MASTER’S LETTER November 2013

      Whoosh. That was the sound of the cubbing season flying by and what a season it was. Our young entry and second year kids faced everything but a tornado, snow and sleet. For staff, this was the best cubbing yet because of the decisions the youngsters had to make and how quickly they adapted to “The Big Time”. They had help with the older hounds, Vandal, Lupine, Luster, and Lilac being especially helpful to the young ones. (I.e. correcting overrunning the line without undue growling or punishment.) Lupine, in particular would simply stick to the line and call them back.
     Thank you all for making so much room for the young entry, for watching them with interest. A few such as Mustard exhibit a showman streak so she likes being the center of attention just as Auto, much older, does when it’s time to be picked up. Auto wants to make sure you all see her so she’s usually the last one in with a few laps around the people.
     Our most outstanding day was October 26 at Cherry Hill when Lili Wykle (a new grandmother, no less) brought her beautiful pack. We put them together for the first time and it was as though they had hunted together their entire lives. We hit a fox not twenty steps from the trailers, put him to ground, crossed over into the eastern most fields and we hit fox again. We stayed on that fox for a good forty-five minutes with an interruption for coyote. Lili asked that we bring them back together as two couple of her hounds stayed on the coyote. Stonewall hunts far more coyote than we do, so the hounds were doing their job but Lili wanted them on fox. Emily Schilling, who whips in to both packs, proved invaluable. Emily and Mary Shriver charged up to Turner’s Ridge, turning them back.
     After that it was more fox including a view. Kathleen King quite properly took off her bowler to point in the fox’s direction. October 26th wasn’t the fastest day we’ve ever hunted, or one with the longest run, but it was so steady, the hound work was breathtaking and we put two foxes to ground that we were sure about and we know the viewed fox dusted us quite proper. What a day.
     The last ten days it’s been hot and so dry. We’ve pushed foxes out, had views and put one to ground November 1st, but the scent would not stick. It was hard work for not much reward but the hounds never wavered and the young entry hung in there.
     Opening Hunt, again hot and dry, up into the seventies, proved interesting. At last count two hundred and ten people responded and about sixty were mounted. I don’t really know because I don’t count the riders, I’m too busy with the hounds. People and horses looked fantastic and Rev. Parrish blessed us all. We pushed out a small bear up by The Cistern and finally, near the hunt’s end had a view at the first small dam.
     It wouldn’t be Opening Hunt if it weren’t hot and disgusting. I’m beginning to believe if I pushed back Opening Hunt to January 1, it would still be hot. Well, a good time was had by all but then how can you not have a good time at Oak  Ridge?
     Vinnie Migliore outdid himself as he secured Woodford Reserve to sponsor Opening Hunt. Nothing like starting at the top. Spirits were raised in all respects. We hope Woodford Reserve thought it as much a success as we did.
     The breakfast, I heard, was also a blowout. By the time I picked up the last hound, the party was mostly over. I don’t really mind. Horses, hounds, people all returned happy, healthy and safely, which means so much.
     As an aside, our hunts from The Arena have been surprisingly good despite the heat and dry weather. Scent doesn’t stick but hounds do so they lose the line then pick it up. This makes for slower going and November is a notoriously difficult month in these and more northern latitudes across the globe. We get through it.
     Penlan Station, which some of you have ridden, will take about a year to figure out via the foxes but what a terrific fixture this is. Staff and hounds are excited.
     For those of you hunting Sunday, November 17 from Foxden, almost a year to the day, we hit the same fox. This time Maria Johnson saw him and he is a medium sized gray. He ran two tight circles as the field remained silent in the sunken road above Tom’s lake. Then he shot straight up and reached the ridge. We were betwixt and between. You could hear the pack and just roared. Hoping he would turn and come back to his den, I kept low and wound up at George’s crossing (named for George Lindbeck) where I pulled up. Some hounds had come back and I wondered if we weren’t on a coyote because many of our hounds will not hunt them. They are fox only kids but then I counted numbers, checked faces and knew somehow, somewhere the pack split and you could hear the others up on the ridge.
     I blew four short blasts for a whipper-in expecting one to come to me from the front and maybe one from the back. Maria Johnson came straight down from the ridge having to find her way from the top to the narrow path by the tiny feeder creek. Both Sue Satterfield and I looked in astonishment. How did she get up there? How did she get up there and survive?
     Well, thanks to Maria we knew what had happened and they were still on. David Wheeler, MFH, on the other side of the ridge down by the gardening shed, saw hounds come close, go back up, come down again and then stop.
     Blew them all back by the time we reached the shed and all returned. Wouldn’t we love to know where that gray disappears? Wouldn’t we love to be able to stay with him? A mountain goat would be useful.
     Although we are only two and a half weeks into formal hunting, it has proven interesting. We’ve endured bizarre weather swings not just in temperature but in moisture. Hounds do quite well, all things considered, but we would all breathe the proverbial sigh of relief if the weather would stabilize a tad.
     The Weather Channel predicts the mercury will hover in the 60*sF at Chellowe but be in the high 20*sF Sunday at the Oak Tree. Maybe it will reach 32*F. By the time you read this, you’ll know.
                                                FIXTURE CARDS
     The traditional fixture card was presented by hand or sent by post for each month. Ideally this card, literally card size, was one sheet of heavy paper in the hunt club’s colors. Therefore a proper Oak Ridge card would be on canary or lighter yellow card stock with the typeface in purple.
     One of the practical reasons for this is that it is more accurate as the master or masters speak with the landowners near the end of, say November, for December. In the old days of telephone trees, being as accurate as you could saved a great deal of trouble.
     Today, many hunts still adhere to this proper form. We did not due to our small treasury. Sending, handing cards twice a year saved a bit of postage but did lead to inaccuracies which had to be corrected via the hunt line (one important reason to call). Now people can receive updates via email. Still call the hunt line 540-456-8787.
     This is the first year we have tried to print a traditional card. Our ink is black but then that isn’t too far out of line. Hot pink would be a stretch and those clubs with light colors often use a darker version of same i.e. hunter green as opposed to apple green.
     Whether we can continue or not, we’ll see. Also, being one card as opposed to a fold over means you can slip it more easily in your jacket which was the original intent.
     Weather being what it is there will still be last minute changes but perhaps a bit fewer than prior years.
     Regarding that, the hunt line now makes the last call at three hours before the first cast. In our early years, I could make the call two hours before, since we didn’t have so many members traveling long distances. It’s surprising what a difference one hour can make to accuracy, but it hasn’t been too bad.
     For those of you wondering how this is done, I rise four to three and a half hours before the first cast and watch The Weather Channel, most especially the radar. Given the expanse of our fixtures and the various locations, the weather at Tea Time can be different than the weather at Chellowe; hence the close attention to the radar which I’ve learned to read quite well over the years, if I do say so myself.
     The interesting part is that some fixtures really do have their own weather systems. The radar can show clouds, but no rain and yet by the mountains it’s raining. At some point, you develop a real feel for the individual properties of the various fixtures which is fun.
     This hasn’t much to do with weather, but the soils south of The James River are different than north of it. Well, it does have a bit to do with weather, because those good tobacco soils absorb the rain differently than the various soils at Oak Ridge and the creek crossings vary widely, too.
     Trying to blend these variables is exciting. A geology class would be a big help and if I find one that suits my hours, I’m going. Any Ag class is good, too, but you have to haul to Blacksburg for that.
     Speaking of our fixture cards, I am working on December but report now that there will be no Christmas party at Cherry Hill. To both Miss Henderson and your masters’ disappointment, it doesn’t work out. We have been the recipient of Miss Henderson’s fathomless generosity for years when she opened he annual party to us and what a wonderful experience to meet her family, friends and the Cherry Hill gang.
     Lacking a club house, we can’t throw together a party and HQ cannot always be available. There will be guests at Christmas. I always hope that one day we’ll find a church for sale or even a garage but until then we’ll bump along.
                                                            A SUGGESTION
     The steady chorus over the last ten years for your hunting master to buy and use a computer coalesced on the way to the hound auction when three people felt compelled to urge me to join “modern times”. Perhaps under less hurried circumstances, hounds in HQ, etc. I might have better absorbed the chorus.
     As simply as I can put this without going into detail: a computer will help me but little regarding research. The key element is the difference between fiction and non-fiction. The telling detail so necessary for fiction cannot be transmitted via a computer. One must go to the original sources whenever possible even if they are out of the United States.
     That may seem over the top to many of you but remember my name is on the spine of the book. I must do all I can to get it right which also means considering whether data on a computer is unsanitized.
     Back to telling detail, what I need is not so much fact, as emotional content and you would be amazed at what comes across the centuries when you have an original document in front of you: parchment, vellum, a high grade of paper, cheaper paper, the grade of ink, the handwriting, was it done by a scribe or an ordinary mortal? Status of sender, recipient can be obtained as can quite often the emotional state of the writer. Even though I may not be utilizing a once existent, long gone person as a character, I must understand the times and the milieu in which my characters lived.
     A computer is useless.
     That’s as compressed an answer as I can deliver to the research question.
     As to email and keeping in constant contact, as a wonderful way to stay in touch: With whom?
     I rest my case.
                                                QUOTE FOR THE DAY
            We can fall off a good horse.
            We don’t need to be bucked off a bad one.
                                    Lynn Lloyd, MFH – Red Rock Hounds – 17 November 2013
                                                THE GUARDIAN WEEKLY
                            8 November 2013 – p 17 – “Facebook behind hunt boom”
     This article mentions the backfire to the Hunting Act (ban) which is delicious. More people are hunting now in the United Kingdom than ever. MFHs believe some of this is generated by Facebook which is bringing in new people.
     As the English can be slow to change as regards tradition (as can any Virginian) it will be interesting to see how long it takes them to create different flights.
     If you can read this article, do. It proves, once again, that citizens will disobey a bad law. Americans know this in our bones, thanks to Prohibition. But then again, I am almost always on the side of rebellion but really, a stupid law deserves disobedience and contempt.
     332 individuals have been prosecuted between 2005-2011 under the ban and 239 have been found guilty. The newspaper estimates there are now 45,000 people hunting and I think since the Guardian is essentially a liberal bugle, we can assume those numbers are lower than the reality.
     Why read an English Labor paper? To know what the other side thinks. Read everything, really everything. Our Founding Fathers certainly did.
                                    (P.S. to MASTER”S LETTER)
     Friday, November 22, it was 75* at Chellowe. Sunday, November 24 at 5:30 am it was16* and the wind chill (thirty to forty mph gusts) was -1*F. The wind slacked to 10-20 mph, but by 10 am the mercury had remained at 16*, and the temperature felt like 3*F.
     The coldest I have ever hunted hounds was 4*F. fortunately, that day warmed to low thirties. However, the high winds present an unpleasant danger especially when hunting in old pines. Hence the canceled hunt which I will make up, but probably not until after New Year’s.
     And a big hooray because then we will be out of deer season and have better access to some of our fixtures. Some of the fixtures which we used to be able to hunt during the season now have paid deer hunting parties or clubs using them which has altered our scope during deer season. Limited though we are, I do support deer season and assume most of you do, too.
     And now, on to our 2013-2014 season.
     Our guess is as good as mine, but I tell you, the pack is ready and raring to go.
     Always and Ever,
     Rita Mae

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