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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.