Ed Felker ~ Words and Images: Blog http://edfelker.com/blog en-us (C) Ed Felker (Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) Fri, 04 May 2018 01:31:00 GMT Fri, 04 May 2018 01:31:00 GMT http://edfelker.com/img/s6/v137/u361578960-o863004203-50.jpg Ed Felker ~ Words and Images: Blog http://edfelker.com/blog 120 120 State of the Elk http://edfelker.com/blog/2018/5/elk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They were utterly speechless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

TitleTitleCaption

For more information please visit the links below:

VDGIF

RMEF

Southern Gap Outdoor Adventures

Breaks Interstate Park

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I think I'll make him a sandwich.

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Originally published in Virginia Sportsman Magazine, November, 2011.

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

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

"Hey."

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

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

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

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

My mind tells me, snakes gotta eat too.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But my heart? My heart flat out aches tonight.

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

My uncle died last month.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Elvis Presley, dead at 42.”

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

“Elvis Presley died.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I wanted to name it.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My God he loved a story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The song is Goodbye.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Photo by Jeanna Jones.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go,” I said. And we did.

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

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

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

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

We laughed and laughed.

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

And then we went home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Ed Felker ~ Words and Images) dog http://edfelker.com/blog/2018/2/here Sat, 24 Feb 2018 00:49:16 GMT