Thursday, August 8, 2013

Wake Up Call

    Yesterday started in a most unusual fashion. I emerged from the fog of deep slumber to have my ears met with a noise that I initially couldn't make sense of for a minute. It was deranged, confusing, deep and primal. What the dickens? Then I remembered that the woman from the Millbrook Hunt had called me the day before to alert us that they'd be coming through our area first thing in the morning.

"" Jonathan mumbled from under the covers.
"Hounds," I answered. "Lots of hounds."
"At 6 in the morning?" he said. "What is wrong with those hunt people! Idiots!"

  The noise was deafening, like the hounds were in our very living room. I decided to get up to have a look at what was going on. Grabbing my robe off the door, I made my way to the front porch, where Remy, our big Aussie was standing at full attention.  I hustled him into the house and peered into the dawn light. The hounds were swarming in our front paddock, bellowing and braying, circling and sniffing.  The huntsmen were all yelling and whistling different calls, none of which seemed to be having any effect on controlling the wayward pack. Then hoofbeats could be heard and a deep agitated voice called out, "What's going on here?"  I recognized it as the voice of our landlord, who is a Master of the hunt.  Muddled conversation ensued, as the hound pack zig zagged to and fro, with random resonating bays.

  Fox hunting is an age old tradition and people who do it find it to be fabulous fun. I've hunted a few times and Jonathan grew up hunting quite a bit in his hometown of Fairfield, CT. It's not a sport that requires any particular skills, other than the ability to run pell mell over all manner of terrain and stay on the horse. Also, natty dressing skills are mandatory. I don't remember all of the details, but there are different outfits for roading, cubbing and formal hunting. The latter is the most fancy of them all. The Masters wear scarlet coats, called Pinques, which lends one to think they might be color blind, but the coat is actually named after an English fellow who made them.  Many of the over 21 crowd in the hunt like to indulge in a "stirrup cup", or a shot of John Courage, to be taken from a silver flask, when the hunt is stopped at a check.  Depending on how many checks, or stops the hunt makes on a given day will determine the level of inebriation at the end of the hunt.

  I headed back to the bedroom followed by two nervous dogs. Jonathan was propped up on his pillows, looking annoyed as he checked the news on his iPad.

"The hounds are out of control," I said, staring out the window.
"Hounds are always out of control," Jonathan said dryly. "They're the dumbest dogs in the world."

  Through the foliage on the edge of the property I could see a collection of riders lined up on the dirt road, not thirty feet from where I stood in my bedroom. Clip clopping hooves on the hard packed street and the excited whinnies of nervous horses rang through the air.  One horse kept prancing and turning in a circle, loaded with anxiety to get the day going. At last the call came from the hunting horn. Toot toot toot toot!  And they were off. The hounds were going full bore down the hill and the riders followed at a brisk trot. I couldn't believe how many horses and riders were passing by, the line seemed endless. When the last straggler trickled by, I looked out at our own barn. Four heads were sticking out of their doors, frozen in place like statues as if the passing of the hunt had rendered them into marble. Horses that don't hunt, or have never hunted tend to be a bit overcome by the chaos of hounds, hollering, horns and masses of riders converging in one large unit.  It was going to take our horses a while to calm down enough to have their breakfast. I slipped back under the covers for another half hour of rest, pondering the marvels of living in the country and how many times that very scene I'd just witnessed had occurred right outside my door over the years.