A Walk Through Red Butte Garden

I believe that you good people were promised more photos from my ridiculous adventures in birding at Red Butte Garden, and never let it be said that I failed to deliver. Plant photography is not exactly my specialty and despite there being actual signs pointing out what most of the plants were, I could not be bothered to take notes (I was too busy failing to see birds). Luckily, all that means is that I can’t bore you with interesting plant facts or something and must instead simply give you the photos and walk away. Which I shall now proceed to do.

This Is Why I Prefer Animals That Are At Least Car-Sized

Back in the days of yore, when I was just an idealistic young student taking my first conservation biology course, I remember my professor bemoaning the state of modern conservation. People, she said, were only interested in “charismatic megafauna” — all those big, popular, well-known animals that you expect to see in every zoo ever, like elephants, giraffes, lions, wolves, bears, tigers, and so on. I guess having a problem with this is a lot like being a biology hipster, but I could see her point; while donors pour millions into conservation and research for a handful of these “popular” species, hundreds or even thousands more are much more desperately in need of aid… or even just in need of understanding. It’s tough to raise money for the conservation of a spider because people hate spiders. It’s tough to raise money for the conservation of a jellyfish because, as we all know, jellyfish are the enemy. Try telling people that you want to save the monkfish and they’ll run away screaming. I mean, once you show them a picture. Nobody knows what a monkfish is right off the bat except maybe monkfish enthusiasts, if such people exist in the first place.

Still, I think there are perfectly valid reasons for scientists and animal lovers to choose their favorite species the way they do. Take E.O. Wilson, for instance. When he was a boy he suffered an unfortunate accident involving a needlefish and its close proximity to his eyeball which left him blind in one eye. Naturally this would put anyone off the study of fish, and Wilson’s passion for ornithology was rather nixed when partial deafness set in during his adolescence. (It’s kind of hard to find birds when you can’t see them because your depth perception is screwed up and you also can’t hear them laughing at you from their treetop perches.) He turned instead to entomology and became the world’s foremost expert on ants and a pioneer in the study of insect sociobiology, among other things. And all because birds weren’t an option.

This slightly laborious story is all in aid of explaining why I myself tended toward the study of rather large animals: because it’s difficult to study something you can’t see. In school I took an interest in ungulates — wild horses specifically, but also elk and moose and bighorn sheep and generally just anything with hooves because I find them kind of marvelous — mostly because they’re awesome but also, in part, because it’s easier to study something when you can actually see it. Despite an early interest in birds — no doubt springing from my early obsession with dinosaurs — I always knew that I was never going to be an ornithologist, or even a hobbyist birder, because while other, normal people would point to the sky or a tree or whatever and delightedly exclaim over some bird they saw there, I could only squint, perplexed, seeing nothing and wondering whether they were just messing with me. My own childhood brush with blindness was not — thank you nature — courtesy of a needlefish; rather, I was mysteriously struck blind and, after a period of time spent calmly baffling medical professionals, I just as mysteriously regained my sight. This episode was, apparently, as damaging to my eyes as you might expect, and it’s the reason that today I’m not the sort of person you’d want to join your badminton team. Without my glasses, I can see things fairly clearly at a distance of about six inches from my face; beyond that, it’s all impressionist painters. With my glasses, I’m at least legal to drive, but if you expect me to help you read street signs from a distance, you’re gonna have a bad time.

Of course, I’m not a big believer in limiting myself based on things like reality, which is why after I got a membership to Red Butte Garden here in Salt Lake and discovered that this meant I could do things like free birding walks, I was all over it. A nice walk in the garden with my trusty camera and a bunch of other people who have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning? SIGN ME UP. Oh, and please capture the birds so you can hold them very close to my face.

Now that I have been birding, of course, I am extremely knowledgeable. This is a… uh… Blue-Headed… Something.

Apparently hummingbirds like to hang around right at the very tops of pine trees. Who knew?

The nice thing about birding when you are not even remotely a birder is that you get to be delighted by things you probably shouldn’t be delighted by, like this robin who apparently is also a tradesman of some kind, judging by the way he’s building things. Around the fifth time everyone stops to see what you’re photographing, only to find it’s a bee or a robin or a flower, they finally realize you’re an idiot and stop paying you any mind at all. It’s only a shame it takes them so long.

This next animal proved to be a testament to my fellow birders’ kindness and patience toward their fellow man. The conversation with one kind soul in particular went something like this:

Me: I don’t see it. Where is it?
Her: Okay, do you see that sort of bare area in the middle of the tree, where you can see through to the trunk and there aren’t any leaves?
Me: Yes…
Her: Focus on that, then go directly to your right. He’s on that main branch, right out in the open. Really easy to spot.
Me: ….
Her: He’s bright yellow.
Me: Er….
Her: Okay. Do you see the bare area on the tree?

We went on like that for a good five minutes until the bird himself, clearly exasperated, relocated himself essentially to the front and center of the tree, offering us a fantastic view of his yellowness, at which point it took me probably another five minutes to finally see him. I told my long-suffering new friend that obviously I hadn’t been able to see him, there are leaves on that tree bigger than that bird. And he’s more creamy than bright yellow. I mean, seriously. He looks like a delicious well-toasted marshmallow, is what he looks like.

I was going to declare a moratorium on trying to spot any bird smaller than a pelican, but then this guy flew right in front of me, like he was trying to help a girl out. Thanks, angry-looking eyebrows bird.

FINALLY, some birds I can actually see. And as an added bonus, they’re cute and fluffy. You’re a pal, momma duck.

We saw several more birds at a distance, which for me personally was not very helpful, but whatever. This one looked like maybe a finch to me, which I only guessed because I’d seen Darwin’s sketches of course, but I was assured that it was not, in fact, a finch. I have no idea what it is. I hope you weren’t expecting this anecdote to end with some sort of useful information.

My favorites were the most obvious birds, like this quail, because at least on those occasions I could name the bird and indulge for one brief moment in a magical fantasy-land where I wasn’t completely clueless.

Of course, just because I had no idea what I was talking about and indeed no real idea of what I was even doing there among those very enthusiastic and keen-eyed birders, didn’t mean I was outside the reach of good fortune. While the rest of our company were gazing through their binoculars at some distant thing that as far as I could tell was a pinecone on top of a shrub, I wandered off a short distance down a side path to take some more pictures of flowers, as you do, and then I heard that tell-tale hum and turned around to see this kind gentleman stopping for a snack about two feet away from me.

Hummingbird, you are an officer and a gentleman. Or at least you would be, if it were possible to be those things while also being a bird.

Sure, he might’ve been super-tiny, but at least he recognized my handicap and got right up close… I actually had to step back to put him in focus with my zoom lens on. I might be a frustratingly awful birder — in fact, I think I might take up an interest in elephants, mostly because in order to study something bigger like blue whales I’d have to go into the sea and there are jellyfish in there — but every now and again, at least, fortune chooses to smile on me.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post, with more photos from Red Butte Garden, this time with flowers and bees and… well, that’s pretty much it actually. Flowers and bees. But both of those are pretty much rad.

My Dog Trudeau Makes Some Seriously Poor Life Choices

My dog Trudeau is kind of an idiot. I say this with all possible love and affection, but seriously though.

“I don’t know what you mean. I am ALL CLASS.”

Case in point. Trudeau is kind of dog-aggressive, meaning that sometimes he gets on just fine with other dogs and sometimes he is a colossal tool. This makes my life difficult primarily because it’s generally impossible to tell, when Trudeau reacts with excitement to another dog, whether he wants to play with it or beat it until it pees itself. Also, since Trudeau weighs in at 110 pounds, he can be a little hard to handle when he decides to get in touch with his inner bastard. As a result, he’s simply restricted from getting anywhere near other dogs, which clearly drives him crazy and doesn’t help the problem, but what the hell, dog? You’d be able to indulge in all the glories of the dog park if you weren’t such a son of a bitch.

I guess if you’re a dog this could be like… the canine equivalent of Chucky? Or clowns, maybe.

We’ve been working long and hard on his ability to listen to me rather than flipping his lid, but still, he is a dog. It’s not like I can just explain things and expect him to be rational. I thought at least his issues were rooted in some form of genuine dog behavior voodoo until the other week when we were passing a vendor’s table at a street fair. The guy had a stuffed German Shepherd toy on his table to show off the collars he was selling.

Trudeau caught sight of this completely fake dog and went full Cujo. I have never, in all the time I’ve had him, heard him bark and snarl and generally just go ape-shit the way he did over that stuffed toy. I’m pretty sure we gave the booth vendor — who had his back to us at the time — a heart attack. His life probably flashed before his eyes.

Once I’d dragged Trudeau away from the offending plushie, I said, “What the hell, dog?! THAT IS NOT EVEN A REAL DOG YOU JUST WENT INSANE OVER.”

And he said, “What? That was totally justified. He said something about my mom.” Or at least, that’s what I imagine he said. It’s sort of what he said with his eyebrows. I don’t actually think my dog talks to me. Honest.

Still, sometimes I think his general psychopathy is the least of his problems. A few days ago I took him for a walk on the local parkway, which runs along a sort of small swampland and is generally just choked with weeds and gnats and kind of nasty river grasses. (It’s actually not always a pleasant place to walk and it’s kind of covered in graffiti for some reason but whatever, it’s close to home and well removed from Utah’s insane drivers.) Trudeau chose to divert himself by eating vegetation, which normally I don’t mind — I feed him greens myself and I think variety is important to a dog’s diet, plus eating grass seems to be an important part of settling his stomach when he’s feeling not-super. But normally he’s eating a few handfuls of grass here and there. This time he chose to eat weedy seed-heads. You know, the kind that sort of look like wheat, with essentially big spines on them? The kind that look profoundly inedible? Things sort of went like this:

Me: Oh my GOD, dog, STOP eating those things! You are going to puke them back up and it is not going to be pleasant because they are practically BARBED.
Trudeau: You’re not my real mom! *noms*
Me: This is not going to end well for either of us, you realize this.
Trudeau: These are SO GOOD! *noms* Let’s take some home! We can grow our own! I’ll poop the seeds out and we can start a GARDEN, lolz! *noms*
Me: I hate you, did you know that? I wish I could just let you walk home by yourself so nobody would know that we know each other.
Trudeau: I don’t know what you’re so upset about. *pukes*

He waited until we were at the farthest point from home, of course, and then he started throwing up seed-heads, one seed-head at a time. We’d take ten steps and then he’d start hacking like a twelve-pack-a-day smoker, and leave behind a little puddle of vileness with a single sprig of vegetation at its center. Walk ten steps, repeat. When we finally got back to the river again, I let him eat swampgrass for a good five minutes, which finally settled his stomach, but that really could’ve gone either way… it could’ve just caused him to puke even more violently for the next twenty minutes. These are the kinds of choices that our dogs drive us to.

Trudeau is known for his poor food choices, though. He once chose to sneak a drink from a pasture drainage ditch while I was busy re-tying my shoelace, and took a nice big drink of brackish, standing manure run-off water. (That didn’t end well.) The photo below was taken his first time at the ocean, and as you can see he is drinking huge mouthfuls of seawater, presumably because his previous mouthfuls of seawater made him thirsty.

He will also eat anything that is thrown at his face, and simply assume that it is edible. He’s a very trusting soul. Usually he won’t bother to smell or taste it, he’ll just shovel it down his gullet. I’m pretty sure if I threw a chainsaw at his face he’d swallow it. Actually, we could possibly turn that into a sideshow act and maybe he’d earn his keep for once. Lord knows he’s not going to acquire any other sort of gainful employment, unless you can count “being a total knob” as an occupation.

If you enjoyed this post, I would like to offer you some additional recommended reading. You might enjoy my previous post about the day I threatened to develop psychic powers just so I could destroy my dog remotely, but I also want to very seriously recommend both Texts From Dog (every moment of it is pure genius) and Hyperbole and a Half‘s blogs titled Dog (in which the author administers an IQ test to her dog) and Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving, in which the Simple Dog discovers she’s magical and can make food, and the Helper Dog has a nervous breakdown. Both of these authors are seriously genius and I hope you will enjoy the ever-loving hell out of them. While you’re doing that, I’ll be over here, giving my dog Trudeau this IQ test…

Horses! Kilts! OMG Horses! (Or, Why The Renaissance Faire Is Awesome.)

The title of this post might be a little bit misleading. Not because there aren’t horses and kilts — I didn’t take pictures of said kilts, though, I’m sorry, I was too busy ogling the men in them — but because I have my reservations about Ren Faires. When I turn up at one I kind of feel like a Trekkie at a Furry convention. I might appreciate and understand the enthusiasm and extreme fannishness of those present, but I am not One Of Them. While I enjoy A Game of Thrones as much as the next girl (Peter Dinklage, how are you so awesome?) and am actually a medieval history fan from way back, I mostly just find Ren Faires kind of awkward. My default reaction in these sort of cosplay situations is to find an appropriate huddle and start talking Doctor Who while pretending that nobody in the conversation is actually dressed up as a Stormtrooper, but when everybody who greets me calls me “my lady” (or more frequently, “my lord,” which is great for my self-esteem, thanks a lot), and when sometimes people say things like “doth” in a serious and straight-faced way, it just makes me realize that I am in the wrong crowd. I begin yearning for the fjords regular old Highland Games events that are much more in my wheelhouse. (There are several of those coming up in the area over the next few months, though, so expect plenty of photographs of kilts in this blog’s future.)

Still, it’s nice to get out and mix with those outside your social circle and specific niche of geekdom, and events like this are a jolly good time. The Utah Renaissance Festival and Fantasy Faire (click that at your own risk, because it will play music at you whether you like it or not) has been on for the past couple of weeks here, so I decided to give it a go, primarily because of The Knights of Mayhem, a full-contact jousting troupe I had last seen a few years ago in Arcata… I blogged about that over here, in case you missed it and/or wish to look at pictures of pretty horses again. They also have a show on National Geographic Channel, though I’ve never seen it on account of not getting that channel. Sadness.

Anyway, I really thought the jousting was the best part, so here are some fun jousting photos. What I notably did not get are shots of the actual impacts, though you can see a few of those on that previous blog I mentioned. I had a great idea to try this time standing in a spot where I could look down the list to get photos of the horses charging right at me, but completely failed to factor in that there would be squires at the ends of the lists to help stop the horses after each charge. Good going, me. Anyway, here are some guys on horses.

You guys, I have a serious crush on this horse. SERIOUS. I mean the guy’s okay and all, but LOOK AT THAT HORSE. LOOK AT IT.

I quite liked this one too, but not with the kind of burning passion that I liked the other one. This horse is Daisy (her full name, we are told, is “Daisy the Destroyer, because her opponents will be pushing up daisies!” har de har har), and she is clearly a Belgian, and that guy riding her is Jason Armstrong, and he is clearly a Canadian. You can tell because even when he’s talking smack he’s polite about it.

A little love for the ponies. You might notice that the bay shire in the background (I think they called her Lady Chaos?) is being ridden by two different guys in these photos. The armored guy pictured riding her is “Sir” Edward, and this guy is one of their knights in training, who also wanted to have a go when they were playing their skill-at-arms games with the spear-throwing and whatnot.

They all had pretty decent aim with their spear target practice. I can guarantee you that I would miss. And probably fall off the horse. Look, they run REALLY FAST, okay?

Daisy is new to jousting and was not very keen on setting herself up in the list. Actually, she tried to take down the list several times. And thought about taking down some spectators, too. I was marveling at how the crowd wasn’t moving out of her way until suddenly they all scrambled for cover, and then I lol’ed. Is that bad?

OMG THIS HORSE. She’s a Shire, by the way. In case you were wondering. And considering forming her fan club.

The way these huge horses just ROCKET themselves down the list, I would probably soil myself. I’m man enough to admit it, I’m just not man enough to do anything this insane. Look at this horse, she’s just like, “Screw this, I AM GOING TO RUN NOW OKAY.”

Daisy the Destroyer seems to be aware that she’s very photogenic.

This is seriously the only shot I got in the vein of what I wanted, which was pictures of the horses charging RIGHT AT ME. Don’t worry, I had a really big zoom lens, I wasn’t going to get anywhere close enough to be actually charged at.

I have some more photos of the festival, including some snaps of the Oak Hills Vaulters kicking ass and taking names; you can find those over here on Facebook (and you don’t have to be a Facebook user to see them).

Salt Lake’s Hogle Zoo in Photos

I’m not going to lie: I am a seriously annoying person to go to the zoo with. I can stand around and take photos of animals forever, not to mention all the time I can spend trying to find the right combination of settings to shoot pictures through a fence or in a low-light environment. I’m not exactly a technical wizard. Still, it’s nice to have a few photos to show for it, and at least I can rest assured in the knowledge that, while my family may only occasionally tolerate me, at least the people of the Internet understand. Here are a few of the best photos from a recent trip to Utah’s Hogle Zoo. I hadn’t been to the zoo since I was just a wee bairn and I was delighted to find many of the exhibits updated and some fantastic-looking new sections under construction to open this summer.

Tigers: totally regal and stuff.

It’s sleepy-time in lemur-town.

This Pallas Cat was super-cute. It’s a Mongolian wildcat and apparently it likes to play hide and seek with the keepers and freak little kids out by trying to pounce on them through the windows. You go, Pallas Cat.

OMG WHAT BABY MONKEY. So cute, you guys, seriously. This is a Bolivian Grey Titi Monkey. Even its name sounds cute.

Speaking of Titi Monkeys, the adults are also freaking awesome-looking. And the males are the primary caregivers to the young, which is also fascinating. That’s pretty much my zoo-going default mode: I wander from one exhibit and one sign to another exclaiming, “That is FASCINATING!”

Here’s that tiger again, showing off his impressive teeth.

I got the feeling that this was possibly an evil giraffe. “I will eat all of the leaves on this tree. I will eat more leaves than I should… so that other giraffes may die. Mwahahah!”

Just in case you haven’t seen it, here’s Eddie Izzard’s bit on evil animals: EPICNESS.

Bat-eared fox? AWESOMESAUCE. I wish to snuggle it.

This is a spoonbill. I have really nothing witty to say about it.

This langur has the best hairdo ever seen on an animal. EVER. Both mohawk and muttonchops? You, sir langur, are truly a sir.

And in conclusion, here’s my favorite shot of the day: a little tamarin. I got a few nice shots of these guys because the light coming in through the windows in their exhibits caught beautifully on their golden fur. So cute, tamarins. So cute.

We had the good fortune to visit Hogle Zoo on a beautiful, cool spring day, and although there were about a million children there — and the bird show was cut short when the golden eagle went a little AWOL and couldn’t figure out how to get himself back down into the show area — we had a pretty awesome time. I can’t wait to go back to see the new exhibits when they open… but I’ll probably go alone, so nobody has to put up with my incessant photo-taking.

Here There Be Sea Monsters (And Also Snuggly Little Otters)

As you may recall, I am in general not always a big fan of creatures of the sea. Jellyfish, for instance, are at the top of my personal Threatdown list. But there’s more to an aquarium than jellyfish — and the lure of otters is too strong to resist — so today some family members and I took a field trip to the Living Planet Aquarium in Sandy, Utah. I haven’t had much of a chance to practice my low-light and zoo-ish photography, so I brought my camera along (with apologies to my awesome long-suffering sister-in-law, who has to put up with this same nonsense from her husband all the time) and managed to get a few shots I quite liked.

I want to get one of these frogs and carry it around on my shoulder at all times. It looks like it's really wise and might enjoy advising me on how best to conduct my business.

These Lion Fish are actually venomous, but they were also pretty good about showing off for my camera, so I guess they're not just straight-up jerks.

The aquarium itself was a bit of a disappointment — their interpretive signs left much to be desired, and a great many of the animals’ habitats were both small and overcrowded, with some of the views obstructed by slightly grimy tanks — but it was about what I expected from an aquarium of its size, especially considering that looking at the building from the outside it appears as if they converted an old K-Mart or something. I have to applaud them for having done as much as they have with the space they’re working with, but it’s clearly not the best possible situation. Luckily, a brand new aquarium building is in the works, with 130,000 square feet in Draper and what looks like a much more purpose-built and animal-hospitable building. Currently they’re planning to break ground this summer with a possible opening as early as spring 2013. I can’t wait to give the new place a try when they’ve upgraded their facilities. For now, if you’ve been to SeaWorld it’s not going to even remotely impress you, but if your aquarium experience begins and ends at the pick-your-own-crustacean tank at Red Lobster, then you’d probably find all of these exhibits incredibly diverting and educational.

They had several kinds of sea horses, which was awesome, but the leafy sea dragons were apparently hiding -- or just so good with their marvelous pretending-to-be-a-bit-of-plant-matter disguise that I couldn't spot them -- which was super-sad.

These piranhas were particularly super-awesome... those gold-colored flecks are just incredible. I wouldn't want to take a swim with them, though.

OMG OTTERS.

In case you've ever wondered what an otter looks like while it's pooping, this is the answer. YOU'RE WELCOME. It occurs to me that this always seems to be the pose that taxidermists choose to put stuffed otters in, which makes me wonder whether that's some sort of bathroom-related inside joke among taxidermists all over the world.

Here is a photo of a jellyfish. Jellyfish thing. I don't even know. I'm just showing you this so that you can identify the enemy.

Here is the obligatory NEMO! moment. Now that we've gotten that over with, we can move on to the serious biznis.

Like for instance this eel. Eel-thing? This is definitely serious. I couldn't find a sign saying what sort of eel this is, but I'd guess it's a giant moray. And thanks to Google I've discovered that eels gape their mouths open in this very threatening-looking fashion to help them keep water flowing through their gills and help them breathe. Rad. Also rad? That frilly corral-looking thing at the bottom left is a wobbegon, which in this case seems to mean a shark disguised as furniture, and it was chilling out with a huge eel so it had instant street cred. Tank cred?

This lobster is apparently over 45 years old. That kind of depressed me for reasons I can't really explain. Also, he's totally pretty and blue, which made him seem rather decent for being a cockroach of the sea.

I'm not really that into fish, but I did like the frogs. They were incredibly colorful and also adorable.

And speaking of adorable, here are a couple of Axolotls. I had to Google that to make sure I was spelling it right. What would I do without Google? Probably curl up in the corner and cry.

I don't know what this is, which is why I'm calling it a "gecko-y thing maybe" like that is its official taxonomical classification. My brother says it's a newt, which is probably the case, but "newt-y thing" doesn't have quite the same ring to it.

I was surprised at how well some of these photos came out, considering my camera is not exactly the latest in DSLR technology and it was really quite dark in there. This last photo, of a sleeping green tree snake, is one of my favorites from the day. (That first frog shot is definitely the other top pick.)

I’ve been having a great time lately finding occasions to visit some of the local attractions here in the greater Salt Lake City area… it’s sort of fun to make yourself be a tourist in your native land. Keep an eye out for more posts and photos from around town as I continue to endeavor to get myself out of the house….

A Walk Through Dimple Dell Nature Park

Recently I took my dog Trudeau on an excursion to Dimple Dell Nature Park in Sandy, Utah. This adventure was extensively researched and pre-planned, by which I mean that I was looking for directions to somewhere else on Google Maps and found myself wondering what that big block of green was over there and whether it might be of some use to me in attempting to exhaust my dog, and so I decided to take him there completely on impulse.

Exhausting my dog is, in fact, something of a personal mission of mine. It never works out — he always out-staminas me, the bastard — but he likes to allow me my illusions and I find it diverting to seek out new adventures on his behalf. Because it was raining off and on even in the valleys that day, there was no way that I was going to attempt any mountain trails, but Dimple Dell looked promising, since according to the maps it ran right through the middle of residential areas. Our duties discharged and errands run, we drove on toward the trailhead (well I say we, but I was driving, because no matter how much he begs I am not going to give Trudeau the keys). The Granite Park Trailhead was surprisingly easy to find, and from there we had plenty of options, with several small dirt tracks branching off directly from the trailhead and a single large, well-maintained, woodchipped path which soon revealed itself by way of signage to be the North Rim trail. Figuring that it would be very difficult for me to get lost on such an expanse of trail (difficult but not impossible, because it is me we’re talking about here), we stuck primarily to the North Rim trail.

Although the wood chips undoubtedly make for a nice dry trail even on wet days, I found the footing far too spongey to be comfortable — it’s just enough like walking on a sand dune to tire you out. Trudeau had no such qualms, but he also spent most of the walk sniffing things, peeing on things, and trying to engage other dogs in fisticuffs, so he probably wasn’t paying much attention to the footing.

Dimple Dell is an on-leash park, but Trudeau makes a hobby out of breaking the rules, because he is a rebel. And I only took his leash off long enough to snap a photo, because he is also kind of a dick.

Despite the fact that Dimple Dell is apparently 644 acres in total, the sections of trail that we covered felt more like a neighborhood park than a wilderness trail. The trail truly does run through neighborhoods and often winds along the back fences of houses, which is not always a pleasant experience when there are dogs in there and you have Trudeau along, because as mentioned previously, Trudeau is kind of a dick.

Still, the walk was quite pleasant, with some beautiful views of the very close Wasatch range, and more distant views of the Oquirrhs.

We didn’t spot much in the way of wildlife, unless you count lichen…

I don’t even know if this is actually lichen, I just like to say “lichen”.

…and a few scrub jays, which insisted on staying just far enough away that I could barely get a decent photo, even with my longest zoom.

Come over here bird, I just want to be your friend. Trudeau might try to eat you, though. He tries to eat everything.

There was also a dog in a backyard, which I heard but never actually saw, which made a growling sound that was eerily similar to that of a mountain lion and which nearly gave me a heart attack. Oh and also a few kids in a backyard, one of whom leaned over his back fence and shouted to his friends for a good five minutes, “DEER POOP! THERE’S DEER POOP BACK HERE! HEY YOU GUYS, I FOUND SOME DEER POOP!” So one must assume that there are occasionally also deer, but I never saw any. Nor their poop, for that matter.

All in all, it was an enjoyable way to pass an afternoon, and it warmed up enough that I wished I had in fact pre-planned (water would’ve been a good idea) and Trudeau almost seemed a little tired by the time we got back to the trailhead. We could probably spend weeks covering all of the trails in Dimple Dell, which branched out like spiderwebs along the ridgelines and valleys, but since we don’t live in that area — and I prefer more well-packed trails — we probably won’t be frequent visitors, no matter how attractive the lichen is.

[Edit: WOOHOO, thanks WordPress for Freshly Pressing this entry, and thanks to everyone for visiting! If you'd like to read more on what it's like to live in Utah and how it can turn you into a homicidal maniac, you might also be interested in one of my most recent entries, It's Just Like the Road Warrior, Only with Minivans. I hope you'll stick around and read a bit more!]

In Which Trudeau Performs The Reverse Jackrabbit

My dog Trudeau loves the snow. And by “loves,” what I mean is “goes completely insane at the sight of it and possibly has a seizure.” I’ve often said that he’d be an easy job to track in the snow, because not only are his paws massive, but every few steps you’ll find a bite-mark between his front paw tracks where he’s paused for his own personal version of a snow cone.

I hadn’t realized exactly how much our incredibly mild winter — we’ve gotten almost no snow until this week — had depressed the poor little guy until we had a few storms this week that brought with them a scant few inches of accumulated snow. I took Trudeau out in the early afternoon and snow was just beginning to fall; he didn’t seem to notice. A few hours later I took him to the Jordan River Parkway for a walk — we both needed some exercise before it started snowing again — and it was as if tasty-fluffy-fun-whiteness had just appeared on the ground for his entertainment.

Trudeau isn’t given to the sorts of displays that other dogs might give. He almost never barks, he doesn’t really do much that’s high-energy… but he loves to bound in the snow and he loves to play tug. So I indulged him when he found his joy in the fresh-fallen, almost unmarked snow. He’d leap and twist in mid-air, making a grab for the leash and then dropping it because he’d found a particularly nice drift in which to suddenly flop as if he’s forgotten how to stand. We left mad, looping tracks in the snow (which was already melting away, and hadn’t amounted to much to begin with), and I couldn’t help but think of the next person who came along pulling a Prince Humperdinck (from The Princess Bride, natch) and deducing our epic battle from the tracks we’d left in the snow.

Trudeau proudly displaying the chaos of our tracks in the snow

"There was a mighty duel. It ranged all over. They were both masters."

Trudeau seems to be most fond of aerial moves — and with his natural grace and agility it kind of amazes me that he always seems to land on his feet — but my favorite is one I like to call “The Reverse Jackrabbit.” He jumps, lands in a bow with his forelegs on the ground, and his lower jaw thrust straight into the snow like a shovel. Then he bounds up again, half-melted snow flinging from his jowls… it’s not what John Masefield was talking about when he wrote about “the flung spray and the blown spume” but that’s still the phrase that comes to mind. The tracks Trudeau has left behind in the snow make it look as if a giant jackrabbit has sat there for a moment, before hopping away.

He's a very dignified creature.

It’s nice to see him get excited, at least. One of the things that makes him perfect for me is that he likes to spend a good portion of his day just lying around and sleeping, but it is nice to see him go a little nuts about something other than the prospect of hitting another dog until it pees itself.

He does get a bit excited about walks, though. We had a nice stroll around the Parkway, and I purposely took him down a path that was nothing but mud and goose-related smells, and he had a hell of a good time. Then the neighbor’s dogs threatened him and he enjoyed that too, and then I took him home and we practiced his new tricks for awhile. (He mostly enjoyed that because of the dessicated lamb bits, but his circus-pony rear and his playing-dead are coming along beautifully.) And then he made his favorite derp-face. Again. The end.

Derp!

I can stop anytime I want. It’s just that I don’t want to. Ever. Please, don’t make me!

I want to make a confession, because I feel like it’s going to be cathartic. So here it goes: I have a slight addiction. To shopping.

It’s not what you’re thinking. I don’t have a thing for shoes or a complete inability to resist a bargain in general. It’s mostly just… well… art supplies. I am completely psychologically incapable of going into a store full of art supplies and coming out with the same amount of cash in my wallet that I had going in.

You might think that’s not a bad thing for an artist, considering we do tend to burn through art supplies rather rapidly. I’ve made three runs for additional supplies (the actual necessary kind, not the “I must have that because it is there” kind) just this week. The trouble with art supplies as a consumer product is that when you’re wandering through the art store you’re not just looking at products on a shelf, you’re looking at the potential for genius. Or at very least the potential for a good time. You can be looking at a tube of paint or a block of clay or a pair of round-nosed pliers, but what you’re actually seeing is the finished product.

This is the problem with artists. We have vivid and sometimes detailed imaginations. We can see that finished piece in our mind’s eye, and we simply must have those components that are necessary for the creation of whatever it is we think we’re going to create. And if we haven’t worked in that medium before and really don’t have the first idea how we might turn that collection of raw materials and tools into the thing we see in our heads, well… in my case, at least, reality rarely gets in my way.

Which is why, as you might imagine, my work space consists of a desk, a lamp, and a bunch of bins and containers full of things that I haven’t figured out how to use yet. When I was a kid things came very easily to me and I’m still in the process of training myself to embrace the learning curve… to understand that when I try a new medium for the first time, what I produce probably isn’t going to be a great work of art or the vision I see in my head or even necessarily something that’s going to make decent kindling. So while I’m always excited by all the possibilities of a new art form — and perhaps too excited over all the associated equipment you can buy in shiny, promise-filled packages from the art supply store — I often find myself incredibly intimidated by the same things once I get them home. Sometimes I give them a try and give up for awhile in frustration. Sometimes I don’t even get around to the trying part and they just sit, still neatly packaged, waiting for me to work through my neuroses.

Recently I decided that I was going to start working my way through those supplies. I decided to start with the box I’d labeled “WIRE,” which was filled with little spools of wire in different gauges and pliers (mostly of the wrong sort). I checked out a few books on wire-wrapped jewelry from the library so I could figure out the essential skills, determined that I’d need to make one last fortifying trip to the craft store to get a couple more pairs of pliers that every book seemed to agree I would need, and then I sat myself down at the table and decided that I would create something. I would create something that would probably just go straight into the garbage, but what the hell, the wire hadn’t been that expensive (at some point I’d extended my shopaholicness to the hardware store, where they had wire galore). And it’d just mean that I had less art supplies sitting around, making me feel guilty for my non-use of them and for my shopping addiction problem. So I cut a few lengths of wire and attempted to make a few basic shapes and loops and mostly ended up with mangled chunks of wire that couldn’t even be called “abstract.” (One of them did sort of look like a sea urchin, though.)

Normally at that point I’d be experiencing a strong urge to browse for something more cooperative at the art supply store. But what the hell, I was comfortable, I had some Doctor Who on the telly (you have to say “on the telly” when you’re watching British television, it’s required) and bending wire is actually kind of fun as random activities go. Plus I had that image in my head. The finished product. And by all that was good and holy, I was going to create that thing I’d envisioned. So I took my pliers and that copper wire and I bent and twisted and turned and cursed and pricked myself so hard with the end of a wire that I bled kind of profusely and then… then I had this.

It was a little rough. And it was also awesome. It was just what I wanted. It was kind of better than I’d originally planned for. It was a first effort but I figured somebody out there might want it, so I put it up on my Etsy shop and pointed to it from Facebook and asked my friends whether I had created something they would enjoy. I haven’t sold that original quite yet (you can remedy this by buying it, lolz!), but I have sold quite a few others, both one at a time and in large orders. I suddenly seem to be spending a lot of my time making little wire horses. And finally, finally, I have an excuse to go shopping for art supplies. It’s not a compulsion, it’s just that I genuinely need more colors of wire! It’s not my fault!

If you’d like to get a little wire pony to decorate your Christmas tree (or rearview mirror, or whatever other things you like to hang decorative items from, I do not even want to know) please feel free to drop by my Etsy store and order one! I also do custom work that’s made to order, and am working on some designs for cats, dogs and other adorableness. (Perhaps an echidna! Or a capybara with a little wire monocle!) Honestly, the more I can move this wire out of here the sooner I can move on to some other stack of art supplies that I’ve been neglecting… maybe I’ll try the scratchboard next. Or the linocuts. Or the watercolors. Or the acrylics.

Help.

Close to the Sun in Lonely Lands

A few weeks ago I was on campus, shooting photos of sale horses, when I looked up over the horsey playground and happened to spot this fellow soaring around, obviously looking for tasty morsels in the pastures. I’m not good with birds — my eyesight is too poor for me to be able to distinguish any of the details that might make them identifiable — but I was with Brett, who said with convincing authority that it was a juvenile bald eagle. I just never know if he’s putting me on or not. :D

I snapped some photos with my longest lens, which wasn’t really long enough, and then I looked out toward the treeline and spotted a second bird of the exact same type. They patrolled the area together for a little bit, but by then they’d drifted too far away for me to even bother trying to get a photo.

So what do you think, interwebz? Any bird experts out there? Is it a bald eagle? I find it rather fetching, either way.