The Dominion Riverrock Festival in Richmond, Virginia seemed like a fun event, and when I learned that there was a “Filthy 5K” mud run, and that you could run with a dog, I decided to enter for precisely two reasons: I needed a ‘deadline’ to motivate me to get off my ass and start exercising, and I have the perfect dog for such an event. Finn loves mud and water more than I love not exercising. Which is quite a bit.
So for a couple months I ‘trained’ intermittently, running a few miles here, taking several days off there. But I didn’t really change my bad habits and never lost any weight in the process. So when the event came around, I was ill prepared. Running is hard for fat old guys.
But to be honest, a mile into the race I knew I could finish it, albeit very, very slowly. This, by the way, is much better than not being sure if you will survive. So I spent the considerable time it took to run it encouraging Finn, who of course did not even notice he was running a 5K.
Hey here comes Jay! Our friend Jay, who generously hosted us at his home in downtown Richmond for the weekend, went the extra mile (okay 3.2 miles) and ran the race too! Here he is pushing through the last obstacle before the finish line!
Okay, a couple things here. First, I love this picture and I loved the moment. The ‘glow’ after we had finished the race we had worked not very hard preparing for. Finn’s weight on my foot just felt, I don’t know, I just liked it. But what I didn’t like is what happened right after I took this photo. This post is about Finn, really, and I hesitate to even bring this up. But I know Jay will insist upon its inclusion here, so…
We’re standing here, like this. Finn leaning on my foot. And this old guy trots up to me from across the parking lot, all excited, and says, “How’d you do in the race???” I said, “I think we won!” He said, “Really?” I said, “No. Not really.” He said, “Oh. I was just wondering if anyone else over 60 finished ahead of me.” I said, “And you fucking asked ME??” He said, “Well, yeah, I don’t know.” I said, well, I don’t recall exactly what I said so I will paraphrase: “Sir, I appreciate your enthusiasm, you are right to be excited about what I am sure is a fine performance among other gentlemen in your age group. I commend your efforts to stay fit into very, very old age. However, you are mistaken. While my hair is grey, and I am walking with the grace and athleticism of a man who had knee replacement surgery this morning, I assure you that I have just celebrated my fiftieth birthday and, with all due respect, take considerable offense at your inclusion of me into your age group. Please be on your way.”
Afterwards we were hanging around, drinking beer, and Finn became very interested in the pool where the Ultimate Air Dogs dock diving competition would be held the next day. I decided Finn had to at least try it.
The next day we watched some cool events taking place. This is called slack line, and I had never seen it before. People jump on these wide, thin, flexible straps and do flips and all kinds of other tricks. It’s mesmerizing to watch!
Another event I’ve never seen before is bouldering. Don’t ask me how a person can climb up something that is well on the wrong side of vertical. But these incredibly strong athletes were fun to watch scale these obstacles.
The rains came for a time around noon. Finn, as he had been the whole weekend no matter what we asked of him, was a trooper. He literally endures any activity I ask of him, any conditions presented to him, with bright, smiling eyes and a firm wag of approval. But here he enjoyed a little shelter under the beer table for a few minutes until the worst of the storm passed.
Alright, here we are at the dock diving pool! We started him on the ramp so he would get used to the idea, and also so once he swam out to get the toy (a borrowed tennis ball) he would know how to get back out of the pool.
The Riverrock festival was lots of fun, and we enjoyed many cool new adventures and great company. But the highlight of the weekend was, plain and simple, Finn. This amazing dog endured probably sixty dogs on leashes too long, with inattentive handlers, getting right in his face. He simply stood there. He was approached by dozens of people who wanted to know what he was. Or to tell me how pretty he was. Or to tell him how pretty he was. One person after the other was captivated by him. “What amazing eyes.” “That dog rocks.” “That is the coolest dog I’ve ever seen.”
And people wanted to pet him. Which I’m used to. I ask to pet dogs all the time, and people want to get their hands on Team Orange often too. But this weekend I noticed something different, something more. And Jay witnessed it too. But a lot of people just felt compelled to gently put a hand on him. They would rest a hand on his head while standing in a beer line, or run a finger down his back as we passed walking in a different direction, or place a hand on his rump as they squeezed through in a crowd. They did this without a word or eye contact, they just seemed drawn to have contact with him.
I’ve had dogs for a long time, and I love bringing them with me when I’m out in public. But I have never been so thrilled, so proud, so happy to have a dog in a crowded public place as I was to have my sweet boy Finn at the Festival. He behaved perfectly, and I just couldn’t be more proud of my Riverrockstar.
The Appalachian Trail reaches from Maine to Georgia and takes 2,200 miles to do it. Like most things that go from Maine to Georgia, the historic trail passes through Virginia. Anyone who thinks Virginia isn’t a large state has never had to walk it, as 550 miles — a full 25% of the trail — falls within the Commonwealth.
At the northernmost point of that 550 mile stretch, the trail leaves the rich history of Harpers Ferry, West Virginia and crosses the beautiful Shenandoah River (shown above), then slips unassuming into the Virginia mountains. I have hiked bits and pieces of the Appalachian Trail here in Virginia, but I think it would be a worthy goal to accumulate all that mileage at some point. Or at least the not insignificant portion that passes through the Shenandoah National Park (101 miles). But that’s a bit ambitious with winter and all the extra weight gained therein so close behind us, so let’s table that discussion for the time being.
This first two miles of the AT in Virginia is the beginning of one of my favorite local hikes. I like and always photograph the iconic white blaze that tells you that you’re traveling the way of countless hikers before you. Mostly day hikers like myself but plenty of through hikers too, who have done the entire 2,200 miles. I’ve run into several in my travels and they tell stories of terrifying thunderstorms in thin, summer tents, encounters with snakes and bears, and losing forty pounds along the way.
So two miles up a hill and we let the AT go on to Georgia while we take the blue trail along the ridge to the east. This is a very well maintained but lightly traveled trail, with plenty of scenery changes along the way. Even a few spots for dog posing.
There are two overlooks along the ridge that are worth checking out if you do this hike for the first time, but I find that I pass them by in favor of spending more time at this spot at the end of the ridge overlooking the Potomac River. This is looking downstream, toward our house (six miles maybe?). See the black object in the middle of the frame? That’s a black vulture, who shared the spot with Team Orange and I until I got too close with the camera. I snapped this just as he took off.
This is the same spot from the other direction. You can see the Shenandoah River coming in from the left to the confluence with the Potomac, and beyond it is the town of Harpers Ferry, WV. That’s Maryland across the river from us, so three states all come together right here. For those who aren’t already familiar, that’s Team Orange, my Wirehaired Vizslas. Winnie in front, Finn in back.
Coming back on the blue trail, there is a different route you can take, the orange trail. I mentioned earlier how well maintained it is, but this intersection of trails is much better marked than last time I did this hike! I’ve missed it before, but I like what they did here.
The orange spur seems to be the least used of the trails I’m talking about here. Which may explain why this old, chewed up antler shed went unnoticed alongside the trail for so long! It’s actually the first antler shed I’ve ever found that wasn’t still attached to a skull, so it’s pretty special to me even if it is all chewed up.
If you’d like to try this hike, which ends up around 6.5 miles from the parking lot just across the river from the trailhead, this map will help. And if you see Team Orange out on the trail, please say hello!
Sandy and I and all the dogs met up with our friends Anna (of AKG Inspiration) and Chris and their two dogs to run around the woods, get some exercise and hunt for antler sheds. This is not the type of activity that Sandy and her dogs would normally join us for, and while it was nice to have them along, I did get the distinct feeling that things would get interesting. So come along on a photo tour of our day…
The recent snow and quick melt made for muddy conditions, but Finn and all the other dogs had a blast running around in the muck.
Finn: “Is this an antler?? I think I found an antler!” (He found several deer parts portable enough to bring back to me in varying stages of decay. I praised him for this, as I felt it was a short leap from finding and fetching leg bones to finding and fetching antler sheds.)
Okay this happened. Luna and Winnie are watching a scene unfold.
Here is that scene: We were walking along the margin of a wooded area and a dead cornfield, and we stopped to watch many, many deer in an adjacent field. They were running back and forth and one of them darted into the field we were in. She was maybe 150 yards away when some of the dogs saw her and took off. Finn was in the lead with Wyatt and Monkey not far behind. I had the e-collar on Finn but a firm “Here!” caused him to break off his chase and circle back. Wyatt also broke off his chase and came back. While I was congratulating myself for what a good boy Finn was, we realized – if a little slowly – that Monkey was not coming back without a deer. He had visions of himself, like a lion dragging a gazelle into a tree, just hauling that deer back to us as everyone would cheer and hold him up in the air and celebrate his bravery and prowess.
Perhaps he was imagining the cheering as he ran through the dried corn and dimly heard people shouting his name. These “cheers” only propelled him faster. Two hundred yards. The deer spots him. Three hundred. The deer is hauling ass now. Four hundred. Yelling is fruitless at this point (even more fruitless than it was when he was within ear shot). At one point, the white dot moving in the distance changed course, and Sandy said, “he’s coming back.” But I knew better. He had taken a bad line on the deer, not realizing that when things are a thousand yards away moving at forty miles an hour, you can’t run to where they are, you have to run to where they’re going to be. A quick thirty degree course correction and he was off again. Easily half a mile away now, a small dot in an enormous plot of land, it was hard to get a perception of the speed involved. I once watched the International Space Station make an arc across the night sky. A dim, white spot lazily crossing from horizon to horizon in a couple of minutes. This was like that. It doesn’t look like it’s going 17,000 miles an hour, but you know in your heart there’s no way you can catch it.
Still, Mommies do what Mommies do, so Mommie dropped some extra baggage and took off in a jog after the International Monkey Station. As he neared the treeline maybe three quarters of a mile away, several other deer spooked at the frenzy of activity and took off after the lead deer. To us in the distance, it just played out in surreal slow motion. The other deer, five or six, were trampling through the corn in a panic, basically right where Monkey was. I thought, well if he doesn’t get killed right here, he’ll have to be scared enough to turn back. Nope. He now had a half dozen new targets ahead of him, and he slipped into the treeline and vanished.
By this time Sandy had reached the general area and, I presume, was calling him. I can only imagine what I would have been yelling at that point, but we couldn’t tell what she was yelling, what with the vast distance involved. When she stopped running, I knew she had spotted him and he was on his way to her, and we all could relax enough to really laugh quite hard at the entire incident. So we waited, oh I don’t know, a half hour or so for Sandy and Monkey to return. Perhaps this photo gives an idea of how far that distant treeline is. Actually the treeline here is the short way across the field. To the left, where Monkey ran, the edge of the field is probably four times as distant.
When he returned from running the scale-adjusted equivalent of me sprinting from our house in Virginia to Dayton, Ohio, the other dogs were quite interested in what happened. “Did you catch it? How close did you get?? Were you just FREAKING when those other deer almost ran you over??? You’re so BRAVE!!”
While Monkey had his sights set on live deer, we still hadn’t found an antler shed. Despite covering, depending on which of our party you were talking about, between six and forty-five miles. Sandy finally kept us from getting skunked when she found this nice little one! Being a great steward of the environment, she returned it to the earth to let nature take its natural course. And by “being a great steward of the environment,” I mean, “Having shallow pockets and not really paying attention to stuff falling out of them.” But at least we got this photo of today’s find.
Here is our team of shed hunters: Luna, Wyatt, Winnie, Finn and Petey. On the end there, doing things his own way as he always does, is Monkey, the dog with the biggest heart of all. He’ll sleep for two days, and deserve every minute. And as I watch his feet twitching in his sleep, and his mouth quivering just a bit, I’d like to think that in his dream, he gets that gazelle all the way up the tree.
From left to right: I met Matt many years ago when he showed up at a party at my house with a mutual acquaintance. He spotted a picture on our fridge of me with a Steelhead and we got to talking fly fishing. A few weeks later we were on a road trip together to upstate New York to fish for salmon and we remain great friends and fishing buddies. Harold, who runs the guide service Spring Creek Outfitters out of Western Maryland, was the first guide I ever fished with when I started fly fishing. Since then we have become friends through his generous work with Project Healing Waters. I first met Joel when a mutual online friend introduced us because Joel needed a fly fishing related logo design. We became fast friends, and his Missoula, Montana-based guide business Montana Troutaholics is an absolute must if you are planning a trip to that area to fish.
So myself and three friends I met because of fly fishing but who have never met each other, came together because of that shared passion for fly fishing at one of the best places for it, Rose River Farm.
But I was fishing with two of the best trout guides I know, so I was positive it was just a matter of time.
In the afternoon, with just a hint of sun to warm the water a couple of degrees, things turned on and the fish became a lot more active.
There was a little beer drinking going on as well, of course.
Matt and Joel warming up by the grill before lunch.
A hot lunch hit the spot after spending the cold morning in the water.
Here’s Harold putting the bamboo to the test on a nice rainbow.
And back you go into the Rose River.
My biggest fish of the day.
I think it’s safe to say the Rose was pretty clear!
Joel always looks like he’s in a Simm’s ad or catalog cover.
A full day of fishing behind us and more weekend adventures ahead for Joel and I, we all headed back to the wonderful luxury yurt-style cabin at Rose River Farm. More beer and many laughs went great with a few thick rib-eye steaks on the grill. A perfect end to a great day.
Hanging around the fire pit was so much fun. There was weather coming in, but luckily it held off long enough.
We were surprised the next morning to find a couple inches of fresh, wet snow on the ground!
An unhurried, hearty breakfast started our day off right.
I don’t drink coffee, but on this morning I could have used a cup or two!
After breakfast, Joel and I headed into the Shenandoah National Park for some brook trout fishing and a vigorous hike. We stopped at a few pools along the way, but the fishing was pretty tough, quite possibly the result of the weather front that had just moved through.
But Joel would not be discouraged! We tried many different flies to get the attention of these stubborn fish.
Finally patience and skill paid off as Joel brought this little beauty to hand. Joel’s first native brookie, and also by far his farthest easterly fish caught in the U.S. So while not big, it was memorable.
When we let this little guy go, we told him to tell all his friends that he was treated with care and respect and that the fly was delicious. But they didn’t get the message, this was the only fish of the day. I was psyched Joel got it though, and the company and great hike made for a fantastic day despite the fishing.
This is my favorite photo of the day, and I encourage you to click on it to see it larger. Joel stepped off the path to try one more spot on the hike back, and I captured this cool panorama with my iPhone. Winter has its own brand of beauty, and while at first glance it can look pretty brown and dull outside, nature reveals wonderful, subtle colors in the winter. Sometimes we have to just remember to open our eyes and maybe look a little harder.
The next day brought another opportunity to share with Joel, who has never been out this way, something that’s very special to me: A hike with Team Orange (my two Wirehaired Vizslas). I chose the more difficult trail at Maryland Heights, which has some neat Civil War history along the way.
Another iPhone panorama from the summit, showing the historic town of Harper’s Ferry, WV, and the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers.
A mellow evening after a fun filled weekend was in order, beginning with a final beverage on the Platform.
The sun sets on the last day of Joel’s visit. I’m so grateful to have my friends together for some fishing down at Rose River Farm, and for the chance to spend some more time with Joel, he and his wife Debbie have been such gracious hosts to me when I’ve visited out west.
Everyone was a bit tired after three days of fishing, hiking and drinking. So some couch time was what we were in the mood for, and Finn wasn’t going to let his new hiking buddy get too far away.
This young deer has been hanging around for a few weeks, often very close to the house. This morning he was bedded down in the pine needles between our two fences here, a place protected from falling snow because of the evergreens above. When he saw the dogs run into the yard, he stood up and ran toward the fence! Petey and the deer seemed to share some sort of connection as they played, sniffed and postured through the fence wire.
Today the dogs and I went for a nice hike at Sugarloaf Mountain. The hike is this one from Hiking Upward, about a seven mile loop. I love a loop hike, because it makes me do the whole thing. No shortcuts! Despite being the first car in the parking lot (almost a full hour after the gate opened at 8), by the time we got back to the car there were probably a hundred cars parked in the two lots and along the road. The trail started getting crowded toward the end, but if I had gotten there when the gates open (or on a weekday), I probably would have only seen a handful of fellow hikers.
It was extremely foggy early, and didn’t clear up much all day. But it was nice and unseasonably warm, and the diffused light helped me get a couple photos I’m really happy with. Even though I brought my little Olympus point and shoot, my go-to hiking/fishing/travel/whatever camera, these two shots were actually taken with my iPhone 4S. The photo above is one of my favorite pictures of ‘Team Orange.’ Boy do they love a hike! I predict all three of us will sleep well tonight.
REVISED…I wanted to get one of those canvas photo prints done of that top photo, but decided to Photoshop out the leashes first. Here is the updated photo…
My favorite photos from this year feature more birds than dogs, surprisingly, and more dogs than people, not surprisingly. The picture above, a wild brook trout being released into the cold, winter waters of Cedar Run in Shenandoah National Park early this year, is my favorite. Holding a slippery trout in one hand while operating a DSLR with the other is a low percentage proposition. But luck is a big part of photography. At least it is in my photography. The best of the rest of 2012 are below, in no particular order.
This misty photo of the so called Platform was one of the most popular images I shared on facebook this year. In fact, a few friends now have the print hanging in their homes, which is a great honor to me. This grownup tree fort is one of my very favorite places, a sanctuary in the truest sense of the word.
I chased this impossibly vibrant sunrise around for a half hour before work one morning, looking for an interesting foreground to silhouette against it. When I came across this tree with a group of black vultures perched in it, I hurried to get this shot as the fleeting, red was fading with each passing moment.
The blog post that featured photos from the falconry event I attended was featured on the WordPress ‘Freshly Pressed’ page, an incredible honor that brought many new viewers to this blog. Welcome and thank you to those who still follow from first seeing it there.
We are lucky enough to see bald eagles regularly where we live, but they are hard to get good pictures of without a zoom lens. I got lucky as I had borrowed a nice lens from a friend and had it when this eagle came around. Taken from our back yard in Virginia, that is the town of Brunswick, Maryland across the river in the background. I’m happy to report that my wife got me a 75-300 lens for Christmas! So look for more eagles and other wildlife pics in the future!
A brown thrasher sits on her nest protected by the thorns of a lemon tree at Rose River Farm in Madison County, Virginia.
I wrote a blog post I’m pretty proud of about the space shuttle Discovery and what it meant to be present for this historic event. You can read that post here.
Oddly, my favorite photo from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum shows neither water, nor a boat.
This is one of those technically flawed, lucky shots that turned out nicely. I was unaware as I was composing the photo in the viewfinder, that the balcony rail was aligned with the line in the background where the snowy foreground meets the woods. The result is an interesting effect, I think. I’m surprised at how many of my favorite shots came on less than pleasant weather days.
These amazing miniature donkeys are hard to photograph in the same way puppies are: They are affectionate and curious about the camera, so by the time you get down to their level, they’re in your face wondering what you’re doing and if you have any treats.
The Virginia State Police would surely be alarmed to know how many photos I have tried to take of my dogs in the rear view mirror. This is a challenge while parked, never mind while driving. But I love this one of Finn and remember exactly the day I took it because that’s my 3-weight Scott fly rod in the rack. We were on our way to the Rapidan.
I love this photo of Winnie, taken on a summer kayak outing. You’ve seen a cropped version of it before, it serves as the masthead image for this blog, but I thought the entire image warranted extra mention here.
My first, hopefully of many, trip to Yellowstone National Park was a life changing event. It is an extraordinary, magical place I will never forget, and a place I will long to return to more each day until I drive through its gates again.
2012 had a few amazing lightning shows. I was lucky enough to capture this strike from our deck. The rain had stopped but the lightning continued for more than an hour, the perfect opportunity to try to capture it.
My friend Anna and I stood in the bitter cold trying to capture a meteor from the Geminid shower in December. This was one of the brightest of the night.
Driving on a Montana highway, when we saw this amazing old car with a tree growing out of the roof, my friend Joel turned the car around so I could get some pictures of it.
Another accidental photo I ended up liking. While fishing for smallmouth, I wasn’t paying attention to my camera settings. I had it set on macro, so it kept trying to zoom in and focus closely. I couldn’t get a shot of the entire fish, but I love the textures of the fish and water here.
It was hard to choose one photo from Slough Creek in Yellowstone. Simply the most beautiful place I have ever had the honor of being. We hiked in about six miles to get there, and the moment we arrived, I was sad at the thought of having to leave it later.
Watercolor artist Carole Pivarnik has created a fun, beautiful book of dog portraits, each accompanied with a haiku, “What dogs really think, in 17 sassy syllables.” The book is called Doggitude, and I welcome my readers to visit the web site here.
I am especially excited about it because one of the portraits included in the book is of my one and only Winnie! And in honor of Winnie’s inclusion in this lovely book, I am giving away a copy signed by the artist/author! Five syllables, seven, then five again. Comment on this post with a haiku, and I will randomly pick a winner from those who commented and send a copy of Doggitude your way!
Below are some ‘in progress’ photos of Carole’s wonderful painting of Winnie. I couldn’t be happier with how this portrait turned out!
Here is the model,
Posing with me and her book,
Which someone will win!
Comment in the form of a haiku by the end of the year and you could win a book!
UPDATE! Four people entered with a haiku, so I had Winnie choose the winner using the scientific Equidistant Milkbone Randomizer method. Congratulations to Christine! Email me your address to email@example.com. Thanks everyone, and Happy New Year!
Finn, shown here earlier on the walk very curious about the critters inhabiting this hollow tree, was bounding ahead of me down a steep grade of thick brush. I was weaving my way through a thicket of thorns and vines when I heard him cry out ahead of me, maybe fifty feet. I know Finn, and I know he cries out for two reasons: pain, or fear. This was fear. I made my way clear enough to see his predicament — he had jumped down a steep embankment through a loop of vine about the diameter of a nickel and plenty strong. His back legs didn’t make it through and caught him at the hips, suspending his back legs off the ground. He tried to get away using his front feet, but this just twisted him around. He was powerless to get free and even more powerless to understand the nature of the pickle he had gotten himself into.
I called out to him, “Whoa…whoa…” Not yelling, but loud enough for him to hear over the racket he was making. He stopped struggling and watched me. I gently repeated the command over and over as I freed myself from my own nest of vines, reached him and lifted his rear legs through the vine loop. He was very happy to have all fours on the ground again, but I think I was even happier that in a situation where panic was beginning to set in, he trusted me to get him out of the jam, and obeyed the command I gave him from a distance.
“Whoa” is, I think, primarily a bird dog thing, but my dogs don’t even hunt and I find all sorts of useful applications for this command. Bath time, posing for photos, waiting at the door before walking through it or greeting guests, etc. But those are all conveniences for me. It was special to be able to use something he had learned like this to calm him and buy me some time to reach him, and I feel like this little episode put us at a new level of trust.
The white blaze of the Appalachian Trail is more than a directional marker. It is an icon for an American resource steeped in history. I can’t say I’m one of those who feels the calling to hike the trail’s entire reach from Georgia to Maine, but every time I hike a short stretch of it, I gain a little more respect for those thru-hikers who make the entire trek. Today Team Orange and I did the 5.5 mile out and back Raven Rocks hike not far from where we live.
It had been a while since I hiked this stretch, and I had forgotten how strenuous it was. After a span of regular exercise and some notable weight loss I thought it would be a breeze compared to my last visit. So I think I started off with a brisk and unsustainable pace that tired me out early. But it was a beautiful day, and the dogs and I all needed the exercise, so we pressed on.
Unlike my regular hiking routes which typically are uphill at the beginning and downhill at the end, this hike goes up and down several times. This makes it a challenge to ration both water and energy. The trail itself is very rocky, which feels like a lot more exercise than a flat dirt path. The payoff, just across the West Virginia border, is a spectacular view of the Shenandoah Valley.
I brought a lot of water for the dogs and it’s a good thing. They worked hard. For much of the year this hike has two beautiful little stream crossings, but the current drought has dried both of them up. I love this new collapsible water bowl from REI, by the way.
I felt like I had used up 75% of my energy on the first half of an out and back hike. Which isn’t a problem if it’s all downhill on the way back, but it is most certainly not that. So after a little stalling and a few photos, we all had some more water and then we headed back.
About half way back to the car, Winnie came within inches of stepping on this snake with all four of her feet. For a dog who will lock up and point a stationary chipmunk at thirty paces, she was curiously oblivious to this snake. I could not immediately identify it. We have three poisonous snakes in Virginia: the Northern Copperhead, the Eastern Cottonmouth and the Timber Rattler. None of which I’ve ever seen in person. It didn’t have a rattle, but beyond that I had no idea what it was. It had markings I had never seen, and displayed some intimidating behavior when threatened by my camera. He flattened his head out like a hood and became very agitated. I sent a picture to my wife, waited for the family hiking behind me to arrive at the scene to warn them just in case, and continued on. Before long, Sandy had accurately identified it – behavior and all – as a harmless Eastern Hognose snake. But the incident made me think about a blind spot of sorts when I’m hiking a rocky trail. I had to watch where every foot landed on the uneven path, so my concentration didn’t extend more than four feet in front of me much of the time. And the dogs are on six foot leashes. I actually encountered a few people on the trail, noticing them for the first time when they were only 20 feet away. If this were a dangerous snake, Winnie could have gotten bitten and I would be right on it before I knew what happened. If it were a snake, as the saying goes, it would have bitten me.
Anyway, I recommend the hike. We pushed as hard as I could and made the round trip in exactly three hours. And with good visibility like we had today, you can see forever from the summit. I mean, if you bother to look up.
I’ve seen “Loudoun Heights” on hiking trail maps online before, but never could find a clear map that showed me enough to commit to trying it. For some reason, it is not on my favorite hiking web site, Hiking Upward. But part of the Loudoun Heights hike is on the Appalachian Trail, and I finally got this great map from the AT Trail Conservancy. Team Orange and I tried it today and it is an instant favorite. I hope you enjoy the images and memories of a fantastic day…(All photos were taken with the Olympus TG-1, with the exception of the very last one, which is an iPhone 4S photo.)
The best place to park for this hike is across the Shenandoah River on the West Virginia side. The sidewalk along the highway is entirely appropriate and safe, but I’ll be honest, it’s not very fun to be on it. The guardrail seems low, and the jersey wall between you and traffic even lower. It’s all more than a little unnerving to me. But it is a great view of a beautiful stretch of river.
The white blaze on the trees is known up and down the entire east coast: The Appalachian Trail.
Winnie stops and stares at nothing often when we’re hiking. But today she really locked onto something I couldn’t see, and wouldn’t move past it. As I finally noticed, it was a chipmunk.
Turns out Winnie wasn’t the only one watching ol’ Alvin. This black snake had been watching him too, and when he struck, I was reminded of one of the biggest reasons to keep dogs on leash on hiking trails. It’s not just for their safety, but for the safety of the wildlife too. Winnie very much wanted to be involved in the black snake/chipmunk discussion. But I snapped a quick picture and let him be to feed.
I was extremely impressed with the macro setting on this Olympus TG-1. This is not a large flower. That is a very small sweat bee!
One more macro shot, with Winnie’s coat in the background, before we get back to the action.
One of the things I love about this hike is that the hard work is done in about the first two miles. It’s very steep, but once you get to the top of the ridge, you leave the AT and take the blue trail in a comfortable walk along the ridge line. There are three overlooks, this is the first.
This second overlook is pretty uncomfortable, in my opinion. I don’t like looking down 600 feet, and for some reason the wires going all the way down and across the river make it worse. We did not linger at this spot, and I’ll happily skip it next time. But the overlooks are very near the trail.
This rock formation is a pretty imposing landmark, so we stopped for water and a photo here.
The blue trail ends at the last overlook, Split Rock. Between Maryland Heights, Weaverton Cliffs and this, this is my favorite view of the Potomac River and the town of Harpers Ferry. Spectacular, even on a very overcast morning.
Team Orange waiting for me. This photo was actually a mistake, I forgot to set the timer so I could go over and join them for this one. But I love it.
We had some water and snacks and then I was just messing around with the camera. I really love this setting. I don’t know how they do it, but it’s designed to make the photo look like it’s a miniature. And it does! This totally looks like a model for a train set or something. Weird.
On the way back, we took a little detour. What kind of Team Orange would we be if we didn’t take the Orange Trail?
Round trip back to the car was about seven miles, but we felt pretty good so we continued past the car and headed into the town of Harpers Ferry. Along the way, for some reason I felt like this photo had to be staged and taken.
A well earned cool down in the waters of the Shenandoah River.
A well earned cool down on the porch of the Secret Six Tavern! These dogs were so fantastic today, walking politely on leash for nearly nine total miles, passing scores of tourists in town and never once being nosey or rude, just walking in a polite heel. I really feel like I can take them anywhere.
By the time we got to the tavern they were pretty tired, but after a sip of beer and a few french fries each, they were toast. I think all three of us felt like the toughest mile of the day was that last one back to the car after sitting down and relaxing for a bit. But I’m real proud of them today.
I captured this portrait of our four dogs with my iPhone the other day. It’s far from perfect, but everybody looks pretty good and are generally pointing in the same direction. But anyone who has more than one dog, and clearly anyone who has ever even met a Jack Russell, knows that it’s not the easiest thing in the world to get four dogs on the same page when it comes to getting their picture taken. Here is a little behind the scenes look at how it really went, a portrait of a portrait.
Clockwise from the white blur in the foreground: Gromit, exiting stage right; Finn, too close to the camera; Winnie, limbering up for some good posing; Petey, PERFECT! Nice model walk, bud. Let’s everyone gather ’round Petey and do exactly what he’s doing!
The older three (plus the wooden deer planter on the porch) all fascinated by a dog barking three eights of a mile away. Petey still perfect. Come on, everybody, gather ’round Petey!
Finn, not awful. Winnie, daydreaming about a good stretch. Gromit, exiting stage left. Petey, perfect.
Finn, hasn’t moved. Winnie, “is that a dog barking?” Petey, “My God that looks like a SHADOW!” Gromit, “I want Mommy.”
Now we’re getting somewhere! Finn, Excellent. Winnie, Adequate. Petey, Very good. Gromit, Serviceable. Photographer, Left the goddamn food bowl in the picture. Can everyone stay while I move over so the bowl is out of the way?
My God this might actually work. Finn, Perfect. Winnie, Perfect. Gromit, Perfect. Petey, “Holy crap that is the COOLEST BUG I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE!”
Finn, Good boy, buddy, not much longer now, hang in there. Winnie, Well, Winnie you’re just not all here today, are you. Gromit, Way to be, man, you’re making me proud. Petey, “OH MY GOD, IT’S OVER HERE NOW!”
Finn: “Winnie I wasn’t gonna say anything, I was hoping I’d just catch on eventually. But I don’t understand what we’re supposed to be doing.”
Alright, everybody in position. Look over there, guys. That’s it. Finn, look over there, buddy. Where I’m pointing. Stop looking at me. OVER THERE, FINN! NOT AT ME! Oh to hell with it. This will do.
A little crop, cover up some of the technical shortcomings with a sepia treatment, and voila! A simple dog portrait!
This is my fiftieth post here on Dispatches from the Potomac. To date there have been 13,355 views from 67 different countries, and more of you choose to follow this blog every week. Thank you all for taking time out of your days and, from time to time, choosing this space to spend a few moments when your online options are virtually infinite. I appreciate it more than I can say, and I will continue to try hard to share the interesting, the beautiful and the funny aspects of my world.
To mark this special milestone I have updated my masthead banner to show my Wirehaired Vizsla, Winnie, on a recent kayak trip on the Potomac River.
Thanks again, and please tell your friends!
Regular Readers here will recall my saga with Pentax and their Optio WG-2 “waterproof camera.” After two failed cameras I went back to the Olympus brand from which I regret straying. My beautiful new TG-1 arrived late last week, just in time for a big Saturday on the water.
A friend and I chose a nice spot about four miles upstream from our place to put the kayaks in, and we chose first light because the river is never more beautiful or less populated than it is at dawn. But the spot requires a portage of kayaks and gear over four sets of railroad tracks, a couple of narrow, windy paths and a stretch of the C&O Canal Towpath.
But the sore shoulders and face full of spider webs (Note to self: Do not volunteer to be the first one down the path next time) are quickly forgotten as the sound of the rushing river nears and the spot is just as we had remembered, just as we had hoped.
Dawn came, not with a red skied bang, but rather with a breezy, blue whimper. Cooler than I expected but the breeze brought a promise of a warm day ahead.
In an hour the breeze and water had calmed and we settled into a steady downstream mosey. The smallmouth were biting but not enthusiastically and only little ones.
This bridge between Lovettsville, VA and Brunswick, MD marks the one mile point to home. I love the rippled reflections here.
It was still pretty early in the day when we got off the water and I hadn’t given the new Olympus much of a waterproof workout. So once the kayak was put away I brought Team Orange down to cool off. This is Finn, who I think would stand in this river all day in the summer.
Underwater pictures are fun, but you really don’t know what you have while you’re taking them. My method: Stick the camera underwater, snap away, then get them on to the computer later and throw out 99% of them.
I love the abstract, colorful images you can get by shooting up at a subject (Winnie, in this case) with the lens just barely submerged.
Water plays crazy tricks with light!
Finn doing his thing.
I hope you enjoyed these images from a fun day. I appreciate you all taking time to let me share it with you.
With lots of animals and other sights that dogs find fascinating, both in the water and on shore, it’s my job to react quickly when my back seat driver switches sides to check something out.
Here we are on the Potomac River. Paddling upstream with a dog on the back, even in low summer flows, is good exercise for precisely 50% of us.
After a while I opted for the peaceful, slower current of the C&O Canal.
Six legs needed stretching, and those couple beers I brought aren’t gonna drink themselves either. So we took a break.
Before long, though, Winnie was ready to hit the water again. So we floated downstream back to the ramp.
A girl’s gotta dry her hair after a swim! What a fun afternoon with my girl. Winnie is a special dog, and the joy that comes from spending time with her doing things like this is hard to describe. It’s like spending time with a good friend. A friend who never drives, smells bad when she gets wet and always wants a sip of your beer. But a good friend. A best friend.
My immensely talented friend Steve featured us and our entire crew in a comic for his web site, every nine minutes. Thanks Steve, I love it!
Please take a few moments and visit some of my Cool and Talented Friends linked on the right hand side of this page. There are amazing painters, innovative potters, dog loving photographers and watercolorists, wonderful engravers, brilliant artists who write about art, thoughtful photographers who write about the outdoors, and more. And I’m proud to know them all. Thanks for supporting them!
Yesterday was a nice, bright, early spring day, and all the dogs were relaxed and sunning on the front porch, so I thought it was time to try to get them all together for a family photo. This is easier said than done, of course. But I got lucky and caught them all in the same frame.
Starting on the top step, on the left is my boy Finn. He is a 4-year-old Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla and a very good, sweet boy. To the far right of him is Gromit, who we call Monkey more than Gromit. He is a 5-year-old Jack Russell. He was voted Most Likely To Not Be Available For A Family Photo. The one in the center, sporting the furrowed brow, is our new Basenji puppy, Petey. He hasn’t been here long, but is adjusting really well. He is a good boy. He seems very smart and thoughtful, and has a wonderful personality. On the bottom step is my very special girl, Winnie. She is a Wirehaired Vizsla too, and will turn four this summer. Winnie is a bit odd, though there’s more than a fair chance she gets that from me.
So, donkeys and horses and barn cats notwithstanding, there is the family!
It was early morning when I arrived with Winnie, my Hungarian Wirehaired Vizsla, to a nearby neighbor’s property for some field training. With a whistle around my neck and a long check cord to deal with, I didn’t want to deal with a full sized camera. But I had my little point-and-shoot with me just in case.
She had just jumped out of the vehicle when this magical scene of mist, light and dew unfolded around her. I grabbed the camera and quickly took this photo, moved a little closer and took one more, then the camera shut off, battery dead. I only had a few seconds to curse my bad luck before the sun came up another fraction of a degree and the moment of light became ordinary again.
It is one of my very favorite pictures of my very favorite dog, and I am incredibly honored that it won first place in Virginia Wildlife Magazine‘s photo contest, under the category “A Dog’s Life.”
I have taken countless photographs over the years, and it’s very special to win a prize with this one, taken with a pocket camera, on a day when I only clicked the shutter twice. Proof that sometimes, maybe even most of the time, photography is about being at the right place at the right time, and recognizing it when you’re there. And, as the saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you.
I am also very proud to announce another prize in the same issue of Virginia Wildlife. This photo of mine, taken alongside the Rapidan River in Virginia’s Madison County, received an Honorable Mention in the Landscape category.
Today I loaded up the dogs, camera and fly rod and headed down to Madison County, Virginia to explore the upper portion of the Rapidan River. The source of the Rapidan is located where two streams come together high on the eastern slope of the Blue Ridge Mountains. That spot is also the site of President Herbert Hoover’s summer retreat built in 1929, Rapidan Camp (or, as it is also called, Camp Hoover). You can drive much of the route up the mountain, but high ground clearance is a must, and four wheel drive is recommended. Once you turn off the main road, it’s a rough drive up an extremely rugged and steep road. I drove to the end of the accessible road (seven miles that feel like twenty), not passing a single human, and parked at the gate marking the last stretch up the mountain on foot to Camp Hoover.
I’ve done my fair share of exploring around the Virginias, and I can’t recall ever feeling as remote, as far removed from any other person anywhere in this region as I felt today. I hefted the backpack weighted down with drinking water for the dogs, and we crossed the gate and headed uphill, surrounded by crisp air, brilliant sunshine and total silence but for the soothing nearby rush of free, clean and infinitely abundant drinking water for dogs.
This portion of the Shenandoah National Park is so remote, I broke my Always Keep My Dogs Leashed In Public Parks rule (okay that’s not just my rule, it’s actually the park’s rule too), and let them run ahead and explore. However, the terrain was so remote that I started feeling the real possibility of a bear encounter. The last thing I wanted was for the dogs to spook a bear, or come between a bear and her cubs, or to piss off a bear and then run back to me, leading that pissed off bear back to me. So I decided it was best if we all just walked together.
We (okay, I) took a wrong turn at one point, adding a couple miles to the hike. But exercise was a goal for the day, and besides, if I had not made the error, I would not have seen these cool icicles.
This fireplace was mainly used for photos of President Hoover and his distinguished guests. Heads of state, era icons such as the Lindberghs, Mrs. Thomas Edison, Mr. and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt, Finn and Winnie have all been photographed here.
Source of the Rapidan located and historical photographs secured, we headed back down the hill, our sights now set on the wild brook trout that populate the river. If I was a brook trout, I would love this spot right here. I am, however, not a brook trout. Nor do I have much of an idea about where they live or what they eat.
Dogs, as it turns out, are not particularly helpful when it comes to fly fishing. But they are genuinely good company, and it was fun having them along.
When I found a spot to fish, I needed the dogs to just stay in one spot so they wouldn’t come in the water and disturb the fish I was not catching, and also it’s critical to know where your dogs are at all times when you are casting a fly line. They were really great today. Winnie is fascinated by the casting of the fly, she follows it with intense focus, and watches it drift along the current while it is not being eaten by a trout. She, it seems, would make a great fly fisher.
After a good hike and some fishing, I like to stop for lunch. Ideally, a local place with some character. The Pig ‘n’ Steak, complete with NASCAR legends laminated into the bar top, fit the bill nicely. I drank this delicious brew, wolfed down a burger, and split the fries with Finn and Winnie. Total tally for the day, Fish caught: 0, Humans encountered: 0, Bears encountered: 0, Awesome day had: 1.
Watercolor artist Carole Pivarnik is working on a book called “Doggitude,” which will feature 45 paintings of dogs, each accompanied by “light-hearted haiku from the dog’s point of view, and charming anecdotes shared by each dog’s owner.” I don’t know what charming anecdotes she has in mind, but I am really excited that Carole chose Winnie to be included, and I couldn’t be happier with her painting! So, well done, Carole! And YAY WINNIE!
My boy Finn turned four years old last week! Though he was almost three when he came to us, it seems like he’s been a part of the family forever. This photo on the left was taken at the end of our first day together. Stopped at a hotel on the long drive back from Illinois and walked down the block to get a pizza. When I came back to the room, worried that he’d be barking or scratching or otherwise stressed, he was here, just like this. We ate bad pizza and watched bad TV and looked forward to continuing our journey together the next day. He’s been a wonderful addition to the household from day one. Happy birthday, buddy!
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 eleven. 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 eleven 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 3, 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.
The pups were weighed, and 6 of the 11 had either regained or slightly surpassed their birth weights. The 5 others had a ways to go, and one of those didn’t like sucking the bottle. But, Jeanna said, “he will suck all day on a dry nipple.”
In these early, immensely stressful days before she had even had time to fully grasp the loss of her beloved Mabel, Jeanna’s positive attitude sustained her and inspired those following her story.
Jeanna: Just had a fleeting thought that I am manically clutching at straws today but I don’t care. I am going to try everything in my power to make sure these pups get the best chance possible. Positive thinking will win every time!!!!
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, on the other side of the country.
So the call for help went out again, this time for transport.
Jeanna: I need to get a lactating bitch from East Sussex to Cardiff ASAP to help with the little ones. Is there anyone who could drive parts of the way to help get her here? Her own pups are just being weaned but she has loads of milk and loves anyone’s pups, not just her own.
“Network” is such an overused word in the digital age that it’s lost some of its meaning. But on the third night of the Elve’s saga, a network of supporters came together to collect a dog and transport her three hundred 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 4:00 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 4 most needy pups feeding first.
Day 4 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 mums 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.
Jeanna: What an incredibly long week this has been! Happy One Week Birthday to all my 11 little Elves! To celebrate they have got proper collars and some little soft toys! Plus Bessy got a new soft bed so she is extra comfortable whilst she stays with us.
Every passing day saw the pups gaining weight and brought Jeanna more confidence. And on the tenth day, a major milestone was passed. The first of the pups – Mr. Yellow and Miss Lime, now identified by their new colored collars – doubled their birth weights. The next day, five more followed suit, with the remaining pups not far behind. Eyes began to squint open, wobbly legs found purchase beneath round, puppy bellies and they began to explore.
At the two week mark, it was hard to imagine they had come so far.
Jeanna: All now full, burped, pooped & flat out after having their nails trimmed too! Things are looking good, the future is bright, the future is lovely, chunky, ginger monkeys!
And the next day, the last of the Elves strained to open his eyes to that bright future.
Even as Bessy and Tipli and the Elves had uneventful days of eating and growing and learning and playing more each day, other hurdles were placed in the path. Jeanna struggled with health issues, and had to do some of her miracle work while on crutches between MRI’s and doctor’s appointments. And through it all, her positive outlook, bolstered by the challenges she had already tackled, gave her strength. And those who followed from afar watched with wonder and growing admiration.
It would be another week before Jeanna would celebrate their three week birthday by sleeping in her own bed for the first time since they were born.
When the day came for Bessy to pack up her new cozy bed and head 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 the sleep of puppies who have had a very big day. 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 ten, you’re right. Miss Purple, 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. In the yard where she plays, soon she will find and investigate two special new rose bushes Jeanna has ordered. One is named Elfin. The other, Mabel.
As for Miss Purple, 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.