Words and Images from Ed Felker

Posts tagged “Vizsla

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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Grey

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The other day, for the first time, I noticed grey hair around Winnie’s eyes. It’s not that I never imagined her old, on the contrary in many ways she has always seemed old. But Winnie has seemed more youthful and has played more in the last year with Baby P and Monkey than she probably has her whole life. Our vet, who has known her since she was eight weeks old, recently told me she was the absolute picture of health and fitness, and at a perfect weight. So while the years are starting to stack up (she’ll turn eight this summer), it’s not that I’m worried about her. I guess I just never really expected the age of her body to ever catch up to that of her soul.


2015 Photos of the Year — Canine Edition

There were a lot of dog photos I really liked this year, so I’m breaking up my year-end ‘Best of’ posts into two parts. First up, the Canine Edition. Of course Team Orange, my two Wirehaired Vizslas, feature prominently, but there are some other special guests as well. This regal profile of Finn shows him in his very favorite place, our home waters of the Potomac River during a kayak float.

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The Loudouner Magazine assigned me the story about dog-friendly breweries in Loudoun County, VA because they knew I would take my research seriously! Winnie bellies up to the bar at Ocelot Brewing Company and is greeted by Melissa Dozier.

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Also from the Loudouner article, this little fella seems to be eyeing a refreshing pint at Corcoran Brewing Co.

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There is simply nothing better than time spent immersed in nature’s beauty with your best friends.

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Winnie is an observer, always has been. And when it comes to water observation, whether she’s studying minnows or pondering her own reflection, she will do this for a very long time.

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Luna, a Vizsla, belongs to our friend Anna of Syrius Dog. If you need a dog trainer near Charles Town, WV, contact Anna!

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I took the dogs south to Bristol, TN for a most enjoyable week of hiking, fishing and relaxing. I love the late afternoon light in this shot of Winnie who loves resting in cool grass after a nice hike. Who doesn’t?

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The hounds of the Middleburg Hunt.

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Another shot of the Middleburg Hunt hounds.

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These are the Snickersville Hounds following the fresh scent of a fox.

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When Finn comes kayaking with me (he rides in the back), he wants to be in the water so badly that I have to constantly check on him. But Winnie is content to sit up front and calmly watch the river slip by. Kayaking alone with her is precisely as relaxing as it looks in this photo.

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My friend Ed is a serious bird hunter. His dogs, like young Ruby here, are incredible bird dogs. But I also love that they are spoiled rotten at home.

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Finn never ceases to amaze me. This year we started Therapy Dog work through Therapy Dogs International, and it has been an incredibly rewarding experience. I am more proud of this boy than I could ever find words for, but here is a brief essay about how this volunteer work came about.

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I would like to convey my sincere thanks to every one of you who visited this blog over the course of the year, I’ve enjoyed sharing a little slice of my world with you, and hope you’ll stay tuned for more in 2016!


Bring Me a Dog

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A couple years ago I walked around a festival in Richmond with my friend Jay and my dog, Finn. We had all run together in a mud run/5K thing and were enjoying post-race beers and people watching. I started noticing it for the first time then, that people gravitated toward Finn. Sometimes seemingly without knowing it, they would veer slightly as they walked toward us, close enough to absently run fingers down his back as they passed, or they would rest a hand on his head as he stood next to them in a beer line. He was popular, and countless people asked about him or complimented him, but these subtle gestures were somehow more special.

At a local festival this spring, a young girl with Down Syndrome knelt in front of Finn in the grass. He sat quietly as she hugged him and whispered to him for a long while, finally separating and yelling to her Mother, “Mommy this dog loves me!” She spoke the truth.

This summer the young son of a friend met Finn out in public and put his hands on the sides of Finn’s head and said quietly, not for me to hear but just for Finn, “I love you, too.”

I am not, despite whatever my presence on social media seems to suggest, a people person. But the more time I spend with this dog, the more I realized how selfish it is for me to keep him all to myself. If ever there was a dog perfectly designed from scratch to be a therapy dog, it is Finn. We studied, we took the test, we filed the paperwork, and Finn became a therapy dog.

I chose a nearby facility that is already familiar with the therapy dog program we are enrolled in, and today – National Dog Day of all days – was our very first official visit. Half of us was nervous.

The staff could not have been more welcoming, and knowing they were aware this was our first visit put me at ease. I can’t take photos of patients and don’t want to discuss even in vague terms the types of afflictions and disabilities we encountered today, but it warmed my heart to see that dogs are blind to everything but a person’s heart and soul. We visited with ten or twelve residents, and what I saw and heard tonight made me more proud than I can ever remember being of anything my whole life.

He stood quietly as we waited, moved out of the way in hallways and elevators. He sat next to people in wheelchairs and moved closer when they could not reach him. He refused food offered to him despite being inches away from a bowl of fruit. He laid his head down sideways on laps and stayed there for easy petting. He sat still patiently when one woman could barely move her hands enough to rub the back of his neck. He shook hands to the great delight of one resident, who made him repeat the trick for those in the room not paying adequate attention. He filled the room with curiosity and laughter and conversation, about his name, his breed, his handsomeness, his disposition, his eyes. He started people telling stories about dogs in their lives, dogs long gone.

I don’t know what the future holds for me. But if I live far longer than I think I will, and one day find myself in a dining hall like the one I was in today, for the love of God, someone, please, bring me a dog. Bring me a dog that sits still for a pat on the head and reminds me with a nudge when I forget to keep patting. Bring me a dog that leans in my lap and wags his tail with the slightest touch or softest word. Bring me a dog that somehow makes me feel more loved than anyone else in the room, then moves to the next person and makes them feel it too. Bring me a dog that makes me remember what it feels like to share years with the very special dogs that warm my feet and fill my heart this very moment.

Bring me that, and I can go in peace.


Reflection

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I won’t pretend that my 24 hours off the grid this weekend even remotely resembled a backcountry excursion into peril. No, this was camping in comfort with my two best friends, Wirehaired Vizslas Winnie and Finn. It was fly fishing for pond bass, a roaring campfire and ice cold beer. It was a wood fire grilled New York Strip steak at dusk cooked to perfection and big enough to share with the dogs. It was perfect weather, a star filled night and a steady breeze. This was glamping, plain and simple. But even setting up my truck tent on the familiar grounds of my friend’s Rose River Farm puts me far enough away from civilization that I was able to (okay, forced to) disconnect from my phone for a day. And as I get more and more dependent on that connectivity — from constant texts, emails and calls to Googling questions the moment they pop into my head instead of taking the time to sit and ponder a thing — the more value there is in unplugging for a bit.

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Speaking of pondering, Winnie immediately took to the pond not to swim and hunt toads and do whatever it is normal dogs do, but to simply stand there. It’s her thing, her zen. She stood here the entire time it took me to set up camp and then for a good hour beyond that. She’ll turn her head toward a rising fish, but has no interest in further investigation. I do not know what’s on her mind, but I figure it can’t be all that different than what’s on mine when I step into a cool stream with a fly rod.

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Fly fishing for bass with poppers is a blast when the topwater action is on. And in the evening, it was on. Nothing too big, but lots of splashy fun all around the pond edges. Finn and Winnie watched with great interest. I actually have to keep Finn in a ‘Stay’ a fair distance away from me as he can not be trusted with a fish on the line. If he’s too close, the splashing fish sends him into a crazybananafrenzy and he can not help but dive in after it. (Pro Tip: Make sure you do not have a dog like this before you try kayak fishing with him.)

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But the pond will be there all night. It was time to lighten the beer cooler a bit and get the fire started. I don’t think I would have any interest in camping if I couldn’t have a fire. It was through the first wafts of wood smoke that the initial oddness and that dull, background anxiety of not having a cell signal started to feel more like a benefit than an inconvenience. And from that point on I was no longer interested in who was trying to contact me, what was trending on facebook or even what time it was. It was simply time to start a fire and open a beer.

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Dogs, like people I suppose, are very routine animals. The whens and wheres of eating and sleeping are a big part of their lives, so I wondered how they would react to a complete changeup on this, their first camping adventure. Turns out they literally could not care less. They ate their dinner around the fire while I grilled my steak, then they shared some of mine. They were comfortable and utterly relaxed the entire evening. After dinner, Winnie fit in some more pond standing time, I did a little night fishing and the beer cooler got lighter still. We watched the stars for a bit, all silently agreed this was a fine way to spend a weekend, and we called it a night.

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I mentioned this Napier Outdoors truck tent and Airbedz air mattress in an earlier review and I stand by what I said. Both these products perform extremely well, and it’s just an extraordinarily comfortable setup. The dogs loved stretching out but still being next to me, and we all slept like logs. Until, in the middle of the night, we were awakened by what I would describe as a Blood Curdling Cacophony Of Odd And Terrible Animal Noises. Before I even realized I was awake, the dogs and I were kneeling in front of the side window of the tent, staring into darkness. In the hazy, jittery half sleep that comes with abrupt awakenings, my brain could not make sense of the sounds. Later, in the light of day my brain told me they were coyotes, but the cackling, crying and screaming was definitely not what I thought a pack of coyotes would sound like. The dogs never barked, and I was glad for the low tech brand of radio silence not to give away our location. We went back to sleep easily and awoke at dawn, happy, rested and not surrounded by coyotes.

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The agenda for the next morning was to explore Skyline Drive and find a new spot to hike. As we entered Skyline Drive I purchased an annual pass. Shenandoah National Park is one of my favorite places and I happily support it.

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Hawksbill Mountain is the highest peak in the entire park. The hike to it, even when taking the longer loop, is only about three miles, with a moderate elevation gain enough to get your heart pumping. With a long drive back home still ahead of us, this looked like a great way to get a little exercise and not keep us out all day.

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The overlooks (there are four) along the way are spectacular. And photos are a must at the highest point in Shenandoah National Park.

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Coming home from camping trips with my Dad as a kid, we always stopped at Whitey’s, a North Arlington, VA mainstay with a big sign out front that read: EAT. It was just a few miles from home, but my Dad always stopped there no matter the time of day or night. He would have a Budweiser in one of those thick, heavy, frosted mugs, and I’d have an identical mug of A&W root beer. We would order burgers. Back in the day, Whitey himself was sometimes there in the last booth along the wall, under the deer mount with Christmas lights on the antlers. My Dad would pretend to calculate how much grief my Mom would give him for keeping me out late on a school night, then order us another round. We would, each in our own way, embrace those little extensions of our weekend. Done with fishing and camping and canoeing and sunburn and mosquito bites, done with cleaning and loading and securing and double checking it all, but not quite ready to be home. It’s there, it’s close. But not yet. On this camping trip, the role of Whitey’s was played by Shawn’s Smokehouse BBQ in Culpeper. This time my mug was filled with Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager, and while I ate every bite of my pulled pork sandwich, the mac and cheese was split three ways.

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But delaying the trip home doesn’t mean you don’t like home. It just means you found something special while you were away, even for just a day. And if you take the time to reflect on it a little more, maybe you’ll remember it better. Or bring a bit of what you found home with you. So we ate slowly, savoring the last morsels of our first camping trip together. And when the time was right we headed north, with full bellies, full hearts, and all the windows down.

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Seven.

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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.


2014, My Year in Photos

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2014 was a good year, photographically. I took a landscape photography workshop and learned a lot, I had a few things published here and there, I experimented more than usual and I made an effort to really get to know my camera and its capabilities. I take a lot of photos, and my first cut tends to be about forty images, but nobody wants to view forty images. By the time I cut that down by about half, sometimes interesting patterns start to appear. This year, out of the final 24 shots, half of them feature water, including the one above, taken at Virginia’s Chesapeake Bay. A tripod was used in six of the photos, by far the most yet. And this year features my first GoPro shot in my Best Of list. So, I hope you enjoy this glimpse at my year. I had a lot of fun living and photographing it.

The shot below was taken very near the last one, later that same morning.

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I continue to try to experiment and improve with low light photography. I captured a lot of deer at dawn, this photo was taken through the windshield in my driveway.

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I’ve been going to the Preakness for about twenty years, so it was a fun experience to have press credentials for this year’s event. It was hard to choose a favorite shot of Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner California Chrome, but I keep going back to this one. Taken after the race, surrounded by throngs of fans and photographers, this horse just seemed to bask in the attention. My story and photographs about the Preakness just came out in the December/January issue of Virginia Sportsman magazine.

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Monkey doesn’t like stones in the water. They all need to be removed, one at a time.

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Regular readers of this blog know that Monarch butterflies were a very special part of my summer. I watched and photographed as this Monarch emerged from its chrysalis, only noticing later when I was editing the images that I had also captured a tiny spider whose web all of a sudden contained an unexpected guest.

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I took hundreds of shots of seeds floating in the air for a blog post about noticing nature’s little things. Almost all of them were no good, but I only needed one!

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We get a lot of different turtles around our property. I spent some time with this cool fellow.

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Hiking near Calvert Cliffs, MD, my wife walked into an inchworm hanging from a branch above the path. Her delicate returning of the worm to safety on a nearby leaf became one of my favorites of the year.

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Turkeys gather on the path ahead, C&O Canal Towpath, Maryland.

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Photographing sporting events is pretty far outside my comfort zone, but I had a blast shooting this championship game for my friends, whose boys play on the victorious team.

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I include this image because I was astonished by my camera’s low light capability. This is a hand held shot with a lot less light than it looks like here. Potomac River, looking from Virginia across to Maryland.

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My favorite image from the landscape photography workshop in the Canaan Valley, WV area. I had a great time, made some new talented friends like Risha, and learned a lot from Martin, Randall and Todd.

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The next two shots feature a great new Werner paddle I bought this year, and I’m very proud that Werner is using these images on their web site here and here.

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Shortly after the landscape workshop I tried my new knowledge at Shenandoah National Park. This is the Upper Rose River in Madison County, VA.

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I brought my good camera along on quite a few kayak floats this summer. On this day I hoped to get a good sunrise shot. That sunrise didn’t produce anything interesting, but after the sun came up, this scene unfolded in front of me.

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This is the same Monarch pictured earlier eclosing from her chrysalis, drying her wings in the sun.

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Sunset, Potomac River, Harpers Ferry, WV.

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I visited Solomon’s Island, MD twice this year and thoroughly enjoyed this quaint, beautiful and fun town.

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Team Orange at Rose River Farm on a beautiful summer day.

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I was out early one morning hoping to photograph a big buck I had seen the previous morning while jogging on the C&O Towpath. I got stuck waiting for a train and spotted this scene, I had to get out and photograph it.

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Early in the year this Sharp Shinned Hawk paused on our bird feeder while hunting our regular feeder visitors. Hawks gotta eat, too.

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And finally, one of my very favorites of the year, a GoPro shot of Winnie in the front of the kayak as we float down the Potomac River near our house. This photo was published in an article I wrote about kayak fishing for Blue Ridge Outdoors magazine.

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You can view my favorite photos of 2013 here, 2012 here, and of 2011 here. Thanks as always for stopping by from time to time.


Good Friends, Bad Maps and Sandwich Thieves

There are ten mile hikes over rocky terrain with severe elevation gains, and there are inadvertent ten mile hikes over rocky terrain with severe elevation gains. This weekend featured the latter.

Last month when I did this hike in Shenandoah National Park and saw some great wildlife, there was a sign near the trailhead that pointed to some waterfalls that didn’t seem too far. So I planned on returning, this time with Team Orange and joined by my friend Monica, to hike a bit farther up the trail to find the falls. From the looks of the map it seemed we had just a few miles ahead of us, so we weighed ourselves down with camera gear and water and set out along the beautiful Rose River.

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I liked the nice wide trail — actually a fire road — and the fact that it frequently intersected with the river so the dogs could cool off and get a drink along the way, without me having to get water and a bowl out of my pack. Here Monica photographs the beautiful scenery.

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Okay so we walked and walked and walked, and made a wrong turn and walked some more. The wrong turn was an educated guess, reached by referring to the photo I took of the map at the trail head, and the fact that we were looking for Dark Hollow Falls, and the trail was marked Upper Dark Hollow Falls Trail. This is, I believe, a typo on the map, as I think the actual name is the Absolutely Unrelated To Dark Hollow Falls In Any Way Trail. But we corrected that mistake and set off again for miles and miles of walking without intersecting the trail we were looking for. Here we stopped for a little break, because of all the miles of walking, every bit of which has been uphill to this point. You know who loves pretzels? Team Orange loves pretzels.

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At one point we passed a woman hiker coming the other way. We asked how far to Dark Hollow Falls and she said make a right after a half mile or so. My map was showing a left turn, not a right. So I didn’t trust her answer. A couple minutes later a second hiker came through and we posed the same question. “Dark Hollow Falls? It’s maybe four miles or so.” Um, what? I finally got a cell signal and checked Google Maps. We were on the right trail, but just weren’t making any real progress. Confused and weary, we decided to head back. The good news was, it was all downhill. The bad news was, we never saw the waterfalls and it was a long way back to the car. But we finally ended up at the parking lot, where we eased our aching feet and rewarded ourselves with an icy cold beer. Finn thought that after ten miles, even cool gravel seemed a great spot to rest.

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Monica and Finn really connected on this hike. I don’t know how much of this was the pretzels.

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Some brook trout fishermen showed up at the parking lot and we got to talking about our endless hike to nowhere. They explained that, inexplicably, the posted map at the trailhead shows an area starting about four miles up the fire road we hiked. This explains our confusion, the wrong turn, the endless walking and still not reaching our destination. It seems another mile (two miles round trip) would have brought us to the Falls, but ten miles was more than enough for me. Next time we’ll take a different route. The anglers snapped a photo of our weary crew. I had picked up some subs on the way, planning on a late picnic lunch. But we were much later than I planned, so we decided to call it a day and head home. I took Monica’s sub out of the cooler and brought it to her car, then walked back to my car and got in. Finn had moved from the back compartment up to the back seat, which was unusual but Winnie rode in the back seat on the way down so I gathered they had discussed the matter and decided it would be Finn’s turn on the way home. Fine.

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I put all the windows down and was enjoying the refreshing breeze. As I accelerated, I noticed some bright green paper blowing around the interior. I turned and looked at the back seat. Finn was standing on the seat, head out the window, happy as a clam, and standing on torn bits of weird green paper and…what is that? Oh. It’s a mayonnaise packet. Well the mayo packet put the green paper into context. It’s the paper wrapping that used to contain my delicious and hard earned Sheetz club sub on pretzel bread. Bastard. I replayed the last few minutes and figured he had about a minute to jump into the back seat, grab the sub and snarf it before I returned to the car. At one point Monica and I both heard Winnie bark once from the back, which is odd. Now I think she was probably reacting to Finn’s decision to help himself to lunch. Nobody likes a narc, Winnie.

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This was reminiscent of the first full day Finn and I ever spent together. I had picked him up in Illinois and was bringing him to his new home back in Virginia when we stopped for a picnic lunch. Anxious to share a picture of my new companion to my friends, I thought it would be funny to pose him at the picnic table with a soda and a sandwich in front of him as if he were a spoiled dog who ate people food. He waited until my eye was in the viewfinder, altering my depth perception just enough that I was unable to react when he snagged the sammich and snarfed it in seconds, literally throwing it down his throat like a shark hammering a seal. Sandwich gone. But he had just started his new life with me. Maybe he wasn’t sure if I would ever feed him, and he was just securing nourishment whenever it was available. But by now he knows I feed him. Still, it’s hard to get mad at Finn, let alone stay mad. He had worked up quite an appetite too.

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And it’s hard to be upset at a stupid map whose misdirection led only to time spent in fun company getting a whole lot of exercise which I sorely need. Next time, though, I will do a bit more research before trying a new hike.


Dove Hunting, A Beginner’s Guide

I was about thirteen years old when I tagged along with my Dad for a few days of fishing down in North Carolina. We ended up at some sort of camp with a bunch of his friends, and it was here he told me we were dove hunting that afternoon. When the time came, he brought me to the perimeter of a huge rectangular field and handed me my Remington 870 20 gauge and a box of shells. He turned a bucket upside down and told me to sit there and if a dove comes my way, shoot it. Some other kids and I were at one end of the field, and my Dad and his friends would be at the other. That was the extent of my dove hunting tutorial. Really? People do this? Is this a thing? Or is this a snipe hunting type trick to keep all the kids sitting quietly on buckets for a few hours while the men pile into a pickup and head out to a bar?

Well, it turns out it really is a thing. And that afternoon there was very little bird activity down at the far end, and even fewer birds at the kid end of the field. But in one spirited volley at the far end, dozens of shots were fired at a cluster of birds. Some went down, some retreated over the treeline behind the hunters, and one lone dove flew straight toward me. The shots silenced as he flew out of range of the adults, and I watched him for a while as he approached. I loved the idea of hitting this dove that my Dad and his buddies all missed. This is called, “counting your chickens before they’re hatched.” But I had an easy, low, straight flying bird coming directly toward me. I put the bead on him, waited until I had a nice short shot, and pulled the trigger.

Let me interrupt this story to begin my list of Helpful Hints for the Beginner Dove Hunter:

1. Be aware of the status of your gun’s safety.

In the time it took me to realize the safety of my gun was on, the bird slipped safely and quietly over the tree line behind me. It was the only bird that came my way that afternoon. I unloaded my Remington, put the three pristine yellow 20 gauge shells back in the now full box and closed it and my dove hunting chapter, not to be opened again until almost four decades later. Yesterday.

My friends Chris and Anna invited me to come out dove hunting with their dogs Wyatt and Luna on a stunningly beautiful, blue sky day in rural Virginia. Considering how my first experience went, I was excited to give it another try. We got to the field early and then Billy, the host who set up the shoot, gave us some ideas on good spots. We chose an area where some power lines intersected with a tree line at the far end of the fields. The terrain was brutally difficult to walk in. Deep, irregular mounds and ridges of firm ground – an artifact of a chisel plow early in the season – made it feel like you were walking on bowling balls. But we navigated the obstacle course the several hundred yards with all our gear and set up for the day. Anna was working the dogs and taking photos, Chris and I would be shooting. Here is the spot I chose, some cover of overhanging limbs and plenty of shade, but with a good view of the fields and open sky. (Photo by Anna Gibson)

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The gun I brought, a 1952 16 gauge Winchester Model 12, is one of my very favorites. Light and comfortable, the 16 gauge is built on the 20 gauge frame. I’ve often said of this gun that I could shoot it all day long, but on this day I did exactly that. And the simple, brilliant Model 12 design just makes this gun aim where you’re looking the second you throw it up to your shoulder. However, aiming and hitting are two different matters when it comes to dove.

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Chris chose a spot more out in the open, sitting against the base of a phone pole about 75 yards away from me to my right. He immediately started shooting single flyers racing by him from behind. Here is Chris and Wyatt with the first bird of the day.

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Wyatt making sure I got a good close up before he gave the bird up.

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Watching their flight pattern, it doesn’t take long to identify and recognize these birds. We didn’t get any photos of them in flight, but here is a file photo of a common migratory mourning dove. Note the distinctive shape:

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Early on I had opportunities but just couldn’t get a handle on shooting these things. Chris’s success, I determined after observing for about ten minutes, was due to better instincts on where to sit and where to watch, faster reaction time, and better shooting than I exhibited.

2. Have better instincts, react faster, and shoot better.

I brought over 100 shells and within the first hour I had burned through maybe 20 and I’m not sure I even scared a bird. Chris graciously let me sit in his spot for a bit, probably to let his gun cool off and give his shoulder a rest, and before long I had another chance. Three doves whipped around the phone pole I was leaning against, I picked one and quickly took two shots at it. Miss, miss. I took my time on the third and connected, downing my first dove ever. Chris is a truly good friend, and he exhibited this with a genuine, spontaneous celebratory outburst when those feathers flew. I know he would have traded all his birds to that point just to see me hit one. Anna brought Wyatt over to find the downed bird in the thick millet and he made quick work of the task. Here we are sharing the glory.

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Breaking the ice with this one helped a lot. I felt like I started to shoot better and react better. But I was still leaving a lot of opportunities in the field. Some lessons learned:

3. If you stare too long at one distant part of the field, birds will appear very near you in the other direction.

4. When #3 happens, and people try to bring it to your attention by yelling, “LOOK UP!!”, you would be surprised how vast an area “up” is and how easy it is to not see something there.

5. If you put your gun down to pee, you will miss birds.

6. If you hit a bird on your second or third shell, reload before you go to find it. Doves are watching you, and if they count three shots and don’t see you reload, they will come and land on your shoulder or roost on your dove stool till you get back.

7. When you watch a huge field for doves, your brain will send you some false alarms. Dragonflies look like doves. Butterflies look like doves. Trust me, it happens. I had the safety off and the bead drawn on a big, beautiful orange butterfly half a dozen times.

8. If you switch places with someone because you haven’t seen action in a while and they’ve almost limited out, birds will stream toward your original location like your cooler is the very place they are migrating to.

Luckily there were enough birds around that despite my missed opportunities and missed shots, I was having some success. And having the dogs there to find downed birds was just key. We spoke to some guys on our way out who were shooting a lot of birds but not finding many. We didn’t lose a bird all day. Here is Luna with our first joint effort together.

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Anna tucked into the shade and sent dogs as needed.

9. Bring a dog.

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Chris, as predicted, got his limit of fifteen birds, and took just under fifty shells to do it. That, from what I know of dove hunting, is pretty fine shooting. (Photo by Anna Gibson)

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These dogs worked their butt off in very difficult terrain for a long, warm day. (Photo by Anna Gibson)

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As for me, I ended up with seven, and took about 70 shells to do it. Not too bad, considering I burned an entire box before I even hit one.

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But more importantly, I had an absolutely fantastic time. Shotgun shooting is my favorite kind of shooting, and dove hunting is as exciting as shotgun shooting gets. It’s really a blast!

10. Don’t get frustrated, everybody misses these birds. A lot. Just remember how much damn fun it is, hit or miss!

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I’m exploring recipes, and will do a follow up post on eating these dove breasts. It’s always rewarding to me when a hunt becomes a meal.

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I’ve come a long way from that upside down bucket in a North Carolina field a couple hundred yards across from my Dad, watching that solitary bird over the barrel of my Remington as he slipped above the trees. And I think if you told me that afternoon as I placed those three unused shells back in the box that one day I would be writing that in dove hunting I’ve found perhaps my favorite type of hunting, I would have disagreed strongly.

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But it’s true. It’s fun, casual, social, challenging, rewarding and exciting. And I can’t wait to do it again.

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Dog Paddling

finnyak1After a brief test run a week ago to make sure Finn was open to the idea, we went out for his maiden point-to-point voyage Sunday afternoon. I’ve had Winnie in the kayak with me before, but she’s 50 lbs. and Finn is 70 and a lot taller when he sits up. But as long as he didn’t make any sudden moves, the whole arrangement proved pretty comfortable.

finnyak2But, no question about it, the best possible position for him to be in is lying down. He got pretty comfortable, although I forgot to bring the plugs to put in the scupper holes. So between my fat ass and his, we were a little back heavy and he had to deal with some water back there. He doesn’t mind this, he loves to lie down in the water in fact. But next time I’ll bring those scupper plugs and keep the back seat a bit drier for him.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASo we left the safe confines of the boat launch area on the C&O Canal at Brunswick, MD, and ventured out into the main stem of the Potomac. The first thing we see are geese. I wouldn’t say this was unexpected, I see thousands of geese on the Potomac. But I kind of forgot that Finn would be encountering new things on the water in addition to just the flowing river. He moaned about these geese, some of whom crossed right in front of the boat (I did not have the camera for that because, truthfully, I was preparing for a Finn-induced capsizing). But an easy, “staaaaayyyyyy,” and he kept calm.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe ran into some other canines who brought their parents out for a day on the water. These two border collies were also boating for the very first time!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOnce we encountered a few obstacles, ran through a couple areas of riffles, and got a few miles under our belt, it was time to find a lazy stretch of river, hang my feet over the side and share a cold beer with my boy. I am so proud of him!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter the beer break, a storm started building behind us. We were in sight of the takeout ramp but still had some paddling to do. Finn doesn’t like thunderstorms one bit, so maybe he was keeping an eye on the storm here. But facing the back of the boat proved to be I think the most comfortable orientation for him, and he just rested his chin on the back there.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEasily the shakiest moments came when he leaned over the side to get a drink. I discouraged this especially if there was rougher water ahead.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe beat the storm back to the ramp and of course Finn made fast friends. I’ve certainly never had a dog that makes friends so easily, but everybody loves this boy. And, as I noticed at the festival down in Richmond, people kind of just want to put their hand on him.

The gentleman on the left was talking to me about fishing and asked if I had fished my way downstream. I told him no, this being Finn’s first trip I didn’t want any extra distractions. We were watching his friend fish off the side of the ramp as he caught a little smallmouth. He brought it over to us while he was taking the hook out and Finn just FREAKED OUT! He wanted that fish! I was holding Finn’s collar and the fisherman walked back to the water’s edge and tossed the bass back in, about fifteen feet away. We continued talking for a few minutes and, with Finn in a sit, I didn’t think twice about letting go of his collar. The instant I did he took off at full speed into the river right to where the fish was thrown in! I called him back and he did his upright, front legs splashing, barely making forward progress swim back to the ramp. One of the men said, “He’s not a very good swimmer.”

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No, no he isn’t. Although he’s pretty good at dog paddling. He just prefers the kind with a boat.


Happy Father’s Day

fathersdayMy kids took me hiking for Father’s Day! Okay, so my kids are orange and furry and had no say in the matter, but still…

Our friend Jason joined us for the 8+ mile loop in Shenandoah National Park in Virginia’s beautiful Madison County. I’ve done this loop in the opposite direction before, but today, thinking White Oak Canyon would get more crowded as the day went on, we went up the Canyon trail first. Then at the top of the main falls took the horse trail/fire road a couple miles where it then meets the Cedar Run trail. This brings us down the mountain and back to where we started. I’m not sure I like this direction, the White Oak is moderately steep the entire way, then the horse trail is mildly uphill but the two together combine for five uphill miles without so much as a fifty yard stretch of level ground. Then the Cedar Run trail, about three miles, is extremely steep, giving back all the elevation it took five miles to gain. So it’s a knee-jarring, foot pounding adventure coming down that way. Jason and I both decided it’s better to climb the steeper Cedar Run, get all the elevation out of the way in the first three miles, then have a pleasant five mile return trip down the horse trail and White Oak. Next time.

Every time I spend a full day with my dogs like this, I’m just so proud of them. They are well behaved, polite on the trail, and I really do enjoy their company. This was a fun hike for them because there were pools of cool, clean water to drink from and cool off in. Finn did his trademark move, lying down in the water and drinking, at every pool we encountered. On a long hike it’s a huge bonus not to have to carry drinking water for the dogs, too.

Drinking water aside, for the last three miles or so, Jason and I were singularly focused on the prospect of an ice cold beer at the end of the hike. And as you can see by the look of affection on my face, that beer was everything I imagined it would be. We stopped here at my friend’s nearby farm to bask in the glow of accomplishment and good friends — both two- and four-legged.

Thanks to Jason Louderback for these nice photos.

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Legacy of Love

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 eleven. 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 eleven 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 3, 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.

The pups were weighed, and 6 of the 11 had either regained or slightly surpassed their birth weights. The 5 others had a ways to go, and one of those didn’t like sucking the bottle. But, Jeanna said, “he will suck all day on a dry nipple.”

In these early, immensely stressful days before she had even had time to fully grasp the loss of her beloved Mabel, Jeanna’s positive attitude sustained her and inspired those following her story.

Jeanna: Just had a fleeting thought that I am manically clutching at straws today but I don’t care. I am going to try everything in my power to make sure these pups get the best chance possible. Positive thinking will win every time!!!!

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, on the other side of the country.

So the call for help went out again, this time for transport.

Jeanna: I need to get a lactating bitch from East Sussex to Cardiff ASAP to help with the little ones. Is there anyone who could drive parts of the way to help get her here? Her own pups are just being weaned but she has loads of milk and loves anyone’s pups, not just her own.

“Network” is such an overused word in the digital age that it’s lost some of its meaning. But on the third night of the Elve’s saga, a network of supporters came together to collect a dog and transport her three hundred 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 4:00 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 4 most needy pups feeding first.

Day 4 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 mums 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.

Jeanna: What an incredibly long week this has been! Happy One Week Birthday to all my 11 little Elves! To celebrate they have got proper collars and some little soft toys! Plus Bessy got a new soft bed so she is extra comfortable whilst she stays with us.

Every passing day saw the pups gaining weight and brought Jeanna more confidence. And on the tenth day, a major milestone was passed. The first of the pups – Mr. Yellow and Miss Lime, now identified by their new colored collars – doubled their birth weights. The next day, five more followed suit, with the remaining pups not far behind. Eyes began to squint open, wobbly legs found purchase beneath round, puppy bellies and they began to explore.

At the two week mark, it was hard to imagine they had come so far.

Jeanna: All now full, burped, pooped & flat out after having their nails trimmed too! Things are looking good, the future is bright, the future is lovely, chunky, ginger monkeys!

And the next day, the last of the Elves strained to open his eyes to that bright future.

Even as Bessy and Tipli and the Elves had uneventful days of eating and growing and learning and playing more each day, other hurdles were placed in the path. Jeanna struggled with health issues, and had to do some of her miracle work while on crutches between MRI’s and doctor’s appointments. And through it all, her positive outlook, bolstered by the challenges she had already tackled, gave her strength. And those who followed from afar watched with wonder and growing admiration.

It would be another week before Jeanna would celebrate their three week birthday by sleeping in her own bed for the first time since they were born.

When the day came for Bessy to pack up her new cozy bed and head 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 the sleep of puppies who have had a very big day. 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 ten, you’re right. Miss Purple, 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. In the yard where she plays, soon she will find and investigate two special new rose bushes Jeanna has ordered. One is named Elfin. The other, Mabel.

As for Miss Purple, 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.


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