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.

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!