Thursday, April 14, 2016

The call

We were supposed to shear our sheep today, but a combination of rain and snow pushed back our shearing schedule and I had a free afternoon. I drove about 45 minutes south to meet up with an old friend who was making a quick stop on a Utah-to-Alaska roadtrip with her family. I was given directions to the house and a few minutes after introductions were made with an extensive family, I found myself sitting at a kitchen table with an old man who had spent a good portion of his life running hounds.

Hounds. On bears, lions, and coons.

"With coons, it's all dog." I immediately knew exactly what he meant, but I don't know why it was such an instant connection.

The crowed room faded away as I listened to his stories: of the hound named Cougar, of black and tans, of Walkers brought out of the South. Of training young dogs with too much enthusiasm and without a lick of sense, of the scorn older dogs who had to run in the same pack, of using big Airedales and pitbulls to protect the hounds at the tree, of the good hound that would never backtrack a bear, of taking a Boone and Crockett black bear, of live capturing mountain lions and bringing them out on the back of a mule. I felt like Ben Lilly would have been at home with this man.

But here's the thing: I'm not a houndsman, don't own hounds, and have only had a few chances to accompany hounds on a hunt. I know that my uncle and other men I descend from were houndsmen, but it's never been a part of my life. If I have any regrets in life, that would would be it.

But it doesn't matter: There is something about hounds that speaks to the very core of my soul. It's a deep and primal connection that I do not understand. If I step outside in the dark of the night and hear a hound baying in the distance, my heartbeat quickens, and sings.

Tell me, why? What is it about hounds that causes such a primitive reaction? Help me explore and understand.


Gil said...

Coon dogs. I went to grammar school with the game manager's son, Burton, of a 50,000 acre lowcountry hunting club. I hadn't seen him in years. I used to spend the night over at house when we were kids. I had heard that his brother had been murdered while coon hunting at night (and drinking). The story was that his "buddy" tied his prize coon hound to the back of his jeep and Bobby drove off, unknowingly dragging the dog to death. He had no idea that the dog was tied to his Jeep. The buddy roared after him in his truck, flagged him down, and in a drunken rage, shot him to death as he sat behind the wheel in is Jeep. It was decades later that I learned it wasn't Bobby that was killed, but Burton. Shot dead for killing his buddy's coon dog. Gil

Teddy said...

My father was a coon hunter, fox hunter and rabbit hunter. I grew up with hounds, hearing them baying when they wanted to go hunting, again hearing them on game. Now I use tiny hounds, the dachshunds, but when one opens on a hot track, all that upbringing surges forward. It seems an atavistic reaction. Perhaps our ancestors knew the baying meant a potential meal. Whatever the reason, a hound's cry stirs the senses.

Keith Smith said...

You just ought to get two or three beagles. They might kill that regret


Anonymous said...

My oh my, can I ramble on on THIS subject infinitely! Cat, did you ever read my only "guest post" on Querencia(such being quickly squelched by workplace tattletails, as it DID take me a LONG time to peck those entries out, at my only access to the computer world--my workplace!) on "Trailhounds"--that'll save me some pecking right now if'n you go back and read them! I grew up in the South with fox, coon, rabbit, and later in the Appalachians, bear hunters all around, so I heard lots of "hound music" in my day. I still have one old Bluetick("Roland") now myself(Notches the Black-And-Tan joined my dog spirit cloak a few years back...sigh...), but alas, it has become about impossible to safely range with a LOUD, distantly hunting hound in the more civilized(and therefore ANAL)territory I roam(trespass) these days. The old code in the South where one NEVER shot a hound has long been forgotten, alas. Too many urbanized furriners have invaded and settled here, that have different religions from hunting with hounds! But occasionally, I'll still hear someone else's hound or beagles baying over the hills, and nothing brings a shiver of sentiment over me quite as deeply when I do(although in most cases, they've escaped their pens or chains, and are not actually out hunting with their humans). All the many moonlit nights I have sat on a wooded hilltop listening to my hound(s) baying in the distance, are memories I'd not trade for ANYTHING! I, too, wonder at the deep feeling it conjures up--how long before something becomes a deep-seated instinct in a creature? A few thousand years, perhaps? We have been following trailhounds at least that long in our species' history--if such can be instinctive in the distinct dog types we've selected for, why not us as well? be continued....L. B.

Anonymous said...

....I double-checked back as to when I had done those "guest posts" for any hound lover interested--July 14th 2009 was the first one( Was it THAT long ago??? Sheesh! There were 4 parts in all....)--but you can look them all up quickly and easily by just googling "lane batot on trailhounds"! Not to discourage you, Cat, if'n yer tempted to get a "pleasure hound" or two of yer own one day out there in Wyoming, but from various accounts I've read, the wolf reintroductions out west have been HARD on hounds! Lots git kilt in wolf territory--hunting at a distance from their people, and announcing themselves with that deep baying that carries for miles--attracts wolves out to discourage canine territory interlopers like a magnet! And it rarely ends well for the hound. I remember one graphic photo of the aftermath of such an attack--only the hound's HEAD was left...... Not unlike how Hostile Indians here in the East(back in the days) used to ambush and kill settlers by honing in on their baying trailhounds when they were out hunting.....But there are other ways of vicariously enjoying trailhounds--READING about them! I think that excellent magazine "Full Cry" is still in existence--a collection of newsletters from trailhounds, sighthounds, terriers, curs, and other dog hunters from all over North America! LOTS of great books, too--but DANGIT, MOST trailhound books are "collectibles" and usually QUITE expensive! Often exorbitantly so! I still end up getting many, it just sets me back awhile when I do! Our old buddy Dutch Salmon has MANY available reprints from his "High Lonesome Books"--where I've gotten many of mine! One of THE BEST describing foxhound work and how the author believes they perceive scent, is Edward Briggs "Hounds In The Hills"--it WON'T be cheap. But not so exorbitant as to make you pee in yer pants when you see the price tag. I'm reading a GREAT comprehensive one right now, that DID make me pee in mah pants, but I saved up and eventually got it anyway--"Hunting With Hounds In North America" by Andreas F. Von Recum(it includes much on coursing with sighthounds, too). One of the BEST novels ever about a sighthound(and a red fox!) is Daniel P. Mannix's "The Fox And The Hound", which, alas, they based the Disney cartoon on. Alas, because the book used to be available cheap as dirt! Since the animated version, it tends to be crazily exorbitant! I luckily got my copy back when. It is an EXCELLENT realistic(unlike the animated version!) account of the lives of a red fox and a hound, based loosely on the famous Virginian fox named "Old Baldy" from actual history. If you ever git a chance to git a cheapo copy of this, GIT IT! Then, if'n you need to pay off a car or a house er some such, you can sell it on Amazon! Hey Steve--maybe you need Disney to animate one of yer books so they all become exorbitant collector's items!....L.B.

Steve Bodio said...

Don.t forget The Killers (Coopers hawk and Gamecock) or The wolves of Paris or All Creatures Great and Small (mine has a letter from his son after his death, saying that my books were in his library and that he had spoken well of me, though I never met him; he DID once shoot a blowgun dart into the mantel of a fireplace next to where my Maine friend Mark Fanning was standing,and, when Mark said "That wasn't a poisoned one?" said "Don't kid yourself, son." Then there are Step Right Up, about carney life, and Married to Adventure by Jule, with the cover of her mounted, with a hooded BALD eagle.

Betsy and I chanced to meet a lovely old gal in Newton Mass while was carrying a Merlin. She had that peculiar diction of the Philadelphia upper class and was tall, with unfashionably long hair wound round her head. She inspected the bird closely and announced; "I had a sorority sister who kept birds like that, but rahther LARGER. I believe they were EAGLES." I sized up her accent and age, and asked "Was her married name Jule Mannix?" She was amazed...

But the best story of all is curiously unknown, and perhaps speaks to the divide between culture and country, "literature" and all other writing, that exists in this nation, and may be why I am a poor man. Acting on a lead in an article about Saul Bellow in the NYRB, I tracked down the following amazing fact: in 195o, Bellow had to pay an unspecified "large" sum to Dan and Jule Mannix, because he used, without attribution, over a hundred pages about hunting iguanas in Mexico with eagles, which he took entirely from Dan's as yet unpublished ms, in his The Adventures of Augie March. Chapters 14 - 20 are FULL of Mannix!

I am embarrassed that I had not read it already, but when I was young there were a certain too- urban (or SUBurban-- this last does not apply to Bellow) middle- aged male that I couldn't abide. Poor Updike of the pissed- on lawn was chief among them, and I had just gotten to the point of reading him when he did his Hamlet pastiche, and, rather than ask a falconer about it, like Bellow had, or go out with the hawks, like Hilary Mantel did (her opening scene in Bring Out Your Bodies is brilliant),he simply MADE IT UP, reinforcing my idea of him once again.

Steve Bodio said...

That last, with pics, is a post, isn't it ?

And the Mantel , of course, is Bring UP YOUR odies.

Anonymous said...

Man, but I LOVE Mannix! Ditto for "The Wolves Of Paris"(TAILOR MADE for a great, live action wolf-oriented film! It would go hand-in-hand with the recent Mongolian "Wolf Totem"!) but you fergot(?) his fantastic book about all manner of hunting with other animals as your partners(including trailhounds!), like cheetahs(I LOVE it when his cheetah took off after a guy passing on a motorcycle, and FREAKED the guy out!), ocelots, ferrets, etc!--titled "A Sporting Chance". And I love his Africana book co-written with the LEGENDARY J. A. Hunter "Tales of the African Frontier". Most of his(marvelous) books are quite reasonably priced, too, just that "Fox and the Hound" made outrageous by the association with the Disney animated movie(a great shame--a SPLENDID animal novel! But available now only amongst the WEALTHIEST!)...... Another must-read hound book that is eerily reminiscent of the comment above by Gil, is the classic Americana novel "The Voice Of Bugle Anne".....L.B.

Guy Boyd said...

I believe that you cannot understand these things in a rational, objective sense. After reading your post I thought of thunderous waves pounding on a rocky shore, and the cry of a falcon, faint and distant, echoing off deep canyon walls. We cannot fathom them, but only feel them like a powerful omnipresence reaching deep within us.

Cat Urbigkit said...

Thanks for all the input. Guy, I especially enjoyed your comment, and Gil reminds me of the passion associated with hounds. LB, I've read a bit about hounds over the years, and recall your posts from years past. Perhaps I'll need to tag along on a few more hunts, but I can't see adding any hounds to our sheep outfit since I'm not so sure the guardian dogs would approve.
Cheers to all!

Chas S. Clifton said...


Robert Coffin

Once or twice this side of death
Things can make one hold his breath.

From my boyhood I remember
A crystal moment of September.

A wooded island rang with sounds
Of church bells in the throats of hounds.

A buck leaped out and took the tide
With jewels flowing past each side.

With his head high like a tree
He swam within a yard of me.

I saw the golden drop of light
In his eyes turned dark with fright.

I saw the forest’s holiness
On him like a fierce caress.

Fear made him lovely past belief,
My heart was trembling like a leaf.

He leans towards the land and life
With need above him like a knife.

In his wake the hot hounds churned
They stretched their muzzles out and yearned.

They bayed no more, but swam and throbbed
Hunger drove them till they sobbed.

Pursued, pursuers reached the shore
And vanished. I saw nothing more.

So they passed, a pageant such
As only gods could witness much,

Life and death upon one tether
And running beautiful together.

tljhound said...

Cat, I always enjoy your posts. My apology for taking so long to comment but I didn't and don't know the answer to your question, after a lifetime of hunting hounds all I can say is I've always been drawn to the cry of the chase. Another reason for delay was I didn't know how to compress my thoughts into a few sentences. I still don't but here goes.

I was born to a hound family with a hunting tradition that goes back at least until when my maternal grandfather's grandfather returned home from the Civil War. My mother says I foxhunted as an infant but didn't go regularly until I was toilet trained. My childhood was farm chores and hounds, if we weren't working we were hunting. Some of my earliest memories are of hounds-some mental pictures, most of hearing a pack in full cry. The reaction it stirred in me then as a child was passionate, just as it is now. Folks I hunt with say they could almost describe a chase based on my body language, the cry enters my ears and inspires my brain with passion that shows physically, they can see the jump, the drive, the check and the roar of running to catch in my reaction to the cry.

I love hunting hounds and most everything about it and it all starts with the cry. I wish I knew the answer to your question why, for you. But for me the why doesn't matter, in my youth I studied and pondered and developed theories to explain all sorts of aspects of the hunt but I reached an age where the why's didn't feel all that important anymore. What is important to me is hunting, it feels right and comfortable, it's a direct connection to my ancestors, and the cry inspires the same reaction it always has and I hope will until my dying day.