I'm pleased to announce the launch of this site which, hopefully, will now make my life a bit easier and more importantly provide a place where my friends can enjoy my content from time to time.
As many of you know, my long-standing blog Dispatches from the Potomac was hacked and infected with malware. After countless hours of conversations (okay, arguments) with host providers, and a whole lot more time reflecting on my goals, I made the very difficult decision to let the old blog go. The URL now points to the page you're on. My favorite posts have been recovered and reside in the Essays section of this site. Think of Essays as a 'Best of' collection, which I will add to over time.
My favorite photographs are here too, organized by category. Most are for sale, some are not, but mostly I just want you to enjoy and share them.
I've also included a tab for some of my favorite articles published in print, a brief bio and a contact page.
My biggest regret is that my subscribers to Dispatches will not get notified of new posts here. If you would like to be notified of new blog posts, please comment on any post! I will add you to my contact list and let you know when something new is posted. And as always, if you see something here you like, do not hesitate to share it or send it to friends who you think might enjoy it.
I am extremely grateful for all of you who have supported and encouraged my writing and photography through the years. I hope you enjoy this new archive of what I hope is my best of both of those worlds. So take it for a spin, and don't hesitate to let me know if something isn't working properly. Thank you.
He was three when I drove to Illinois to bring him home. He had a different name which I have never spoken aloud to him, so he's stuck in a car with a guy who seemingly doesn't even know his name. But I talked to him a lot while we drove. Mostly small talk the first leg of the trip, like an Uber driver would do. "You comfortable back there? Want me to crack the window?" We stopped at a hotel for the night, and I put Finn on the hotel bed, promised him I'd be right back and told him to stay while I went out to get a pizza. When I returned, he was still sitting on the bed where I left him, ears up and tail wagging.
And so it has been with every other thing I have asked this dog to do. From adjusting to his new name and a home full of dogs, to riding quietly in a kayak when he really would rather be swimming, to sharing his gift of comforting strangers who can feel the pureness of his heart the moment they meet him, he has done every single thing I've asked of him with enthusiasm and devotion.
I love my dogs, and they are all special in different ways. So I can say this without taking anything away from Winnie, who is my kindred spirit, or Winslow, who is in a class by himself. But Finn, well, Finn is just the best dog.
On the second day of that first trip home from the midwest all those years ago we stopped at a park to eat a lakeside lunch and take a break from driving. I went to take a picture of him sitting across the picnic table from me, and when I put the camera to my face he snagged my sandwich and threw it down his gullet like a pelican. *So* fast. It made sense, I mean everything else for him was changing. Maybe he thought this is how meals are to be served from here on out.
He is ten years old today. Tonight I will spend some quality time with him, throwing the ball, wrestling, letting him on the couch for some TV time.
Then I think I'll make him a sandwich.
He is a miniature wire haired dachshund, born in the furthest reaches of northern Hungary, bred by the most decorated field trainer in the land. His father was a wiener dog racer. His father’s father was a wiener dog racer. And so it has been, through countless generations going back to his breed’s native Germany. And like the voices of his forefathers patiently teaching him the way of his bloodline, his very DNA engineered his cells, muscle and bone to assemble and grow and strengthen to do one thing: Run.
In his earliest steps he had already begun to refine the signature gait he uses with such force now as a 5-month-old. An unconventional three-beat rhythm that uses every inch of his body to maximum efficiency – stretch the front right foot as far as it will go and dig it into the ground. Bring up the left and hammer it into the turf alongside the right, all the while gathering his haunches behind him. His back legs held together tightly, bunny-hop style, slam into the ground at once with a crack that turns the heads of onlookers. He uncoils his rear end and propels himself forward, reaching out with the front right again, repeating the pattern, each stride faster and longer than the last. As he gains traction and builds momentum, the strides run together faster and faster until the individual steps are impossible to pick out. To the eye, he becomes a blur of ears and tail and dust and torn up grass. To the ear, the sound of a smooth, distant rumble of thunder.
The first of his family to make it to America, he flew 4,500 miles to his strange new home in Lovettsville, known as ‘The German Settlement,” home of the most prestigious Oktoberfest Wiener Dog race and stadium in the country. He was given the name Winslow, an English surname that means “Hill of Victory,” and immediately set out to live up to his name.
With only three months to prepare before Oktoberfest, he trained hard. When training on grass wasn’t enough, he asked that a strip of lawn be left unmowed to increase drag. When it was too hot to run, he did resistance training in the baby pool. And when he bored of training, he raced in the off-season underground circuit, pitting his speed against scrappy Jack Russells, sneaky fast Basenjis and giant, loping orange dogs who covered massive ground with each easy stride. He raced all comers, and left most behind in the red, Virginia clay dust he kicked up in his wake. But he had never gone up against other wiener dogs.
Every athlete knows there comes a time when the practice is done. On the morning of his first race, he woke early but was not anxious. He was awash in an eerie, focused calm. He picked out the collar with his lucky lightning bolt dog tag, did a few stretches and ate a light breakfast. He was as ready as he could be.
By far the youngest competitor in the field, Winslow was lowered into the starting box alongside another young rising star named Piper. Then the chants began. WIN-SLOW! WIN-SLOW! And when the gates opened, the frenzied crowd was just too much for young Piper. She hesitated. Winslow took advantage and breezed to victory in his first sanctioned race.
But even the great War Admiral had his Seabiscuit. Winslow drew Sasha in the quarterfinals. Sasha shot out of the gate like a cannon and Winslow looked to his right and saw something he had never seen before: the back end of a wiener dog. He dug in and pushed hard, but it was too late. Winslow could not overcome Sasha’s blistering start. She crossed the finish line, handing Winslow the first defeat of his career, and went on to take third in the meet.
The legendary Kaiser secured his dynasty, winning the championship for the third straight year. Meeting with media after the finals as his handlers hinted toward possible retirement, Kaiser seemed distracted by the gathering crowd further down the track. Fans who traveled from across the region to cheer for Winslow surrounded him for photos and a chance to hold him.
Some who were down on the track that night swear they saw the sea of people part just enough for Winslow and the great Kaiser to make eye contact and exchange a few unspoken words. Perhaps it was Kaiser giving a nod to Winslow, bowing out to clear the stage for a new King. We’ll never know for sure. But I choose to believe it was Winslow doing the talking, respectfully asking the champ to stick around one more year. “I’ll be back next year stronger than ever,” I can imagine him saying. “Give me a chance to beat the best.”
Originally published in the Loudoun Times-Mirror, September 26, 2016
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© Ed Felker