Words and Images from Ed Felker

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Nine.

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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’s coming with me, and nobody else is, she jumps around next to the truck like she’s a puppy again.

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. Then 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 and thought of those ancient, bird-like dinosaurs that left similar tracks so long ago. 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, 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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Connecting with the Past

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Winslow Loves Loudoun

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Inexplicably, I have not yet written a blog post here on Dispatches about Winslow, my special little wirehaired dachshund. Winslow (admittedly with my incessant promotion) has become a local celebrity of sorts here in Loudoun County, Virginia. His arrival was marked nationally with an introduction on the Orvis Dog Blog. Locally his gift for promoting local businesses was tapped as Loudoun County Economic Development featured him in their Takeover Tuesday campaign, where he took charge of their Instagram account for a day. He was then featured in the Loudoun Times-Mirror in a must-read piece about his performance as the youngest participant in our town of Lovettsville’s Oktoberfest Weiner Dog Races.

Visit Loudoun, the voice for our county’s tourism, recently launched a #loveloudoun campaign wherein prominent residents would share things they love about our great county. Winslow was interviewed for the project, and his episode of the series on social media was extremely popular, quickly gathering well over a thousand Likes on Facebook.

But due to space limitations, Winslow’s endearing interview could not be shared in its entirety. So with Visit Loudoun’s (and Winslow’s) permission, the full text of the interview is shared below. Enjoy!

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Visit Loudoun: How long have you lived in Loudoun?
Winslow: I was born in Hungary but moved to Loudoun when I was 8 weeks old. I’m almost a year old now, so… well I can’t do the math but I’ve lived here almost my whole life.

VL: What was your first impression of Loudoun?
W: Well, like everyone I assume, I notice smells more than anything. And wherever we go, there are so many wonderful smells, from woods and fields and creeks and animals, to the amazing smells coming from delicious restaurants and backyard cookouts.

VL: What do you like to do in Loudoun your free time?
W: Dig. I dig a lot. The soil here, I don’t know, there’s just something about it. Can’t get enough. In fact, can we cut this short? I’d kinda like to get back to it.

VL: Describe a perfect spring or summer day in Loudoun.
W: Oh that’s easy. Wake up early. REALLY early. Make sure everyone is up. Then I like to have a big bowl of breakfast and go for a long walk in the woods with my canine sister and brothers. After that, I love to go to those places where there are happy people and other happy dogs and they make beer. I get a lot of attention, which if I’m being honest, is pretty neat.  But being out at a place makes me tired, so even though it’s fun, I’m most happy when it’s time to go home and rest on the couch. I can get on the couch by myself now, by the way, I’m pretty proud of that if you want to include that in your story.

VL: What’s your best Loudoun memory?
W: My best Loudoun memory was my first Wienerdog Race at the Lovettsville Oktoberfest! There were SO many people there and they chanted my name! I won the race and everyone was so happy for me even though I lost the next one. But if I never win another race in my life, I will never forget that special day when it felt like the entire town loved me.

VL: What is your favorite place in Loudoun and why?
W: Well I’m not gonna lie, I love all the beer making places that allow me on the patio. Everyone is so cheerful, some of them make dog cookies out of their beer making stuff, some have fires when it gets chilly out, and they all put fresh water bowls out (I’m not old enough to drink beer yet). But my absolute favorite place is home. I’m the youngest in a five-dog household, and we all get along great. We run around a lot, dig of course, and when we ruin a toy, a brand new better toy just shows up the next day! But my Mom and Dad love living here, and they make it a wonderful place for us dogs.

VL: What would you consider to be Loudoun’s best kept secret?
W: Gosh I don’t know what’s a secret. Did you know there’s a river, like right there? And there’s a great big hike called Loudoun Heights but let me warn you, if you have short legs like me there are some awful big rocks to go over. And did you know if you peek your head up so the lady at the drive thru at the bank in Lovettsville can see you, she’ll send a cookie through the wall?

VL: What do you like most about the people who live here?
W: When we go to a crowded place I notice that people here seem to be kind and happy and very welcoming to me. I don’t know if they even know I’m from another country but they don’t seem to care. And sometimes people I’ve never met before recognize me from seeing me on the computer! That’s the best. They say stuff like, “Oh my God is that Winslow??” And my Dad gets so proud and says, “It sure is!”

VL: If you moved away, what would be the one thing you would miss?
W: I would miss our home, but homes with long driveways and birds to chase and holes to dig can be found elsewhere I suppose. I’ve made friends here that I know love me as much as I love them, though. That’s what I would miss most. I even have girlfriends! My Dad says you aren’t supposed to have more than one so don’t tell Sarah and Kellie about that if you don’t mind.

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The Project Healing Waters 11th Annual 2-Fly

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The Project Healing Waters 2-Fly Tournament is held each spring at Rose River Farm, PHW’s Home Waters. It has always been a weekend punctuated with powerful moments, and the eleventh annual event was no exception, with temperatures and emotions both running a bit higher than forecasted. But, Project Healing Waters is a family of sorts. In fact it has never felt more so to me. And as always, everyone involved came together in mutual support and camaraderie. The 2-Fly is also a celebration, though, and friends old and new were issued generous doses of friendly ribbing at any and every opportunity. To sum up with a cliche: We laughed, we cried. Here are some highlights…

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Saturday evening’s program includes plenty of time to catch up with those we haven’t seen in far too long. Hopefully now that Eivind and Tara Forseth have moved to Virginia, I can see them more often! That’s Mark Eustis in the background hogging the oyster bar. Mark runs the PHW Stars and Stripers tournament in August on the Chesapeake Bay.

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Former Miss Virginia Tara Wheeler was the Master of Ceremonies for the Saturday evening program and did a wonderful job. Tara has been a friend to Project Healing Waters for many years, and I hope she makes a habit of making the yearly trip from Charlottesville where she anchors the evening news for CBS19.

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Judge Thomas Hogan has been a fixture at the annual 2-Fly since its inception, so it is as fitting as it is exciting that he agreed to be the evening’s Keynote Speaker. Hogan is a skilled and patient fly fisherman, a distinguished and highly respected federal judge, and one of the very nicest men you’ll ever meet. I have not read Hemingway’s Big Two-Hearted River, but it jumped to the top of my list when Judge Hogan spoke about its themes of the destruction of war, and the healing powers of nature. His words were pitch perfect for his audience, and kicked off a wonderful weekend of fun, fish, friendship and healing.

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Even Project Healing Waters’ highest honor, the Patriot Award, seems inadequate when it comes to the organization’s founder Ed Nicholson. Introduced wonderfully by Chairman of the Board Bob Fitch to a sustained, standing ovation, however, Nicholson had to feel the love and gratitude in the room. Through tireless devotion to the cause of healing our wounded servicemen and women, Ed has touched more lives than he can count, and saved more than he can imagine. I couldn’t be more proud to call him my friend.

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The last few 2-Fly weekends have been cold and rainy. But as anglers geared up early Sunday morning it was already warm, and an early fog burned off, leaving behind its humidity for the rest of the day. Here Eivind is looking for the right two flies to use for the day. If they don’t work (or if he loses them), his tournament is over, so these are important decisions.

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A permanent plaque remembering Brian Mancini, a big part of the Project Healing Waters family, was dedicated before the tournament began. The pool where Brian first fished with a fly rod, where he first felt the healing power of standing in flowing water and casting to a trout, will from this day forward be known as Brian’s Pool.

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Brian’s absence was palpable. And those feeling the weight of his loss found the comfort of an understanding shoulder to lean on.

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With the last of the morning mist burning off the Rose River, Chris Rowland was among the first to fish the pool newly named for his dear friend.

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Rick Warrington, guided by Gavin Robinson, smiled big after catching this stunning brook trout.

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Jason Baker must catch a lot of trout to ooze such nonchalance with a huge rainbow on the line!

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The prize for biggest fish of the day went to Rob McKennan for this gorgeous 22-inch monster. Rob and Jim Graham, guided by Jimmy Aliff and Ira Strouse, respectively, came in first place among the Pro/Vet teams.

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Robert Bartlett, like a lot of fly fishermen, enjoys being on the water whether he’s catching fish or not. This is a photo of him not.

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Rob Snowhite, who was guiding Lee Barbee on Sunday, tenderly releases a rainbow back into the river.

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Tom Stark and Joanne Hopkins have been fishing in the 2-Fly for many years. If you think they might be slowed down by a new baby, you’ve never met Tom and Joanne before.

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What do you get when you combine a great group of participants, tireless staff, dedicated hard working volunteers, generous donors and a little cooperative weather thrown in for good measure? You get a family reunion, and the best weekend of the year.

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The Man Behind Virginia’s Elk

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Leon Boyd is a busy man: Vice President at Noah Horn Well Drilling, board member of the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, and the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation’s Virginia district chair and chair of the Southwest Virginia Coalfields Chapter. So when I found myself with a free day while on vacation in southwest Virginia this past spring, I hesitated to call him.

“So, I’m kind of in the area. I know it’s a long shot, but is there any chance I could come out and see the elk?” I asked. “Oh. And I hate to be a pain in the ass, but I also have my two dogs with me, we’re on vacation.” He barely let me get through my self invitation before he interrupted with his insistence that I come see him and let him give me a tour of the elk habitat he has been so instrumental in creating.

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A total of 71 elk from neighboring Kentucky have been introduced to Buchanan County over the course of three annual releases. I met Leon in 2013 at the second of those releases, when ten animals made the trip across the border. Those elk were a special sight, but were only viewable from a distance in a quarantine pen. The area was large, but lined with prominent fencing. So this time I was looking forward to seeing these introduced elk and even some of their offspring in a truly natural setting.

That setting, thousands of acres of habitat rich in plentiful food, clean water, ample cover and endless quiet, is part private property and part county land. There are no fences, these elk are free to wander elsewhere. But they thrive here.

As I drove across the remote southwestern corner of Virginia I wondered if any other state had as much geological diversity as the Old Dominion. From the mountains to the beaches and bay, from coal country to the Great Dismal Swamp, with big cities, small towns, farms and wilderness filling out the inbetween, I can’t think of another.

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Buchanan County is a hard, steep place. It was carved from rock removed to expose coal that fueled the economy and powered the region. Every plateau containing a school, church or a cluster of homes is there only because inhabitable mountaintops were cut off, the coal removed and the slopes below filled in. And the newly reshaped landscape, with proper planning and care, is more resilient than you could possibly imagine. In fact, much of the rich habitat where Virginia’s elk thrive is reclaimed strip mined land.

Cut into a near vertical bank alongside a steep stretch of highway I found the offices of Noah Horn Well Drilling. I let the dogs out and we all stretched our legs. When I walked in I was warmly greeted by Leon. He seemed genuinely excited to show off his beloved elk project.

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He probably wouldn’t want me to call the elk restoration project his project. The amount of effort, expertise, energy, devotion and cooperation from private landowners, county and state leaders, biologists and agencies to make it happen is incalculable. But I doubt you could find a single person involved in the project who imagines it could have been done without Leon Boyd.

The original plan calls for growing the herd to a population of about 400. Beyond that number, a hunting plan would be introduced, managed and closely monitored to sustain those numbers. This may begin to happen in as little as three or four years. In the meantime, tourism is the goal, luring people to visit here to see the magnificent animals, and of course spend the night, dine and shop. A visitors center is planned with wildlife viewing and hiking trails. Hunting would see additional revenue opportunities in the form of guiding fees, taxes and tags.

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Leon’s involvement in the elk restoration earned him an appointment to the board of Virginia’s Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, where he is currently serving his second term. “It has certainly been a learning curve for a country boy from southwest Virginia to say the least, but I’ve gained so much respect for the VDGIF and the staff,” he said. “Through the years I’ve blamed them for a lot of stuff they had no control over.”

Leon was incredibly generous with his time that day. When we rounded a bend to see a big bull elk in velvet antlers stop and pose for photos, or crest a hill and see a small herd loitering around a pristine watering hole, to see these wild elk, some born right here in Virginia, happy and healthy and close up, was an experience I will never forget.

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And I know the next day Leon made those memories happen for someone else, or talked to a bus of curious school kids, or perhaps chatted with donors or landowners or conservation police or someone at RMEF to get something done for this project, for these special animals.

“In the beginning, I was all about the elk,” Boyd said. “But as it’s progressed, really and truly, it’s more about the people.”

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If you would like to help the Virginia elk, there is an easy way to do it, Leon says. Support the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. “Support them. They support us. They put money back into habitat projects [The RMEF put $23,000 back into this project last year alone].” Membership, auctions, banquets and fundraisers all help.

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