Monday, December 02, 2013

Walking with Nora on a Gray December Day at Bennington Lake

December 2, 2013

A curtain of mist drooped from dark clouds to the east, appearing to touch the hills above the Mill Creek flow-control dam at Rooks Park.
It could be rain.
Or sleet.

Or snow.
Mill Creek’s light-chocolate colored current rushed across the weirs in two-foot high waves and boiled beneath the bridge adjacent to the Corps of Engineers’ project office.

The rushing water muffled the gentle sound of a Ford SUV that pulled up two spaces away as I opened the my truck door.


The wind jerked the door. I nearly lost it before grabbing it with both hands and easing  it fully open.

“Jump out,” I said to Nora the Schnauzer, and she did.

I intended to walk with Nora up to Rooks Park, turn south to Whitetail Trail and circle the lake, some distance away, along the edge of the wheat fields, below Bennington Lake Dam and along the concrete escape channel back to the project office parking area.

Depending on our choice of side paths, we could walk five miles.

Or more.
Or less.

I left the camera in the bag on the rear floorboard and locked the doors. I snapped on the fanny pack with Nora’s water and coat and a filled water bottle for me.
I wore two sweaters, one hooded, a windbreaker and wool gloves.
We strode upstream.
At least I did, albeit with a slight limp.

Nora raced on flashing legs, between stops to sniff.
The clouds to the east sank lower and darkened more as I walked. The wind chilled my face. My eyes watered.

We passed a bony, hide-bound raccoon corpse on the dark asphalt. Nora smelled it immediately, and I shushed her away.
"No, Nora, No!"
You know how that goes.
I couldn't smell it.
But I couldn't help looking at the dark eye-holes in its skull and the sharp white teeth in its hairless jaw. Jagged skin and bits of fur clung to the bones.

After 200 yards, with no chance of seeing herons or mergansers on the cascading high water, I stopped.

“Nora, let’s go back,” I called.

Ten yards ahead, she turned with a questioning look.

“Lets drive to the lake,” I said.

Mostly to myself.

Even with the pervasive noise of the crashing water, I heard her feet softly padding the paved path as she passed, ears flapping.

She swerved toward the corpse. I yelled, and she passed it without stopping.

Good dog!

Maybe half-a-mile later, we joined two other vehicles in the 100-vehicle (perhaps) parking area overlooking the lake--the muddy-bottomed very low lake that -- resembled a shallow pond.
Or two.

I studied the bright, light-blue patches of sky to the south and west.

We had a fair chance of not being rained on.

So, camera shouldered and fanny pack attached, I herded Nora along the trail in front of the dam.
Well, I followed her about 30 yards back.
Four mallards pushed wide, flat beaks through watery mud of the lake bed.
No other water birds battled the wind-buffeted puddles nearby.

Nora dashed along a narrow, cottonwood-leaf-packed path near the lake. Eying the bushes and trees, fruitlessly alert for songbirds, I traipsed along.

I stopped at a junction with another trail and lay the camera on a grassy spot while I removed the windbreaker and forced it into the fanny pack along with Nora’s coat and the water.

We continued uphill to a trail between a wheat field and a wide
thicket of thorny, seed decorated trees. The trail led toward a bare tall-cottonwood copse where hawks hunt and great-horned owls nest.

At least once-upon-a-time.

Two scraggly nests remained in the tall trees, but nary a bird did I see.

Then, in the distance, two horse riders appeared, at last something to fire at with the camera. Never mind that a bright patch of blue backlit the riders.

 As they passed, I guessed they were two young women or perhaps high-school girls.

Later, when I processed the photos,  I decided they could be a mother and a daughter.

I  also processed one image with HD software, just for the practice. Interesting? Perhaps?

Anyway, Nora and I plodded on to the lake and detoured briefly northward,  through a pine thicket that long-eared owls inhabited a few months ago.

Nothing, not even the usual owl droppings.

Soon after that, from a bluff looking south across the lake and dam, a squall appeared to be building way off  to the south, although an impressive burst of sunlight appeared through the clouds closer to the west.
I processed one sunlight burst image with HD. Also Interesting, but...?
Hummm! At least I could see my truck in it.

So, we turned south to a damp lakeside trail.

On the south-side bluff overlooking the lake,  I met Esther Wofford. Her outdoor photos frequently appear in the WW Union-Bulletin.

I didn’t recognize her from a distance because she played toss the tennis ball only one of her two beautiful red setters. And she carried no camera.

Alas, one of the dogs died over the summer.
And she probably realized that few, if any, self-respecting owls, herons, etc., would show their beaks around the lake on such a day.

I followed Nora the rest of the way back to the truck. She continued to madly dash about with ears flapping, pursuing scents like a bloodhound. Once she scared up about 20 thundering quail, and I had to insist she stop sniffing around in circles and "C'mon. Let's Go."

So, we made it home in time for steaming French-press coffee and chocolate chunk Safeway cookies (for me and Darlene) and kibbles and low-salt green beans for Nora.
Love those green beans, right?
Then we stood in the door for a few minutes and watched snow or sleet bounce from the front steps and the sidewalk.

Check for more photos.

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