The “Fox” Hunt
Dunham, Quebec, is what is known as a “sleepy town”. A couple of weekends a year in September, Route 202, which runs through the town, is filled bumper-to-bumper with cars as folk come to the area for the wine-tasting and to enjoy the autumn colours.
Speaking of excitement, my wife once claimed to have seen a bear during one of her daily walks; she was terrified and ran one way. The alarmed bear ran the other.
The unpaved country road where we live is four kilometers from town so even on busy fall days there isn’t too much happening in my neighbourhood.
We’re past that busy season now anyway; most of the leaves have fallen from the trees. This morning, I had some apprehension regarding a potential “excitement” – what might be facing me in the basement of my wife’s studio.
Naomi’s studio is approaching 200-years-old next year. The wood beams which make up the outer walls are of a thickness one doesn’t see anymore.
She had been warning me for weeks: There are critters in the basement, Ron, they’ve been hoarding all the chestnuts there.
I suppose that one day, on hearing a ruckus coming from below while she worked, Naomi opened the basement door and saw the mess on the floor.
So today was the day to get things done. I had no idea what to expect but I was ready: there’s no way a family of squirrels or chipmunks was going to make our studio basement home for the winter!
Naomi was right: the chipmunks (most probably) had made the cellar their base for nut opening and gorging. We have a chestnut tree on our property and I had noticed that the hundreds of chestnuts usually strewed on the lawn every fall were not there this year. Now I had discovered where they all were “hiding” – in the basement of Naomi’s studio. You just had to look down to see the mess – a high pile of ground-up nuts. With a flashlight, two brooms, garbage bag and cayenne pepper on the ready, down we went into the crumbling infrastructure of the old wood building.
What a mess! I had cleaned up the cellar not too long ago but you wouldn’t have known it. Besides the dark-brown piles of chewed-up nuts everywhere, the basement’s stone walls had crumbled even more.
Each time I am down there I say a silent prayer that, please, now not be the moment for Naomi’s studio to fall collapsing onto my head.
Happily enough, there was no contingent of squirrels or chipmunks taken by surprise as they prepared to hibernate for the winter.
We cleaned up, made some decisions regarding closing up some of the more obvious holes in the foundation wall and left the room with a little sprinkling of cayenne pepper on the floor which the critters are not supposed to like.
As we began the outdoor task of raking the huge swollen piles of wet oak leaves around the studio, another bit of unexpected excitement came our way…
“Hey, look at the horses,” Naomi called out, as I was sorting through the logs-to-burn and the mildewed logs-to-throw-away. On our road, in a row, were about ten riders and horses, unusual enough, except these riders were all dressed up in traditional English hunting outfits. We watched them pass, and in a few minutes one fellow came back. He stopped in front of us and was looking down at something.
“Anything wrong?” I asked.
He said something about coyotes (using two syllables) but I couldn’t quite understand his accent (Canadian-British? British-Canadian?). Naomi approached and started talking to him.
“I can’t understand what he’s saying,” she said to me.
I asked him again what was happening.
“Our dogs have gone after the coyotes and they’re off in the forest,” he said. “I’ve got them on the GPS,” looking down again at what I assumed was his GPS tracking system following his team of canine coyote pursuers.
He sat pensively on a beautiful large and majestic horse.
We talked further and invited him onto our property. He was looking for “the swamp”, an area famous around here, on our neighbour’s very large property, which I’ve never been to but which my step-son has related is very wild and filled many species of wild animals. We know that the coyotes (we use three syllables) live there because the half-dozen times we hear them howl each year, usually in the middle of the night, we can place their wailing as the location of the swamp.
So off the man went alone, he on his horse, in the direction of our forest and the swamp beyond, while the rest of the hunting party continued down our road.
In a little while he was back, with an exceptionally beautiful hound following him, its tongue hanging out. When a hunter canters on his horse, he lifts up his tuchus on every step in time to the horse’s step so that his bum doesn’t slam down on the saddle, thereby hurting said behind. These “hunters” were all riding really striking horses (I noticed on their return later) and, yes, they cantered perfectly.
In a few minutes, this man came back again without the dog. “How many dogs do your have out there?” I asked, having heard plenty of wild barking coming from the “swamp”. “Fifteen,” he replied. Oh, I thought, that’s a lot of dogs to have running around these forests chasing coyotes.
To state the obvious: this is not England. The forests around here are not thinned and manicured, as European forests are. (We have neighbours from France who have tried to clean the forest at the entrance to their property; every stray twig, branch and rock is in its place, or removed. It’s not natural.) You’ve seen footage of English hunting excursions where groups chase a fox through field, brook and grove? The hunters and the horses carrying them scurry to and fro with ease. The Eastern Township forests do not open themselves easily to horses and to dogs chasing coyotes.
I stayed to watch the returning group of hunters, their outfits, the way they cantered. I saluted them as if they were military, while they doffed their little black caps to me.
“The dogs didn’t bother you, I hope?” said one as he went by.
“We love dogs,” I called back but he had cantered away and I don’t know if he heard me.