Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chasing Satchel in France....

Again in France, with a staghound pack.

The met was fairly crowded. The people at this hunt are particularly cheerful, which is saying a lot since hunting people are a cheerful lot and French hunters are a bit more overt than some others. So the rapport began with a few jokes.But once the actual reports started, all business.

I think because it was a Saturday, there were many cars, but almost no bicycles. The sky was gray and just as the hounds were called to move off, it started to rain.

In America, there would be almost no one there, and most of those who were would wear a rain coat. In England, there would be almost as many people as usual, but almost everyone would be wearing a rain coat.
I saw zero rain gear on these riders. The animals do not get rain coats!

The hounds moved off to hunt.

This Master is a very enthusiastic huntsman, and we saw that over and over.

Later, one of the hunters told me that if 99 hounds were on and one was lost, this man would go back for the lost one.

Huntsmen often refer to the founder of the Christian religion by name, but that was the first time I had heard one compared to Him!

Hounds were slow to find their cerf, it took them about an hour. But when they did, they found a good one. He was what the English call a "Spring stag", probably only two or three years old. He was very distinctive in colour, with a dark, almost black back. Unfortunately for him, it made him easy to identify!

At first, only a few hounds held the scent, and the Master stayed busy getting the other hounds onto the line. Every time they checked, he was in the forest encouraging them to find their cerf's line again, and calling on the ones behind.
One thing he does that I like is that he uses an English horn. I believe that is better for hounds, they can tell which horn belongs to “the boss”. That way the trompes talk to the people, and the huntsman talks to the people and the hounds.

This cerf was a good one. Unlike most, who will stop and lie down when they get well ahead of hounds, he ran and ran.

Like Satchel Paige, "Don't look back, they might be gaining on you!"

I believe that is especially challenging for hounds. They can get discouraged if they do not think they make progress. But these stuck on.

We were almost always able to hear hounds, and it was beautiful to hear. At first it was a few hounds hunting, and the others strung out calling, “I am lost!"
But gradually they closed up, and it became an orchestra rather than a string of traveling musicians. It rang through the forest like the bells of a town full of churches.

And most of the hunting was through forest- there was not the constant crossing of busy roads that we saw on Friday.
So both stag and hounds could work things out without much human confusion.

At one point Satchel ran right past us, with a roebuck beside him. They separated, and we waited to see what hounds would do. They were so far behind, we could not hear them.

But soon, we could. Gradually they came along, louder and louder, until they came right to us. They hit the place where the deer separated exactly fifteen minutes after- and stuck right onto the cerf’s line.

I thought, “Mr. Paige is in trouble if he lies down.”

But he didn’t. He never stopped. The next time we saw him, we waited for hounds- and again they came, still fifteen minutes behind.

When a hunt starts, I am 100% hound. But as the animal runs, as it shows itself to be clever or tough or brave, I start to waver in my allegiance. And sometimes, I change sides…

Eventually they ran him into a forest of tall older trees near the Oise. I walked in, and quite near me there was a brief hallali- but he got away somehow, heading for the river.

If he could get across, he might be able to escape! Not because hounds were losing him, but it was getting dark. Run, Satchel!

It was not to be, he could not get out of the river and he was drowned. He did his best, hounds did theirs, nothing was artificial. It was a hunt as it should be.

So back to the Rendezvous for the Courree. By then it was dark- black dark. And again, it rained hard. And like at the Rendezvous and during the hunt, no compromise with the weather or the darkness!

Just a lovely day.

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