a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: February 2012

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Hiking in the Rain With Glass

SUMMARY: Sierra Vista sunrise hike with spectacles and telephoto lens.
The Santa Clara County Open Space District planned this nifty event--on February 29, just because it's an unusual date, do an unusual thing by allowing a limited number of people to drive up and park in Sierra Vista Park (normally you can only get there by hiking up 1500 feet from Alum Rock park), watch the sunrise, and go for an early hike. We've had such great weather all winter--even spring-like lately--and so I signed up.

Of course, last night a big storm blew in. They sent email asking whether anyone wanted to cancel. Apparently a bunch did, but not me, and not an intrepid dozen others.

Here's how it worked out:

Sunrise over San Jose: Ha ha! Just kidding! That's the glow of the city lights through my rainy windshield at 5:30 in the morning.

OK, the *real* sunrise over San Jose. In other words--it merely got a little lighter and the blasting wind and rain let up a bit.

We did actually hike after the sun theoretically rose. Here are those of us who decided to keep on going for a mile or so before the weight of the mud on our boots and the total soakage of our clothing made us think better of doing more (I'm on the right in, yes, bluejeans).

Even with a hat and a hood, I looked like this at the end of the hike. The brim on my hat did nothing to keep my glasses dry.

And despite a plastic cover for my camera (and a sunguard on the lens) and my attempts to baby it, the lens repeatedly became covered with water droplets, and so almost all the photos are blurred like you're looking through water. Because, ha ha, you are.

This was my first attempt at shooting in the rain, on the go, with a plastic cover, using a tripod. I learned some things but the results were less than stellar.  With that caveat, you can see my very few other photos that weren't completely terrible: http://elf1.smugmug.com/Hiking/Sierra-Vista-Sunrise-Rain-Hike/21696926_r6XLQq

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


SUMMARY: Photos from the weekend.

Many people bring cakes when their dogs finish a major title. I thought that this was a great idea for Gypsy's CPE championship (C-ATCH), earned at WAG with a Jackpot run.

Might have to steal that idea if there's time for me to get them this week-- oh, wow, $130 for a 5-lb bag, plus $25 shipping and $20 expedited delivery to get them by next weekend. Maybe not. But if I loved my friends enough to pay $35/pound for M&Ms, here's what they'd have looked like:

Guess my friends will have to satisfy themselves with looking at photos of our ribbons. Here are ours, minus our final Q and placements from the last run of the weekend. And the only photos of the Merle Girls from the weekend--Backsides of Dogs.

WAG had kind of a fun game. They handed out bingo cards to everyone, and you could use your run times (the numbers before and after the decimal point) to fill out the card. Plus they periodically pulled 2 more free numbers. Here's Tika's sheet--she got a lock on 32 and 33 right away, but we couldn't get 5 in a row.

We had to wait until the last dog had died, so to speak, Sunday evening, when everyone crowded around the bingo machine as they pulled more numbers until all the prizes had been awarded. I can't show you Boost's card; I had to turn it in because we won! A cool, custom-embroidered (purple and black) blanket.

Also Boost did well in the worker raffle again, picking up a Cold Stone Creamery gift card, a bag of dried fruit, and a $15 cert to come back to WAG sometime. She might not be good on course, but she's sure good at raffles and paper games.

I stopped on the way out of WAG's driveway to capture their signs. Fritz was Susan's first agility dog, a big sheltie, who could do no wrong and earned thousands of championships in several venues. They were competing back when Remington and Jake and I were still running. He died of cancer last year, but what a great life he led. The sign with his name is the 3rd one they've put up. The first two were stolen--jerks!--and they've put it up more securely each time. This last time, a lot of us at one trial did a secret gathering of funds and presented it to Susan and Dave to replace the sign once again. Hopefully it won't go away again.

Out on the freeway, a most glorious sunset held sway. I drove frantically looking for a place to get off the freeway and then to stop with a clear view of the sky and hopefuly something interesting in the foreground. Well, nothing interesting in the foreground and by the time I got here, the sunset was way past its peak. But still pretty impressive down near the horizon.

Thus the weekend faded to black.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

CPE Was Very Very Good To Us

SUMMARY: A pretty good quantity of Qs.

Tika was a good girl, looked pretty healthy all weekend, Qed 11 out of 12 runs. Her only non-Q was a crash on the next to last jump in her jumpers round where on the video it looks like she completely misjudged it, but from my perspective running with her, it looked like she stumbled before the jump. I can't see that in  the video.

That, plus the one time that she stumbled getting out of the car, plus these "tunnel episodes", are among the things that make me think that her agility days are numbered on the shorter side rather than the longer side. On these two videos, her time in the one tunnel (per video) doesn't seem long at all, but on the ground, where you're expecting the dog to blast out of the tunnel, it seemed like forever.

In this Standard run--the tunnel after the dogwalk. You can see me stop and wait for her to come out.

In this Jackpot (Gamblers) run--yellow tunnel that I was trying to layer and send her to the jumps behind it. She apparently stopped and came back out the same way, which is really odd for her.

In all her runs, even when they went pretty smoothly, she looks like she's taking tiny strides, not long stretched-out strides. She definitely doesn't feel fast to me. But then--I'm also taking little tiny strides and I probably don't feel fast to her.

The other Standard run from today:

And her Wildcard run from today:

Boost Qed 8 out of 11, even though she's now moved up to Level C (championship) in everything except one class and they don't allow any faults in level C. (Remember that CPE doesn't count refusals.) Still, despite that, she had only one one run all weekend that I'd call really nice--her first Standard run from this morning. And even in that one, she stopped off the SIDE of the teeter and I had to tell her "touch" a second time for her to slue around front.

All of her other runs had problems. Sometimes, watching the vids, I can see that I stopped or peeled off sooner than a should have, but in others I am just bloody well running at an obstacle that she's running at and should just dang well take but doesn't.

Boost Sat Standard Round 1 Level C, Q and 3rd place--ran past a jump, came off the side of the teeter completely (when she comes in to face me, I try to get her to Down so that I can get a step beyond her and not have her dance backwards in front of me instead of looking at obstacles. She does NOT want to go all the way down on course. I suppose I ought to do something when she doesn't, maybe take her off, but I dunnooooo...)

Wildcard Sunday, Q and 3rd place--I am running straight at that jump, I swear I am.

Colors Sunday, Q and 4th place--lined her up to look straight across the middle of the 1st 2 jumps, led out, and, well--she didn't even look at the jumps. The REASON I wanted to do the leadout that I did was because I KNEW that if I was behind her when she went through that tunnel, she'd turn back to me instead of going straight into the weaves that are RIGHT IN FRONT OF HER. And--Q.E.D.

Standard Round 2 Sunday, not a Q because of a bar down. Great weave entry. Refusal on a rear cross where, for some reason, I decided I couldn't get in the front cross that I did with Tika (see her video above) and so I overran the rear cross. That was really my fault, but STILL if she'd only, you know, take obstacles in front of her...  And that tunnel that I tried sending her to just because I wanted to prove that she could send to a tunnel--but apparently she can't--

Jumpers Sunday, Q and 3rd place-- I am running straight at that jump, I swear I am.


Tika now needs only 225 points for her C-ATE. Next weekend's trial, if I counted right, offers 235 points. That still means that we'd have to Q in everything next weekend to get it, but we always seem to have just one or two runs where there's one blip (like her Jumpers run this morning).

Boost now needs only one Colors run for her C-ATCH. Next weekend there's one Colors offered. So it could happen.

It'll be nice to get these out of the way!

Friday, February 24, 2012

Total Crazed CPE Agility

SUMMARY: Thus starts multiple consecutive weekends.

We're packin' up for 3 days of CPE agility at WAG (Elk Grove, followed by...

next weekend, 2 days of CPE agility at Haute Dawgs (Elk Grove), followed by...

3rd weekend, 2 days of CPE agility at VAST (Turlock), followed by...

4th weekend, 2 days of CPE agility at Bay Team (Santa Rosa).

Then--whew!--two weekends off before we're back to our regularly scheduled USDAA program.

We hope to emerge from the far end of all this with Boost's CPE championship (C-ATCH) and Tika's C-ATE, which is...er, sort of like a USDAA Silver ADCH--roughly 250 Qs at level C, with at least 20 in each of the 7 classes.

(Except CPE does the C-ATE by points: Each class is worth 15 to 25 points, and you need 5000.)

The weather is amazingly springlike. Will still be down near 40 overnight for sleeping in MUTT MVR, but no rain is in the forecast.

OOooooohh my, almost noon and not packed. Gotta go!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Presidents' Weekend Monday

SUMMARY: Big Sur and Monterey.
UPDATE: Tuesday Feb 22, 10:30 a.m. See below.

Set the alarm *again* (merely 7:00 this time) so that my seester and her husband could pick me up at 8. We drove down the Coast Highway (Hwy 1), loving the scenery, stopping to briefly explore various places, geocaching as we went; had lunch at a restaurant they like (Nepenthe) wayyy down the coast, then turned and beat feet back north, had hot fudge sundaes at Ghirardelli's on Cannery Row, then home again.

I am really really sore from yesterday's hike. Must. Get. In. Uphill. Shape.

Some brief highlights from the day:

We skimmed through the old Fort Ord, passing its decrepit buildings, trying to find our way to--

--the [relatively] new Fort Ord Dunes State Park. We got out, read all the signs, looked at the view and the ice-plant-covered dunes, and then continued south.

What better scenery could one imagine for geocaching in?

There wasn't yet a profusion of flowers, but small samples of what is to come could be found almost everywhere we stopped, like this Indian Paintbrush.

The Big Sur coast speaks for itself.

I mean, really, how many geocachers get this kind of view?

I mean, I really do, I really mean, how awesome is this for a geocaching background?

UPDATE: Really needed to show the Point Sur Lighthouse. It's no longer manned but still shines and its location on a dramatic outcropping of lava is amazing.

We even found one at Cooper's Cabin--the oldest remaining building on the Big Sur coast, UPDATE: (at Andrew Molera State Park) near Pacific Grove.

There, to our surprise and delight, we also found Monarchs fluttering everywhere! As one young kid explained to us with enthusiasm, these butterflies are trying to make babies.

The only California poppies we saw in bloom:

Is this the most amazing setting for a restaurant that you've ever seen? We sat at the table in the right bottom corner.

We had a tasty and filling lunch, browsed in their intriguing gift shop, drove an hour back up the coast , drove past Pebble Beach to Asilomar to round out our geocaches for the day to 10, then continued to Monterey and Cannery Row where we just HAD to visit Ghirardelli's for the usual.

Strolling back among the hotels and shops, we spotted this guy out in the water among the kelp--and of course I had left my 400mm lens in the car, so this is a very cropped in, crappy photo, but he is recognizable: California Sea Otter.

Then home again by sometime after dinnertime, and then work work work on photos, give up on finishing tonight, and post these three summaries. At some point in the future, there will be more photos from all the trips!

Presidents' Weekend Sunday

SUMMARY: Climb Mission Peak

Don't I whine about how I hate getting up to an alarm for dog agility? OK, so today it was 5:30 instead of 4:00, but at least I wasn't looking at a 2-hour drive and a long long weekend. Instead, it was time for me to climb Mission Peak for my very first time.

This is a popular hike because of the view and the exercise. It's only about 4 miles to the top, which is over 2500 feet above sea level, and the hike starts at about 400 feet.

This is part of our Bay Area Ridge Trail project. Our original plan was to do a bunch of shuttling back and forth, but Plans Changed at the very last minute.

I drove about half an hour out to Ohlone College to meet everyone at 7:00.

Mission peak around 6:45. It was chilly; not freezing, but the breeze had a bit of a bite.

We were on the trail by about 7:35. Everyone's fresh and rarin' to go: Eight people, 7 dogs (belonging to only 4 of the people).

I take up my usual position at the rear of the pack--not deliberately, but for a variety of dull reasons.

About 2 hours into the hike of steady uphill (fairly gradual, thank goodness), we can actually suddenly see the little pinpoint top of the peak in the distance. Now it feels like we're getting close. Tika and Boost spend their time going back and forth between the lead dogs and checking up on me.

Just before the last steep push to the top--Lo! A picnic table and ***restroooms***! The crowds rejoiced! And the crowds also stood in long lines while the dogs scouted for food.

Then there's the last, very steep, with occasional rocky scrambles, to the very peak. And there are a zillion other people pushing for the top or already on their ways down. As I said, a popular hike.

And here we are, finally, and it's only 9:50! My uphilling muscles were hurtin' pretty bad by now, but I did manage to walk up the last few stones to pose with the Merle Girls at the doohickey atop the peak. (You can look through the little tubes to see various sights.) Beyond me, to the northwest, is the city of Fremont and then the San Francisco Bay, then the coastal range.

We all relaxed for a bit, snacked on our lunches, enjoyed the views in all directions. Off to the east, could actually see the snow-topped peaks of the Sierras out beyond the far range of mountains, but they're almost impossible to see in this photo--that's a long way far off (couple hundred miles?).

Then it was time for... Group Photo! All the dogs are visible but you have to kind of work at it. Today it's a papillon, a smallish mixed breed, four border collies, two aussies, and Tika.

Also, it was time to get moving again. I could see the dogs' breath as they exhaled, so it's still pretty chilly, and all that sweat from the last 10 minutes of steep assent is cold cold COLD against our bodies. But we timed the day perfectly--just as we start down, the sun comes out! (So we didn't have to do the hard hiking in the direct sun.) And it's only 10:15. [I'm looking at the times on my photos, and I thought it was an hour later...but, dunno, the earlier photos have the correct time.]

Going down is very hard, too hard, on my wonky knee, and I get slower and slower and am hurtin' by the end--not great pain, but the knee just isn't working right any more. It takes us almost 2 hours to get back down the mountain as a result. But we make it in one piece, do our verbal high fives, and head home--and the dogs (all of whom covered about twice as many miles as us feeble humans) just collapse and sleep.

When I get home, I discover that I have a nearly flat tire, so the rest of the afternoon is taken up with taking care of that. And then I have to do a few chores and important other things so that I can get to bed and rest up for Monday's adventure.

Presidents' Weekend Saturday

SUMMARY: Cosumnes River Preserve
UPDATED: Tues, Feb 22, 10 a.m. (see below).
What a great weekend! Very busy, exhausting, still sorting hundreds of photos, but here are glimpses of the whole thing.

On Saturday, I drove with my parents out to the Sacramento delta area near Elk Grove--the Cosumnes River Preserve, where I went a couple of weeks ago but didn't get enough of. This time I had a borrowed 100-400mm telephoto lens, hoping to get some better bird shots. And my mom's a long-time bird watcher and my parents both love exploring and nature, so I invited them along.

We left around noon, drove 2 hours out the Preserve. Looked at some birds there. Drove along some of the roads in the preserve at various locations--this area is intriguing because of cooperation between the Preserve and private landowners. A lot of the land that is farmed during the summer is left fallow and even flooded during migration seasons to make up for so many thousands of square miles of the Central Valley marshlands lost to development and farming.

We saw so many different birds! And, when sorting my photos at home, I discovered more that I didn't even know that we'd seen. After sunset, we stopped for dinner and then headed for home--essentially spent about 8 hours in the car with just a break for dinner. With my additional half hour to my parents house and then half hour home at the end, that's a lot of sitting.

I still have tons of photos sort through, try to make clearer, crop down to a reasonable view, and so on, but here's a taste.

Dad and Mom  with MUTT MVR at the Cosumnes Visitor Center, ready for anything.

So many birds in every direction! Snow geese in the background here.

Pintail getting out of Dodge.

This kestrel didn't like us stalking her. Every time I edged the car forward 15 feet, she'd fly 15 feet farther down the wire and go back to watching us. We did this for about 10 minutes.

We saw Sandhill Cranes! Lots and lots of them! Not many very close, and it was overcast and a bit dark, but, yay!, cranes! This one has bands and a transmitter of some sort. UPDATE: I reported this bird sighting online and got this response: " That crane was marked during my study of wintering ecology of sandhill cranes and was captured as an adult on Oct. 15, 2007. We found it on its nesting territory during summer, near Likely, Calif. It has been observed wintering at the Cosumnes River Preserve every year since."

The sun sent beams out from behind the clouds onto the farmers' fields and Mount Diablo in the background.

And then it was night. Time to get home, pack the car, and get to bed for Sunday's adventure.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Agility Dogs and Life

SUMMARY: Class and successes and misses and aging and all that.

We had a lovely night in class last night, other than me continuing to do not quite the right thing--ok, all right, completely the wrong thing--and my intructor laughing in disbelief (see "what my instructor thinks I do" in Wednesday's post).

Boost ran really nicely. Knocked only one bar, I think. Got some insight into some of the times when she doesn't come in to me over jumps. Did some really nice weaves and contacts. Ran really fast.

Tika and I had some challenges. I'm sometimes feeling like a beginning handler with her now; I'm still not entirely sure whether my handling is changing as I work more with Boost or as Tika slows down or--that other thing--

Yesterday I rattled my hand in the popcorn bowl, which I hadn't touched for hours. Boost immediately got up and came into the room. Tika kept lying on the bed in the other room--right where I could see her, and I saw no reaction. From the food-first dog. I rattled it again. No reaction. Her eyes were open, but no ear twitches and no jumping up from the bed.

I asked her a couple of times if she wanted some popcorn. Still just lay there. Finally I tossed some popcorn on the floor. She immediately got up, came towards me--and started sniffing on the floor halfway across the room from where i was.

So, yes, I think she's having some hearing and some vision issues. How hard for me to accept.

But she seems to be running and playing quite happily.

We're going to do a huge hike this weekend, 10 miles with cumulative elevation gain of about 2400 feet. This is huge. It is a really big stretch for me, and I know that Tika doesn't like uphill that much anymore, and sometimes I worry about her. But at least some of it is off-leash, and I think she's much happier hiking that way.

Her future might hold more hiking and less agility. Just watching and waiting...

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Spring Has Sprung Yet Again

SUMMARY: Garden Bloggers Bloom Day--what was blooming in my yard on Feb 15.

The grass in my lawn has gone into overdrive--after a couple of months of not mowing, now I'll be back to that. The shrubs are as high as an elephant's eye--oh, hmm, make that a giraffe's eye, and climbing. The days feel so much longer than in the dark of December. The paperwhite narcissus, so happy in December and January, have just finished blooming, but color is suddenly everywhere.

The geraniums that I brought home in early January are still getting used to their pots, but keep producing splashes of color.

The alyssum just goes all year round.

Only one pansy was blooming, but what a beautiful face.

If I could remember these sprawling, hanging, aggressively growing plants' name, with their tiny white flowers, I'd be so happy--bought one several years ago and now I have it everywhere. Nice pot flower but it won't necessarily stay there.

Another tiny flower whose name I don't recall, growing up among the fronds of the ornamental garlic, whose white-striped leaves are also year-round.

All the primrose are very happy right now.

Alyssum and some lobelia together in a pot--the only lobelia that hasn't died back is this one, in a large pot under an overhang.

Almost all the begonias have died back to the root, except this red-leaf one, in another sheltered corner of the yard.

Daffodils are blooming all around me.

So many varieties.

The violets, with their big round leaves and their just-so little purple flowers, can also be invasive, but right now in their blooming season they look gorgeous.

The very first bloom on the dusty miller.

The very first bloom on the lavender.

White primrose.

The big hyacinths have come up in their pots in the back yard. Not yet ready in the darker, north-facing front yard.

And your standard yellow daffodils. The foliage is really a nice green, but I see that Elements' Process Multiple Files utility (which I asked only to adjust the levels, contrast, and size) has turned it into something a little different.

Sorry, nandina, it was dark, I was in a hurry, and you're pretty blurry. Will try again some other day.