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We spend our free time much as you might: we read, cook, work puzzles, enjoy a movie and popcorn most Saturday nights, walk, hike and ski. We have plenty of free time now, particularly when it gets too cold to stay outside long, and are always looking for new ways to amuse ourselves. Here’s what we’ve been up to lately:

Gimme Shelter

Ella's making a U-turn, heading back to me full speed in a game of Chicken

One of our favorite pastimes is to walk down the road, checking for signs of wildlife, snowmachine traffic or dog teams. Ella bounces ahead, turning to take a bite of snow before racing back to us in a game of chicken, then falls behind as she finds something good to sniff, taste or roll in. As Ella and I neared the end of our walk the other day, we found Gary in front of the campground entrance, shoveling snow into a pile. He couldn’t have been at it long, but already it was as tall as he is. I knew what it was — he’d been talking of building a snow shelter there. Just for fun, mainly, but it could serve a traveler stranded by weather, or by recalcitrant machines or dogs.

By the time we got back from our walk, Gary had piled most of the snow for the shelter

We let it set up for a couple of days. After Gary shoveled out the arched entrance, we took turns: one of us would get on our belly or back, carving snow from the interior while the other scraped and shoveled the resulting snow-debris out. It didn’t take long before we could kneel inside, making the work quicker and a lot more fun. Within an hour or two, the shelter was in move-in condition. Now as we walk by, we check to see if we’ve had any visitors.

It's plenty roomy in there!

A long tunnel entrance, like those in igloo cartoons, would make the shelter warmer, but getting the snow out through the narrow opening would not have been fun. It’s not too late; enough snow is piled up to the side of the entrance, we could add the tunnel and close off the existing entrance. The urge to remodel — it must be universal.

Secret Lives of Dogs

Like any family member, Ella has certain responsibilities. She’s a shepherd, so she keeps her flock of two together if she can and, failing that, keeps a protective eye on the one she’s with. She cleans the floor of crumbs and spills, and tells us when it’s time for dinner. Her ears are on constant alert, and she’ll give a little “woof” for something just interesting enough to comment on, a sharp bark if it’s noteworthy, and a growl if she perceives a threat.

Ella gets a biscuit for accompanying us to the outhouse. When she hears the words “who wants to go poop?” she’s at the ready. We feed her the biscuit slowly, in pieces, and then she wanders out of sight. Gary told me early on if Ella growls it’s wise to get up, ready or not, to check out the threat. Not long ago I rushed out to see a moose disappearing toward the creek. But usually she waits silently, and when I emerge she is consistently sitting just a few feet away on the drive, positioned with a good view of the area.

Ella alerts us to moose; these took one look at us and crossed the river

I was in the cabin the other day when Ella went with Gary to the outhouse. She devoured her biscuit and went to sit at her post. I stopped to watch from the window. After a moment she stretched, as she so often does, the “downward dog” followed by a “salute to the sun.” Then, without warning or apparent provocation she raced to the cabin and back. As though conjuring an imaginary playmate she bowed in invitation to play, bounced in a 180-degree turn and bowed again. After a half-dozen repetitions, she raced to the cabin again, on the way performing a single lutz – a mid-air 360-degree turn – without breaking stride. She ran back to her spot, then toward the creek. She tore back past the outhouse and circled the cabin at full speed before returning to her post.

There she sat, sedately, when Gary emerged.


Once the snows settled in for good, we began feeding the birds. Canadian Jays are not shy – hence their other name, Camp Robbers. I noticed one flitting and flirting about the front of the cabin as I went in and out with morning chores.

“You could put a few pieces of Ella’s food on the windowsill,” Gary suggested.

Canadian Jay begging at the kitchen window

The next morning when the Jay saw me and started his song, I stepped back inside to grab a handful of dog food. I placed it on the kitchen’s outer sills. I was barely inside when the Jay landed, picking up at least three pieces before flying off. His friends have joined in, and I wait for them to make themselves known each morning before I put food out.

As I was carrying a bucket of dirty dishwater to the compost pile recently, I saw a piece of dog food in the snow. Some greedy bird must have dropped it on the way to his cache. Ella was uncharacteristically slow to notice.

“Ella!” I called and pointed. “Git it!”

Ella looked twice as if unsure of my meaning, but she ate it, and then a second piece I found nearby. The next day I found more pieces near the outhouse.

“Git it!” I pointed, and this time she didn’t hesitate.

“I’m thinking of cutting back on the Jays’ food,” I told Gary as we walked toward the river. “They’re dropping pieces and not coming back for them,” I said, pointing to a spot where several pieces lay.

Gary laughed. And laughed. He almost fell over laughing, but finessed it so I was the one who landed in the snow.

“That’s rabbit poop!” he gasped, pointing to the “dog food.”

Ella looked, too. Without waiting to be told, she gobbled it up.

Sunrise: 10:00 a.m.
Sunset:  4:14 p.m.

Another beautiful sunset

Weather:  High 0°, Low -6°, much warmer than the -30’s we’ve been seeing (down to -42° Friday). Light, steady snow.