, which makes me feel good.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I loved this. I vicariously run with you. I miss running and I still dream about it. The other night I dreamed I was in a kind of swimming pool, running laps. I remembered how much I loved running in the ocean in San Diego — it was great rehab for my knee after an injury and it was fun. The lift, the resistance and the whole OCEAN! Downhills were fun (but I fear that brought me where I am today) but I liked running uphill best for some reason. Thank you for the beautiful post, the wandering thoughts and the dogs. I’m glad Finn is OK. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Martha! I’m sure you have similar streams of random thoughts when you’re out walking and xc skiing; the mix of movement and nature spurs creative thinking. I’m sorry you can’t run anymore, though, and I’m sure you do miss it. I’ve never achieved the same “runner’s high” with walking or even xc skiing, so I’m grateful I can still run after 45 years (so far).

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Bear and this miraculous valley taught me how to get to “the zone” in 2017/18 when my hip was so painful before surgery. I miss the motion, though, the feelings of joyful power and being able to go miles and miles. I think that’s one reason I like x-country skiing so much. It’s as close to running as I’m going to get plus, you know, winter. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I could drive but it’s at least 45 minutes away. I am torn between walking with the dogs and losing most of a day to X-country. it might be a guilt thing or choosing between two pleasures. ❤

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  4. The timber companies want to log off the blight killed trees in SoCal while the wood is still good. They are not going to get their wish. We have environmentalists who don’t think things thru clearly out here. When offered controlled and limited logging, they opt for no logging at all.

    Given our recent history with wildfire, what do you think will happen to a dead forest during a drought?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If I hadn’t already seen the results of forest thinning here (selective cutting; prescriptive burning of undergrowth), I would have been skeptical of this plan. It will be disruptive, but the FS requires the logging company to use only existing roads and to restore them to good condition when they’re done, and they’re only taking the diseased trees. It’s shocking how quickly the blight spreads and kills, and then, as you note, fire danger increases significantly, so I’m pleased the FS got on this as quickly as they have. They also plan to replant areas with more diverse native trees – more aspens – so the forest will be healthier going forward. I’m willing to suffer through a summer (maybe two) of lack of access and increased noise & dust to eventually have my bit of forest return to its living, peaceful state.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “But men like the roar of an engine….”

    I never could understand that fascination, either… 🤔

    What a wonderful trip through your thoughts, Rebecca. And the pictures! ❤️ Great news on Finn. Moxie has ’em and gets to keep ’em, too. Healthy as an ox otherwise, at 11!

    Be more doglike!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I grew up around the roar of engines – airplanes, speed boats. There’s a whole “thing” about the rumble of Harley-Davidson engines. It’s in the DNA of many. Not mine, however, so I get to grumble about it 🙂
      Glad Moxie’s good with her lumps and bumps; I like the approach (that they get to keep ’em)!

      Liked by 1 person

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