A Bit of Hunting and Hedging
(Note: This was written in December 2004 but it gives some insight into why I love following the hunt).
Bright white Radnor hounds with rusty fern-colored patches scour the dingle's sides for the elusive fox. They find, speak, and give chase, yet I never catch even a glimpse of that beautiful creature. Like most of the people I know involved with hunting, I love to see the fox streak across the countryside, love to hear the hounds in full cry, yet though I enjoy the thrill of the chase, I am always rooting for the fox to make his way safely home. For me, hunting is about being part of the landscape and the natural environment, about community, and about putting it all together in a tightly knit framework of human, horse, hound, fern, gorse, hill and dingle, cloud and sun...hunting in Wales encapsulates the essence of the many good things I feel whenever the word "Wales" is spoken in my presence. Being out on the open hills following the hunt combines several of my passions - people, photography, nature, and plenty of fresh air. One of my other passions is bluegrass and old time music and in some strange way (the way of community) being part of the hunting community in Wales feels very close to what I experience at music festivals in America.
This is my first hunt of the season and I'm following the Radnors in a Land Rover Defender up on some common ground above Llanfihangel nant Melan. The hounds pour down a sheep track into the dingle's depths. We crane our necks in anticipation, hoping to see a fox, a good chase, to hear the music of thirteen and a half couple hounds speaking as one. The riders wait in small clusters on the rim of the dingle, horses' breath forming small white clouds around their muzzles in the early dampness of December, some riders taking a draw on a cigarette, laughing about a joke. The huntsman yells, it seems continually, something like Heeeeeehhhhhh.
While I'm looking down, writing, the fox, predictably, runs right past me. Everyone yells MaryE, did you get that? I laugh. "Of course not. You know I hardly ever see the fox."
Mike and Peter, nearby, snatch off their woolen flat caps and commence waving them feverishly, alerting the huntsman. This is the time-tested country way of letting the huntsman know where the fox has passed. I think, "Ah, so that's what those caps are for!" I always wondered, since, clearly, they don't keep one's ears warm, though they're standard attire for sort of over-60ish Radnorshire farmers. A long cry issues from the huntsman's horn; the hounds, a raging river, pop up and streak through treacherous gorse and matted fern.
Two weeks later, writing in my room from notes, I look up at a nearby mountain; the rain that fell here in the valley is snow up there. It beckons me, bare trees pleading on the distant horizon; etched veins against tidy, snow-covered fields. A farmer laid the hedge nearby this week; it lies neatly where chaotic thorns once ruled. The snow on the hill grows deeper.