Travels with MaryE

Most things I love best are about good light and good timing. That's where the adventures start. Don't be in no hurry here. Here you'll find a little bit about bluegrass music, fox hunting, life on the road, time on the mountain, and a whole lot about other things, too.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Nice Surprise

Earlier this week my sister and her friend took me for a drive in the lovely countryside on the east side of the Hudson River across from Kingston. They were looking for a western saddle (why would anyone want to ride Western?), so we stopped at a couple of saddleries over there. In one store I learned about some hunt kennels just up the road....well, next thing you know I had my hand stuck through a fence petting some gorgeous hounds.

The huntsman, a friendly gentleman who looked far younger than his years (well, he'd apparently hunted hounds for some 42 years or something like that so he couldn't be under 50) took a few moments out of his busy day to welcome me and tell me about the hounds and I was all ears of course.

It always amazes me how nice most folks are when approached in a friendly manner. It helps that we share a passion for hunting and foxhounds, of course. Still, meeting this professional huntsman and getting to see some of the puppies and bitches at the kennels just put me right over the moon, and my feet still haven't made contact with the ground. If you've never loved a hound, you just won't understand.

For me it was a pleasure that I rarely feel so far away from my beloved Wales and all the hounds I walked -- and chased -- over there.

I didn't take any pictures, though I would have loved to. There is an etiquette to follow, after all, and this huntsman had never met me before. Still, in our brief conversation we found some common ground and shared some connections, he was friendly, and didn't seem disturbed to have this intruder on the property. Perhaps it's the grey hair I now sport (redheads on the other hand...) -- how could I intimidate someone?

Of course I haven't forgotten his name but I am not going to write it here (not until he gives me permission, anyway). But thanks so much -- you know who you are!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Where In the World?

After a whirlwind tour of northern and not-so-northern Virginia with my sissy at Thanksgivingtime, I'm headed back to Illinois. Intelligent folks would have taken the PA turnpike I'm sure but me? No, it's West Virginia for me, yep. There are a LOT of mountains to drive over in WV. My poor little 4 cylinder Toyota truck was really straining but we (my truck and I) finally made it to little ole Washington, PA.

That got me to thinkin'. See, my Aunt Diane used to live in Washington PA, and I think my cousin Jack may live here till this day, yet I have completely lost touch with both. But coming to this town made me think of them and wonder whatever became of them. Since my parents died my sense of family has changed a lot. Not for the better. Mom always kept me up on all the happenings in the extended family. Now it seems like the bluegrass folks are my family and my family reunion is the IBMA. I wonder if IBMA knows they're holding their event just to benefit me and my personal sense of family!

If you haven't been to northern Virginia -- places like Loudoun and Fauquier Counties, for example, you are missing out if you like dirt and gravel lanes, lush horse farms and beautiful old farmhouses. They have it all. And come to think of it I got in a little over my head at places like Horse Country in Warrenton - my favorite store in the world! (well, next to LL Bean). In Warrenton I finally got my own huntsman's horn -- maybe in ten years or so I'll be able to blow it.

If I missed any antique or junk stores in Virginia I sure don't know how. My poor old truck is burdened down with foxhunting prints, vintage fabrics, ceramic tiles of all descriptions and a variety of other cool stuff. It is SO much fun to return to one of my favorite past pastimes. It has been about 15 years since I've gone antiquing -- it is so much fun! The people you meet along the way are fascinating and it's fun to see all the old stuff and imagine what it might have once been used for, or who might have owned it before.

It's about time for some pictures on here...Sorry about that. My internet connections are fleeting and varied these days and quite frankly I haven't had time to mess with a laptop in a long while.

Virginia has become one of my very favorite states in the whole USA.....the land is so varied, the people are pretty cool, surely is the #1 most amazing foxhunting capital of America. One of the cool things is that they give good chase without really trying to kill the lovely foxes. I like that about America!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Casanova Rides Again!

So last Saturday I had my second outing with the Casanova, this time at a farm outside of Warrenton, Virginia. Though it was, in my opinion, much too warm and sunny for good hunting, that didn't seem to stop Tommy Lee and his industrious pack of Good Hounds. Have I told you lately I am absolutely crazy about fox hounds?

Yeah, well, these hounds look different from the hounds I'm used to in the border country of Wales, but never mind, them's still some great hounds!!! My second meet was kind of thrilling, since Tommy Lee saw me right off and pointed me to a couple of guys driving pickup trucks, suggesting that I might follow them as they know where to go! William and Frank did not disappoint. We had a happy three-plus hours following the hounds and a much smaller mounted field from the first covert over through and around and around the host farm. Some of the farms here in northern Virginia surely rival those found around Lexington, Kentucky. Gorgeous territory, and I can't say I recall a more perfect fall day than last Saturday.

It helps that Reynaud flew past me, maybe 30 feet away as the huntsman and hounds drew a nearby covert. As always seems to happen (and I wasn't sure what the huntsman likes in terms of acknowledgement of a "sighting") I was paralyzed at first by sight of Charlie....I soon came to my senses and quietly pointed him out to my two new buddies, one of whom is a local farmer. They soon threw up their hats and shouted the huntsman who came our way, hounds' noses to the ground and flying like the wind. This all surprised me as I felt it was much too warm and a little windy for scent, but their noses were quite true. Meanwhile, I'd recovered enough to hoist my camera with the long lens and get a few fleeting pictures of the quarry as he flew by (not in any real danger of being chopped, I might add) and led a very merry chase. It was sort of over the river and through the woods and this red fox who William claimed to "know" as a lot of old foxhunters will, ran like a grey fox, at least according to William who liked to expound on all his hunting theories. I like to do that, too, but I was trying to be quiet as bespeaks good hunting etiquette. I don't want to be reprimanded by the masters!

A couple of minutes or so after the red had passed, maybe 40 feet downhill from us, along came the lead hounds and huntsman, and then the field came by two by two. It was a wonderful sight. The leaves were at peak color and the countryside is full of undulating hills and small coverts, pretty dry stone walls and old houses and barns. A day to remember!

I decided I'd try to position myself to catch some photos of the horses I could see coming back toward us on the other side of a hedgerow. Oops. My first mistake! All at once, here came about eight hounds running for all the were worth -- right for me! I'd been standing up on the hill in the corn stubble with my new-found friends and decided that I wanted to seek the quiet of solitude near the trees and take my chances that something interesting would come past me sooner or later, as so often happens if you stay in one place long enough!

But here were the hounds charging right for me in the bright sunlight. No sign of a fox. Perhaps he'd passed just before I arrived. I'll never know. Soon the hounds ran back around the hill and so did the field and we all knew that elusive Charlie had pulled a fast one on us once again. We went around another time or two and then it looked like they were gathering up the hounds to head on back to the meet (and another fine spread of food, these folks around here don't serve sausage rolls and bits of pizza at their spreads). Tommy took the hounds up over the farm lane and over to another covert on the way back to the meet. I walked up onto a high field of stubble and lo and behold! Here comes the whip right for me. Yikes, I've done it again, I think, but no, it turns out the scent is being cast about by the wind, Mr. Red has passed below us and back through the farm. After another brief and fruitless chase, the field were back at the meet putting their horses in their boxes and preparing to head for home.

I got to chat again with folks I'd met the week before and snapped a photo of the ever-joking Tommy with a bloody knife stuck straight through his head (it was nearly Halloween you see) which terrified a couple of young children there. A pretty teenager told me all about a team chase happening the following day, and the masters again made me welcome.

So if anyone tries to tell me that all foxhunters are snobs I'll be ready to set them straight.

Tomorrow? I may try the Orange County Hunt who I'm told are a very good pack as well. And maybe one of these days I'll get back to Wales. But for now, I'm pretty happy right here. If I wanted to, I could follow a hunt every day of the week around here!

Fox Hunting in Old Virginia

After spending decades of imagining what following a fox hunt in America might be like, I finally realized my dream here in old Virginia; the past two Saturdays found me out with the Casanova Hunt near Warrenton, Virginia.

I'd been warned that those who ride to hounds in America are insufferable snobs. Perhaps that's true in some places, but I found nothing but charm and friendliness among the followers of the Casanova.

Huntsman Tommy Lee Jones, legendary in these parts after 41 years in hunt service with the Casanova, was among the most welcoming. After putting his fine pack into covert after covert, keenly watching for the elusive quarry, and calling his hounds back to him at the end of the day, Tommy still has a plenty of energy left to pull out a favorite gag or two. He has a talent for teasing the laughter out of even the most stodgy follower, sending everyone off grinning as they head for their horse boxes and the less glamourous part of the day.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. While visiting friends in Fauquier County, I read about the Blessing of the Hounds, a hunting tradition, down in Casanova and decided to grab my cameras (rusty from missing the last two hunting seasons in Wales) and head for that charming little railroad stop. There was a real air of excitement as the Masters of Foxhounds, whippers-in, huntsman and the mounted field of about 60 came down the tiny road from the kennels toward the green where a sizeable crowd had assembled to witness the ceremony. The hounds were gathered around Tommy Lee with the mounted field off to the side and the crowd closing in the circle. The kindly pastor of the local Episcopal Church (whom I met later at the breakfast) gave the blessing.

Following the blessing, the hounds and field came back down the little road and were off into their first covert. Being a stranger, I searched for someone who looked like they might actually follow the hounds on foot or in a vehicle (a "cartopper") and found three guys who were hanging around near the huntsman and hounds. My sense was spot-on as it turned out I'd chosen a retired professional huntsman and his huntsman friend from Kansas. Not bad for a first outing. Soon I was being introduced to whips and masters and feeling like a real part of things. Sadly, my new-found friends had to leave for a wedding so I was on my own. Off to the kennels I went to wait for the hounds, as I'd been told that they were headed that way and indeed had heard them speaking vociferously in a nearby covert. The closest thing I saw was a deer being pursued by some errant puppies (the deer surely lived to graze another night).

At the kennels hospitality was taking shape for the after-hunt breakfast and I had the opportunity to meet some local historians and while waiting for the hounds to return. I had a couple of short walks in the nearby woods and even came across a pack of beagles being put through their paces by their two young owners (I'd heard them in the wood and hesitated to go there and possibly turn a fox); soon I glimpsed them and realized they were beagles after rabbits.

Before long, in came Melvin the whip, a wonderful horseman and an interesting character, followed by Tommy and the hounds and the jolly field; soon all were socializing in a friendly sort of way, and I found myself meeting just about everyone there. It was a dream come true for me. And the next hunt was even better!

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

IBMA 2009 (#1)

I'll be posting some of my thoughts and high points from last week's IBMA 2009 World of Bluegrass celebration held in Nashville, Tennessee.....need a little more rest first. Stay tuned for lots of words and photos, too.....

Monday, March 30, 2009

Enchanted Land

At last...back in Wales! For such a slow-paced, back-in-time kind of place time sure zooms on. I've been here for three weeks now but it seems like I've only just started to do what I intended. Knowing this is my last extended visit here I've taken to going back to some of my old favorite haunts and snapping a few photos so at least I can return to those great places in memory if no other way. So here are some of the places I've been visiting lately. I'll try to include some of my thoughts as I take you around these places. But somehow the photos seem to jump around alot and don't end up where they've been inserted. Anyway, I'll give it a try. This first photo is up in the hills of Radnorshire where I've been known to wander!

Of course time slips by for most of us and it has for me; now it's a week later and I haven't gotten very far with this entry - my first in over 5 months. There are a few folks who are actually interested in all these photos and things I have to say so I feel like I need to push through this and try to remember how to write again. If only those photos would stick where I paste them it would be a lot easier to write about a bunch of stuff, but bear with me! To the left (I hope) is a view of the Clywedog Reservoir which is situated up in some lovely hills near the pretty little market town of Llanidloes. Now I don't know what blogger is doing to these photos, but I assure you that the very prickly gorse in the foreground is a brilliant yellow; everything on here looks dark and dingy!
Since my most recent journey was up through mid-Wales and heading out toward northwest Wales I'll include a few photos of the trip I took on Sunday to the area around Llanidloes and the Clywedog Reservoir. It was quite a nice day with big puffy clouds in the sky, some sunshine, the gorse in bloom and ewes and lambs out there everywhere basking in the sun.

After driving all the way around the reservoir on a beautiful afternoon and kind of wishing I'd set out early in the morning and tried to WALK all the way around the reservoir I was just about to descend back into Llanidloes when up on a steep hillside above the reservoir I saw sheepdogs herding sheep. If you've never seen that, it is a real marvel. There were two men standing inside the fencing and a good place to pull over, so I did.

I thought the men were also just watching the proceedings, assuming there was some sheep farmer up there on that distant hillside with a quad bike (4 wheeler) directing those dogs to bring the sheep down for lambing or something. But no! I wasn't there a few seconds before one of those two men shouted commands and whistled (as they do at sheepdog trials) directing the dogs in steering the sheep to and fro like some amoeba slithering around on a glassy surface, they surged this way and then that. It was amazing. I stood quietly observing (and they didn't know I was there) and taking a few photos. Soon the sheep were off the hill and sort of flowed around the two men, engulfing them and then passing them at a full run, sheepdogs still guiding them at breakneck pace. The men then turned toward me and we began chatting. I learned that they compete in sheepdog trials and know two of the border farmers with whom I'm acquainted who also compete. It is a small world. This connection made them even friendlier and soon they were telling me all about it and about this breed of sheep - the ewes looked magnificent and were possessed of a very thick, rich coat of wool. This breed are Lleyns and are fairly uncommon. Not only that but they can run with the best of them.

Now keep in mind all this was taking place on a beautiful afternoon overlooking a breathtakingly beautiful view of the Clywedog Reservoir as the sun was making its way down behind the hills. It simply doesn't get any better than this and I found myself wondering why I hadn't discovered this spot long ago!
This last photo is of Meg, a wonderful sheepdog who performed like an Olympian and was totally chuffed (thrilled) by a pat on the head and a "well done" from her master, Glyn Williams.
More to follow.

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Saturday, November 01, 2008

Opening Day...Far Away

Today is opening day for the horses and hounds over in Wales. I missed it. Those of you who have never been to Wales and have never heard the sound of a pack of hounds (maybe 25-50 hounds) in full cry across the moorland will not be able to relate to the wrenching feeling I have today as I sit in the American midwest and contemplate cleaning windows (haha, but that's what I have slated for today; it's supposed to rid me of this feeling of emptiness).

Now to be fair to the midwest (this coming from a "mountain girl") it really does have its own beauty particularly, for me, at harvest time. But I'm pretty fond of harvest time wherever I may be those ancestral strains ringing inside most of you, the folks on my family tree lived off the land. Maybe they had it right.
But back to those hounds. My friends over at the Golden Valley Hunt not far from Hay-on-Wye, met today at Cabalva, a beautiful home on the River Wye. But as I sit here in the flat midwest on a beautiful street lined with nice old houses and huge sugar maples that are turning the most spectacular colors, all I can do is think of those horses and hounds and the many friends who spent the day out in the beautiful Welsh countryside....without me!!! I feel bereaved. I need to get back to Wales! Fantastic fall colors aside, I want to be out roaming the moors once again with the horses and hounds, the huntsman's horn cutting through the fog and rain, the old boys not unlike those you can see on PBS on "Last of the Summer Wine" leaning out of beat-up Land Rovers and Daihatsus searching the hills with binoculars, a little box of sandwiches on their laps, a pair of Wellies keeping their feet warm, moleskin trousers, a wool sweater, a tie securely around their necks, the smell of Old Spice and a wool flat cap on their heads.

See, the sport called fox hunting is about so much more than just the folks on's a way of life. With recent legislation that way of life has changed somewhat, but the same folks are still following the hounds and it's still done in much the same way....we followers don't have to watch someone as he or she sets out a little before the meet to lay the now required scent trail with a bag of anise or whatever dragged behind in an old tube sock so we can hunt within the law. For us it just seems much like it was before so we just pretend it's still proper hunting as it was back through the centuries and we go merrily along as the hounds set off and pick up that trail and a jolly good day's hunting ensues.

There are folks, dozens of them following every hunt, who don't have the means or the youth to follow on horseback as part of the mounted field. But many of those folks you see out there LIVE to follow the hunt. It is the highlight of their week. Many of those people are retired and many can no longer walk very well. What they can do, though, is thrill to the sounds of the hounds as they roar across a hillside; they can visit with friends they have known for many decades, they can see neighbors and enjoy the conversation that ensues whenever a group of people come together to do something they love. They'll relive the old days, a particular day's hunting that has reached legendary (and sometimes mythical) status, ones that grow with the telling so that the listener realizes that surely this hunt could never have happened...but who knows? These folks come together and breath the wonderful, fresh Welsh air, they share a sense of spirit and community, they share memories and create new ones, they share news and the joy of companionship (many of these folks I'm speaking of live alone so these hunts dispell that loneliness, if just for awhile).

So when I say I grieve to miss opening day, I think of those faces I've been missing, weathered like limestone tombstones in old churchyards. I miss the croaky voices and the missing teeth. I miss the shouts of friends and the hounds jumping up to lick my face. I miss trudging up a hillside to find the hunt has already passed by. I miss the spirit of chance and yes, I miss the anticipation of it all.

Most of all I miss my friends with the Golden Valley, the Radnor & West and the Teme Valley and hope they're out there today on the hills and moors having a wonderful time.

Yes, this is a pity party. I am mourning those hounds and missing my friends. I think I'll call the airline and get me a ticket to Wales. I need to hear me some hounds in full cry, now that I've voted. I do. I do.

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