CAN YOU FEEL YOUR TOES?

      You know it’s bitter when the first thing you ask your whippers-in is not “Did you see him?” but the above. Well, undaunted, braving far from ideal temperatures, out we went.
     First, a brief recap of Penlan Station, January 19, Robert E. Lee’s birthday 1807. Forgive me but I have an odd head for dates and saint’s days. Today is the discovering of Brazil by Pinzon in 1500 and the founding of Sydney,  Australia by Gov. Arthur Phillip in 1788. It is also the day, January 26, 1870 that Virginia was readmitted to the Union. Perhaps some of you still question the wisdom of this. It is St. Eystein’s name day, he died around 1188. He was an Archbishop in Norway.
     More than you wanted to know. More than I want to know but you’d be amazed at what sticks in my head with all the research I do. 90% of what I study never makes it to the page but I must do it for the 10% that does. That alone is one of the great things about writing: you are learning always.
     So, Penlan Station. Cold but bearable. Nothing was moving. Drawing southward we did scare upwards of twelve big turkeys and Maria said she saw two deer, I think it was two. But you’ve been out on those strange days when not a bird peeps. Lots of fox tracks, one or two bobcat or a tremendously large house cat who had visited Penlan with dreams of glory. You know, killing a turkey.
     After an hour and a half, hounds drawing wonderfully well, I felt the first gnawing of despair. Never a good sign. Well, I drew toward the slate quarry which really is pretty incredible. The pack split at the small creek crossing, a slight rise when heading south. Two and a half couple kept speaking. The rest of the pack would rush into the thick woods, listen intently, turn to me, and then come back. Confusion was evident and wouldn’t you know all those wide, fine trails at Penlan but this was one spot with no access unless you fought your way through on foot. So, on and on the hounds spoke. It sounded as though they were trailing and the Oak Ridge pack isn’t too much for that as you know. They want a hot line. Well, this had to be somewhat hot but the cry sounded odd.
     I knew David and maybe Becky Birnbaum, who was with him, watched up ahead east a bit. Maria also rode up ahead to cover the railroad tracks. Still, steady speaking.
     The rest of the hounds and I turned for the quarry itself. I stopped to count heads and noted that Lilac, Klassy, Mustard and a dog hound, maybe Camo, not sure, were missing, plus Plumber, who bounced between the small splinter group and the main group, finally going to the faint cry as those hounds moved further away.
     The main group climbed over the slate, worked the edges of the quarry to no avail. Then I noticed two large claw marks on a tree with pale gray bark. Bear.
     A light bulb went off but only 15 watts.
     We had to cross the ditch, frozen on top, railroad on our right. Everyone made it over in good form, including some big jumps as certain horses did not wish to get their pumps wet. Too Tall wasn’t sure about the ditch. Kali and I, last to cross, urged him over and to his credit, he braved it. He’s only a year old, but he’s so big people assume he’s older. He’s quite lovely and was a draft from Warrenton.
     The wind, intermittent, now decided to smack us right in the face. Well, we’d been out long enough, did our best, so back to the trailers we rode.
     As the tailgate flourished, who came back but John, truck filled with two and a half couple. They treed a bear, a little fellow about 85 pounds.
     You just never know.
     Conditions had so deteriorated we couldn’t go to Foxden on Friday, so I moved the hunt to Saturday from The Arena, so as not to tear up Miss Henderson’s fields on Sunday as the weather report promised 41* F. They lied.
     Becky Birnbaum led Ed Clark, Jacque Franco, Lynne Beegle-Gebhard and Lisa Busch. That was it. Maria and Sonia Johnson whipped-in and we had 11 couple.
     The ground never thawed and some places proved to be solid ice. I had hoped we’d be in slop instead, but the mercury felt like it hung in the low twenties.
     Hounds worked up the creek bed by The Arena. Finally about twenty minutes out, we did hit. We were cresting the hill up to the back road, where are big hay bales. He’d been in there but that didn’t mean scent was good. Hounds tracked from the hay bales and Auto opened. She’s gold plated so everyone piled on and they ran through Poet’s Corner, up the hill, cast about for a moment, then blasted through the slash, crossed the beautiful open pasture behind Mrs. Wood’s and flew into the thick woods which roll down to 611. We know this fox and we also knew, given conditions, there was no way we could run hard, take the two jumps leading out to 611 and run down the shade covered road which is ice until you have two or three 50*F days. So we sat on the open pasture, winds out of the NW at maybe 15mph, perhaps 20. Had a bite but the music was so good, who cared? Maria in those thick woods, John and Toot down on 611 itself, turned the pack back and up they came, right onto the pasture, right by me and back down into the cutover acres where they were determined to find another fox. They did but the scent proved so tricky it didn’t really take hold until we crossed the swamp. Sure enough, the fox looped through Baldwin’s acres, where we don’t have permission to ride, then turned back going up into Carter’s and then nothing. So we rode north along the fast running, narrow creek emerging where my land meets both Wood’s and Carter’s.
     “The day is growing colder not warmer and that’s it”, I thought. But it wasn’t. We hit on the ridge, hounds circled in those woods, coming out onto Carter’s acres with the view down to the Run-In Shed and beyond. Two deer shot out and hounds looked to be behind, then cut right as the deer kept going. It’s swampy in there which means nothing but ice but hounds would not give up. They stopped speaking but not working. Watchman ran out to the pasture again to backtrack the line then returned to the ice swamp again. He wanted to make sure.
     By then I had moved to a little opening up there where you can look into Jerusalem field as well as the inviting jump back into Carter’s pasture. Hounds lit up again and ran straight through the swamp, paralleled Jerusalem field to the amusement of Judy Pastore’s horses and then they turned sharply left, crossed the farm road heading straight for the north branch of the Rockfish. John and Toot roared up as we were in the middle of thick ice, and it was slow going.
     By the time we’d all extricated ourselves, the pack was on the road awaiting us. No way are any of us going back into that ice mess until we get a good thaw and that doesn’t appear imminent.
      We’d been out a little more than two hours. I felt the cold in my fingers and toes but one just ignores it when the energy is good. Still, I just knew we could get another fox up even if we had to tread carefully.
     Before I cast at the four small paddocks, well, just above it, Sonia rode up and said she’d viewed a large red. We hurried as best we could to the fork in the road behind the kennels where Red Dog (real name, Waitress, but we just can’t bear to call her that) started working. She spoke. Cortez spoke. Krash joined in (Kipper on the kennel list. We do confuse our names). Those hounds worked and worked in falling temperatures, snow up their noses for the better part of three hours and they would not give up. They worked down to the eastern most part of Jerusalem field, then crossed south heading straight to the creek which we have got to clean out now that the trunks have somewhat lightened. They moved up the creek and Watchman crossed. Such a lovely sight in pale winter light, the whole pack intent on this fading line. Finally, I picked them up as John and Toot arrived with the truck. We loaded them up, and then Plumber joined those of us on horseback as we rode to the kennels.
     The day was surprisingly good in awful conditions. You couldn’t get out of a trot and at times, that was too much but we hung in there to be rewarded with such nice work.
     The cold is forecast to intensify this last week of January, the cold to be extremely bitter Monday night through Wednesday night and snow predicted for Saturday through Tuesday. Who knows?
     Hunting when it’s snowing is such a treat. I will, as you know, try to go if the roads are passable.
     Always call the hunt line.

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