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.
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.
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 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!
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.
I’ve been trying to condition myself for some vigorous hiking when I get to Montana in a few months. But so far this summer those conditioning attempts have been mostly limited to buying new hiking boots and looking at pictures of Yellowstone National Park. So today, after having spent a couple days away, I thought I’d take Team Orange (my two Hungarian Wirehaired Vizslas, for those of you not already familiar) on a nice hike.
The Maryland Heights hike has two variations. The shorter, red trail ends up at an amazing vista overlooking the town of Harpers Ferry, WV and the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers. The longer, blue trail is much less crowded, more difficult and has a lot of neat Civil War history with educational markers along the way. I planned on doing both this morning, but by the time we got to the overlook, each of the dogs drank an entire bottle of water and I didn’t have enough water for them to tack on the longer trail.
Here you can see the town of Harpers Ferry. Note the clearer Shenadoah (from top of photo) running into the muddy Potomac (right to left).
What a view from the top! Taken from Maryland, the photo shows West Virginia on the right, and Virginia on the left.
Team Orange enjoying the view.
I can’t explain why I love this picture, I just do.
The Yin and Yang of dog tongues, on the bridge over the C&O Canal.
The view doesn’t suck from the bottom, either.
These dogs are my shadows, I genuinely enjoy their company.
Okay, most of the time.
This week’s WordPress Photo Challenge looks for that picture which is unfocused. “It may be completely intentional, or accidental. You might have thought about trashing it, but in the end it definitely conveys something.”
I took this photo the other day at the river behind our house. I like the results I can sometimes get when holding the (waterproof) camera at river level and just pointing and shooting. I can’t see what I’m doing, however, so a lot of those shots don’t come out. It would have been easy to trash this one, but I actually quite like it. My two Wirehaired Vizslas are visible on the far bank, and even though they are seriously out of focus, their image conveys something about them. Finn (left) is intently watching me, waiting to break his ‘stay’ at the slightest request of mine (real or perceived). Winnie, on the other hand, has in fact lost interest in me and is investigating a tree or a shadow or a bug or something.
As this living dog art unfolded in my living room, I was reminded, of course, of the Sistine Chapel. I pondered the scene, trying to recall Michelangelo’s arguably more powerful original. I snapped a single picture with my phone, and when I Googled it, I was pretty surprised at the similarities in the composition.
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.
I’ve not done one of these challenges before, but thought I’d answer this one, because I spend a lot of time seeking out (or even building) high-up places for almost the singular purpose of looking down once I’m there. I wait for leaves to fall, for birds to land and for dogs to walk around in circles enough times so they can finally, lie, down.
I’ve been working with ceramic artist and instructor Amy Manson on translating some of my carved blocks into ceramic tiles. And even though I’m just starting to experiment, and working with clay is totally new to me so my results are pretty rough, I thought I’d share what I’m doing. And since I started a new project from scratch just as sort of a test, I’ll walk you through the whole process…
I started with a 4″x5″ linoleum block, and even though I personally get much better results if I take more time at this phase, I didn’t. A rough sketch of my image, reversed, from an old photo I have of Winnie as a puppy jumping off the ground toward the camera.
Then, as Amy showed me in her studio and made it look easy, I covered a board with canvas as a non-stick work surface, got two slats and a dowel, rolling the dowel over the clay until it spreads to the thickness of the slats. I mentioned Amy made it look easy. I found the clay stuck to the dowel and I couldn’t get a nice even slab. So I basically got stuck on Step One.
But I had gone this far, so what the hell. I pressed the block into the clay and tried to apply even pressure. But the variation in thickness showed in some areas that didn’t imprint. Also, the sticky clay didn’t cleanly separate from the block, so there’s an area that’s just kind of a mess. I’m going to buy some different clay.
I also don’t remember what tool Amy showed me to use to cut the slab when I’m done. Did I mention I’m not a very good student? So anyway, this was done sloppily too, with the wrong tool. But there you have it, a clay tile.
At Amy’s studio, we made a few tiles from existing blocks, and then tried some different glaze combinations. This is my favorite, might be hard to see but the image is me shielding a puppy from the rain with an umbrella.
And here is a tile made from the Rose River Brown block I recently made prints from. I like some aspects of this, particularly the texture and that amber color. The rest of the background needs something more, but like I said, I’m just getting started with this experiment. I hope to have something cool to report soon about it, so please keep in touch!
She will stop her chores to watch with fascination the comings and goings of a cicada wasp in the barn. Or a frog in the yard. Or a family of deer. And her excitement over these miracles, these brushes with nature that most people never take the time to notice, is infectious. I look forward to sharing things with her. An eagle sighting. A hummingbird nest found in the woods. A beautiful moth. An odd insect. A storm cloud.
She loves dogs. And those who are lucky enough to win the lottery that is being her dogs are blessed with a profound, unending outpouring of affection that begins the moment they meet, and does not end. Ever. The spirits of dogs past are still and forever bathed in the warmth of her love for them.
She has a way with horses. Once, in the middle of the night, we awoke to the sound of our horses in distress. We went out to find that five horses from the property a few lots over had gotten loose, and were rummaging through the woods adjacent to our paddocks. The sound of five confused horses snapping limbs, snorting and crying out was of course quite disturbing to our horses, who responded by freaking the hell out. What happened next was truly remarkable. In the dark, surrounded by nine very agitated beasts and one very nervous husband, she orchestrated a horse/space/time management plan. Our horses were carefully but quickly calmed and gathered and put in the barn in a sequence that would cause the least anxiety to those who remained out. Then, in the woods, the mare who she presumed the others would follow was corralled and led through dense woods around to a gate. The others frightfully followed. All the while she gave me things to do and told me where to stand to be safe. Everyone got in and separated safely, and it was one of the most impressive displays of natural horsemanship I’ve ever seen.
Long ago I read somewhere that you know you’re with the right person when you each want the others’ dreams for them more than you want yours for yourself. When I see her riding, or grooming or preparing for a show, or when I hear her enthusiastically talking to a friend about some riding problem she had worked out, or when I see the horses come in from the front field to meet her at the barn in the morning, I know it’s true.
As for me, these days I think a lot about my life and who I am. Maybe it’s the recent reconnecting with people from my past, maybe it’s just age, but I look back. I don’t dwell, or try not to anyway, but I look back. And when I do, the most amazing thing comes into focus: the only time I have ever really been comfortable, confident, truly happy with who I am, is the time I’ve been with her.
She didn’t change who I am. But she loves the best of me, and I like to think she brings it out. My parents made me who I am, but she is the one who made it possible to find myself. I’m lucky to have found her. I love you.
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!
I only use one lens. Let’s ignore the fact that the reason for this is that I only own one lens, and just agree that my Canon EFS 15-85 is a serviceable all-purpose lens. Portraits, landscapes, sports, it does okay at just about everything. If lenses were inexpensive, I would own two more tomorrow: a low light wide angle, and a decent zoom lens. But since they aren’t, and I won’t, and in less than a week I will be shooting an event for a story and could really use a zoom, I borrowed a 18-200 lens from a friend.
So today I went for a walk with the dogs down to the river to find something to practice on. And since the great blue herons, eagles, hawks and deer decided to stay in and watch the Ravens game, I trained the camera on my usual subjects, my Hungarian Wirehaired Vizslas.
I definitely need more practice with the lens. I need to figure out what it can do well, what it can’t, and how I can get the most out of it. I probably won’t figure these things out by Saturday when I need it, but what I figured out already is pretty valuable.
I think the greatest thing about a zoom lens is you can take many pictures quickly before the subject even knows you’re looking at it. This is particularly helpful with dogs and wildlife. When I’m close to my dogs, I can sometimes get nice portraits, but it’s virtually impossible to get anything candid because they’re focused on me. But from twenty yards away or more, I found I got many more candid photo opportunities.
They all seem a little grainy to me, and I was using ISO400, aperture wide open. It was very shady, and I know a telephoto lens is going to be a bit of a light hog, but I’m confused a little about the grain. Maybe someone smarter than me can comment with an answer here.
Still, the angles I was able to get as Winnie and Finn ran up or down the hill far ahead of me made for some interesting shots unlike those I typically get, and I look forward to continued experimentation.
I was looking through my pictures yesterday for something I can’t even remember now, and this one from last year caught my eye. I have many, many, many photos of Winnie. And sometimes, when a subject is, um, overphotographed, I get really picky about which photos I do anything with or even notice. But I wanted to write a little about this one because while it would have been extremely easy to ignore or even discard, with some creative cropping and a tiny little enhancement, it became one of my favorite shots of her.
I don’t like to crop very much. Probably one out of four or five images you see from me have been cropped, and most of those not by much. But this image, taken from the couch for no reason good enough to get up and move my fat ass closer, is extraordinary in its ordinariness. The composition and angle are uninteresting, the subject matter as I mentioned is already prolifically documented photographically, and on this day she is a total mess. But there were two things about her here that caused me to look again: her front legs, and her left eye.
So I could find interesting things about it, but couldn’t crop it tight enough horizontally to make any of it work.A vertical crop, however, did the trick. This took a lot of the resolution out of it, of course, but there’s still enough remaining for a modest sized print if I wanted. I liked it. But it needed one more thing. I wanted to brighten the eye just a bit.
I’m not a professional photographer. I don’t know how other people do this. But here’s how I did it. In PhotoShop, I duplicated the image layer. On the underneath layer, I brightened the entire image until the eye was the vivid color lightness I wanted. Then in the top layer, zoomed in all the way, I took the erase brush with a soft setting and light opacity (maybe 40%), and lightly erased the front layer on her eye, revealing the brighter layer underneath. It’s subtle, but to me it’s enough to make that golden arc of color the focal point of the image. And the crop enhances the sense that she is looking up without wanting to lift her head up (which is exactly what she was doing). It also minimizes her mess of a coat and makes the wispy flags on her legs add interest to the image rather than just show a dog who needs to be brushed.
I don’t expect anyone who reads this to all of a sudden painstakingly edit and crop and squeeze a compelling image out of every mediocre snapshot on your cell phone. But for those of you who take a lot of pictures like I do, try to resist the urge to glance at the 80 images you just uploaded in search of the 5 or 6 gems that jump out at you. Take your time and really look at each one, in full screen, and make sure you’re not missing something special.