BRIGHT EYES AND A BUSHY TAIL
No two foxhunts are alike. You could hunt the same fixture, same first cast, repeatedly. The results would vary wildly. This test, this continuous chaos, appeals to a definite personality, one that accepts, enjoys, perhaps, uncertainty. You can only truly hunt if you remain alert especially if you’re staff.
On the football field, no matter where or when you play, it’s always one hundred yards, goalpost to goalpost. You have four downs in which to travel ten yards, thereby gaining another first yard. The field is ever flat.
Hunting, unlike other sports, demands a protocol, centuries old in its present form. Prior to that it’s thousands of years old but the basics remain the same. Once you throw your leg over your horse, that’s it. Anything goes.
Foxhunting really is a way of life more than a sport. Over the years, foxhunting frames your life. You look at non-hunting experiences sometimes in a hunting context, a more demanding context. The credit for this shift in your perspective goes to the fox.
Like you, the fox is a predator. You have the advantage of size. He or she has every other advantage. Even borrowing a horse’s speed, the fox can engage in broken running better than any multi-million dollar halfback and usually outrun you. If he can’t outrun you, he leaves you in the lurch by other means.
The fox’s ability to process temperature, wind speed, terrain, distance, sound, scent killers is incomparable. Furthermore, he knows who you are and he knows the difference between when you’re wearing hunt kit and when you’re not. Such extraordinary natural gifts helps to explain why no two hunts are alike.
Here’s another reason why. This is my thought on same, others may dissent. It is in human nature to look for patterns. For example, at Tea-Time Farm, we have the “water trough fox”. If I cast that way, I might pick him up (he is a dog fox) or I might not. If we do pick him up, he often heads toward the large black feeder box, also used far too often by the black bear. This forces us to negotiate a steep descent affording him some time from the hounds and a lot more time from us. I think of this particular descent as the Velcro descent. On the odd occasion, our water trough fox does the reverse, crosses St. Thomas Equinus Road, dashes into the woods. There he can hop into a den which is close to the road or he can, and sometimes does, go down into the creek there, emerging when he feels like it. By the time hounds discover his scent, where he clambered out, he’s safely gone probably enjoying a leisurely return to his den.
Trying to establish a pattern wastes time. What works in human interactions costs you with a fox. Drawing for the water trough fox means you must wipe out any preconceived notion because if you operate on that, you are wrong-footed even if for a moment and it only takes a moment for him to dust you.
First, you have to adjust to the fact that no, he didn’t go down the Velcro descent and, no, he isn’t going to circle back to do that. Cumbersome, time consuming and you have to admit you’re wrong. Humans aren’t very adept at admitting their mistakes. While you’ve zigged, he’s zagged.
A fox can change his game plan so swiftly and at what seems to be a right angle. He may possess an ego, but he never has to defend it. Nor does he care how he looks to other foxes, humans, hounds or horses. All of his resources are employed toward one goal: to end the chase when he so chooses.
So the only way to really hunt a fox is to throw your hounds out there, and follow them with this exception: if you hear or see them turning back, stop, wait a moment. If they don’t, kick on. If they do, pray you haven’t already fouled the line or worse, risked turning your fox. Our territory causes enough delays. Pretty much you try to stay on even terms with your quarry, but he can cross a swamp far easier than you can, he can befuddle hounds for a bit by running along a fallen tree trunk or better yet, a fence line and if he’s a gray, he can always climb a tree. (Many think a red can do the same. I don’t know.) But the horseman is at a disadvantage in rough territory or muck. Even the hounds can struggle in heavy undergrowth or dreadful footing. You press on and do the best you can but really, we’re pretty easy to lose unless on big open meadows.
Those of you who have hunted for years, know the statement that a fox can choose when to end the chase isn’t Disney thinking. Foxes are recognizable as are hounds. One might have a large head. Another might be slender but with a deep red coat. Grays are what old timers called “slab-sided reds” meaning they had red on them, usually a gray body with a black tip if they had a tip. For me, the distinguishing feature is the white tip: always a red. But you can know who you are chasing if you’ve seen him a few times. And if he’s bored or tired, he’ll hit the den immediately. How, I don’t always know. Fox are magicians and can simply vanish. It drives the hounds to utter distraction. Me, too. On other occasions, this same fellow might grant you a thrilling run for forty-five minutes. Why? Who knows?
But I do know they must learn to do this. This is one of the reasons we’re careful during cubbing. We’re not only training young entry, we are hoping the young fox also learns. So far, they have.
Back to a fox recognizing hunt kit. This is demonstrated often at Tea-Time. You’re wearing jeans doing chores. He watches and if I’m walking without the house dogs, I used to have a red fox who would shadow me. Sardine, the fox who had to have lived way over ten years old, and lived behind HQ, would sit and watch goings-on. The minute she saw me walking to the stable in hunt kit, she’d pop into her den. She was not a girl for Zumba.
Many of you have had similar experiences or observations. When you tell non-foxhunters, they think you’re making it up, just like the incredible fall day a fox hopped a ride in the back of the late Posey Dent’s red Wagoneer with the back tailgate down. Actually, you couldn’t make that up. How we all screamed for Posey to stop, but she motored on and I expect her passenger took his leave when she braked at a cross roads. He certainly didn’t jump out before, as Posey could, and did boogie.
These sightings, experiences, enrich you and also perhaps force you to consider the limitations of the human mind. We measure every other creature by our mental abilities. We are smart enough not to do this with our physical abilities. The reality is many animals can reason, can solve problems (hounds are great problem solvers) and can make a split second decision. No fiddling around. Many also have built-in intricate navigation systems. Others recognize themselves as individuals in the mirror. Most of the higher vertebrates are able to retain and respond to human language. They have their own languages, which use their bodies more than we do, but they also create different tones, utterances, etc. An interesting study, years back, proved that animals also know the difference between human languages. If a new human comes into their space, who speaks German as opposed to English, they know. As the fox is a canine, he will possess many of the abilities we find in our domesticated canines. What’s frustrating about all this is that for so many people, nothing is real unless a scientist proves same with a study. I always wonder about the control group myself. Those of us born with animals, raised with animals are accused of anthropomorphizing. I am not doing that. I freely admit that say, a fox, knows more in many areas than I do and, furthermore, has a brain that can process information at warp speed. I’m bumbling along at sixty miles an hour. Surely, you, too, are frustrated with other people’s inability to respect animal intelligence and linguistic abilities.
As to linguistic abilities, it seems an understanding of “Whoa” comes and goes.
All of this is for you to consider on a cold night. The more you study your quarry, the more you respect him.
A brief example. On January 18, we hunted from Tea-Time Farm. The first run was ok but cut short by the fact that the fox crossed 611 and we did not have permission to hunt Foxden that day, which is exactly where he went. So I headed back to pick up a fox a two-couple splinter group had run. I did get the line, fading though it was. The fox had gone to the back of the kennels, which erupted. The sound filled one’s ears to the point where you couldn’t hear. It was so explosive for the kennel hounds were utterly wild, that staff had no idea where the hunting hounds were. Eventually, I did gather them behind the kennels. The fox was long gone and I was in muck. Instead of foiling his line, this fox used sound to get away. Pretty impressive. But then, that’s one of the reasons you’re out there.
January 25, footing proved daunting at Cherry Hill. This provides a good example to review hunting etiquette.
1. A Master’s feet are never to touch the ground.
2. A Huntsman’s feet are never to touch the ground unless s/he so chooses to get into a difficult covert or to provide an extra boost to hounds that day.
3. If a gentleman is present in First Flight, the Field Master may ask “gate, please” or he asks the Field Master for permission to dismount and open the gate.
We had two closed gates, one stuck in the mud, and Jim Finn dismounted, opened same. For the second one, cattle in the pasture, he wisely remained at that gate while Sandra Dawson rode forward, crossed the creek to open the second. This was all properly and quietly accomplished.
Jim, both times, remounted like a man in his thirties. How he does this, I don’t know, but he does it. John Western closed the gates.
For the record, Jim and Kevin McKenna, two seasoned hunters, routinely perform this service. Both of them making it appear effortless.
The basic rule is this task should first fall to a gentleman unless, for some reason, he is incapacitated. Some of you may see this as sexist, but foxhunting operates under the assumption that a gentleman looks after a lady. Really, I don’t see this as sexist. <en like being men and I owe, over the years, my ability to ride up to hounds to the services of gentlemen.
Should a gentleman not be present in the field or say he is back in Third Flight, then this falls to the youngest woman in First Flight. We have young women still learning the protocol of the hunt field. Often this task is performed by Kathleen King, who is one year older than I am. She also has a perfect horse. Kim Eastep also is quick to get a gate. Then again, Kim is much younger than either Kathleen or myself.
The moral of this tale, apart from admiration for our seemingly ageless and helpful gate volunteers is, if you are female, under fifty and reading this, practice. If you are under forty, practice more. If you are under thirty, we expect to see you remount in a single bound. Okay, maybe a step, then a hop.
One other rule, someone stays back with the gate closer. When he remounts, you both move off.
VINCENT MIGLIORE – March 1, 1958 – January 17, 2015
Saturday, January 24, 2015, many Oak Ridge Club members filled St. Michael’s Catholic Church in Glen Allen to say goodbye to Vinnie Migliore. The church was filled with people who came to bid farewell to a bright light.
In America, we seem to measure success by outward trappings, especially money. Vinnie was successful by material standards, but his true success rested on deeper strata. He loved unconditionally. He spoke from the heart and he gave from the heart. He couldn’t turn a blind eye to suffering. If he could help, he did. It’s a wonder he didn’t wear himself out helping others. People would hear his voice and smile before they saw him. If Vinnie was around, everything would be all right.
He lifted his glass to toast his good fortune and to toast yours. Best if it was Woodford Reserve and then we’d all toast life in general.
Vinnie didn’t talk about Christianity. He practiced it. Through his works ye shall know him. And we did.
He was so handsome and a good athlete. That and his warm personality attracted women. And yes, he did marry a beautiful woman, as one would expect, but Sue was/is so intelligent. She could keep up with him. He had the great sense to marry a true life partner, someone who loved him enough to bring the best out of him. They brought the best out of one another. This vibrant and abiding love brought forth a daughter, Alyssa, who took the best of both.
His daughter delivered his eulogy, a testimony to the man, a testimony to why a father’s love is critically important to his children. Those of us privileged to hear Alyssa, voice steady, will ever remember what she said and how she said it.
And we will ever remember this buoyant, exuberant, lovable and loving man. To that end we publish Vinnie’s List of Guiding Principles. His own words are a better tribute than anything I can write.
Rita Mae Brown
Vinnie’s List of Guiding Principles:
1. Always do the right thing.
2. Live each day with courage.
3. Take pride in your work, and always work hard.
4. Always finish what you start.
5. Do what has to be done.
6. Be tough, but fair.
7. When you make a promise, keep it.
8. Be prompt; always be on time.
9. Talk less and say more (learning to listen).
10. Remember that some things aren’t for sale.
11. Know where to draw the line.
(By Vinnie Migliore 2015)
After leading First Flight, through hateful mud at Cherry Hill, Priscilla Friedberg, joined by her tall son, Andrew, attacked the persistent problem we’ve endured at the eastern crossing of the main creek. They cut out the exposed roots and cut branches off the fallen tree trunk on the other side of the creek. As this is our only crossing except for the one straight down from where we park the trailers, this will be a great help to us.
After that, these two walked all the way up to Lem’s Hideaway to cut branches, etc. off the tree across the path there. As that is a difficult, narrow passage, it’s now clear. We always have foxes at Lem’s Hideaway, if they choose to come out.
Thank you to mother and son. If any of you have ever worked on tail clearing with Priscilla, you know why we call her “Chainsaw Momma”.