Ed Felker ~ Words and Images: Blog https://www.edfelker.com/blog en-us (C) Ed Felker (Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) Thu, 03 Nov 2022 13:21:00 GMT Thu, 03 Nov 2022 13:21:00 GMT https://www.edfelker.com/img/s/v-12/u361578960-o863004203-50.jpg Ed Felker ~ Words and Images: Blog https://www.edfelker.com/blog 120 120 Oktoberfest, 2019 https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2022/10/oktoberfest-2019 There is a moment captured in the video of the final match of the 2019 Lovettsville Oktoberfest Wienerdog Races. I am in the video, but walking away and unaware of what’s happening behind me. In the foreground, my friend Jason had started to follow me to the finish line where we were to await our dogs. In a few moments, either Jason’s dog Huck or my Winslow would be crowned the 2019 Champion. But just as Jason turned to leave the starting box area, he turned back and quickly kissed Winslow on the head. For good luck, or thanks, or affection, or respect, I couldn’t say. But to me that single frame of video, more than any other image, encapsulates the specialness of this friendship, and of this day.

To try to put it all into words, though, if you’ll indulge me, we’ll have to go back a few years. 

Jason and I knew we were kindred spirits months before we met for the first time at these same Oktoberfest races three years ago. Our friend Dan Reilly connected us because we are both fond of the outdoors, passionate about beer, and flat out obsessed with our dogs. Jason planned to enter his dachshunds in the upcoming races, so we got to know each other mostly through trading online barbs and lofty brags in the weeks leading up to the races. When the day came, Jason and I met for the first time, while our dogs met in the first round. Winslow beat Huck that day, but what began there was the furthest thing from a rivalry. It was a friendship, first and foremost, but it was also a cooperative effort – a mission, really – to elevate the level of jubilant celebration of these dogs, and the shameless promotion of their races to a ludicrously grand scale. 

Jason and I talk training strategies and methods all year long. And when summer begins to fade and the town’s attention turns toward Oktoberfest and the great celebration of the most glorious time of year, we are in daily contact about the races. We each had a new and different training strategy this year and we were both hopeful they might pay off on race day. But in a 16-dog, single-elimination bracket, anything can happen. While Huck advanced easily in his first round, Winslow forgot both his manners and his purpose in his first race, scrapping with his opponent but ultimately advancing after officials called for a restart. There were some noteworthy performances in the first round including a solid run from multiple 2nd place finisher Georgia, a fast and focused run from five-time reigning champ Kaiser, and an absolutely blistering run from a dog named Ringo.

In the second round, the ‘Elite Eight,’ Winslow regained his focus, remembered his training, and beat a beautiful dog named Pumpernickel. Kaiser, who hadn’t just won it all the last five years, but dominated, advanced handily over our friend Heather’s dog Maverick, who genuinely is just happy to be there being cheered. I was nervous for Jason and Huck, who were now facing a very fast Ringo. It was a close race called in favor of Huck by the referee at the finish line. It was challenged, but after a few anxious minutes the photo finish was reviewed and the ruling was confirmed, Huck advanced, and the Final Four was set: Kaiser and Huck. Winslow and Georgia.

In the first semifinal, Kaiser, the larger dog of the two, led Huck by a head within a single stride of the start. Huck pulled even by the halfway point, though, and both dogs were running flat out. In a performance that reminds me now of Seabiscuit’s gutsy 1938 match race win over War Admiral, Huck simply refused to be beat. His strides got longer. He picked up speed. And at the finish line, once again it was too close to call. The crowd – ten or twenty people deep surrounding the entire course – seemed to hold its collective breath in the moment between the finish and the indication from the referee pointing the flag in the direction of the winning lane. He raised the flag, I pleaded to myself from the starting box, “Please please please,” and when the flag pointed to Huck’s lane, the crowd absolutely erupted. People on the town green at the opposite end of the festival had to have known something special had happened. This wasn’t just a cheer, this was a Tiger draining an eagle putt on Amen Corner to take the Masters lead on Sunday cheer. And with Huck’s second straight upheld photo finish review, Kaiser’s dynasty had fallen.

In the excitement of the moment I almost forgot that Winslow had to race next, but after hearty congratulations were issued to our friends, we settled down for our semifinal against Georgia, who happens to be the dog who knocked Winslow out in the third-round last year. When the lever dropped and the starting gates opened, Winslow fell behind almost immediately. But he closed the gap and crossed the line in yet another too close to call finish. The referee gave it to Winslow, but believe me, I was nervous about the replay. Alas, the photo finish showed that Winslow had indeed edged Georgia by a few inches.

Preparations for the race for third place between Georgia and Kaiser were getting underway as I walked back to the staging area. There was a surreal moment on my way past the board. My heart was still racing but I couldn’t say if it was from Winslow’s race or if I was still excited from Huck’s win over Kaiser. Regardless, I stopped to catch my breath and looked up at the board, realizing for the first time that Huck and Winslow were in the finals together. What happened in the current race didn’t matter. The field of competitors was cleared. The stage was set. There were only two.

I found Jason behind the starting tower, hugged him and said, “Our wildest dreams are coming true.” And if that seems like hyperbole, you don’t know us. Sure, we know it’s not the Masters or the Super Bowl, but it’s OUR Masters. It’s OUR Super Bowl. We both planned more details than anyone other than our wives would believe to prepare and give our dogs the best chance for success. We wanted to do well, obviously. Everyone does. But what we wanted more than anything was for one of us to win it all. And it was going to happen. And I genuinely didn’t even care which one of us it was. Not even a little bit. 

The Championship, we learned, would be decided by the best of three races with a lane change after the first race. Jason, his wife Suzy, my wife Sandy and I all exchanged good luck hugs, and the girls put Huck and Winslow in their starting boxes. I stood and looked through the plexiglass panel at Winslow. He looked back at me. My heart was full. He has done everything I’ve ever asked of him. I turned and walked slowly to meet Jason at the finish line, stretching out each second, just trying to bask in it all a while longer.

When the gates opened, Winslow was looking right at me, running right to me. But I knew this was Huck’s day. Huck had hit his stride and seemed like he was getting faster with each race. He crossed the finish line comfortably ahead of Winslow, and we gathered the pair up and brought them back to the start. We switched lanes, I handed Winslow to Sandy and turned around. This is when Jason leaned over unbeknownst to me and gave Winslow a kiss on his head. I said earlier I couldn’t say if he did it for good luck or out of thanks or affection or respect. Looking back now, putting myself in the moment again, I think it was all those things, and I love Jason for that gesture.

The gates opened one last time and my heart dog ran to me with both our hearts pounding. He crossed the line and I joyfully scooped up the first runner up in the 2019 Lovettsville Oktoberfest Wienerdog Races. I have never been more proud of him, or more thrilled for our friends and their wonderful, winning, thoroughbred of a wienerdog, Huck. It was simply the best thing that could have happened.

Life has never felt more like Oktoberfest than it did that night. We drank like Germans and smiled like idiots and I carried Winslow around all night, a fourteen-pound feather. His feet finally touched the ground around midnight. Mine took considerably longer. 


(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2022/10/oktoberfest-2019 Sun, 02 Oct 2022 14:06:11 GMT
Kindreds. https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2022/10/kindreds

I went out early to beat the heat, and basically had the river all to myself. I let the current take me downstream at her pace, only making little directional adjustments here and there. I fished a little to pass the time but lost interest with the distraction of the weighty, wooden box in front of me. So two or three miles past our house, I opened the box and removed the bag of ashes. I also opened a beer, because Winnie genuinely loved beer. And one of the countless great things about dogs is, they don’t have a stigma about cracking a cold one at 8:20 a.m. They are good like that. 

When the moment felt right, I tipped the ashes out of the bag and watched the river take them away in a white cloud. I like to think that I have a fairly good grasp on my feelings, but I was stunned by the immediate, intense, visceral wave of absolute grief at the sight of it. The ashes quickly dissipated into a featureless haze in the water behind me, like the reflection of a cloud missing its counterpart in the pure blue sky above. Fitting somehow, I thought, as I watched until distance and time and water all blended it to nothing. I shared my breakfast beer with the river and drifted downstream. I reserved a bit of the ashes for a keepsake project, and stopped to collect some smooth river rocks my friend is going to polish for me so I can arrange it all in a glass globe or bottle. 

Later in the day, the weight of it all still very much on my mind, I stopped in for a beer at Idiom Brewing. I sampled a few hazy IPAs, selected one without paying attention to the name, and scanned the bar for a seat. The small L-shaped bar had one open spot at the far end. When I walked around the corner of the bar, I saw the space between the last occupied seat and the empty stool next to it was filled with a large dog lying quietly on the floor. 

I asked the man, “Does your dog mind if I sit here?” 

“Not at all,” he said with a smile. Then looked down, “Winnie, move out of the way.”

“Umm, I’m sorry, your dog’s name is Winnie?” 

“Yeah, she’s really friendly.” Which I already knew because she was now sitting up, literally *smiling* at me. I told him briefly about my day so far, and why I must appear as if I’m about to cry at the mere mention of the name of his dog. He introduced himself as Sean. I set my beer down and asked him what he was drinking. 

“It’s called Kindred Spirits, it’s really good,” he said.

“That’s what you’ve got,” a voice from behind the bar said.


The bartender pointed to our beers. “That’s what you’re drinking.” 

And that’s how it came to be that I was at a brewery drinking a beer called Kindred Spirits with a stranger and a dog named Winnie on the afternoon of the day I spread the ashes of my canine soulmate named Winnie in the river. When those beers were empty I bought another round of Kindreds, and Sean and I raised our glasses to Winnies past and present. 

I told the bartender I would need a four pack of Kindred to go, and asked if I could buy the glass. She said, sure, I’ll get you a clean one. I stopped her. I don’t know how the universe works, or how and why inexplicable connections happen. But I was connected to the moment in a weirdly powerful way. “Actually I know it’s weird, but I kind of want *this* one,” I said, handing her the glass I’d been drinking from. She saw me pondering explaining it and stopped me, “Of course,” she said cheerfully, and cleaned and wrapped the glass and put everything in the cooler for when I left. 

Emotionally exhausted, I said goodbye to Sean and Winnie, and went to pay my tab. But the universe had one last bit of kismet in store. As my transaction was processing, my eyes wandered to the wall above the row of taps. There rested a little plaque in the shape of a dog bone that read, “I ❤ Winnie.”

And I always will.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2022/10/kindreds Sun, 02 Oct 2022 13:23:29 GMT
Finn. 1/11/2008 ~ 8/29/2022 https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2022/10/finn

Dear Finn,

Remember the first time we met? I had seen your photo months before in a show dog newsletter, looking tall and fit and proud and kind. Then at that dog show in Michigan I spotted you easily in the parking lot, a head taller than every other Wirehaired Vizsla on the property. I knelt in front of you, held your face in my hands and said, “My God you are magnificent.” The second time we met, in a little park in Champagne, Illinois three years later, you looked at me with fondness and recognition. That’s how it felt, anyway. I know now that is simply how you looked at everyone you ever met. But on that meeting, after a quick private walk around the swing set and a quiet exchange of promises between us, your title was signed over to me, and you were mine.

I’ll never forget that first night with you in a hotel halfway home. I had changed your name, and called you Finn. In all our time together, in fact, I never once spoke your previous name aloud in your presence. I wanted a fresh start. But I did wonder if you wondered, as I repeatedly called you the wrong name, if maybe I had accidentally picked up the wrong dog. But you adjusted to your new name, your new life and your new home as beautifully and simply as you adjusted to that night in the hotel room. I left you there for a half hour to pick us up a pizza and a six pack. I was worried you might be barking the whole time I was gone, but when I returned you were sitting on the bed, calm as could be, patiently waiting for me. We ate pizza and watched TV and I told you I would take good care of you. Then you slept on the bed, almost certainly for the first time in your life.

When we got back to Virginia you met Winnie for the first time. I don’t remember the moment, but it was unremarkable. There has never been any drama with you, buddy. And in almost twelve years together, you and Winnie never had a single harsh word between you. You also never played together, which seems odd, but you both understood the assignment: You were a team. I called you ‘Team Orange,’ and you coexisted flawlessly together, albeit often in an old married couple kind of way. 

Remember when I wondered, not knowing your background when I got you as a three year old, if maybe you could hunt? It’s certainly in your bloodline, I know that with certainty. But then we tried you on some birds and I figured maybe it skips a generation. No matter, buddy, I’ve never been disappointed in you a day in your life. We’d try something else. Everything else. Hiking, fishing, kayaking, camping, you loved all of it. You and Winnie got me moving, got me exploring and photographing and writing about nature. You literally changed my life in that very important regard.

Remember that Mud Run 5K we ran together at that festival in Richmond? God that was fun. The whole time I was running I watched you trot next to me and thought about how there had never been anything I’ve asked you to do that you pushed back on. We finished the race and wandered around the festival drinking beer and answering questions about you. Dozens of people were enthralled by the look of you, but it was more than that. They were drawn to you. People’s reaction to you at that festival was the catalyst that began your therapy dog career, a facet of dog ownership I had never explored before you.

Nursing homes and the VA Hospital became your official therapy assignments, and I’ve never been more proud of anything in my entire life than when I was watching you bring comfort to people who so desperately needed it. Once you got a taste for the work, you did it everywhere. To everyone. A visit to a brewery would result in five or six new “clients” of yours, folks just soothed by placing their hand on your head and looking at you.

Remember when you started losing your hearing? When you could no longer hear my voice from far away you would watch me for hand signals and come when I waved you in from the yard. Later your eyesight started to fail, but these are all part of the lucky, wonderful life with an older dog. Nevertheless, that’s when I retired you from official therapy work. Though you continued ‘freelancing’ at every opportunity.

Remember when your hind end starting to get weak? You needed help getting in and out of the truck. In fact, lots of things were getting more difficult for you, but we figured it out. You couldn’t do stairs so we’d walk around the gentle slope of the back yard to get to the basement office so you could hang with me all day. You’d use the ramp I built for Winslow to get up and down from the porch to the yard. And we gave you supplements and medicine to keep you from being in pain. 

You and Winnie and I grew old together. When the day came that I knew we had to say goodbye to Winnie, the doctor came to the house. We put all the other dogs in another room, not wanting to complicate what came next. Except you, buddy. I know you don’t remember this part because you were asleep in a dog bed a couple feet away the whole time, but we were all glad you were there. I needed you there.

Remember the other day, when you lost your appetite and your energy? You still ate treats so I wasn’t panicked just yet. But the next morning, before that vet appointment, Mommy paused on her way out the door for work and lovingly put her hand on your head. This was not part of her routine, so I noted the gesture but pushed it away in my mind. Later, before we left, you wandered around the driveway to find new places to pee and I think you got a bit disoriented. You had the dog yard memorized, but out here, you lost your way a bit. I walked closer, and you know that fondness and recognition I mentioned earlier? Well I saw it in your face, but you couldn’t hear my voice. Your cloudy eyes couldn’t focus on my face. This time you just sensed me near, and smiled in your way. I touched your ear and you followed me to the truck and I lifted you in.

Remember how kind Dr. Carson was? But the news he brought was not kind. The words, the marks on the bloodwork printout, the X-rays, the symptoms, the age. The conclusion drawn was unmistakable. The decision made was one that I’ve dreaded since that night we shared a pizza in a hotel room and I promised you I would do right by you. 

Remember the last vibration of a voice you felt in your ears? The last breath on your face, the last cheek, wet with tears, against yours? That was me, buddy. But you knew that. You never needed eyes or ears to feel my love. 

You were more than my dog. You belonged to everyone who ever met you. How on earth do you say goodbye to the best dog you’ve ever met? Maybe you can’t. Maybe you have to just say, until we meet again.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2022/10/finn Sun, 02 Oct 2022 12:21:31 GMT
Jackson Kayak Kilroy DT Review https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/7/jackson-kayak-kilroy-dt-review When we first moved close to the Potomac river I looked into kayaks with the following criteria: It needed it to be stable (I was new to kayaking), it had to be practical to fish from, and it need to have a place for a dog. All advice pointed to a Sit on Top (SOT). Over the years I’ve tried many different SOTs, and like anything else, each had its pros and cons. But once I made that initial decision to go with a SOT, I just kept trying variations of the same theme. Some of them worked well with dogs. Most were as stable as I thought kayaks could be. None of them, looking back, really worked very well for fly fishing.

My most recent kayak was the only one I could find that had room for two large dogs, one in front and one in back. But I decided the larger of those two dogs doesn’t really enjoy it very much, so he’s kind of retired from boating. I added Winslow, a small wirehaired dachshund to my lineup and the first time I took him out he fell right off the side. I scooped him up easily thanks to the handle on his Ruffwear PFD, but I started to wonder if a Sit on Top was really best for me.

I have an Orion cooler made by the folks at Jackson Kayak, and am impressed with how well it is designed and built. So I started looking at the Jackson line of kayaks. Overwhelmed by the choices, I turned to Jackson Kayak’s Product Manager Damon Bungard, who I met online because we both do blood tracking with our wirehaired dachshunds, and Drew Gregory, a professional kayak angler with experience paddling with dogs. I interviewed Drew a few years ago for a story I was writing on kayak fishing with dogs. Both suggested I take a look at the Jackson Kilroy DT, a tandem boat with an incredible amount of configuration flexibility. I did some research, watched the videos, asked around, and decided to pull the trigger. I combined a road trip to Southwest Virginia with a detour to Jackson headquarters in Sparta, TN to pick up my new boat back in April. Then it rained for like two months straight, and water levels in my stretch of the Potomac River where I live went up and down like an EKG, all the while remaining the color of YooHoo. It was July 4th before my wife Sandy and I finally put it in the water.

At 14’8” long and nearly a hundred pounds completely empty, the Kilroy DT is a beast on land. Add the seats, another passenger, a cooler and other supplies, and I was not confident it would be easy to paddle. But it was. I was astounded, in fact, at how beautifully it paddles and tracks. With both seats in the higher of two offered positions, it was remarkably comfortable and stable. It immediately felt easier to paddle and far more enjoyable to sit in than what I was used to.

Although the fishing was slow, about a half mile into the maiden voyage Sandy christened the Kilroy with a nice smallmouth. I added one of my own right at the takeout, so it felt good to catch something. But typically I’m not a very serious angler when I’m kayaking. Sometimes I’ll take a spinning rod, sometimes a fly rod, but it’s more of a secondary activity to relaxing and immersing myself in nature.

I’ve never really been able to sit in a kayak for an extended period of time without getting out and stretching my legs and back for a while. This was not the case here, after a few hours of moseying downstream in comfort without getting out once, I knew I had made a great choice. Add to that the quality time with Sandy as she could relax, catch fish, watch birds and drink beer while I paddled, and it felt like the perfect boat.

While I got used to the boat as we floated, I realized how easy it will be to bring my good camera and not worry about dropping it in the water, and how fun it would be to waterfowl hunt out of it, with so much space for decoys and other gear.

But before I involve expensive camera equipment and shotguns, though, the next big, critical test would be how to configure the Kilroy DT for Winnie, my Wirehaired Vizsla. I decided to test this out the very next day. This, by the way, is another testament to the comfort of this kayak: As an old, fat guy I can’t ever remember floating in any of my old kayaks, and being very excited to float again the very next day.

As I walked past the Kilroy in my garage every day for ten weeks during monsoon season, I pondered dog placement and comfort. I assumed I would be removing the front seat and seat pan entirely, which is very easy, and buying or fabricating some sort of mat on the floor of the boat for the dog. But once I got the boat outside on the ground I realized the front seat is perfect. I adjusted it all the way forward in the boat, then reclined the seat back all the way. With the foot rests for the back seat pushed all the way forward, the frame of the front seat back rests in the little channel in the foot rest unit made for a standard Plano tackle box. I tightened everything down in place, threw a towel over the seat to keep it cool in the sun, and we were on our way!

With 55-lb Winnie at the very front of the boat and a cooler behind me, I had to move my seat forward a bit to keep everything balanced. And again, it paddled like a dream. I’ve fashioned serviceable solutions for her in every boat I’ve had, but none were elevated and padded like this. After ten years I know when this dog is happy and comfortable, and she’s never been more so than in this Kilroy. After a delightful four or five mile float, as we waited for Sandy to pick us up at the takeout ramp, Winnie stayed in the boat hoping till the last minute we would be going right back out on the water.

Next time out I will bring my good camera for wildlife photography, and I will bring Winslow my little dog along, but the Kilroy DT is already the most versatile, most comfortable kayak I’ve ever imagined, let alone owned, and it’s not even close.

I’ve ordered a C-Tug cart to help maneuver the heavy Kilroy around the ramps, along with some Ram Mount cup holders that take advantage of the omnipresent tracking around the boat. And that’s literally all I can think of to add. This boat came from the factory suited perfectly to my lifestyle and how I enjoy a kayak.



(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) Jackson Kayak kayak outdoors Product Review Werner Paddles https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/7/jackson-kayak-kilroy-dt-review Tue, 10 Jul 2018 23:15:43 GMT
Thank you. https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/6/thank-you HoltbyHoltbyCapitals goaltender Braden Holtby's save against Golden Knights right wing Alex Tuch is being hailed as the "save of the year."
All I asked of this Washington Capitals team was to get past the second round, to get past the Godforsaken Penguins. What I got, what we all got, is so much more.

We got Game 6 against the Lightning, the most consistent, relentless, great play from an entire lineup for an entire game that I have ever seen from the Caps.

We got Wilson’s assault and battery in Game 7 that rallied the team to advance to the finals.

We got to watch a rightfully cynical sports town begin to let themselves believe.

We got The Save.

We got to watch a team figure out that it’s not enough to just be the better team. Hell, we’ve been the better team plenty over the years. We got to watch them figure out what it takes to win a Championship.

We got to watch decades of DC sports demons exorcised at once as the last six tenths of a second of this epic journey finally vanished from the clock.

And then it got so, so much better, as we got to watch elite professional athletes burst with the uncontainable, exuberant joy they’ve dreamt about and played out in their heads since they first laced up skates as little kids.

We got to watch them share it with each other, with their families and, bless them, with all of us, too.

I have waited a while to say this, because I don’t say it lightly:

I’m sorry, Bullets, Wizards and Nats. Sorry, Doug Williams. Sorry, Tiger. Sorry Shaun White and the U.S. Women’s soccer team. Sorry ‘We Want Dallas.’ Sorry Curlin, American Pharoah. Sorry, Justify.

I’m truly sorry, Riggo.

But this is now my all-time favorite sports moment. A moment that took decades, then took two months, then sixty minutes, then twenty, then seven and 37 seconds – and it’s a moment that is still happening with no signs of slowing. If anything, it’s building. Today’s jubilant parade and rally is testament to what this means to this city.

Thank you, Washington Capitals. I could live to be a hundred and will never, ever forget this.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) sports https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/6/thank-you Wed, 13 Jun 2018 12:03:22 GMT
The Gravy Years https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/6/the-gravy-years “Dogs’ lives are too short. Their only fault, really.”   — Agnes Sligh Turnbull

Each time I have brought a new puppy into my life, I have held their little heads in my hands, inhaled sweet puppy breath, gazed into their still cloudy-blue eyes and – just for a moment – become filled with the dread of eventually having to say goodbye. Before we’ve shared a single walk, puppy class, car ride, camping trip, table scrap, or vet visit, I already know they will leave far too soon.

But I think we all make a pact with our new dogs. Mine’s a pretty standard contract, really: I will train you the best I can. I will provide you with quality food, ample exercise, and professional care. I will take more photographs of you than has been taken of the first 30 U.S. presidents combined. And when the day comes for you to break my heart, I will not be selfish.                                                                                                

My first dog was a yellow lab named Jasmine, an obedient, fun-loving Frisbee dog and companion of the highest order. Years later I added a second dog, a German Shorthair named Sierra. While walking them around my neighborhood I ran into a pretty blonde woman walking her two Jack Russells. Our fondness of dogs is how we met and why we became friends, and that bond has helped carry us through 20 years of marriage.

When Sierra was still a young pup, Jasmine died from cancer at age seven. In my inconsolable rage I remember declaring, “Dogs should live to be ten. Period. Any less is unjust. Any more is gravy.”

Over time, we said goodbye one by one to what we call our original four ‘charter’ dogs. All but Jasmine made it well into those gravy years.

I now have two Wirehaired Vizslas. I got Winnie as a pup and Finn came along a few years later as a three-year-old, so they’re about the same age. These dogs changed everything for me. They have been responsible for immersing me in the outdoors. My time with them on hikes, kayak floats, and camping trips, plus my passion for capturing moments along the way with words or a camera, has changed how I view and interact with the world. My life is far richer for having them in it.

Now that Finn is ten and Winnie will turn ten this summer, I’ve been thinking a lot about our time together. It’s not as if their age snuck up on me – almost two years ago I added Winslow, a Wirehaired Dachshund puppy, to the team to bring some youth to my stable of bearded dogs. I think he has made us all a little younger.

But time marches on, and I see the signs. Finn, bless his heart, has lost his hearing in the last year. He knows basic hand signals but I’m having to retrain him to watch for me to give them. But training time is quality time, and we both enjoy it. An unexpected benefit to his hearing loss is he has never slept better. I also notice he’s starting to get a little creaky when he first gets up. So, we have that in common.

It’s interesting to watch Winnie age because she has felt like an old dog since she was born. She’s always been quietly observant, and it gives her an old-soul quality. Her favorite warm weather activity is to stand chest-deep in water. That’s it. Not swim or splash or chase minnows or toys. She just stands there. God, I love a weird dog.

We measure time by the dogs in our lives. I don’t know the year my wife and I met, or bought our first house, or when we moved to our current little slice of paradise. But I can tell you which dogs were with us when those things happened.

Right now we’ve got a crew of five (the aforementioned bearded dogs, my wife’s Jack Russell, Gromit, and her Basenji, Petey). Together we’ve had dogs big and small, easy and hard, young and old. I try not to think about them getting closer to the end. All we can do is keep them fit, safe and healthy, and embrace our time together, no matter how short.

Ten years is not a magic number. I’m not entitled to it and it wouldn’t be enough if I got it. Every day is a gift. Every year is gravy. And when the time comes to hold their heads in my hands that final time, to look into their eyes once more and breathe in their last breath, it will not be with dread, but with gratitude.

Originally published in The Piedmont Virginian, April, 2018

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) dog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/6/the-gravy-years Fri, 01 Jun 2018 13:34:23 GMT
State of the Elk https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/5/elk

I first wrote about Virginia’s elk restoration project for Virginia Sportsman Magazine back in 2012, shortly after the first modest group of elk was transported from Kentucky to southwest Virginia. The plan was the result of immense effort by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF), legislators at the state and local levels, wildlife biologists and private landowners to bring back the state’s once-native elk. And the work never stops.

I was privileged to have been present for the second elk release in 2013 (there was a third in 2014), and have been back a couple times, always graciously hosted by Leon Boyd, one of the key drivers of the project. Boyd, who grew up exploring the same mountainous terrain of Buchanan county nearly 200 elk now call home, watches over these animals and this land with a level of care that goes far beyond stewardship. When he talks about this project, the animals, the land and all the people it takes to initiate and sustain a project of this scale, you get the sense he’s talking about family.

Five years ago when I watched those elk awkwardly stumble down a trailer ramp and set foot on Virginia soil for the first time in their lives, I knew I would always have a special attachment to them. So when I learned that Leon was organizing a work weekend where volunteers would spend a day helping out, I wanted to make the trip. The weekend would involve lots of hard work. But there would also be some social time with like-minded conservationists, some wildlife viewing and even an opportunity to scour the woods and fields in search of a rare Virginia elk antler shed before heading home. So I asked a couple of close friends if they might be interested in joining me.

I have hiked more miles with Chris Gibson looking for antlers than I can count. Like me, Chris is obsessed with antlers. To Chris, they are more than beautiful, fascinating biomechanical artifacts. They are almost sacred. Their pursuit is the one thing that gets us both moving with enthusiasm after a too-sedentary winter.

My friend Shawn Story is an all-around outdoorsman who loves to hunt more than anyone I know. He has taught me much about hunting and we always enjoy time spent outdoors together. He has spent a lot of time out west and loves the wildlife of Montana and Wyoming, including the magnificent elk. As I write this it occurs to me that Shawn is the type of man that would thrive just as well 150 years ago, in a Virginia flush with native elk, as now.

All three of us are proud and enthusiastic Virginia natives, too, so when I asked them if they wanted to be a part of this, they both responded without hesitation, “I’m in!”

Tourism has always been a major goal of the elk restoration project in Virginia. I interviewed Allen Boynton for my 2012 article, at the time a VDGIF biologist heavily involved in the project. His biggest long-term concern at that time, he told me, was providing the public with opportunities to enjoy the elk herd. Buchanan County is rugged and remote, and access can be difficult.

But great strides have already been made here. When Chris, Shawn and I arrived we stayed in a wonderful little cabin at Southern Gap Outdoor Adventures. The campground and cabin area at Southern Gap overlook a food plot where the elk routinely feed, so visitors have the opportunity to view the elk there.

Nearby Breaks Interstate Park has elk tours throughout the year, and works with Southern Gap to shuttle guests to the primary viewing plateau in the heart of the elk habitat. There are plans for a visitor’s center with wildlife exhibits and other exciting recreational and educational opportunities as well.

But there is no better advertisement for the draw of these elk to visitors than the words and reactions of the visitors themselves. The first night we arrived, there was enough daylight left for Leon to lead a caravan to the habitat in hopes of seeing some elk. Chris, Shawn and I (along with Shawn’s German Wirehaired Pointer and my Wirehaired Dachshund who came along for the weekend) all piled into Shawn’s truck and followed the group up and up and up the winding gravel road. Just as we reached the clearing at the top, Shawn and Chris saw for the first time, Virginia elk.

They were utterly speechless.

Then a moment later they couldn’t stop talking and fumbling with camera phones, heads out the window to eliminate any barrier between their eyes and those animals. “There’s another one!” “Oh my God.” “I can’t believe we’re seeing this,” they exclaimed, along with a handful of other excited remarks not suitable to share here.

The elk were healthy and content, and not particularly wary of us. Many of the individuals appeared disheveled, just the result of being caught between winter and summer coats. But they were beautiful to us. Seeing these elk roaming free in our home state filled us all with joy, and we drove around with excited smiles, wide eyes and full hearts until the sun set and we could see no more.

“I find myself having a difficult time putting the whole experience into words,” Chris shared with me later. He had never before seen elk in the wild, and always assumed he would have to go out west to do so. “I don't even fully understand all the feelings I experienced the first evening we were there, watching that herd of elk, many born right here in Virginia, grazing along the hillside as the sun set behind them.”

Shawn, too, was overwhelmed, despite having seen plenty of elk out west before. “It was awe inspiring,” he said, “To see a wild elk herd in my home state.”

We sat around the fire that night remembering and talking about having seen with our own eyes an elk herd on Virginia soil, on reclaimed strip mine land no less. The terrain has been transformed into near perfect elk habitat. But we would get up early and help improve it the next day, clearing rocks from fields so they could be mowed, thus expanding the amount of inviting pasture on which the elk can graze. It proved to be back-breaking work, but oh so rewarding.

The group of volunteers included men, women and children from all over the area, including a group from the recently started West Virginia elk restoration project which is using the materials that were used here to construct the quarantine pens. All told, volunteers logged 285 total hours of work that day, and were rewarded with a great meal afterwards, also provided by volunteers.

The next morning we returned to the habitat, with sunburned necks and aching backs, hoping to find an elk antler shed. Nathan, a new friend we met down there, showed us around the places the elk travel. Nathan spends a lot of time observing the habits of these elk. We searched together at first, then drifted apart after a while, each eyeing different terrain in hopes of glimpsing a treasured, bone-white prize. Nathan found two antlers – an old, broken base of a large antler, and an older spike shed. He graciously gave both of them to me, not wanting me to go home empty handed.

But what I wanted more than anything was for Chris and Shawn to find sheds, and after putting in some hard miles, they both did.

The antler Shawn found was still attached to an elk the night before, in fact we all have photos of it. “The tireless work and dedication put forth by everyone involved to reclaim coal mine property and turn it into wildlife habitat is truly astonishing,” Shawn said. “But to actually watch a bull for two days, then search tirelessly for a shed antler and to be gifted one off his head hours after it dropped is the cherry on top.”

“To be a proud owner of a rare find such as this and to share those moments with friends is a day I will not soon forget,” he added.

Chris’s find is a real beauty. He said he almost cried when he saw it, but by the time I saw him minutes later his emotion had shifted to unbridled, giddy jubilation. He held it triumphantly over his head, while telling me repeatedly it was one of the best weekends of his life. I wonder if he has even put it down yet.

In the 2012 article I mentioned earlier, I quoted David Allen, the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation (RMEF) president and CEO. This program in Virginia simply would not have happened without the untiring support of the RMEF.

“Hats off to the citizens of Virginia, and especially those of Buchanan County, who understand there is no higher calling in conservation than restoring a native game species to sustainable, huntable, balanced populations,” Allen said. “For everyone who doesn’t understand it today, I believe you’ll be convinced over time that this was the right decision, the right thing to do, the right way to go about it.”

And now, six years on, I can speak for a group of three friends from the opposite end of the state when I say we are convinced. And we pledge to do our part in convincing anyone else who will listen. 

For more information please visit the links below:



Southern Gap Outdoor Adventures

Breaks Interstate Park


(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) blog elk virginia https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/5/elk Fri, 04 May 2018 01:30:59 GMT
Project Healing Waters Welcomes Medal of Honor Recipient to 12th Annual 2-Fly Tournament https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/5/honor

Try to imagine the pinnacle of wartime bravery… now what comes to mind? Unhesitatingly rushing to the aid of a fallen comrade while under attack? Picking up a live grenade landing near your feet and returning it to sender? Perhaps the ultimate expression of combat courage is fearlessly diving on a grenade to protect the men around you.

Colonel Donald “Doc” Ballard did all those things as a Navy Corpsman in Vietnam one day in May of 1968. Wounded eight times, he was awarded multiple Purple Hearts and in 1970 received from President Nixon this nation's highest and most prestigious personal military decoration, the Medal of Honor. He later left the Navy and joined the Army, then served in the North Kansas City, MO police department, then the fire department after that. And he continues serving his community today.

Ballard is one of only 75 living Medal of Honor recipients, and one of only two living Navy corpsmen sharing that distinction. So it was a very special honor that he accepted the invitation to fly from Missouri to be the keynote speaker at the 12th Annual Project Healing Waters Fly Fishing 2-Fly Tournament. Ballard is more than an inspiring, engaging and witty speaker, he is also a PHW participant and credits the organization for helping him. When the bravest of the brave benefits from the special healing methods of a program like Project Healing Waters, you know that organization is doing something right.

Doc Ballard is here, by the way, because that grenade he jumped on didn’t explode right away. After waiting the typical grenade delay interval with no detonation, he rolled off it, threw it, and immediately resumed treating the Marines he was working on before the attack started. The grenade exploded in the air.

Hearing Ballard speak about his experiences I thought about those Marines whose lives were saved almost exactly fifty years ago to the day. Certainly some went on to have children, grandchildren, even great-grandchildren. Who knows how many lives were impacted. But there are entire families who walk and work and laugh and pray and live their lives because one humble, kind, funny man was willing to trade his life for the lives of the brothers in his care.

I meet heroes at every single Project Healing Waters event I attend. From the servicemen and women who participate in this event, to the volunteers and supporters who make it all possible, to the man who started it all, founder Ed Nicholson. Ed is a dear friend who has never fished in this great event due to his involvement in running it, but this year as responsibilities have shifted we decided to fish together as a team. It was a great honor to share this tournament with my friend, catching up while catching a few fish. We would also like to thank The Harmon Foundation for sponsoring our team. It’s been a weekend I will never forget.

It was a wonderful time for all. Much needed revenue was raised, many beautiful fish were caught and safely released, and as always old friends embraced and new friends were made, all under clear blue skies at ever beautiful Rose River Farm.

I hope you enjoy the slideshow of some of my favorite photos from this year. And if you’d like more information on how you can help Heal Those Who Serve, please visit projecthealingwaters.org.


(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) blog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/5/honor Wed, 02 May 2018 01:54:50 GMT
Rocket Men https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/4/rocket-men

I just finished an Audible reading of Robert Kurson’s Rocket Men: The Daring Odyssey of Apollo 8 and the Astronauts Who Made Man's First Journey to the Moon. Stories of America’s space program have piqued my curiosity for as long as I can remember. But it was Tom Hanks’ 1998 wonderful, if a little uneven, HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon that truly hooked me. Wanting more when that series ended I read Andrew Chaikin’s book, A Man on the Moon, upon which the series was largely based. I love the movies The Right Stuff and Apollo 13 and the books that inspired them.

But the story of Apollo 8, the historic first mission to the moon, has been curiously undertold. And if there’s a perfect person to tell an important, undertold story, it’s Robert Kurson. Kurson’s brilliant book Shadow Divers chronicles the discovery, exploration and eventual identification of a World War II German U-Boat off the New Jersey coast that by all accounts should not have been there. It was more fascinating and harrowing than I could have ever imagined, and I simply cannot recommend that book highly enough.

Rocket Men is a big story about brave men, strong women, brilliant minds and the daring nation that pushed them all to their limits. Sending Apollo 8 to the moon required engineers, administrators, politicians, astronauts and their families, all working under unfathomable pressure, in the midst of an unprecedented national race, with unimaginable consequences.

Kurson masterfully organizes an incredibly complex web of intertwining elements. Political intrigue, new and rapidly developing technology, the nature of space and space travel, math and physics all come together, but the book is driven and held together by the personalities at the mission’s core. 

Rocket Men is also beautifully written. There is a downside, though, of having listened to it as an audiobook (which is narrated by Ray Porter, who conveys just the right tone throughout). There are passages I most certainly would have marked to go back to in a hard copy, especially if I thought I was going to review it. Some gems have stuck with me, though. In one scene Kurson follows the wife of one of the astronauts juggling hope and dread at her home as the crew lost contact around the back side of the moon, awaiting the moment contact was calculated to be reestablished. She stared at the radio, “divining good or bad from the silence.” I just love that line.

The technical requirements of the mission would be astonishing even today. To pull off such a thing using technology from 50 years ago is unthinkable. The math alone is staggering, and Kurson does a great job describing in terrifying detail just how slim the margins of error are when it comes to plotting trajectories from one spinning orb to another spinning orb which is orbiting the first. Pointing a rocket into the empty void of space at tens of thousands of miles per hour, knowing that after traveling 240,000 miles the moon will be right where it needs to be, while constantly calculating the constant decreasing weight of the craft as it burns massive amounts of fuel…well if there are unsung heroes in NASA during the Apollo missions, it’s the mathematicians.

I knew going in I was most likely going to love Rocket Men. And I surely do. Kurson captures the stress of the planning, the breathtaking scope of the feat, and the colossal importance of the accomplishment. And while Apollo 8 is a story that fills me with pride as an American, Kurson wouldn’t let me forget that this is ultimately not a national story, but a human one.


(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) blog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/4/rocket-men Wed, 18 Apr 2018 14:54:51 GMT
Announcing EdFelker.com https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/3/announcing-edfelker-com

I'm pleased to announce the launch of this site which, hopefully, will now make my life a bit easier and more importantly provide a place where my friends can enjoy my content from time to time. 

As many of you know, my long-standing blog Dispatches from the Potomac was hacked and infected with malware. After countless hours of conversations (okay, arguments) with host providers, and a whole lot more time reflecting on my goals, I made the very difficult decision to let the old blog go. The URL now points to the page you're on. My favorite posts have been recovered and reside in the Essays section of this site. Think of Essays as a 'Best of' collection, which I will add to over time.  

My favorite photographs are here too, organized by category. Most are for sale, some are not, but mostly I just want you to enjoy and share them. 

I've also included a tab for some of my favorite articles published in print, a brief bio and a contact page.

My biggest regret is that my subscribers to Dispatches will not get notified of new posts here. If you would like to be notified of new blog posts, please comment on any post! I will add you to my contact list and let you know when something new is posted. And as always, if you see something here you like, do not hesitate to share it or send it to friends who you think might enjoy it.

I am extremely grateful for all of you who have supported and encouraged my writing and photography through the years. I hope you enjoy this new archive of what I hope is my best of both of those worlds. So take it for a spin, and don't hesitate to let me know if something isn't working properly. Thank you.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) blog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/3/announcing-edfelker-com Sun, 11 Mar 2018 17:20:22 GMT
Finn's Ten https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/finns-ten

He was three when I drove to Illinois to bring him home. He had a different name which I have never spoken aloud to him, so he's stuck in a car with a guy who seemingly doesn't even know his name. But I talked to him a lot while we drove. Mostly small talk the first leg of the trip, like an Uber driver would do. "You comfortable back there? Want me to crack the window?" We stopped at a hotel for the night, and I put Finn on the hotel bed, promised him I'd be right back and told him to stay while I went out to get a pizza. When I returned, he was still sitting on the bed where I left him, ears up and tail wagging.

And so it has been with every other thing I have asked this dog to do. From adjusting to his new name and a home full of dogs, to riding quietly in a kayak when he really would rather be swimming, to sharing his gift of comforting strangers who can feel the pureness of his heart the moment they meet him, he has done every single thing I've asked of him with enthusiasm and devotion.

I love my dogs, and they are all special in different ways. So I can say this without taking anything away from Winnie, who is my kindred spirit, or Winslow, who is in a class by himself. But Finn, well, Finn is just the best dog.

On the second day of that first trip home from the midwest all those years ago we stopped at a park to eat a lakeside lunch and take a break from driving. I went to take a picture of him sitting across the picnic table from me, and when I put the camera to my face he snagged my sandwich and threw it down his gullet like a pelican. *So* fast. It made sense, I mean everything else for him was changing. Maybe he thought this is how meals are to be served from here on out.

He is ten years old today. Tonight I will spend some quality time with him, throwing the ball, wrestling, letting him on the couch for some TV time.

Then I think I'll make him a sandwich.



(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) dog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/finns-ten Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:51:13 GMT
Mr. Oktober https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/mr-oktober

He is a miniature wire haired dachshund, born in the furthest reaches of northern Hungary, bred by the most decorated field trainer in the land. His father was a wiener dog racer. His father’s father was a wiener dog racer. And so it has been, through countless generations going back to his breed’s native Germany. And like the voices of his forefathers patiently teaching him the way of his bloodline, his very DNA engineered his cells, muscle and bone to assemble and grow and strengthen to do one thing: Run.

In his earliest steps he had already begun to refine the signature gait he uses with such force now as a 5-month-old. An unconventional three-beat rhythm that uses every inch of his body to maximum efficiency – stretch the front right foot as far as it will go and dig it into the ground. Bring up the left and hammer it into the turf alongside the right, all the while gathering his haunches behind him. His back legs held together tightly, bunny-hop style, slam into the ground at once with a crack that turns the heads of onlookers. He uncoils his rear end and propels himself forward, reaching out with the front right again, repeating the pattern, each stride faster and longer than the last. As he gains traction and builds momentum, the strides run together faster and faster until the individual steps are impossible to pick out. To the eye, he becomes a blur of ears and tail and dust and torn up grass. To the ear, the sound of a smooth, distant rumble of thunder.

The first of his family to make it to America, he flew 4,500 miles to his strange new home in Lovettsville, known as ‘The German Settlement,” home of the most prestigious Oktoberfest Wiener Dog race and stadium in the country. He was given the name Winslow, an English surname that means “Hill of Victory,” and immediately set out to live up to his name.

With only three months to prepare before Oktoberfest, he trained hard. When training on grass wasn’t enough, he asked that a strip of lawn be left unmowed to increase drag. When it was too hot to run, he did resistance training in the baby pool. And when he bored of training, he raced in the off-season underground circuit, pitting his speed against scrappy Jack Russells, sneaky fast Basenjis and giant, loping orange dogs who covered massive ground with each easy stride. He raced all comers, and left most behind in the red, Virginia clay dust he kicked up in his wake. But he had never gone up against other wiener dogs.

Every athlete knows there comes a time when the practice is done. On the morning of his first race, he woke early but was not anxious. He was awash in an eerie, focused calm. He picked out the collar with his lucky lightning bolt dog tag, did a few stretches and ate a light breakfast. He was as ready as he could be.

By far the youngest competitor in the field, Winslow was lowered into the starting box alongside another young rising star named Piper. Then the chants began. WIN-SLOW! WIN-SLOW! And when the gates opened, the frenzied crowd was just too much for young Piper. She hesitated. Winslow took advantage and breezed to victory in his first sanctioned race.

But even the great War Admiral had his Seabiscuit. Winslow drew Sasha in the quarterfinals. Sasha shot out of the gate like a cannon and Winslow looked to his right and saw something he had never seen before: the back end of a wiener dog. He dug in and pushed hard, but it was too late. Winslow could not overcome Sasha’s blistering start. She crossed the finish line, handing Winslow the first defeat of his career, and went on to take third in the meet.

The legendary Kaiser secured his dynasty, winning the championship for the third straight year. Meeting with media after the finals as his handlers hinted toward possible retirement, Kaiser seemed distracted by the gathering crowd further down the track. Fans who traveled from across the region to cheer for Winslow surrounded him for photos and a chance to hold him.

Some who were down on the track that night swear they saw the sea of people part just enough for Winslow and the great Kaiser to make eye contact and exchange a few unspoken words. Perhaps it was Kaiser giving a nod to Winslow, bowing out to clear the stage for a new King. We’ll never know for sure. But I choose to believe it was Winslow doing the talking, respectfully asking the champ to stick around one more year. “I’ll be back next year stronger than ever,” I can imagine him saying. “Give me a chance to beat the best.”

Originally published in the Loudoun Times-Mirror, September 26, 2016

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) dog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/mr-oktober Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:51:05 GMT
The 30-Year Shot https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/the-30-year-shot

Summer isn't over yet, but the first cool hint of autumn rolled through here this morning. As I stood on the porch watching the deer in our yard, I found myself feeling a little nostalgic.

I’ve watched many generations of whitetail deer being raised on our property and in the neighboring pines. I watch them lose their spots, gain their legs and grow to leap the paddock fence with effortless grace.

Often I think about my Dad, and how much he would have loved it here. He was an avid hunter and outdoorsman, and fall was his favorite time of year too. He was outdoors all year long, but he was – as I am – happiest in crisp air, with colored leaves under foot. He seemed to laugh more loudly and more easily during hunting season. When he and his friends would come back from a weekend trip, my Mom would sometimes let me stay up late to be with them in the driveway. They would laugh and drink and tell stories as they admired their quarry in the bed of a pickup.

So I grew up around guns, and my father collected his fair share. Of all the guns in our house, though, his deer gun was my favorite. It wasn’t the biggest, or shiniest or most powerful, but the Winchester Model 94 that hung above our fireplace - the only gun my Mom permitted to be displayed beyond the confines of the basement - truly stirred my imagination. To me it was the Wild West, straight out of the movies.

Hanging on the mantle it is appealing enough – a beautifully proportioned blend of walnut and worn, blued steel. But in motion it becomes a thing of wonder. The action of the mechanism as you work the lever is astonishing – at once complex in its precision yet remarkably simple in purpose. Eject the spent shell. Feed the next round. Repeat.

But I never went deer hunting with him, and in the countless times we went shooting together, I never saw him take a shot with that Winchester. When he died of cancer at age 42, we had to sell off most of his collection. A few special guns, though, went to close friends. The Model 94 was sent to a dear cousin of his who had long admired it.

A few years ago, when my Dad’s cousin also sadly passed, his wife tracked me down and told me she had a gun that belonged to my Dad. Her husband, she told me, had wanted me to have it. She said she didn’t know anything about it, but it’s “the kind with the lever thing on the bottom.”

I immediately arranged for its transport from Wisconsin to Virginia. And now that mechanical marvel, that art object, that heirloom, sits in a safe in my basement. The only gun of my Dad's I own.

For over a hundred years, it is often said, the Winchester Model 94 has taken more North American whitetail than any other gun.

And in the crisp morning promise of approaching Autumn, I think I want my Dad's rifle to take one more.

The gun is now nearly 70 years old, but I know for a fact it shoots far straighter than I can. My limited hunting experience, however, has consisted only of birds. And preserve birds at that. Deer hunting is an entirely new prospect for me.

To be honest, I am more than a little uneasy about it.

My friend and neighbor is a big deer hunter, though, and he said he would help me. He will set me up in a prime spot, at the best time and, if I can get a deer, he’ll gut it for me. But, he warned, he’ll only gut the first one.

I think about how much he would be pestering me during deer season to come out. I imagine he’d bring a cooler of beer – Pabst Blue Ribbon, most likely – and some cheap cigars for after the hunt. We’d clean the guns and lean on a tailgate and tell stories about all that has happened in the thirty years since he died. The Nostalgia of Lost Time. I can’t get it back with a dead deer, certainly, but the idea has a sort of cyclical appeal to it.

So in the coming weeks I'll be sighting in the rifle to a hundred yards. Time will tell if I have the eye, or a fraction of my father’s steadiness or instincts. Or the stomach for any of it.

I'm five years older than my Dad ever got to be, so it'd be a nice gift for him, I think, if I at least tried. And if I fail, well, I did spend enough time watching him and his buddies in the driveway to know this: as much as he enjoyed a beer raised in congratulations, I think he probably appreciated even more, a beer raised in friendly ribbing over a story of the one that got away.

Originally published in Virginia Sportsman Magazine, November, 2011.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) outdoors https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/the-30-year-shot Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:50:58 GMT
Turtle https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/turtle

When I saw him upside down in the middle of the northbound lane of Route 287, I turned around to set him right. When I reached him, I did not ask how it came to be that a box turtle would end up in this situation. After all, we've all had rough nights. I moved him to the grass and started to walk back to my car when I heard him.


I turned. He stretched his head out from beneath the lid of his shell, but looked down at the ground as if searching for words. He stuttered, "I...I..." I held up my hand, interrupting, and said, "I know." And we both turned and went our separate ways.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) outdoors https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/turtle Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:50:52 GMT
Sometimes Nature Just Punches You In the Gut https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/sometimes-nature-just-punches-you-in-the-gut

These are Eastern phoebes, hovering over her nest that was, until just minutes before, filled with chirping chicks waiting for an insect delivery.

What came next is a scene that unfolds countless times every second of every minute of every day in every corner of this planet. Even under the protective shell of my back deck. Predators prey. Nature eats. Life is a circle. I looked to the nest, looking for the blind, ugly balls of half fuzz. Instead I saw a rat snake, replete with phoebe chicks. My phoebe chicks. I was just moments too late.

My mind tells me, snakes gotta eat too.

My mind tells me if I had gotten home a half hour earlier like I usually do, I probably still wouldn’t have been able to stop it.

My mind tells me the Phoebes who raised the chicks are simply confused. That they are chirping, hovering, searching, out of instinct. That they still go search for, capture and deliver insects for their former brood, out of the pure mechanics of nature. Out of something other than grief or despair. That the concept of hope is infinitely beyond their grasp, so it is not theirs to lose.

My mind tells me that four surviving birds out of ten total eggs in two broods is actually pretty good.

My mind tells me that any ‘bond’ I’ve built with the Phoebes who inhabit and populate the nest outside this office door is a creation of that very mind. That though I am vigorously protective of them, they neither sense nor rely on my protection.

My mind tells me that the chicks will help sustain a strong, beautiful snake, and as she rests and digests in that hole in the cool earth beneath the deck, she may someday make her own eggs with the help of those nutrients. And that I will encounter the healthy offspring of this snake for generations to come.

My mind tells me that nature, while often violent, is not cruel. That snakes do to birds what birds do to insects. And birds do to insects what insects do to whatever insects do that to. Snakes are not the beginning, and birds are not the end.

My mind tells me that by tomorrow my phoebes will lower their gaze from their empty nest and resume hunting insects for themselves. Not out of courage or bravery, but simply out of survival. And that by tomorrow I, too, will be going about my normal routine.

My mind tells me all these things, and that all these things are true.

But my heart? My heart flat out aches tonight.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) outdoors https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/sometimes-nature-just-punches-you-in-the-gut Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:50:41 GMT
The Before and The After https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/the-before-and-the-after

My uncle died last month.

I only know this because something made me search for his name today. Google answered my query with the following:

Died June 7, 2011
WARSAW -- Bernard Thomas Loeh, 64, died this morning at Glencare of Warsaw. He was formerly of Warrenton, Va. A funeral and burial will be held at a later date in Virginia.

Glencare, it turns out, is a nursing home in Warsaw, North Carolina. How did my Uncle Bernie end up there? I have no idea. My last contact with him was over thirty years ago. His last address known to me included a prisoner number before the ZIP code.

I was ten years old in 1973, and my sister was 13, when our parents sat us down at the dining room table in our quaint little house on a corner lot of our quaint suburban town outside of Washington, DC. To that point in our lives, all I really knew of pain was a bee sting on my bare foot the previous summer. All we knew of conflict was the occasional drama that unfolded at that very table when my finicky sister refused to eat. A raised voice from my frustrated father -- and the resulting tears from my sister as she was finally excused to her room -- was the only hint of violence I had been exposed to.

But our protective shell cracked as they slid a newspaper clipping across the table. Unable to figure out how to tell us that our favorite Uncle, when he was there at the house just a few days earlier acting a little oddly, lost his long struggle to keep his shit together. They instead let the local paper tell us what happened next.

On his drive south to Spotslyvania County, VA, he plotted the next critical steps in his life, steps that would spell his doom and begin decades of trauma for his unsuspecting family. He went into a 7-Eleven store and inquired about purchasing a hack saw. They didn't have one, but there must've been one nearby because when he returned to the store 45 minutes later, he was carrying a freshly sawed-off shotgun. "This is a hold-up" may have felt like words that sealed his fate, but the truth is, his fate was sealed long before. Maybe in the fields of Vietnam, maybe in the womb. The mystery is as pointless as it is unknowable.

Deputy Sheriff William Hart spotted the white Toyota Landcruiser and pulled it over in darkness. As he approached the vehicle he was shot in the right arm by a shotgun blast, then shot at and mercifully missed by two pistol shots. Hart survived the attack.

The vehicle was spotted again in a wooded area, and as police were going through the contents - the sawed off shotgun, a revolver, the 7-Eleven money, some personal writings and a note that he was sorry if he hurt the deputy - he walked out of the woods and surrendered.

We grew up a lot that day at the kitchen table, and in the days that followed. And the family tension grew too. Though his condition (later diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenia) certainly existed previously, my childhood was divided into two parts. The Before, and the After that day.

He came around some years later, adding some drama in case we had slipped into that false sense of security that suburbia manufactures and maintains so well. He even stayed with us for a few days once. The last time I saw him, he was a broken shadow of the gregarious, red-haired clown uncle I once knew. Slumped over and sad, still a young man but only able to shuffle around the block in one direction. Already so entrenched in the routine of prison, he felt anxiety when he lost sight of the house, and quickened his step around the far side of the block until he found himself running down the last side of the square until the house was thankfully there again, where he left it.

I once read his letters he sent back from war to my grandmother, my favorite was toward the end of the thick binder she kept them in. He was in countdown mode, at the 100-day mark before he returned home. "Put a dollar's worth of pennies in a jar," he wrote, "and every morning, take a penny out. When the jar is empty, fill it to the top with Old Grandad on the rocks, and I'll be home before the ice melts."

He was a creative man. A troubled man. I can’t imagine what his last years were like. Maybe he was in touch with family members I’ve drifted sharply away from. Maybe he had friends, or at least favorite caregivers at Glencare who treated him kindly. Maybe he enjoyed some peace at the end. Maybe not. I wonder in those last days if he ever thought back to the day everything changed, to the moment he touched a hack saw blade to a shotgun barrel, leaving metal filings on a gas station restroom floor, and two families soon scarred forever.

It's been a long, long time since I saw him last. Since I pictured him in my mind or even thought about him. And, think what you might about me, it's been a long time since I cared. But tonight I might just close this whole chapter with a shot of Old Grandad. Rest in the Peace you couldn't find here, Bernie.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) people https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/the-before-and-the-after Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:50:33 GMT
The King https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/the-king

In August of 1977 I climbed into my Dad’s truck, I think it was the green GMC but my memory could be playing tricks. I was 14 years old, and we were headed nine hours north to Camp Perry, Ohio on the shores of Lake Erie where he was competing in the National Rifle and Pistol Championships. Trips like this were, of course, precious to me. All that alone time with Dad.

Dad was a shooter, and was accomplished in so many disciplines of shooting I honestly don’t know how he found time to work, be a husband and father, raise an idiot and my sister, train a bird dog, load his own ammo and play poker with his buddies, all while competing as an elite level marksman. Black powder, skeet and trap, bird hunting, deer hunting, and the purpose for our trip, high powered rifle target shooting.

He was already sick with cancer and losing weight and hair in ’77, but he earned the right to be at those championships and by God he was going to shoot. The previous year he secured a place on the prestigious National Civilian Rifle Team, and two years before that at Camp Perry he was awarded the Distinguished Rifleman Award. Only 125 men in the country earned that badge in 1974, I used to know but I think fewer than 20 were civilians. He was incredibly proud. His specialty was long distance shooting without a scope. He shot an M1 in a prone position using iron sights to a target 600 yards away. He was fucking good. I remember he had to wait a long time for the badge to be made and sent to him, and it was a very big deal when it finally arrived.

But back then he was just my Dad and we were on a road trip and each took turns trying to come up with nine hours of conversation that was marginally interesting to the other. We joked and farted and watched corn go by at 70 miles an hour. He told me the one about the raccoon screwing the skunk and while the structure of the joke is lost, the punchline was, ‘I hadn’t had all I wanted, but I’ve had about all I can take.’ Probably a child services level offense nowadays.

When we arrived at camp, he encountered many men who knew him. Respected him. Were nervous to compete against him. But loved him too. Most hadn’t seen him in long enough that his gaunt face was surely alarming. He smelled different, from the medicine I imagine, and every few years I smell that smell somewhere, just a hint of it, and it puts me in that truck along with the beer and that heavy, sweaty leather shooting coat in the back that locked his weakening arms in place and kept that rifle steady. It was so hot during the competition his friends worried the time in the sun wearing that coat like a straight-jacket would be too much for him.

He competed in the heat for two days, I believe, and on the afternoon we were leaving, the truck was packed but it took him hours to say goodbye to everyone. He didn’t say it, but he knew it would be the last time he would see almost all of them. Imagine that. I sat in the truck with the air conditioning on full blast, my feet on the dashboard, listening to the radio. The report came.

“Elvis Presley, dead at 42.”

Truthfully, I didn’t know or care much about Elvis back then, and I honestly didn’t know if it would be important to my Dad either. He made his way back to the truck and got in. He said, “Ready?” I replied.

“Elvis Presley died.”

I can picture him exactly, his right hand on the automatic shift lever ready to put it in drive, but frozen as he looked at me. “What?”

“It just came on the radio.” We both stared at the radio until the commercials ended and the report came back on. I felt funny. It was weird to tell him something of importance that he didn’t already know. And I was surprised at his reaction. I never heard him listening to or speaking of the man, but he was impacted by this news. We rode in silence for a long while, listening to the radio, windows down, until a fart and a giggle broke the spell around the Pennsylvania line.

My Dad never competed again, and died at 42, fourteen months later. Elvis outlived him by six weeks. Jesus, can you imagine? I mean, all due respect to Elvis, but come on.

Funny how memories are all tied in and mixed up, I think. The smell of Dad’s shooting jacket, Lake Erie in August, the sound of an old truck radio, the heat, the look on his face when he heard the news. All one moment of mixed senses, and a moment I’ll never forget.

The King has been gone a long time now. Elvis too.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) people https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/the-king Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:50:28 GMT
Flying https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/flying

I recently held a hummingbird in my hand. He had accidentally flown into a window and fallen, unconscious, on the ground in front of a busy doorway. He looked like nothing, upside down, his white belly close to the color of the concrete beneath. But something made me look closer, and when I picked him up he moved a bit.

I moved him away from the human traffic, and sat on a nearby bench. Alive. Stunned, but with no visible injuries. His eyes opened, and I gave him the opportunity to fly from my open hand. He politely declined, and with an invisible gesture asked for a little more time to gather his wits. I assured him — by holding my hands in a way that he was protected and secure, but could leave if he chose to — that this was now the most important thing in my day, and if he needed all day he could have it.

So we sat there. Him clearing cobwebs and me just thinking, how lucky for me to have the opportunity to hold a hummingbird in my hands. How lucky for him that I came along.

My thoughts drifted back many, many years. Back to the house I grew up in, back to an injured bird in the gutter in front of that house, and back to my Mother. A shoebox, some paper towels, a lamp. It was exciting, I thought, to have part of the natural world sitting here in a box on the dining room table. I asked her how long before the bird would be better. She was a nurse, after all. Clearly she knew how to fix a bird.

I wanted to name it.

When she told me that she wasn’t confident the bird would get better (it wouldn’t), I remember instantly distancing myself emotionally. I felt like I had dodged a bullet by being moments away from deciding on a name.

My Mother, of course, saw instantly what I was doing and we had what stands now as my Earliest Remembered Meaningful Conversation. She asked, as a nurse, what would happen if she stopped caring about patients who were not getting better? Patients who were going to die? They needed her more than ever during those times.

I was young, I don’t recall how young. And I don’t recall the words she used to express and make me understand compassion. Lord only knows how she made it be a part of me. But that’s how it is with these things. You can’t identify how your Mother makes you who you are, exactly. But you know that she did.

I think about how at many other moments in my life my Mother taught me. Showed me. Shaped me. Held me, protected me, and gave me room to fly away. And I hope she knows that I noticed. That I remember. That the only thing I really forget is to thank her, and for that I am sorry.

With a big smile and a full heart, I watched my hummingbird finally gather himself, walk with his little feet to the edge of my palm, and fly away.

Excerpted from "Flying," originally published in The Huffington Post, May, 2012.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) people https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/flying Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:50:22 GMT
Return to Flight https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/return-to-flight

The Space Shuttle chapter in American history is one rich in pride and pain. And, sadly, it is one that can at last be written. The shuttle Discovery felt the atmosphere push across her wings — albeit a little more slowly than she’s used to — for the last time today.

Much of the Washington, DC area got to see the spectacle of the shuttle, affixed to a 747, being escorted by a T-38 Talon as it flew over the city and surrounding suburbs in multiple passes before landing at Dulles International Airport. In the coming days, it will be de-mated from the carrier craft and towed to the adjacent Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum. This, by the way, is a wonderful museum I highly recommend.

As I waited along with many thousands of others near the airport for Discovery‘s arrival, I spotted a little girl dressed in red, white and blue, waving a flag, absolutely giddy with excitement. The atmosphere was infectious. People in the midst of a traffic nightmare, eager to find a vantage point but without a hint of aggression or impatience, met strangers in the cars next to them and smiled in anticipation. We had gotten here in time. We were going to see it. We were all going to see it.

In 1986, the Challenger disaster forced the suspension of the shuttle program for nearly three years. And in 2003, when the Columbia and crew were lost on re-entry, the program was again suspended. And in both instances when it came time to return, with tragedy still clear in the national memory, the question was hard not to ask: Why do we do it? And in both instances, the same craft served as the Return to Flight ship. And the answer to the question was painted on its side: Discovery.

Whatever the future of space exploration holds, it will not involve the shuttle. But Discovery served us well, and will serve us again as millions of people will now get to see it. Years later when I return to the museum and stand in Discovery‘s shadow, I will think of this day. I might even wonder where that giddy little girl is. Maybe her experience alongside Rt. 28 today will shape her career. Maybe she will be one of the next generation of explorers, the next to return to flight.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) more https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/return-to-flight Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:50:15 GMT
Connecting with the Past https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/connecting-with-the-past

About 210 million years ago, toward the end of the Triassic period, a three-toed dinosaur known as a Coelophysis walked through a mud flat. He was most likely searching for food or evading being food, as those were very popular dinosaur activities at the time. The unremarkable tracks of our three-toed friend were forgotten the moment they were formed, destined to dissolve easily with the two things that erase history best: water, and time.

The continents during the Triassic period were still all part of the supercontinent Pangea. Time trudged on. And on. Tectonic plates shifted imperceptibly over staggering spans of time, and the earth’s land masses began to take the shapes we now recognize. Sediment filled the impressions made that day in the mud, and layers upon layers of earth accumulated and compressed until stone was formed.

Eons passed. Sixty-five million years ago an asteroid slammed into the planet and precipitated the end of the dinosaur age. By the time humans came along so many millions of years later, the tracks made in the mud flat that day were locked and hidden more than 250 feet beneath the surface in modern day Virginia.

Civilization took hold and grew and the spot that once was a stretch of mud flat in Pangea ended up being a quarry. Layers of stone were blasted loose, crushed for gravel to make roads and hauled away. Deeper and deeper, for decades, the blasting continued. In 1989 a hole was drilled into the rock for explosives that went just an inch or two past the level of the tracks. When the loose rock above it was removed, water remained behind. The company pumped the water out overnight.

The next morning, April 28th, 1989, Robert Clore, now an affable old-timer with pure white hair, weathered features and the hands of a man who has worked hard for a lifetime, descended the 258 feet to the bottom of the quarry and saw something no human had laid eyes on before. The surface had dried, but water was left behind in the impressions.

The tracks looked to Clore like giant bird tracks in the stone. He noted the find in the journal entry he made that day, sandwiched between mundane quarry business entries.

Over the next decades, paleontologists came and studied and classified and removed some of the tracks, which ended up being nearly 2,000 in number – the largest concentration of dinosaur tracks in North and South America. The company sold the land to Luck Stone who continues operations there now, and along with the Museum of Culpeper History, invites the public to see some of the remaining tracks one day a year.

And so it happened that after an unimaginable journey across time and space, I placed my foot next to the footprint of a long dead animal of a long extinct species in a long forgotten land. And in that moment, my foot in the exact spot, I connected with that animal, with that time. And history – prehistory – came alive.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) more https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/connecting-with-the-past Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:50:08 GMT
The Pipes, The Pipes https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/the-pipes-the-pipes

My Mother’s side of the family is Irish. And when I was growing up, this Irish couple would show up on holidays here and there. I think at the time I thought Owen was my uncle, but I now know they were just family friends from Ireland. A large, boisterous man with a deep, booming voice draped in a thick Irish accent, he is not someone you forget easily. So even with my dim memory, he’s in many of the holiday scenes I recall from early childhood.

In these scenes, after dinner when the adults were adequately Merry, we would all gather ‘round Owen. Sometimes by the Christmas tree, sometimes in front of the fireplace. As is the case with many, if not all of my childhood experiences, I didn’t fully understand what the adults were doing. I remember being confused about why it mattered where he stood, why everything had to be just so. Nobody was filming it or taking photographs, yet the stage was set with great care.

And then, when everyone was seated and quiet, Owen went through what I would describe as a ritual. He would take a sip of warm brandy and carefully set the glass down behind him on an awaiting cocktail napkin. After a time, he cleared his throat and turned and faced the room.

I grew up in Catholic schools and spent enough time in churches to know when to be reverent. These occasions called for reverence. Owen bowed his head, closed his eyes, and began.

Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer’s gone, and all the flow’rs are dying
‘Tis you, tis you must go and I must bide.

He sang with such deliberate and loving care for every note, and everyone leaned forward. Not to hear better, as even soft singing from Owen filled the room, but just to be closer to it. Just as you might stretch your neck to face warm spring sunshine for the first time after a long, dark winter. A pause between verses and he began with increased intensity.

But come ye back when summer’s in the meadow
Or when the valley’s hushed and white with snow
‘Tis I’ll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Danny boy, oh, Danny boy I love you so.

‘Tis I’ll be here…the “here” was an incredible note. Meaningless without the context of the rest, of course, like on onscreen kiss without the chemistry built up earlier in the movie. But it was as beautiful and powerful a word as I’d ever heard sung. Chills. My parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents’ faces were filled with emotion. Owen sang gently the third verse.

And if you come, and all the flowers are dying
If I am dead, as dead I well may be
I pray you’ll find the place where I am lying
And kneel and say an “Ave” there for me.

A longer, pregnant pause and Owen’s face is strained with the burden of sharing this story in song.

And I shall hear, though soft you tread above me
And all my grave will warm and sweeter be
And then you’ll kneel and whisper that you love me
And I shall sleep in peace until you come to me.

As this verse flowed forth, Owen wept. And then it was over. He quietly bowed his head, recovering. None among us intruded on the intensely personal silence until he finally looked up, almost embarrassed at being overwhelmed with the power that he himself delivered. Only then did everyone know it was okay to clap and rush to him and hug him. His wife had a fresh drink ready for him, and he took it and sat down, exhausted.

Owen is gone now, stricken with throat cancer of all things. He first had to give up his voice, his gift, and then he soon followed. Thank you, Uncle Owen, for these memories. And for one of my earliest glimpses of the pure beauty of the human soul. Sleep in peace. And as the Irish blessing goes, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) people https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/the-pipes-the-pipes Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:50:00 GMT
Blood on the Pages https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/blood-on-the-pages

Over the years, my friend Guy Neal Williams has introduced me to many things that remain important parts of my life to this day. He is the one who first put a fly rod in my hand, teaching me the basics of how to cast at a pond near his Winston-Salem home, and triggering in me a lifelong passion. He convinced me that I could create woodcut prints despite having no carving or printmaking experience. He shared books that remain on my shelf today and music that has shaped everything I now listen to. He loved music so much. The fact that he was nearly deaf was such a cruel injustice. But his greatest gift was the first thing I knew and loved about him: Guy was a storyteller.

A strong voice, an easy laugh, an infinite supply of stories and a deep desire to share them made Guy a human campfire. Friends and strangers alike would gather around his warm glow as he weaved truth with fiction, humor with sadness. His spoken words were slow and deliberate. When I first met him I was enthralled. The topics of his stories didn’t even matter. Potato guns. Cave paintings. Fish. He told me once in great detail how to prepare carp on the grill. The process entailed soaking a cedar plank in saltwater, wine and peppercorns, carefully filleting and seasoning the fish just right. He told me exactly how the coals should look and when to know the fish was ready. When it was done, he instructed, “carefully slide the fish into the trashcan and eat the plank.”

His real talent, though, his genius, was in his written word. Here, too, he was a storyteller. Okay liar. He was a liar. I was tempted to say lying was like a game to him, but somehow that doesn’t give it the necessary respect. You wouldn’t go to the Masters in Augusta and tell the greatest golfers in the world they were merely playing a game. No, lying to Guy was a sport. And he was a hall of famer.

He used to like to challenge his friends by writing three essays. Each was skillfully crafted, impeccably detailed and utterly unbelievable. But only one, he warned, was a lie. The other two were true stories. It was impossible to discern fact from fiction in these tests, as his astonishing gift of storytelling was equaled only by his impossibly colorful real life experiences.

My God he loved a story.

He had the ability to paint a scene, to put you in it, to lead you down whatever path he wanted you down, then jump out from behind a bush of his own creation and punch you square in the gut. I had never seen, or even imagined, that someone with world-class writing skills would use so much of that power to simply entertain his friends. We all wanted him to write a book. Not so much because we needed more of his stories, but I think because we felt his stories needed a bigger audience. But a bigger audience isn’t what he was after.

He once told me a story that I cannot repeat here. (Okay he told many stories I cannot repeat here, but that’s not what I meant.) It involves a tattered photograph and a legendary fish. The story is so fantastic it almost certainly can’t be true. Yet it contains enough verifiable details that it just might be. It involves a secret so sacred that it must now remain with me until I die. It’s hard to explain how, or why, he did this. But he told a Perfect Story, a spectacular story, a story he could have easily published anywhere, but one that could never be shared. I instantly regretted having been told it. If it’s a lie, it’s an epic masterpiece. If it’s true, I wish it had died with him. But he told it to me and asked that I never tell anyone. Hell, who knows. Maybe he privately told the same story to everyone. But I’ll keep his secret, true or not, and the burden of not telling a soul will be a reminder of his gift to me.

I never thought about writing before I knew Guy. But being exposed to his words made me think for the first time about putting down my own thoughts. I found myself writing for fun, trying to find words to describe a scene or person or feeling. I wrote with more care, more effort. Perhaps most importantly, I didn’t save that care and effort for particularly important topics. I learned through Guy that there is great value in taking the time to describe the smallest observations. My early attempts were just an awkward mimicry of his writing. But I like to think that along the way, I found my own voice, my own passion for spinning a yarn, my own desire to lead someone down that path. Guy taught me that it is a noble pursuit to sweat over choosing the right words, assembling those words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, paragraphs into stories, for the pure joy of it. Just to make someone laugh, or cry, or to simply relate to a shared experience.

“Books are better,” he said once in response to a movies-versus-books discussion. “Books are better because there’s blood on the pages.” Movies, he said, are creative endeavors by committee, and as such were diluted. But books, written in excruciating isolation, were painful pursuits. He wrote of pain. He wrote of burying his beloved dog, Augustine, until you swore you could feel the worn shovel handle in your hands and smell the moist clay through your own tears. There is blood on those pages. He wrote of love. I’ll never forget the first description I ever read of his wife, “a tiny engineer with ice blue eyes.” Jesus, it’s probably been twenty years and I know with certainty those are the seven words exactly as he wrote them. But mostly he wrote of beauty. The beauty of the natural world, or the human spirit, or math, or science or enduring friendship. Of music. Beauty, to Guy, was everywhere. But he wasn’t just an observer of it, he created his own beauty from whole cloth.

He loved art, numbers, music, friends, bullshit and cigarettes with limitless enthusiasm. He was a genius. A spectacularly flawed genius, but a genius. He had his share of demons, and took on a few extras to make it a fair fight. The demons are all silenced now, and I hope to God that silence is forever filled with music, clear and bright and loud.

This morning, the first of my days on an earth without Guy Neal Williams, I plugged my phone into the car stereo. The first random song that played was a Patty Griffin song I thought a lot about yesterday. I have a thousand songs on my phone and this played first. Thank you Guy for your friendship, I am different and better for it. And thank you for your words. All of mine have you in them.

The song is Goodbye.

Today my heart is big and sore,
It’s tryin’ to push right through my skin.
I won’t see you anymore,
I guess that’s finally sinkin’ in.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) people https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/blood-on-the-pages Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:49:40 GMT
Legacy of Love https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/legacy-of-love Nyssa.(Photo by Jeanna Jones)

Jeanna Jones approached her house holding the saddest thing you can ever bring from a visit to the vet: an empty collar. Before the front door even opened she could hear the wails of the one-day-old litter inside. Eleven healthy Vizsla pups cried for their mother, Mabel, whose collar Jeanna still clutched in her hand. Jeanna cried too, but knew there was little time for grieving. There were mouths to feed. Lots of mouths.

The previous day was a long one, with puppies coming steadily at first, then with more time in between until, at last, there were 11. Mabel was exhausted, of course, and so was Jeanna, for that matter. But nothing about the day gave any indication how drastically, how tragically, events were to unfold in less than 24 hours.

All 11 Elves — as Jeanna now called them — made it through the first night, and Jeanna spent some time in the morning on Facebook, catching friends, family and fans up on the puppies’ progress. But later that day something went horribly wrong, and Mabel was rushed to the vet, stricken with sudden, severe gastric torsion.

She was hurried into surgery, but was lost on the table. Jeanna, shocked and grieving, shared her burden with hundreds of friends on facebook, most of whom she had never met, many of whom were anxiously awaiting happy updates and puppy pictures.

Jeanna: It is with a broken heart that I have to say that Mabel left us at 7:30 this evening. Rest in Peace my darling girl - Ajandstar Tirpitz By Addaci 12/03/06-29/07/11.

On that lonely drive home, Jeanna’s heart ached and her mind raced. She would be immediately greeted with the daunting task of hand-feeding 11 puppies who have not eaten in hours. And as she reached home and approached that door, with that collar warm in her hand, she felt alone.

But already the supportive forces of friends unseen were at work. And before she even reached out, fellow breeders and friends near and far knew what she would need next.

Jeanna: Does anyone know of a lactating bitch who would accept a few pups to rear?

Minutes later she reported that all 11 had taken some milk from a bottle — a start. A very small start to a painstaking uphill journey, but a start nonetheless. For tonight, she thought, it would have to do.

As the Elves slept, comforted and warmed by Jeanna’s dog Tipli, sympathy poured onto Jeanna’s Facebook wall from every time zone. Overwhelming, sad surprise mixed with frustration at the distance that could not be crossed. So many friends wishing they could help had to resort to those hollow words from an ocean away: “If there is anything I can do, anything at all...”

The next morning, day three, brought warm, clean, beautiful pups thanks to the overnight efforts of Tipli. She had no milk to give, but cleaned and looked after the Elves and let them suckle. Tipli went outside to quickly take care of business and then immediately returned to tend to her adopted brood.

Many friends read Jeanna’s Facebook plea, but Jim Cooper was in a unique position to help. His dog Bessy’s own litter of pups had recently been weaned, and she still had plenty of milk to offer. He called Jeanna and offered Bessy’s services as a surrogate. Bessy, however, was in Sussex, England, several hours east of Jeanna. So the call for help went out on Facebook again, this time for transport.

“Network” is such an overused word in the digital age that it feels like it’s lost some of its meaning. But on the third night of the Elves’ saga, a network of supporters came together to collect a dog and transport her hundreds of miles to her hungry charges. Susanne Pope, a woman Jeanna had never met, started Bessy’s westward odyssey. Then Rachel Edmonds volunteered for the next leg. Finally Ros and David Wakeling relayed her to Jeanna, arriving at 4 a.m. and not a moment too soon. It had been a rough night of slow feeding, taking Jeanna so long to feed them all, by the time she was done with the last it was time to start all over.

When Bessy arrived (and after the news was gently broken to Tipli that she would have to share her pups) they were divided into two groups, with the four most needy pups feeding first.

Day four brought newfound hope, excitement and energy, and the most optimistic update yet.

Jeanna: So all 11 pups, warm, dry, clean, content, sleeping and full! Looking good! Their two foster mums are working in tandem - Bessy feeding them with Tipli cleaning and stimulating.

Little did those foster moms know, people from across the globe shed tears of gratitude for them for doing what simply came naturally. One feeding blurred into another, more rotations, an occasional rest, another sunrise and another night is conquered. And so it continued, initially in fits and starts, then more smoothly as everyone settled into their odd new routine. And just like that, the first, critical week was behind them. To celebrate, the Elves got collars and toys, and Bessy got a soft new bed.

Every passing day saw the pups gaining weight and brought Jeanna more confidence. Eyes began to squint open, wobbly legs found purchase beneath round, puppy bellies and the Elves began to explore.

When the day came for Bessy to pack up her new cozy bed and head back east to Sussex, before she left she took her pups — Mabel’s pups, Tipli’s pups, Jeanna’s pups — outside for the very first time, and introduced them to the big wide world. And they did exactly what puppies do. They played and chased and wandered. They sniffed and ate and rolled in muck.

In a peaceful, empty house, Jeanna lovingly bathed each pup. They huddled together, warm and dry, and slept. Meanwhile, Bessy arrived home safe and sound, bringing with her to Sussex a cozy new bed and the warm thanks of hundreds of people whose paths she will never cross, but whose lives she unknowingly changed, if just a little.

In the weeks that followed, one by one the Elves who touched the lives of so many strangers, joined their new families. They posed for pictures with grinning parents and laughing children. They went home to canine and feline brothers and sisters. And with them they each brought their Kennel Club registration, complete with names that befit their remarkable launch into the world: Addaci Answered Prayer, Addaci Ever the Optimist, Addaci Fighting Spirit, Addaci Gift of Love, Addaci Lasting Legacy, Addaci Positive Thinking, Addaci Amazing Grace, Addaci Grace of God, Addaci Hope Springs Eternal and Addaci Mountain of Miracles.

And if you only counted 10, you’re right. The last to leave is not leaving at all. She’ll grow up exploring the same earth she discovered with Bessy, hearing the same voice she heard the day she was born, and knowing the warm familiar comfort of Tipli by her side.

Around the house she is called Nyssa. In Danish, Nyssa means “Little Red Elf.” In Greek, just as fitting, the name means “Beginning.” But her registered Kennel Club name is as perfect a name as there ever was. She is and will forever be, Addaci Legacy of Love.

Originally published in The Huffington Post Blog under the title, "Dogged: How Perseverance (and Facebook) Saved 11 Puppies," May, 2012.

Photo by Jeanna Jones.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) dog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/legacy-of-love Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:49:34 GMT
Seven https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/seven

I asked her what she wanted to do this evening for her birthday.

She thought for a second and asked, “Anything? Whatever I want?”

“Of course,” I said. “You only turn seven once.”

Then she told me quietly, what she wanted to do more than anything else, was to wade up to her chest in the river, and stand there until the sun went down.

Who am I to judge? On my seventh birthday I asked for meatloaf.

“Let’s go,” I said. And we did.

I brought a toy to throw in case she got bored, but she didn’t.

After a while she turned to me and said, “In rivers, the water that you touch is the last of what has passed and the first of that which comes; so with present time.”

“Wow,” I said. “Did you just come up with that?”

“I’m a dog, you idiot,” She said. “da Vinci. Read a book.”

We laughed and laughed.

Then we both turned back to the river, and watched until the sky and the water were the same color.

And then we went home.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) dog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/seven Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:49:28 GMT
Nine https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/nine

At some point between her last birthday and today, according to the dog-to-human years conversion charts, Winnie passed me in age. It’s hard to believe it’s been nine years. I can still remember when her puppy feet smelled like Frito’s and her sweet breath on my face was my favorite thing. Nine years later, I love her to death but it’s not very often that any aroma originating from Winnie brings me unbridled joy like those puppy months so long ago.

I can’t remember a time when she didn’t understand exactly what I expected of her. I have very little memory of training her, actually, but she ended up smart and incredibly obedient. It’s odd, I think of her not as a very well trained dog, but more just like a friend who ‘gets’ me.

Over the years she’s gotten more set in her ways, more quirky I guess. She likes to play, but rarely, and can’t be enticed into it. If she’s in the mood, she’ll bat Winslow or Petey around until they chase her. Otherwise, she wants to be left alone. She’s more like me than any other dog in my life, past or present.

Sometimes when I let all the dogs out of their crates at the end of the day, in the midst of the frenzy of freedom, she prefers to hang out a bit longer in her crate until the others have gone outside. Then at her leisure she’ll wander into the kitchen and say hi, one of many private moments with me that she has learned to sneak when she can.

Her favorite thing to do in the world is to go out with me on the kayak, so for the last several years we’ve been doing that on her birthday, just the two of us. When the realization hits her that she alone is coming with me, she jumps around next to the truck like a puppy.

When I get to the ramp she is impatient with the process of getting gear ready. “Oh my GOD, just put the boat in the water and let’s GO!” She sits in her spot in the front of the kayak and makes her little Chewbaca noises until the truck is parked and we’re ready to shove off. At the moment that last bit of concrete ramp slides away from under the boat and we become silently buoyant, I can see every muscle in her body relax. She puts her head down and just watches the water. She’s content for hours.

Today we saw juvenile bald eagles playing or practicing eagle things above our heads. I watched Great Blue Herons wading in the muddy shallows, leaving behind meandering trails of dinosaur prints. And when we got back to the ramp, she didn’t want to leave. I packed everything up, fetched the truck and backed it down the ramp while she waited, giving her till the last possible minute before she had to turn away from the river.

She rode home doing something else she loves to do: hang her head out the window. Warm air from outside mixed and swirled with air conditioning and that pungent, wet dog smell. And you know what? Yeah, I inhaled a big, full breath of it through my nose, and smiled.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) dog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/nine Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:49:21 GMT
Here https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/here OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The moment the camera shutter closed on this image from the banks of the Rose River might just be when it all started.

My friend Douglas casts for trout as the sun sinks low in the November sky. A warm day. A cold beer. An azure blue sky reflected in water interrupted only by a series of circles reaching out to Douglas from its source: A dog.

It was there, and it was then, that I first observed my friend and his dog Enzo, a lanky young Spinone Italiano. I watched Enzo explore that farm, chasing birds and sniffing trails and running and running and running. I saw the freedom given him by Douglas to roam, and the discipline given him to faithfully return with a simple command. “Here.”

Faithful. This, I thought, is what I want.

Although my wife and I had moved to a rural area, we still lived in a house on a main road with a yard. We were surrounded by country, but not yet immersed in it. So it was just a fantasy, to have a dog that roamed the property, never too far to hear my call. But my next dog, while not a Spinone, did have a beard and bird hunting in her veins like Enzo. Over time, Winnie’s beard grew, but the bird hunting in her veins faded, and that’s alright. We did get that place in the country where dogs can run free, though.

Enzo went on to be a fixture at the farm, and in the life of my friend. They hunted together, fished together and traveled together. I was privileged to take a few long road trips with Douglas and Enzo, to hunt grouse and woodcock in the dense woods of Michigan and Maine. Enzo earned the sleep he soaked in on those return trips.

But the farm is where Enzo was truly at home. When Winnie was a puppy, Enzo showed her how to run off leash for the first time. When I added Finn a couple years later, Enzo showed him how to find a chukar at a nearby preserve. Finn and Enzo were two peas in a pod. Tall, dorky, sweet as molasses and just smelly enough one could convincingly blame the other. They napped in front of that big, hot, stone fireplace after a day of running like there’s no tomorrow.

And once in every life, there really is no tomorrow. And sometimes you never see it coming. It’s almost impossible to believe that Enzo is gone. That he has pointed his last bird, lapped up his last cool drink from the gin clear Rose. And it feels like I owe him something. And it feels like I owe my friend something too. The two of them showed me what that relationship between man and dog could be. My pair roams the property now, never too far they can’t be called in. They explore scent trails, kick up birds, point rabbits and roll in God knows what. And when I’m out mowing or trimming or repairing a fence or walking in the woods or fishing in my home river, they are by my side. And when I say “Here,” there they are. Faithful. Having dogs that have earned the freedom to roam off leash has been, well, I simply can’t overstate the peace and enjoyment it has brought me.

My heart aches for my friend. To me, Enzo has always been a part of Douglas, a part of Rose River Farm. And in a way he always will be. But he will also be a part of me and the life I have built with my dogs. I can’t ever repay a gift like that.

Rest in peace, Enzo. I hope where you are there are countless wild birds, endless cool mornings and open fields that stretch forever. And at the end, a warm fire by which to rest. Hunt hard, sleep deeply. There are no more commands, you’re already here.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) dog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/here Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:49:16 GMT
Bring Me A Dog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/bring-me-a-dog Bring Me A Dog

A couple years ago I walked around a festival in Richmond with my friend Jay and my Wirehaired Vizsla, Finn. We had all run together in a mud run/5K and were enjoying post-race beers and people watching. I started noticing it for the first time then, that people gravitated toward Finn. Sometimes seemingly without knowing it, they would veer slightly as they walked toward us, close enough to absently run fingers down his back as they passed, or they would rest a hand on his head as he stood next to them in a beer line. He was popular, and countless people asked about him or complimented him, but these subtle gestures were somehow more special.

At a local festival this spring, a young girl with Down Syndrome knelt in front of Finn in the grass. He sat quietly as she hugged him and whispered to him for a long while. Finally separating, she called to her Mother, “Mommy this dog loves me!” She was not lying.

This summer the young son of a friend met Finn out in public and put his hands on the sides of Finn’s head and said quietly, not for me to hear but just for Finn, “I love you, too.”

The more time I spend with this dog, the more I realize how selfish it is for me to keep him all to myself. If ever there was a dog perfectly designed from scratch to be a therapy dog, it is Finn. We studied, we took the test, we filed the paperwork with Therapy Dogs International (TDI), and Finn became a certified therapy dog.

I contacted a nearby facility that is already familiar with TDI, a nursing and rehabilitation center, and on National Dog Day, of all days, we arrived for our very first official visit. Half of us were nervous.

The staff could not have been more welcoming, and knowing they were aware this was our first visit put me at ease. I can’t take photos of patients and don’t want to discuss even in vague terms the types of afflictions and disabilities we encountered there, but it warmed my heart to see that dogs are blind to everything but a person’s heart and soul. We visited with ten or twelve residents in the dining hall, and what I saw and heard in that room made me more proud than I can ever remember being of anything my entire life.

Finn stood quietly as we waited and moved out of the way in hallways and elevators. He sat next to people in wheelchairs and moved closer when they could not reach him. He refused food offered to him despite being inches away from a bowl of fruit. He laid his head down sideways on laps and stayed there for easy petting. He sat still patiently when one woman could barely move her hands enough to rub the back of his neck. He shook hands to the great delight of one resident, who made him repeat the trick for those in the room not paying adequate attention the first time. He filled the room with curiosity and laughter and conversation, about his name, his breed, his handsomeness, his disposition, his eyes. He started people telling stories about dogs in their lives, dogs long gone.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. But if I live longer than I think I will, and one day find myself in a dining hall like the one I was in today, for the love of God, someone, please, bring me a dog. Bring me a dog that sits still for a pat on the head and reminds me with a nudge when I forget to keep patting. Bring me a dog that leans in my lap and wags his tail with the slightest touch or softest word. Bring me a dog that somehow makes me feel more loved than anyone else in the room, then moves to the next person and makes them feel it too. Bring me a dog that makes me remember what it feels like to share years with the very special dogs that warm my feet and fill my heart this very moment.

Bring me that, and I can go in peace.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) dog https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/bring-me-a-dog Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:49:08 GMT
Wait https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/wait

I spotted this fox curled up in a ball, bedded down under a fallen tree below the trail where I sometimes walk at lunchtime. He wasn't bothered by my footsteps until I stopped, then he raised his head to assess the threat.

I apologized for the intrusion, told him my truck was a half mile up at the trail head, and wondered if he wouldn't mind waiting for me to fetch my camera and return. "You are a special sighting to me," I explained. "And I would love a photograph, if you would be so kind."

"Well, you know how these things go," he said. "You could watch me with your eyes for a while longer, soak in the experience as long as possible. If you head up the trail for your camera, you risk my disappearing the moment you turn around, ending our encounter right here and now."

"Damn," I said. "I just don't know what to do."

"I'm just fuckin' with you," he laughed. "Of course I'll wait."

And he did.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) outdoors https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/wait Fri, 23 Feb 2018 03:01:20 GMT
Preacher https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/preacher

It would be difficult to overstate how much this means to me.

Virginia Wildlife Magazine, published by the VDGIF, is a magazine with a reputation of very high standards when it comes to photography. It took me years to break through and last year I did finally have a photo essay published inside its pages. But the cover, well, the cover seemed out of reach.

Then one early morning in January of this year, Matt Moseley and Shawn Story took me goose hunting with their dogs, Dixie and Preacher, and some other great guys I was meeting for the first time. I had never been waterfowl hunting before, but always loved the idea of it. I brought a shotgun and my camera.

Dawn arrived and weak, blue-grey light pushed through the cold drizzle, spilling over our decoys and onto a red, rusted old International Harvester truck in the field. It called to me. It oozed character. It had stories.

I told Shawn if we got any geese that morning, I wanted to put them on the hood of the truck and get some photos. Although I never got to take a shot at a goose, a handful of birds were shot by the group. Decoys were collected and wet gear was stowed. I asked if anyone minded if we could do a quick photo shoot with the truck, but I was not hopeful. My lens kept fogging up, and foul weather photography is not something I practice.

But Matt and Shawn carried the geese to the truck and we tried a few different arrangements, none of which really got the birds and dogs and truck together very well. Almost as an afterthought someone had the idea to see if the dogs would actually get up onto the truck. It was a bit of a shitshow directing dogs whose focus had gotten packed up with the decoys onto a very slippery truck with no flat surfaces, and trying to capture a workable composition using a fogged up prime lens that doesn't zoom. With fewer than fifteen total photos on the memory card I was about to call it a day.

Then Preacher jumped up on the truck and steadied. You can see his toes splayed here, gripping the slick fender. I swung around in front of him and thought/said/prayed, "please stay. I just need a second." He looked straight at me, gave me the second I wanted, and I clicked the shutter on my all-time favorite photograph.

I will cherish this image, this cover, and the memories of the wonderful friends, dogs and times it evokes, as long as I live.

Originally published in The Virginia Wildlife Blog, February, 2018.

(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) outdoors https://www.edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/preacher Fri, 23 Feb 2018 03:00:01 GMT