Hunt for Emerald Isle by Jeff Eichler

Hunt for Emerald IslePreface

All right, the story has ruminated long enough. The tale must be told.

I'm flying a bit solo on this one (pun intended Mark the airplane flyer), and this is liable to be one person’s memory of the accounts of the weeks running from Jan. 4th to Jan. 21. Anyone who remembers that recent history with more clarity and precision (hint, hint Rosie and Grosvenor) please feel free to chime in with accuracy. Otherwise, you run the risk of living a lie. I need to send condolences publicly at this point to Mack Braly, whose spot I filled on the ten- being roster after his back punked out on him in November. Sorry, Mack, I've been in those can't bend over/straighten up/get out of bed shoes and they are some hard loafers to wear. My information has it that you, like myself, will recover fully. The island still awaits you.

I've titled this chronicle "Hunt for the Emerald Isle" as the story starts way before getting on a plane to fly to Ireland, and doesn't end upon return to these shores.

You'll find the usual accounts of strange and exotic hunt jumps, banks, drains, hirelings and the like. But this story wouldn't be complete, for me, without addressing the weather here in the good ole U.S. of A., and the hunting plans Mother Nature decided to change for myself, and most of you out there. Travel conditions made up a significant portion of our experience on both sides of the transatlantic flight, and a good bit in between as well.

A mere few weeks after returning from my first ever trip to Ireland, an account of which was so kindly gathered by Christine and archived by Matt, I realized I was able to make a second tour with host and hostess extraordinaire, Grosvenor and Rosie. I don't have many responsibilities tying me down yet, like a job or significant other, but the few commitments I have were sounded out and green lights obtained. So, how to make the most of this return engagement.

I've got friends hunting with hounds all over the place, so I decided to visit a few before trekking to Ireland. I needed to hunt with Bull Run so I could give firsthand testimony to those hounds’ hunting abilities when asked by curious Irish. I also needed to get out with the folks at TVH in Knoxville, plus I had a delivery to make to Carla/FluffFox that I didn't trust to conventional delivery services. (Glassed pictures in frames can be a bugger to ship.) So, a road trip seemed in the offing. And, as long as I was driving, why not make a swing through Georgia and visit the relocated for the winter Southern kennels of Fox River Valley? Sounded like a good plan to me, offering the potential for hunting twelve or thirteen days from the 6th to the 20th in three different states and two different countries with ten or eleven different packs.

That was the plan. Plans changed.

The Venture Begins

Now is where The Weather asserted dominion. You'll remember the "little" snow storm that affected pretty much most of this country in a delayed reaction type fashion on or about January Oneth of this New Year. Well, I had a cold for most of the storm, but had decided my personal trip should start on Monday the 4th. My goal was to be somewhere around Indianapolis Monday evening, putting me in striking distance of Knoxville early Tuesday evening. I almost didn't make it right out of the box.

Roads around Chicago, where we had 21 inches of snowfall in 24 hours, a record, were clean and clear, and I was tooling along at a very judicious rate of speed and feeling pretty good. (Better when I remembered within blocks of the house that my passport was still on my desk at home. Can you say U-turn?) I got into Indiana no problem, and then the Sun went down.

Illinois has a fleet of snow plows that work fairly efficiently. Indiana, I'm not so sure. As the radiant energy from the Sun went away, temperatures dropped down to and past zero, Fahrenheit, and the half inch of slush on the highway froze up in a flash. I'm not a chemical engineer, but spreading salt on ice in temps below zero didn't do a damned thing. I saw six salt trucks in a one hour, probably thirty mile period, no plows, and a dozen or more cars, trucks, minivans, and what have you off in the ditch. Emergency vehicles every ten miles or so.

Picture this. I've decided that Indie is my destination for the night, and I consciously pass a truck stop where essentials such as fuel are sold, figuring I have sufficient petrol to get me to a gas pump and a bed for the night. Then the Sun disappears, ice emerges, vehicles jump off the road at a whim, traffic slows down to stop and go on the interstate, outside temps are sub zero, and my gas gauge is in the red. I was hurtin' for surtin'.

As we're crawling along on the road, I'm looking off into the dark Indiana countryside for any collection of lights that might denote an off ramp and precious gasoline. Nothing. I'd hit a dead spot between Lafayette and Indianapolis where normally nobody has a need for gas.

I turn up the tape deck a little louder, trying to convince myself that I'm NOT going to run out of gas, get stranded, and freeze while waiting for an emergency vehicle to come creeping up to me at four in the morning.

Okay, enough suspense. I made it to a town called Lebanon, IN. They have gas and a Quality Inn right off the interstate, and the sigh of relief I heaved when I started to pump fuel was large. You all heard it, didn't you? I made calls, got directions, and intended to be in Knoxville by 2 pm the next day, Tuesday. Just in time to exercise Tennessee bunnies with the Upper Bay Bassets. Plan was still relatively intact.

Escape from Tennessee

Now, I left the story with me bedded down for the night in Lebanon, IN, and you may start to question my grasp of geography. Fear not, I know that Indiana and Tennessee are two distinct and different places. Let me take you from one to the other.

Remember, I'm on a hunting expedition, so my waking and traveling were to be perfectly timed so as to put me in the right spot each time hounds were let loose from a kennel. The goal on Tuesday the Fifth was to place myself at the doorstep of Dick and Lugene Askins just as their Upper Bay Bassets were about to go somewhere and sniff out bunnies. Let’s see if I made it there, shall we?

Not knowing how tired I was from the driving ordeal the day before, I set the hotel alarm for six in the morning, a practice I very rarely engage in. I've an aversion to system shock, such as jumping into ice cold mountain tarns, or frigid Minnesota lakes, or pretty much anything to do with cold water. Alarm clocks are a close second on the aversion scale, and I will usually wake up way before any alarm sounds, subconsciously hoping to avoid system shock. I can count on one hand the number of times a clock has awakened me.

Tuesday was no different. I come around at about 4:30 in the morning, obviating the need for the alarm, check the Weather Channel (cold and frosty was the report with a hint of a weather front moving from, of all directions and a personal stunner to me, West to East {I come fully equipped with an active facetious gene}) and look out the window. I must have requested a room with a view when I checked in, because I had a splendid vista of the Interstate to gaze upon. Let's see, 4:30 a.m., cars and trucks moving at a slow crawl. Jump back in bed with an idea that things will not improve until around 8 a.m. when the Sun smiles on this benighted land. Each hour after six that I stay in bed cuts into my cushion for arriving in time to chase cottontail.

Six in the morning. Cars and trucks still crawling.

Seven in the morning. Cars and trucks still crawling, with no noticeable change in speed from previous two checks.

Eight in the morning and things look a little better, at least people can see, so I make myself presentable to the world and duck down the street for some travel food. McDonalds being the 'straunt of choice whilst in a car (least messy sandwiches). I jump onto I-65 with a light heart, full tank of gas, a Sausage McMuffin with Egg in hand and roar out to a screeching crawl. The pavement looks like an ice waffle with dry and bare patches checkerboarded with old, slick, dirty ice. I'm thirty miles away from Indianapolis, and it doesn't look like I'll being seeing the dome of the State Capital any time soon.

For a radius of about thirty miles around Indie lay this mish-mash of clear and iced pavement, intimidating even the hardguy truckers into slow going. I believe I finally made clear enough roadway that allowed me to "stretch my legs," so to speak, around 10 in the morning. No way was I going to make my rendezvous with Upper Bay, or any other bunch of dogs, and I made a call to the Askins' residence with a depressed spirit. I won't be able to join them.

They had canceled anyway.

I exercise my right to place calls on my cell phone whilst driving, catch Carla in some kind of Art Teacher interlude at school, and explain my plight. Positive energy flows through the radio waves, or microwaves, or telepathic ether, or whatever cell phones use to talk to one another from Carla to me, re-energizing me for the drive ahead and dinner.

I arrive on Carla and John's doorstep, and receive a tour of their newish place while catching up, a tour which included meeting her cadre of three lizards. "Be careful of the one in the floor to ceiling cage," says Carla, "it's not a nice lizard, it bites." This cage is in a room next to my sleeping quarters, and I explain to Carla that anything that causes me to wake in the middle of the night as a result of slithering or biting will get launched across space, said spaceshot only to be interrupted by a vertical plane such as the gypsum board of the wall. I put it in the nicest terms I could manage, she is a friend after all.

Dinner is in a sort of upscalish burger joint, with other TVH friends, but the place is packed. I wonder why this would be, to myself, as I don't see much special apart from the newness of the place, and get an unsolicited explanation from the restaurant critic of Marysville, TN, Carla. Is it Blount County where you live, Carla? Whichever county it is happens to be voted dry. No liquor stores allowed. And very few licenses to sell alcohol by restaurants were granted. If memory serves, the two allowed up to this point were Mexican, and it was explained to me that all of Marysville learned to eat refried beans and such because it was served with beer. Now they can get burgers with beer, a significant event.

I spent a pretty cool evening after dinner with John and Carla, talking computers and graphic arts programs. They have access to the kind of programs that were winning big time computer graphics awards just a few years ago, and they showed me some of the art they were working on. The computer adds ease and flexibility that was not available to traditional art media like paint and canvas, but the talent of these two people combined was pretty awesome. They kept apologizing for keeping me awake looking at their toys, but I was fascinated. Really. And, if you'll remember my personal delivery to Carla and John in the previous installment, the framed pictures, Carla you're welcome once again. It was absolutely my pleasure. After seeing what you all are capable of putting up on your walls, I'm humbled that my little gift has brought such joy.

Now, back to the journey.

At dinner that night, where I finally met the third of the TVH jt-Masters, Maribel Koella (sp?), I had a niggling feeling that the weather front shadowing my steps might cause a problem. Having dealt with frozen roads, I was a bit leery of driving any more of them than I could help, so I begged off hunting with TVH Wednesday morning. It was a painful decision, as I had the use of a wonderful mare named Maggie from Claire Harris, a wonderful woman. We would have had a ball, I know, but missing my flight to Ireland, a real possibility, swayed the argument in favor of scooting.

Wednesday morning, the 6th, dawned overcast and cold. Looks like my weather front had stolen a march on me. Instead of shadowing me it was now "dogging" my steps. (I love puns, and rarely tumble to them myself.) I had a farewell chat with Carla, causing her to leave for school later than she planned (which turned out not a problem), agonized over whether I should take my leave of John whilst he was still in the sack (I couldn't bring myself to disturb him then, so, Bye John!), and made my exit. I hit a car wash to sluice off the road salt of three states. I drive a dark green Blazer that was white with greenish hints and highlights when I pulled up to Carla and John's door. I grab another Sausage McMuffin with Egg as Carla is not known for her lavish breakfasts and head into Knoxville to pick up the Interstate that takes me to Virginia.

As I'm attending to my car and stomach, snow flurries are falling. Not even enough to make me activate my wipers, but some is sticking to the road. Ten miles out of Knoxville, traffic stops. Is there a wreck ahead? There is about a quarter inch of snow on the road, if that, and it's blowing around. Surely that can't be the cause of this delay. Has to be a traffic accident. Down to five miles an hour. I have a nagging feeling I've experienced this sort of driving in the not at all that distant past. The two lanes traveling in the opposite direction are moving along just fine, must be a fender bender that I'll pass any time now. Right? Let's see what the radio says about this situation. Ah, here's a traffic report. Knoxville is having a traffic nightmare because of the snow. What snow? The less-than-quarter-inch of powder on the ground? Seems my storm has snuck right up behind me and is breathing down my neck. I make it to a rise in the road, not even a hill by my calculation, and watch a lady in a minivan struggle up the incline. She may want to consider purchasing new tires, along with a whole lot of other folks in and around Knoxville, because the traction she and they used to have is there no more.

I get on the Interstate, luckily, keeping my radio tuned for more traffic info. I hear about roads closed because of snow, businesses delayed opening or staying shut because of snow, and schools sending kids right back home because of snow. Carla was off the hook, if she had ever found her way to that position, for being late.

I, on the other hand, have open road ahead of me. I got on the interstate just ahead of the wave of stoppages and made the most of my well-treaded tires and four-wheel drive. Aside from some limited visibility, and allowing for dodging trucks and hills, I made great time, all the while hearing about the paralysis setting in behind me. To paraphrase the character of a centuries old knight in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"... "I chose wisely" by 'Escaping from Tennessee' when I did. The next stop on my grand tour was Keswick and Culpepper, VA to watch BRH hounds hunt. My date with Bull Run and those hounds was saved for the moment, and I had escaped the clutches of Mother Nature and her fiendish weather patterns once again. I was feeling pretty canny.

I was to learn later that TVH, along with most everything else in East Tennessee, cancelled their meet. Whew! I didn't have the agony of missing the best hunt of the season to add to my burden. Thursday was to see me mounted and following Bull Run. Hopefully. The weather hound that had almost nabbed me in Tennessee was only outrun for the moment.

Does That Horse Come With Ice Skates?

The interstate between Tennessee and Virginia was the kindest thing I'd encountered in a while, and I started to feel a bit groovy. Tunes playing, countryside whizzing by, and I was on my way to hunt. Finally! I fault my friends in East Tennessee not at all, but the whole dumb exercise of my driving was to get at more hounds than a plane ticket would have allowed me. I was building a feeling that that particular event would manifest on the morrow.

I shouldn't have been so optimistic.

I arrive at the house that Grosvenor built, Paddock Wood, after some superb and easy to follow navigational instructions from himself, greeted by Rosie and Grosvenor's son Zander (short for Alexander) outside the door. I had the advantage of the young man because, whilst in various pubs, restaurants, and hunting fields on our first jaunt to Ireland, a proud set of parents had given me half of his life story . (I still can't believe I got to go twice, and the pull to go back is surprisingly stronger now than before.)

Be that as it may, I asked if the young worthy in front of me was called Alexander, which elicited a shy smile and a quiet affirmative. I'm sure the proud parents know which reaction I'm describing. I gave my name as Jeff, and asked if any parents were about. Again, yes, and I found the Man, The Myth, the Legend (got to build up the ego of the huntsman every now and again) inside on the phone, conversing about… hounds and hunting. I was at the right place.

I was welcomed into the home, spending some time working on Zander's homework with him and a puzzle path he'd been given at school. I was introduced to the young lady of the house in the person of Nicolette, whom I also had the advantage of, helping a bit with her homework, and scarfed Chinese with Rosie, Nicky, and Zander whilst Grosvenor indulged in hunt business in the next town over. It was like being transported back to the part of my childhood where math and spelling were subjects, and horses and dogs were sort of mysteries that were lived with, not really analyzed.

I got caught up a bit in explaining some personalities, please forgive, but the people on the trip were by far the most important part.

A portion of the instruction set I had to get to Paddock Wood was a caution regarding the ice at the back door. Uh, it wasn't a little ice, but a goodly bit of an ice rink. I've logged enough rink time to respect ice, so the glaring expanse was not too terrifying, but its implication for the morrow’s hunting were pretty serious. Remember, I said I was a bit overly optimistic before.

Grosvenor returned from his meeting, and the coming days hunting was discussed, amongst other things. A call was placed to the amazingly capable and justifiably appreciated kennel-huntsman, Adrian Smith, a person others on the list have acquainted you all with. A horse was arranged, hounds picked out, meeting time discussed, and various other hunt business gone over. And the telephone hung up.

In an offhand way, Grosvenor looks over and says something to the effect that if I weren't making a guest appearance, Bull Run would probably not go out the next day. I remember that part pretty clearly if you don't, Grosvenor. It's not every day that a hunt is arranged in one's honor, which is what was effectively being done for me. I was pretty flattered, and a little nervous. Reminded me of another day in New York when we idiots, which included myself, the stalwart and terribly nice Barbara Drogo, and five inches of new snow should have passed on hunting but didn't. Please, Lord, let me exhibit enough skill to stay in the saddle. Now, off to bed.

Thursday the 7th dawned iron gray. Not the iron gray of an impending shower of precipitation of one sort or another (rain or snow or something icky in between was not out of the question), but the kind that keeps the Sun's warming rays at bay, or at least in check. The ice was going to be with us all day long.

The meet was for 1 p.m., and I have to say I love that kind of start time. For one reason or another my home pack of foxhounds goes out pretty much at dawn-thirty our entire season. It's absolutely wonderful to have time to spend getting self and horse put together in daylight with a relative lack of chronometer pressure.

To my provincial mind, we meander over to the fixture, Muckamoor if you know it, and pull up in the field below that fixture's big house to find Adrian and the hound truck waiting. Rosie-the-knowledgeable gives me a geological lecture on the terrain and footing in and around Muckamoor, something about this black stuff that holds moisture close to the surface and is right now a grassily deceptive chunk of ice. I'm given to understand my horse is one of the few with studs on. Grosvenor and Rosie have no such non-skid equipment, but after our footing talk I can't help but think maybe I need a bit more. Anyway, very soon after, the rest of the day's crew arrives, introductions made (and release forms signed), horses unboxed (to borrow a term from across the water), and tack stuck on said ponies. I was given the use of a handsome thoroughbred named Shakespeare, a horse that Jos Mottershead has also ridden to great success, but a bit of a pickle when it comes to being tied. He broke his lead in the trailer on the way over, and busted out of our improvision after he'd been completely tacked up, just as I turned away to get my coat. He danced around for fifteen or twenty minutes, showing what a well-formed animal he was, and causing my cheeks to glow red with embarrassment.

Horses that needed catching allowed themselves to be caught, more introductions were made, including Doug Morris (Thanks for the pictures from this day, Doug!) the BRH photo journalist, and Barclay Rives who brought up the subject of the Longmeadow Hounds here in Illinois. Not too many people remember that group, and I have only the most rudimentary knowledge. Didn't know I'd be out for a quiz as well as a ride that day. But a miracle occurs not long after my brain is tested. Hounds move off! 16 1/2 couple of old Bull Run and PennMarydel blood are let into the first covert, and I believe find right then. If it wasn't the first, it certainly was the second drawn. I was given the privilege of riding with Rosie that day. (Rosie's horse did better with a companion, and mine wasn't geared for the field anyway, being one of Adrian's remounts. I forgot to add that Leo, Adrian's mount that afternoon, celebrated the day by pulling a rodeo act, kicking up heels and hopping around right before hounds moved off. That is significant news for much, much later in this narrative.) Rosie and I, along with the non-jumping field, take a chance that the fox will run left-handed out of a rather large covert he's taken the hounds into, and we set ourselves up to view the show as they emerge, hopefully, in our range of vision. To those of you who aren't whippers-in, a large portion of hunting as whips is filled with such choices. You're either in the thick of the race, or left out and scrambling to get back in. As staff, that's the best argument for big-voiced hounds, especially in country where the land folds in on itself. Sound waves have kept me on terms with hounds and quarry a heck of a lot more times than sight ever has (again, a sentiment that has particular significance further on in the saga.)

We give the pack time to show up in our sights and then try to play catch-up when they don't. We'd exploited a gap festooned with downed wire and briar tendrils next to a padlocked gate to get into the field of our latest vantage point, using some of my recent Irish crossing country training to spy it out, I might add. But the pack took us away from that handy opening.

We were hampered by wire and iced up hunt jumps as we attempted to get with hounds, watching the pack in an open field below what I took to be a dairy operation, swirling around in the open, re-casting themselves to find the trail of the fox. No staff were helping them, those worthies being scraped off at various points by various obstacles. From my own personal point of view, that's the kind of hound work one dreams about. Hounds honoring each other and working on their own as a unit is a sight to behold, which I did, and was happy.

It didn't last, however. Rosie and I, along with the rest of the field, caught up to our companions on some railroad tracks, minus the Master and Huntsman, Grosvenor, who was on foot trying to entice hounds back to his horn. We wait there for a while, pass a flask or two, and when nothing seems to be happening but Grosvenor standing in a field and serenading a few hounds, Rosie and I canter around to join him.

Seems the pack had hit a patch of uncrossable land, the local highish security prison, been on the cusp of recall, and then hit the line again, leaving everyone in the dust. Grosvenor had about half the hounds when Rosie and I caught up to him, and the rest were not close at all to where we were.

We went back to the tracks and Grosvenor blew for a while. Our hound calling station placed us across from the aforementioned State Penal Institution and next to an animal rescue property, an interesting nexus from which to re-launch the hunt. Staff were dispatched to get around hounds, if possible, and after some little while, that task was accomplished. From being down half the pack, I believe we were short around a couple and a half when everyone met up again to compare notes. As interludes went, it was rather boring. As instruction over where and how this country can be ridden, it was rather helpful. Plus, I was asked to help move hounds about and didn't "step on my whip", so to speak. I was honored.

Now that we were put back together, let's see if we can run a few more fox around. Grosvenor hands the horn over to Adrian in a barely understood exchange, and off we go to the next covert right in the heart of the Muckamoor fixture, minus the Master; he went off to visit with the prison Warden.

Rosie and I ride flank on the road, as good little whips, and Adrian casts the pack and draws along a bit of a frozen creek. Rosie and I split up a bit to cover more of the road, both horses amenable to the arrangement, and I grabbed the sort of left of point position. I was just in time to hear hounds find and to view a fox streak out of covert and turn right-handed along the frozen creek Adrian had been drawing. No need for a holler, as hounds had hit already, and a tally-ho might have confused our huntsman into thinking that the fox had gone left across the road instead of the real right-handed path. But it was hard to stifle a whoop at seeing the hunted fox. (Lessons learned on the list parading across my minds eye.) Rosie caught up instantly and we watched the pack pick a path back and forth across this frozen, tree-lined creek, speaking and checking. I believe we took a coop, carefully, and managed to avoid some leg-swallowing holes as we shadowed hounds along this creek. Adrian and the field were hunting on the other side.

There's a concept in business of employee ownership of an idea or program. This idea is supposed to help increase employee enthusiasm and dedication to the idea or product that was their brainchild. That translates entirely to the hunt field. This was "my" hunted fox, and the blood was up.

Hounds were making for a bridge over which ran a blacktopped road with a lovely covert on the other side. As slow as they were going, I was pretty sure Charlie had slipped across the road or under the bridge to the trees on the far side of the upcoming pavement, and I cast my eyes ahead for a glimpse. All at a canter, I'm dividing my attention among Rosie, the ground, the hounds, and searching for the fox, and as I work my gaze back from the bridge I catch a flash of reddish brown not ten yards in front of the hounds. Charlie was having as much trouble getting through the ice as the hounds were. Adrian is streaking and calling ahead of hounds, now, making for the bridge and road, and I remark my observations to Rosie, expecting Adrian has also seen the fox and is trying to turn the pack to him, which he does.

He hadn't seen the blighter, though, and while the mounted field's attention was on Adrian, Charlie slipped around behind horses and hounds and took off at a right angle to the creek. He was heading for a different covert and a set of farm buildings, or so said the hounds as they picked up the line behind the field as they cast back for the fox. Classic self-starters.

Rosie and I are faced with another whip's choice. Do we follow the field and huntsman, or swing back along right-handed and guard the creek. We chose the latter, out of duty, and were again left out.

Barclay, who during the entire day was in the right place at the right time (a tribute to his hound knowledge and fox sense), viewed the hunted critter coming back from the lovely covert near the farm buildings. Brother Rives executed a classic putting-the-hounds-on-the-line maneuver. He stood on the heel portion of the line, dropped his cap, and Adrian brought hounds up to the fox's trail. Off they go... for about ten yards where Charlie had slipped into a hole.

Bull Run has some pretty good marking hounds, and they vented their frustration in their very vocal manner. We had been faced with some slippery turf, chuck holes, coops, post and rails, and a nice little chase on a red that was a closer run thing than any of us had counted on. Best run of the day, and the sound of the marking hounds provided a beacon for the return of the erstwhile Grosvenor. Of course we weren't done.

The covert across the road that I thought the fox was making for turns out to be our last draw. Hounds jump in pretty quick and again find right off the bat. This fox takes a page out of the previous vulpine's book and starts a crisscross of the same frozen stream, only the ice is patchier, slicker, and the water the ice covers is deeper. Rosie and I are again faced with a whip's dilemma, follow hounds closely where no trail exists, or get into the open where room to maneuver can be had. We choose to follow through the underbrush, and are treated to the same exhibition of hounds working back and forth on the line of the fox who takes them over as much ice as he can.

Our intention was to find a place to cross the stream and be in a handy spot if the fox takes off left-handed over the beckoning fields we keep catching glimpses of between ducking thorny vines. (I'd give you compass directions, but I had no idea where North was that whole day.) The ice was acting quite the barrier. Instead of studs, I was wishing my horse came equipped with... you guessed it, ice skates (chuckle, chuckle).

The fox finally left the ice stream behind, giving that tactic up for awhile, and ran out and away in front of hounds. Ole Red took a turn that would have taken hounds back into uncrossable land, the back of the prison again, and the hard working pack was stopped and picked up at that point and re-cast.

Another fox makes him or herself available soon thereafter, and manages to indeed take the pack into forbidden ground. Nuts! But those of you wise to the ways of foxes know they have a habit of running circles. Pack came right back at us, back to the frozen creek (are these foxes sharing the same playbook?), and finally lost somewhere along the bank. Probably in a hole in a wood pile. Grosvenor winds his magic horn, and off we trot for the meet and home.

I now have conversation ammunition for the curious Irish, having acquitted myself well in the Bull Run hunt field (I think), and had a heck of a day watching hounds. Not everything went smooth as silk The hounds showed flashes of brilliance mixed in with flashes of G@# D*&^%d hound stubbornness, but the day was a winner in my book. All the more for the fact that it might not have happened, barring my presence.

Dinner is a tired affair at a nice little restaurant, except for Zander and Nicky who amuse themselves on giant piles of parking lot snow for an hour, chasing one another and chucking snow chunks at the unwary. But the great, good news is, we are off to Ireland in the morning. We'll be there and riding in a day! Again the optimism is running high. Will I never learn.

So Close, And Yet So Far orThe Day JFK Worked On My Last, Good Nerve

Friday the eighth of January was a date long etched into my memory. For weeks beforehand I would calculate the correct date and day of the week based on this trip to Ireland's span of days. The day to start had arrived.

Things, as you know, had been interesting up till now. Weather had given me grief for over six hundred miles on my pre-journey journey, but now was the time to set that all aside and get on to Ire. We were in a part of the world where snow doesn't cause much trouble, icy temperatures are fleeting, right, so getting to the airport will be no problem? I've heard it said that every day you don't learn something is one that was wasted. I learned on Jan. 8th.

We've had fun hunting the day before, and now Rosie and Grosvenor must pay the price and condense packing into a morning's work. Add in sending Nicky and Zander off to school (and pray the school bus doesn't ignore one or both and whiz off again today as they stand at the stop, waiting), settling the house sitter, and taking down Christmas decorations, and you've got a picture of the bill they were looking at taking care of. Certainly, I would do all I could.

Buses ran on schedule, kids on them in the correct order, house sitter arrives in time to take instruction, and the Christmas tree and various indoor and outdoor decorations descend and are dissected back into component parts for next year. The plane IS SCHEDULED to leave at three in the afternoon, and we're ready to be out the door at quarter to eleven. I'm told it's around an hour to Reagan National Airport. Looks like we're in great shape, except ... what's that fluffy white stuff that's been falling the past hour or so? It seems to be accumulating. Do I sense trouble?

We're to get a lift to the aerodrome from a friend and BRH member, Yank, (who is on this list, lurking around, Hey Yank!) in his van. We three are to meet Yank at his place, drop a car there, and then pick up his son, William, then on to the launch pad. My car is elected to make the journey to Yank's because of the dual features of large cargo capacity and four-wheel drive. Both are utilized as necessary.

On our way to Yank's we were given a small lesson in civics. Snow plows and salt trucks from counties that voted to give the road commissioner enough money to clear roads know exactly where their county line ends. Even if that terminus is in the middle of a road. We were creeping along in four-wheel drive, following tracks of the foolhardy before us, and there weren't that many to follow, when all of a sudden the road clears in an eye blink. Wonder how the next county board meeting will go?

Yank greets us at the door, we chitchat for a few, then move out and collect William. William's made this journey to Ireland several times before, is an old hat and a dab hand, and still in High School. And a fine young gentleman as I came to find over the course of the trip ahead. We spend as little time in a static position as possible as the snow is still dropping from the sky like flies. Good thing we had that extra time allotted for travel.

The interstate chosen to get us to the airport should have been swift. The snow made it pretty slow, what with cars off on the side and all. A familiar sight for me from Illinois to Tennessee, and now Virginia. I'm beginning to wonder if I should jump a car in the ditch just to get it over with. Good thing I wasn't driving because a hypnotic call to do that very thing was teasing at my hind brain. Cabin fever, I guess.

We take a spin through downtown D.C. First time I've been there, and what sights of national historic significance did I see? A Nieman Marcus store and other upscale shopping spots. No time for dillydallying though; we've used up almost all our time budgeted for mishap on the way to the plane and we've only minutes before take off!

Three more of our slowly evolving crew are waiting for us at the Delta check in counter. Jeff Rizer, Ed Harvey, and Ed's stepson Rob. Ed and Rob are used to Merle-Smith time, a state of being that depends on the phrase "in the nick of time," but Jeff, being a relative new comer (first trip to Ireland with Ro and Gro) has a worried expression on his friendly visage. I believe Grosvenor had their tickets, along with the four of us from the van, so we were all in the same boat for lateness. Everything's cool, though. Our bags get checked with fat minutes to spare, and we dash off to the boarding area.

The plane is pretty full. People jetting off to New York for the weekend, or commuting back after a hard week's work, or trying to make a connection with one of the numerous and myriad international flights that leave from John F. Kennedy International Airport. We're in the latter group, scattered about the plane, but excited about taking off to meet the last three of our little company in New York, Eileen O'Farrell, Hugh Faust, and Dick Askins, hunting people from CA and TN. Ah, but there's a delay.

Three o'clock comes and goes. Four o'clock comes and goes. Many people deplane in a huff, preferring to take their chances in Washington than in New York. (Wish we were among 'em in the clarity and certainty of 20/20 hindsight vision.) An announcement is made that if we get going by five thirty, I think, we'll still make our connections if those connections don't leave JFK before 6:45 p.m. Our plane leaves at 7:30 so we're staying.

The crowd had thinned to a shade of its former self, and such free seating encourages conversation. We band together in a group for a confab, pass around Deer Jerky and Mentos as provided by Ed, William, and Jeff (whose recipe for Deer Jerky was killer) and proceed to get to know a bit about each other as time permits. Time permitted a lot, and one portion of our talk revolved around baggage that doesn't always end up with you at your destination. A fairly big concern for those of us depending on the specialized, and expensive, gear we call hunting kit. Ours was to be put into use almost immediately upon our arrival in Ireland, and missing a bag could cause a lot of disruption. To me, especially, as I had chosen to place all my eggs in one barrel (I can be a nut, at times.)

One of the warning signs for potential baggage misrouting is a change in an outgoing flight. Seems the baggage system has a problem recognizing that you are on a different plane with a different flight number. And a big indicator is if you see your bags waiting by the side of the plane as you pull away from the terminal for take off. As we are sitting on our Delta shuttle, minding our own business, I happen to glance out the window and see ground crew unloading bags. Lots of people had deplaned, and they wanted their luggage, naturally. I must have been delusional to think the baggage handlers could tell whose grip was whose in the hold of the airplane, but for some reason I held on to that belief right up until the time I watched my bag deplane without me. Bad luck is compounding.

I make a comment and the rest of us watch our bags go off on their own as well, and we two Jeff's march up to the front of the aircraft to make sure someone knows mistakes were made. Didn't mean we'd see our stuff before the middle of next week, but at least we would have tried. A large man on a radio, official looking, is talking to someone else with a hand set, and trying to put that someone right. We heard the words international passengers (and there was one Greek family that had refrigerator boxes of stuff in transit on our flight), mistake, and re-load in the same sentence, so our message was heard. A half sigh escapes our lips.

We sit around some more, Ed deplanes to get food (the jerky didn't fill him up, I guess,) and William and he scarf a sub while Rob steps out to get a nicotine fix. The future is looking dim. But wait, the intercom crackles and a pleasant voice (they're all pleasant, aren't they?) says get your stuff together, we're taking off! Just as soon as we get the bags on, passengers sorted, and wings de-iced. We start calculating.

We watch our bags rejoin us, passengers file back in, and the plane doors are shut. Now we wait for the de-icing crew. Never been in a plane that needed such treatment before, and I was kind of intrigued with that process. It was very much like being in an automatic carwash, only this was a giant, big plane. This yellow junk gets shot out at the lane, windows covered in some soapy, crusty, slurpy kind of stuff, and magically the leading edges of the flight control surfaces are free of lift-destroying ice irregularities. Pretty cool if it wasn't for the fact that this process is slowly eroding our chance to connect with an Aer Lingus plane bound for Shannon and our fix of Irish countryside. Learning patience was the lesson for that day, and the lesson was not over.

Motion is felt. Means we're blowing this pop stand and on our way to the next stage of our journey. We've been sitting on the plane at the terminal for three hours, long enough to have flown to NY, back, and on to NY again. Finally! We're sitting back to enjoy the ride when I feel a hand tapping my shoulder. William, sitting directly behind me has noticed that the starboard engine seems a bit funny. I look over my shoulder and notice a lack of movement in the fan blades. They stayed unmoving throughout the flight, and our plane ride from Washington D.C. was made with only one working motor. How pleasant.

All right, we're on the ground, which was a relief. Fog off the ocean had created a nifty little landing situation where the pilot could only see ground the last ten seconds or so of the approach. That pilot was a champ, and I'd fly with him again. I did see a rabbit break covert in the middle of the airfield as we were taxiing to our gate, taking that for a positive omen (grasping at straws, here).

On our way to the gate, we could see planes warehoused everywhere, waiting for clearance to leave. No one was moving. We passed the Aer Lingus terminal complete with two Aerbus jets still attached to gangways, indicating we had an excellent, if hurried, chance to make our connector. I also was treated to a look at the worlds largest snow plow, snow in NY being the culprit that kept us on the ground in D.C. The blade of the plow was easily thirty yards wide.

Now, the fun starts. Rush off the Delta plane to get to the Aer Lingus terminal. Have to wait for a bus because it's cold as hell and there is no real good way to get there on foot. Where's the bus stop? Ask three or four people, getting several answers and no real help. Jeff Rizer, the pit bull, flags down a Ramada hotel shuttle, slips him a twenty, and off we go to the Aer Lingus terminal. The Delta and Aer Lingus terminals are physically next to each other, you can see where you want to go, but not attached. You need a bus, and traffic patterns send you around the whole damn airport like some lunatic sight seeing tour. Patience, please, patience.

We're at the Aer Lingus departures entrance... and it's closed. A room that should have had a load of people is near empty and the deck is being swabbed by a janitor. A sinking feeling sets in. We talk our way in and find out that our plane left the terminal on time. How in the hell could it have left on time when we saw rows of planes sitting on the jetway, begging to be let out of here? "Gone", the crabby Aer Lingus rep says, "come back tomorrow." And what will we do until tomorrow? "That's between you and Delta, you need to go talk to them, goodnight." These two airlines are international partners, for Pete's sake, any chance of cooperation between them. Apparently not.

We make our way back to the Delta terminal, in a dejected daze, and attempt to reason with the unreasonable. Our man, Jeff Rizer, has a real talent for raising a ruckus, and he volunteers for point duty in this our hour of need. We burn through countless Delta agents and managers, waste hours of time arguing with penny pinchers over hotel room availability, narrowly avoid spending the night in an airport lounge, and finally get a promise of reimbursement for lodging at some motor inn on Long Island, cafare to be picked up by Delta. That process sucked, we're indebted to Jeff for his tenacity, and the night was not over yet.

We need two cabs to get to the Diplomat Motor Inn, and two were hailed for us by the shady looking cab director, or whatever his "official" title was, outside the Delta terminal. Neither spoke English well, surprise, and neither knew where this place was. They barely knew where Long Island was. Our cabby was asking everyone for directions, including us, and we spent twenty minutes traveling the same stretch of road three times before we made it to this "hotel." Ever been in a sixty-dollar cab ride? We were. The other cab had made it in forty-five dollars and fifteen less minutes. What a night, but not done yet.

The Diplomat is one of those places where the desk staff is protected by bulletproof Plexiglas. How's that for ambiance? We step up to the partition, a skin flick is on the tube behind us cleverly placed for the amusement of the night clerks, and rooms are grudgingly dispensed. Our airline vouchers are laughed at, but at least we will have a bed for the night as opposed to a lounge chair with forty strangers. The fight with Delta can take place tomorrow. It's Midnight-thirty, TGIFridays next door closes at One, and we need food and the calming effects that a good stiff drink can provide.

We join our comrades, order up burgers and beverages, and revel in just sitting down quietly. Drinks arrive, and for those who ordered whisky, it came in a schooner-sized goblet. The first truly nice thing that had happened all day. I made the mistake of professing my extreme distaste for the birthday routines at places such as Fridays (the clapping, attention, and bad sorority drinking song rip-offs touch a sore spot) so of course Grosvenor tells our server that it's my b-day. This gal put up with a group of grumpy and tired travelers, plus she had just had her tongue pierced that morning, so she deserved some slack cut. But, when the crew came out in their chant I was obligated to break for the door. She felt bad and I didn't make a big deal of it, cutting as much slack as possible, but that signaled the end of the day. Back we trudged to the Diplomat for some shut eye.

We weren't in Ireland. We were mere minutes from boarding our plane, but the weather, JFK personnel, and the designer of that most confusing of airports had all conspired against us that day. We really were so close, and that rat's nest of an airport really worked hard to jump on my last, good nerve. But Ireland still awaited. We had confidence that a plane would take us there eventually, the price of our penance being the trading of a day in Ireland for a day in New York. The price will be paid.

All Together Now

I awaken to the sound of a steady stream of water hitting carpeting from a height of three feet, or less.

Quick as lightning I go into a personal inventory check list. How close to the edge of my bed am I, and how much did I have to drink last night? Middle of the bed and two Black and Tans (the kind with the laser distinct line between Bass and Guinness). It's not me! Thank God!

I'm in the hotel with this particular roommate for the first time (maybe of the first water!?!) and the sound, to my more finely focused hearing, is from his side of the room. Cast my mind back. How much hooch had HE had to drink? Didn't finish his schooner of whisky and didn't stumble to bed. Is there an incontinence problem manifesting, and will said problem be with us all week? Holy crap! Do I just lie here and pretend it isn't happening, sparing us both an embarrassing morning greeting, or do I pipe up and nip this in the bud. I'm more likely to commit an error of omission than commission, so I wait.

Ten minutes later the same dreadful sound invades our room. No way anybody's bladder has that kind of recovery time, and I bestir myself to address the situation out loud. "What the heck is happening over there?" I mention. Reply, "I was about to ask the same of you." My chambermate (not chamber pot), Jeff Rizer, had had the exact same thoughts flashing across his mind as the unfortunately timed water spout was "leaking" into our room. Turns out this hotel is fancy enough to have a roof leak that woke both of us at the same time and cast aspersions on both our characters. What a way to start our day in the Big Apple.

The weather and the airline have kindly given us a day to play in New York, what joy, so what will we do today to take our minds off the fact that we must wait until 7:30 p.m. to catch the next Aer Lingus flight to Ireland? (To those who live in New York, and more to the point, in New York City, I apologize for my attitude. My Chicago bias was reinforced by the hideous encounter with JFK and the frustration of NOT being in Ireland. I'm sure the place is nice.)

Ed Harvey had given us a blow by blow of his two-year battle with Tiffany's over some earrings for his wife that the famous jewelry purveyor was jerking him around on, and his aim was to take the fight to their home ground. Along the way, he'd show William, the teen representative in the group, Times Square and the Empire State Bldg. Good tourist fare, and perhaps a bit of fun. Rob went along to stimulate his senses.

My roomie and I, along with the Merle-Smiths, decided Delta owed us some more, and decided to take them up on their offer of free use of the VIP lounge. Open bar, to those of you not hip to the ways of the VIP traveler.

We do a bit of business with Delta beforehand, camping out at the supervisor office just off the bank of ticketing stations, saying hello to old friends from the night before, and trying to get cash compensation for cab rides and room rates. Surprise, surprise, they'd given all their cash away! None in the till, try us on your way back through, if you'd be so good. We will be so good, which way to the VIP lounge?

Our man Jeff, the airport liaison specialist, explains in no uncertain terms our situation and the guardians of the Delta Hot Shot Lounge swing wide the gates, figuring peace at the price of a few drinks a fair bargain. Football games are playing, and these beautiful banks of semi-private phone booths allow communication with our "people." We determine that Hugh Faust and Eileen O'Farrell are safely in Ireland and out chasing after Co. Tipperary hounds in a rental vehicle. But, weren't there three people in this scaled down entourage? No, one man, one woman, no pets. Where, oh where has Dick Askins gone?

We all had assumed that Dick had come with Hugh, and that the two had stayed at the Faust's New York apartment, as likely jumping off point as Eileen May's place in Queens. Nope, didn't happen that way. So, if you want to find out anything in the Askins household, you call their house. I'd watched both Dick and his wife, Lugene, call home often enough at the Institute Farm of the National Beagle Club in Aldie, VA for that to be a knee jerk reaction.

I call Tennessee, engaging in a pleasant conversation with Lugene, talking hounds and her husband's whereabouts, and am told Dick spent the night in Charlotte, NC. I think. The weather had prevented him from making it to NY, and we should expect him in the airport in the afternoon. His own battle with airlines and their overnight accommodation policies having gone much more smoothly for him than us. I know he'll check in with Lugene when he gets to JFK, so I leave word that free drinks are being passed out in the Delta Lounge, some with his name on them. We leave a pass for him at the entrance to the lounge, and sure enough, he appeared.

Our afternoon was then spent with playoff football and Bloody Mary's, while Ed, William, and Rob had made good on their threats to chastise Tiffany and Co. and climb the Empire State Bldg. We all meet up in the Aer Lingus terminal, snacking on Guinness and pizza (Guinness being a sort of unifying theme and general panacea), and await our departure. The plane is boarded without mishap, weather delay, technical difficulty, terrorist attack, air sickness, or earthquake and we take off. As I write this, imagine I'm doing so in a whisper. I don't want the fates to know that we made it out of NY.

The plane ride was uneventful. All engines worked the whole time, the food was average but edible, and some got sleep. Others, myself included, did not, but so what? This plane would land in Ireland, not New York, or Manitoba, or India. A short car ride and a horse waited on the other side of the flight.

We land in Shannon and enter our prayers that our luggage had made the trip with us. Those coming from Washington D.C. had had our bags checked through to Shannon, so we did not recover them during our forced layover at JFK. As you know, the longer a bag sits around in the nether regions of the baggage realm, the more likely it is for said bags to grow legs and wander to strange and out of the way places, like Dubuque, Iowa.

We gather around the baggage carousel's with a host of fellow travelers, straining to catch a glimpse of our gear. A cry goes up as a garment bag is identified, captured, and recovered. The chances for the rest of our stuff surfacing rise exponentially. Another bag is found, and another, until the entire contingent is weighed down with the correct and appropriate amount of stuff (damn, did I really need all this!) and off we head to the rental car kiosk.

Cars are arranged, including a vehicle with automatic rather than standard transmission for those less-skilled unfortunates. (Oh, that one was for me.) We step outside to our first breath of free flowing Irish atmosphere… and a distinct nip in the air. Everything is covered with frost, and though the Sun isn't up yet, that is not a sign that bodes well for the smelling of foxes for the coming day.

The eight of us sort ourselves into three automobiles and caravan over to Inch House, the Merle-Smith home away from home, and our base of operations for the coming week. I surprise myself by keeping my station in line behind the wheel, avoiding major damage to life, limb, and fender, and learning the tricks of a rental vehicle all at the same time.

The car ride was over in far too short a time, the scenery being the kind that invites contemplation on the habits of the people who live behind the fences and hedges. We pile out of our rides at Inch House to be greeted by the enormous grin of Hugh Faust and the demure smile of Eileen O'Farrell. We're indeed all together, now.

We exchange stories in that sort of talking at the same time and interrupting one another and barely getting the gist of each other's conversational style. It's learned that hunting the day before was a bust, and we didn't miss anything important, so those of us stuck in America felt a bit better (and a couple hundred pounds ahead.) Breakfast is served and consumed, hunting clothes unpacked, shaken out, pronounced fit for service, and donned. We're to meet the Golden Vale at Killea, down the road from Fairy Hill which was the sight of the "session" from November (keyword, poteen), and boy are we ready.

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a hundred times. Ireland and hunting this season means mud and wet. The draws for the day are uphill, away from the lowlands and the streams they harbor. Horizontal is not to be part of our vocabulary that day as the hills are to be our playground.

Our horses come from known and trusted sources. I've got my pal Archie, again, whose nickname I learn is "The Thug" as he is king of the herd back home and not shy about browbeating lesser beings. It's nice to get on a horse you know, quirks and all, and not be worried about how he will react to crazy horses acting up alongside, or what maneuver he'll try at a ditch, fence, drain, bank, wire, or gate.

The first draw is pretty much straight up a thousand feet (I'm totally guessing) from the meet, and some in the group were a bit disenchanted with their horse flesh. Eileen had to cut a switch to "coax" her horse to move off up hill, and the field strung itself out a bit along the way to the first covert. Now, the hunting since November had been spotty at best, with a lot of cancellations, and instead of bouncing with energy, some horses were a bit out of shape. My bud, Archie, was huffing a bit as we neared the top, something I hadn't really expected, but as he was a pal, I let him pick his own pace until hounds started running. He picked the pace all day.

Earlier I remarked on the frost at Shannon, and that meteorological condition did have a bearing on our day in Killea. The roads and tracks we followed along behind hounds were, for the most part, covered in ice. Glare ice. And no one we were riding had anything like borium or studs on their shoes. I'd say a good two hours out of the four or so that we were riding was spent in the imminent apprehension that a patch of ice would claim a victim. But do you know, not one horse hit the deck from slipping on ice. At least, I never heard of such an incident.

We really didn't have too many typical Irish obstacles to negotiate that day. A few drains, but no banks, walls, wire, what have you, until the very end. There was one field high up on the mountain that was unique in my experience. The territory we were drawing that day was heavy in forestry. Plantations of pine trees that, as far as anyone knew, had very little commercial value, but did a bang up job of creating runoff to clog streams and rivers, adding to the "wet" hunting conditions. We emerged from one clump of pine trees into an open field of cut over pine, pine trees that had been harvested and replanted with saplings, making our way across this "open" ground to another line of pine. A few strides into this field it becomes apparent that either you or your horse had better pay attention to where he puts his feet or you're going to fall flat on your nose pretty quick. This field had a series of horse belly deep trenches cut along its entire length, the slot just about hoof wide, and spaced mechanically at five or so foot intervals. I spent the entire time in that field goosing Archie with my spurs so that he would pick up his feet. No way was I going to let him snap a leg.

The other side of the field in question, and the woods out the other side, produced a long check on a logging road, we field members lining the track and trying to steer a fox in a desired direction. I don't think this tactic works too well, but what are you going to do? We sit around, waiting for hounds to find, drinking Warre's Warrior Port from my brand new saddle flask, and taking stock of our situation. Seems Ed had had a close encounter with a tree of the branchy kind and lost his glasses. Pat Lyons, a jt-Master and general nice guy, snatched Ed's frames and one lens from the offending conifer, but the missing eye glass had decided to become one with the Irish countryside. Very existential for the lens, very myopic for Ed. He spent the rest of the day out of focus.

Hounds work and they work, we ride and we ride, the Sun climbs and then falls, threatening to set on a pretty blank day. The ice that had thawed while the Sun was just past zenith remembered that cold allowed it to be mischievous again, and it decided to refreeze, becoming all nice and slippery. The combination of falling temps, crappy footing, and lack of visibility prompted about half our contingent to duck and run for the horse boxes. As we passed a log barrier off the road back to Killea, I watched several lads jumping it. I thought they were schooling, as often happens in an Irish hunt field when hounds aren't running, a notion reinforced by the sight of most of these character's horses refusing. I thought nothing more of it and followed Grosvenor back to Killea. A noteworthy event as it goes pretty much against the grain to come back before hounds.

Feet so frozen they have lost feeling. Face so numb speech is possible but without my usual dulcet and lilting quality. Bladder so full I was in mortal danger of rupturing and incurring some form of sepsis. (Note to self: find a bigger group than just Grosvenor and myself to kill off the contents of saddle flask on the way home.) We slip off horses, running up stirrups and loosening girths in an attempt to contribute at least minutely to the care and grooming of our steeds before we hand them off to their real caretakers and slink off sheepishly to the pub and a badly needed date with the head.

The second thing we've come over here for is about to begin. Drinking Guinness, hot port or whisky at preference, and various other libations in company after hunting all afternoon is an experience best repeated as often as possible. I think you can guess my first choice. Thinking about it even now has my mouth salivating. Must have spent time with Pavlov in my youth.

Quite a crew has gathered already, and hounds not in yet. The place was average by pub standards, but we were going to pack the joint. Plus, music was advertised for later in the evening. And then the hounds came back.

In the falling dark and freezing conditions, hounds finally got a fox to shift and tore away for a twenty minute burner that sent our more hardy (I'll admit it) comrades back to us with facesplitting grins and tales of bravery and daring-do. The jump that I thought was a schooling exercise turned out to be the portal to the one and only run of the day. At the end, Rob found himself riding right behind the huntsman, that close to hounds. Jeff, the rank rookie, negotiated killer drains and other notable obstacles with skill and aplomb, touching Mother Earth only after his horse miscalculated a drain and fell over on its side. Those who had left the field early absorbed these tales with charm and grace, all the while cursing under our breath at missing the fun. Oh, well.

Taps flowed, tales were spun, old friends reacquainted and new ones made. The band showed up, an older gentleman with a turntable and an electric piano. Dancing in too small an area commenced with yours truly dragged onto the dance floor and deliberately making a hash of it to stave off any more such attempts at foolishness. It was difficult to leave that party, but if dinner was to be had, it were better we left to chase it down early rather than late as food is not served as conveniently there as here.

Having taken our leave, we dash off to the old standby of the Chinese restaurant in Thurles, practically the only thing open at ten at night on Sunday. I'm not sure the people in that place would recognize Rosie or Grosvenor if they didn't show up in soiled and stained hunting clothes and filthy rubber boots. Which is good, because time for a change of clothes was nowhere to be found.

We're tired, but glowing. It's cold outside, but we've warm beds to go to (for some, a bit too warm, but that's for later). And finally, finally, we're all in our places with bright shining faces. The next day has us splitting forces to hunt variously with Duhallow and Co. Tipperary. I may have to wear shades to bed as the future is looking too bright. And I say yet again, will I never learn?

Jack Frost and His Wicked, Wicked Ways

Monday the Eleventh sees me up before the Sun. Just in time to take a lukewarm shower. Since we had last been to the lovely and gracious Inch House, the proprietors, Nora and John Egan, had found a plumber to install a pressure pump to get hot water to all the rooms before it lost its kinetic heat energy and arrived cold to the unsuspecting hydrous user. The Egans had gone round and round with this infernal system, spending thousands of pounds to get it fixed, and yet, here we were in the same boat. Oh, well, at least I don't feel slimy.

The room is a bit on the chilly side, though. The central heating in this particular structure was of the boiler and radiator variety, on a sleep timer for conservation, and every day the juices in the old place got themselves flowing about half an hour after I felt the need to be up and stirring. Plus, as if that wasn't enough (and don't you think it ought to be?), the bathroom window facing West (from whence all weather comes) has been painted open. A right brisk breeze is blowing through each and every morning.

My roomie comes to after I finish in the commode and is looking flushed. Despite the scaled back room temperature at night and the dip below freezing for outside temps, the blankets and comforters provided have just about cooked my partner, Jeff Rizer. I had no such problems sleeping next to a drafty window, and my night was spent in peaceful slumber ( a marked contrast to the nights from November, if you remember those ordeals.) Feast or famine, I guess.

The meet

Hunt for Emerald Isle by Jeff Eichler

Hunt for Emerald IslePreface

All right, the story has ruminated long enough. The tale must be told.

I'm flying a bit solo on this one (pun intended Mark the airplane flyer), and this is liable to be one person’s memory of the accounts of the weeks running from Jan. 4th to Jan. 21. Anyone who remembers that recent history with more clarity and precision (hint, hint Rosie and Grosvenor) please feel free to chime in with accuracy. Otherwise, you run the risk of living a lie. I need to send condolences publicly at this point to Mack Braly, whose spot I filled on the ten- being roster after his back punked out on him in November. Sorry, Mack, I've been in those can't bend over/straighten up/get out of bed shoes and they are some hard loafers to wear. My information has it that you, like myself, will recover fully. The island still awaits you.

I've titled this chronicle "Hunt for the Emerald Isle" as the story starts way before getting on a plane to fly to Ireland, and doesn't end upon return to these shores.

You'll find the usual accounts of strange and exotic hunt jumps, banks, drains, hirelings and the like. But this story wouldn't be complete, for me, without addressing the weather here in the good ole U.S. of A., and the hunting plans Mother Nature decided to change for myself, and most of you out there. Travel conditions made up a significant portion of our experience on both sides of the transatlantic flight, and a good bit in between as well.

A mere few weeks after returning from my first ever trip to Ireland, an account of which was so kindly gathered by Christine and archived by Matt, I realized I was able to make a second tour with host and hostess extraordinaire, Grosvenor and Rosie. I don't have many responsibilities tying me down yet, like a job or significant other, but the few commitments I have were sounded out and green lights obtained. So, how to make the most of this return engagement.

I've got friends hunting with hounds all over the place, so I decided to visit a few before trekking to Ireland. I needed to hunt with Bull Run so I could give firsthand testimony to those hounds’ hunting abilities when asked by curious Irish. I also needed to get out with the folks at TVH in Knoxville, plus I had a delivery to make to Carla/FluffFox that I didn't trust to conventional delivery services. (Glassed pictures in frames can be a bugger to ship.) So, a road trip seemed in the offing. And, as long as I was driving, why not make a swing through Georgia and visit the relocated for the winter Southern kennels of Fox River Valley? Sounded like a good plan to me, offering the potential for hunting twelve or thirteen days from the 6th to the 20th in three different states and two different countries with ten or eleven different packs.

That was the plan. Plans changed.

The Venture Begins

Now is where The Weather asserted dominion. You'll remember the "little" snow storm that affected pretty much most of this country in a delayed reaction type fashion on or about January Oneth of this New Year. Well, I had a cold for most of the storm, but had decided my personal trip should start on Monday the 4th. My goal was to be somewhere around Indianapolis Monday evening, putting me in striking distance of Knoxville early Tuesday evening. I almost didn't make it right out of the box.

Roads around Chicago, where we had 21 inches of snowfall in 24 hours, a record, were clean and clear, and I was tooling along at a very judicious rate of speed and feeling pretty good. (Better when I remembered within blocks of the house that my passport was still on my desk at home. Can you say U-turn?) I got into Indiana no problem, and then the Sun went down.

Illinois has a fleet of snow plows that work fairly efficiently. Indiana, I'm not so sure. As the radiant energy from the Sun went away, temperatures dropped down to and past zero, Fahrenheit, and the half inch of slush on the highway froze up in a flash. I'm not a chemical engineer, but spreading salt on ice in temps below zero didn't do a damned thing. I saw six salt trucks in a one hour, probably thirty mile period, no plows, and a dozen or more cars, trucks, minivans, and what have you off in the ditch. Emergency vehicles every ten miles or so.

Picture this. I've decided that Indie is my destination for the night, and I consciously pass a truck stop where essentials such as fuel are sold, figuring I have sufficient petrol to get me to a gas pump and a bed for the night. Then the Sun disappears, ice emerges, vehicles jump off the road at a whim, traffic slows down to stop and go on the interstate, outside temps are sub zero, and my gas gauge is in the red. I was hurtin' for surtin'.

As we're crawling along on the road, I'm looking off into the dark Indiana countryside for any collection of lights that might denote an off ramp and precious gasoline. Nothing. I'd hit a dead spot between Lafayette and Indianapolis where normally nobody has a need for gas.

I turn up the tape deck a little louder, trying to convince myself that I'm NOT going to run out of gas, get stranded, and freeze while waiting for an emergency vehicle to come creeping up to me at four in the morning.

Okay, enough suspense. I made it to a town called Lebanon, IN. They have gas and a Quality Inn right off the interstate, and the sigh of relief I heaved when I started to pump fuel was large. You all heard it, didn't you? I made calls, got directions, and intended to be in Knoxville by 2 pm the next day, Tuesday. Just in time to exercise Tennessee bunnies with the Upper Bay Bassets. Plan was still relatively intact.

Escape from Tennessee

Now, I left the story with me bedded down for the night in Lebanon, IN, and you may start to question my grasp of geography. Fear not, I know that Indiana and Tennessee are two distinct and different places. Let me take you from one to the other.

Remember, I'm on a hunting expedition, so my waking and traveling were to be perfectly timed so as to put me in the right spot each time hounds were let loose from a kennel. The goal on Tuesday the Fifth was to place myself at the doorstep of Dick and Lugene Askins just as their Upper Bay Bassets were about to go somewhere and sniff out bunnies. Let’s see if I made it there, shall we?

Not knowing how tired I was from the driving ordeal the day before, I set the hotel alarm for six in the morning, a practice I very rarely engage in. I've an aversion to system shock, such as jumping into ice cold mountain tarns, or frigid Minnesota lakes, or pretty much anything to do with cold water. Alarm clocks are a close second on the aversion scale, and I will usually wake up way before any alarm sounds, subconsciously hoping to avoid system shock. I can count on one hand the number of times a clock has awakened me.

Tuesday was no different. I come around at about 4:30 in the morning, obviating the need for the alarm, check the Weather Channel (cold and frosty was the report with a hint of a weather front moving from, of all directions and a personal stunner to me, West to East {I come fully equipped with an active facetious gene}) and look out the window. I must have requested a room with a view when I checked in, because I had a splendid vista of the Interstate to gaze upon. Let's see, 4:30 a.m., cars and trucks moving at a slow crawl. Jump back in bed with an idea that things will not improve until around 8 a.m. when the Sun smiles on this benighted land. Each hour after six that I stay in bed cuts into my cushion for arriving in time to chase cottontail.

Six in the morning. Cars and trucks still crawling.

Seven in the morning. Cars and trucks still crawling, with no noticeable change in speed from previous two checks.

Eight in the morning and things look a little better, at least people can see, so I make myself presentable to the world and duck down the street for some travel food. McDonalds being the 'straunt of choice whilst in a car (least messy sandwiches). I jump onto I-65 with a light heart, full tank of gas, a Sausage McMuffin with Egg in hand and roar out to a screeching crawl. The pavement looks like an ice waffle with dry and bare patches checkerboarded with old, slick, dirty ice. I'm thirty miles away from Indianapolis, and it doesn't look like I'll being seeing the dome of the State Capital any time soon.

For a radius of about thirty miles around Indie lay this mish-mash of clear and iced pavement, intimidating even the hardguy truckers into slow going. I believe I finally made clear enough roadway that allowed me to "stretch my legs," so to speak, around 10 in the morning. No way was I going to make my rendezvous with Upper Bay, or any other bunch of dogs, and I made a call to the Askins' residence with a depressed spirit. I won't be able to join them.

They had canceled anyway.

I exercise my right to place calls on my cell phone whilst driving, catch Carla in some kind of Art Teacher interlude at school, and explain my plight. Positive energy flows through the radio waves, or microwaves, or telepathic ether, or whatever cell phones use to talk to one another from Carla to me, re-energizing me for the drive ahead and dinner.

I arrive on Carla and John's doorstep, and receive a tour of their newish place while catching up, a tour which included meeting her cadre of three lizards. "Be careful of the one in the floor to ceiling cage," says Carla, "it's not a nice lizard, it bites." This cage is in a room next to my sleeping quarters, and I explain to Carla that anything that causes me to wake in the middle of the night as a result of slithering or biting will get launched across space, said spaceshot only to be interrupted by a vertical plane such as the gypsum board of the wall. I put it in the nicest terms I could manage, she is a friend after all.

Dinner is in a sort of upscalish burger joint, with other TVH friends, but the place is packed. I wonder why this would be, to myself, as I don't see much special apart from the newness of the place, and get an unsolicited explanation from the restaurant critic of Marysville, TN, Carla. Is it Blount County where you live, Carla? Whichever county it is happens to be voted dry. No liquor stores allowed. And very few licenses to sell alcohol by restaurants were granted. If memory serves, the two allowed up to this point were Mexican, and it was explained to me that all of Marysville learned to eat refried beans and such because it was served with beer. Now they can get burgers with beer, a significant event.

I spent a pretty cool evening after dinner with John and Carla, talking computers and graphic arts programs. They have access to the kind of programs that were winning big time computer graphics awards just a few years ago, and they showed me some of the art they were working on. The computer adds ease and flexibility that was not available to traditional art media like paint and canvas, but the talent of these two people combined was pretty awesome. They kept apologizing for keeping me awake looking at their toys, but I was fascinated. Really. And, if you'll remember my personal delivery to Carla and John in the previous installment, the framed pictures, Carla you're welcome once again. It was absolutely my pleasure. After seeing what you all are capable of putting up on your walls, I'm humbled that my little gift has brought such joy.

Now, back to the journey.

At dinner that night, where I finally met the third of the TVH jt-Masters, Maribel Koella (sp?), I had a niggling feeling that the weather front shadowing my steps might cause a problem. Having dealt with frozen roads, I was a bit leery of driving any more of them than I could help, so I begged off hunting with TVH Wednesday morning. It was a painful decision, as I had the use of a wonderful mare named Maggie from Claire Harris, a wonderful woman. We would have had a ball, I know, but missing my flight to Ireland, a real possibility, swayed the argument in favor of scooting.

Wednesday morning, the 6th, dawned overcast and cold. Looks like my weather front had stolen a march on me. Instead of shadowing me it was now "dogging" my steps. (I love puns, and rarely tumble to them myself.) I had a farewell chat with Carla, causing her to leave for school later than she planned (which turned out not a problem), agonized over whether I should take my leave of John whilst he was still in the sack (I couldn't bring myself to disturb him then, so, Bye John!), and made my exit. I hit a car wash to sluice off the road salt of three states. I drive a dark green Blazer that was white with greenish hints and highlights when I pulled up to Carla and John's door. I grab another Sausage McMuffin with Egg as Carla is not known for her lavish breakfasts and head into Knoxville to pick up the Interstate that takes me to Virginia.

As I'm attending to my car and stomach, snow flurries are falling. Not even enough to make me activate my wipers, but some is sticking to the road. Ten miles out of Knoxville, traffic stops. Is there a wreck ahead? There is about a quarter inch of snow on the road, if that, and it's blowing around. Surely that can't be the cause of this delay. Has to be a traffic accident. Down to five miles an hour. I have a nagging feeling I've experienced this sort of driving in the not at all that distant past. The two lanes traveling in the opposite direction are moving along just fine, must be a fender bender that I'll pass any time now. Right? Let's see what the radio says about this situation. Ah, here's a traffic report. Knoxville is having a traffic nightmare because of the snow. What snow? The less-than-quarter-inch of powder on the ground? Seems my storm has snuck right up behind me and is breathing down my neck. I make it to a rise in the road, not even a hill by my calculation, and watch a lady in a minivan struggle up the incline. She may want to consider purchasing new tires, along with a whole lot of other folks in and around Knoxville, because the traction she and they used to have is there no more.

I get on the Interstate, luckily, keeping my radio tuned for more traffic info. I hear about roads closed because of snow, businesses delayed opening or staying shut because of snow, and schools sending kids right back home because of snow. Carla was off the hook, if she had ever found her way to that position, for being late.

I, on the other hand, have open road ahead of me. I got on the interstate just ahead of the wave of stoppages and made the most of my well-treaded tires and four-wheel drive. Aside from some limited visibility, and allowing for dodging trucks and hills, I made great time, all the while hearing about the paralysis setting in behind me. To paraphrase the character of a centuries old knight in "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade"... "I chose wisely" by 'Escaping from Tennessee' when I did. The next stop on my grand tour was Keswick and Culpepper, VA to watch BRH hounds hunt. My date with Bull Run and those hounds was saved for the moment, and I had escaped the clutches of Mother Nature and her fiendish weather patterns once again. I was feeling pretty canny.

I was to learn later that TVH, along with most everything else in East Tennessee, cancelled their meet. Whew! I didn't have the agony of missing the best hunt of the season to add to my burden. Thursday was to see me mounted and following Bull Run. Hopefully. The weather hound that had almost nabbed me in Tennessee was only outrun for the moment.

Does That Horse Come With Ice Skates?

The interstate between Tennessee and Virginia was the kindest thing I'd encountered in a while, and I started to feel a bit groovy. Tunes playing, countryside whizzing by, and I was on my way to hunt. Finally! I fault my friends in East Tennessee not at all, but the whole dumb exercise of my driving was to get at more hounds than a plane ticket would have allowed me. I was building a feeling that that particular event would manifest on the morrow.

I shouldn't have been so optimistic.

I arrive at the house that Grosvenor built, Paddock Wood, after some superb and easy to follow navigational instructions from himself, greeted by Rosie and Grosvenor's son Zander (short for Alexander) outside the door. I had the advantage of the young man because, whilst in various pubs, restaurants, and hunting fields on our first jaunt to Ireland, a proud set of parents had given me half of his life story . (I still can't believe I got to go twice, and the pull to go back is surprisingly stronger now than before.)

Be that as it may, I asked if the young worthy in front of me was called Alexander, which elicited a shy smile and a quiet affirmative. I'm sure the proud parents know which reaction I'm describing. I gave my name as Jeff, and asked if any parents were about. Again, yes, and I found the Man, The Myth, the Legend (got to build up the ego of the huntsman every now and again) inside on the phone, conversing about… hounds and hunting. I was at the right place.

I was welcomed into the home, spending some time working on Zander's homework with him and a puzzle path he'd been given at school. I was introduced to the young lady of the house in the person of Nicolette, whom I also had the advantage of, helping a bit with her homework, and scarfed Chinese with Rosie, Nicky, and Zander whilst Grosvenor indulged in hunt business in the next town over. It was like being transported back to the part of my childhood where math and spelling were subjects, and horses and dogs were sort of mysteries that were lived with, not really analyzed.

I got caught up a bit in explaining some personalities, please forgive, but the people on the trip were by far the most important part.

A portion of the instruction set I had to get to Paddock Wood was a caution regarding the ice at the back door. Uh, it wasn't a little ice, but a goodly bit of an ice rink. I've logged enough rink time to respect ice, so the glaring expanse was not too terrifying, but its implication for the morrow’s hunting were pretty serious. Remember, I said I was a bit overly optimistic before.

Grosvenor returned from his meeting, and the coming days hunting was discussed, amongst other things. A call was placed to the amazingly capable and justifiably appreciated kennel-huntsman, Adrian Smith, a person others on the list have acquainted you all with. A horse was arranged, hounds picked out, meeting time discussed, and various other hunt business gone over. And the telephone hung up.

In an offhand way, Grosvenor looks over and says something to the effect that if I weren't making a guest appearance, Bull Run would probably not go out the next day. I remember that part pretty clearly if you don't, Grosvenor. It's not every day that a hunt is arranged in one's honor, which is what was effectively being done for me. I was pretty flattered, and a little nervous. Reminded me of another day in New York when we idiots, which included myself, the stalwart and terribly nice Barbara Drogo, and five inches of new snow should have passed on hunting but didn't. Please, Lord, let me exhibit enough skill to stay in the saddle. Now, off to bed.

Thursday the 7th dawned iron gray. Not the iron gray of an impending shower of precipitation of one sort or another (rain or snow or something icky in between was not out of the question), but the kind that keeps the Sun's warming rays at bay, or at least in check. The ice was going to be with us all day long.

The meet was for 1 p.m., and I have to say I love that kind of start time. For one reason or another my home pack of foxhounds goes out pretty much at dawn-thirty our entire season. It's absolutely wonderful to have time to spend getting self and horse put together in daylight with a relative lack of chronometer pressure.

To my provincial mind, we meander over to the fixture, Muckamoor if you know it, and pull up in the field below that fixture's big house to find Adrian and the hound truck waiting. Rosie-the-knowledgeable gives me a geological lecture on the terrain and footing in and around Muckamoor, something about this black stuff that holds moisture close to the surface and is right now a grassily deceptive chunk of ice. I'm given to understand my horse is one of the few with studs on. Grosvenor and Rosie have no such non-skid equipment, but after our footing talk I can't help but think maybe I need a bit more. Anyway, very soon after, the rest of the day's crew arrives, introductions made (and release forms signed), horses unboxed (to borrow a term from across the water), and tack stuck on said ponies. I was given the use of a handsome thoroughbred named Shakespeare, a horse that Jos Mottershead has also ridden to great success, but a bit of a pickle when it comes to being tied. He broke his lead in the trailer on the way over, and busted out of our improvision after he'd been completely tacked up, just as I turned away to get my coat. He danced around for fifteen or twenty minutes, showing what a well-formed animal he was, and causing my cheeks to glow red with embarrassment.

Horses that needed catching allowed themselves to be caught, more introductions were made, including Doug Morris (Thanks for the pictures from this day, Doug!) the BRH photo journalist, and Barclay Rives who brought up the subject of the Longmeadow Hounds here in Illinois. Not too many people remember that group, and I have only the most rudimentary knowledge. Didn't know I'd be out for a quiz as well as a ride that day. But a miracle occurs not long after my brain is tested. Hounds move off! 16 1/2 couple of old Bull Run and PennMarydel blood are let into the first covert, and I believe find right then. If it wasn't the first, it certainly was the second drawn. I was given the privilege of riding with Rosie that day. (Rosie's horse did better with a companion, and mine wasn't geared for the field anyway, being one of Adrian's remounts. I forgot to add that Leo, Adrian's mount that afternoon, celebrated the day by pulling a rodeo act, kicking up heels and hopping around right before hounds moved off. That is significant news for much, much later in this narrative.) Rosie and I, along with the non-jumping field, take a chance that the fox will run left-handed out of a rather large covert he's taken the hounds into, and we set ourselves up to view the show as they emerge, hopefully, in our range of vision. To those of you who aren't whippers-in, a large portion of hunting as whips is filled with such choices. You're either in the thick of the race, or left out and scrambling to get back in. As staff, that's the best argument for big-voiced hounds, especially in country where the land folds in on itself. Sound waves have kept me on terms with hounds and quarry a heck of a lot more times than sight ever has (again, a sentiment that has particular significance further on in the saga.)

We give the pack time to show up in our sights and then try to play catch-up when they don't. We'd exploited a gap festooned with downed wire and briar tendrils next to a padlocked gate to get into the field of our latest vantage point, using some of my recent Irish crossing country training to spy it out, I might add. But the pack took us away from that handy opening.

We were hampered by wire and iced up hunt jumps as we attempted to get with hounds, watching the pack in an open field below what I took to be a dairy operation, swirling around in the open, re-casting themselves to find the trail of the fox. No staff were helping them, those worthies being scraped off at various points by various obstacles. From my own personal point of view, that's the kind of hound work one dreams about. Hounds honoring each other and working on their own as a unit is a sight to behold, which I did, and was happy.

It didn't last, however. Rosie and I, along with the rest of the field, caught up to our companions on some railroad tracks, minus the Master and Huntsman, Grosvenor, who was on foot trying to entice hounds back to his horn. We wait there for a while, pass a flask or two, and when nothing seems to be happening but Grosvenor standing in a field and serenading a few hounds, Rosie and I canter around to join him.

Seems the pack had hit a patch of uncrossable land, the local highish security prison, been on the cusp of recall, and then hit the line again, leaving everyone in the dust. Grosvenor had about half the hounds when Rosie and I caught up to him, and the rest were not close at all to where we were.

We went back to the tracks and Grosvenor blew for a while. Our hound calling station placed us across from the aforementioned State Penal Institution and next to an animal rescue property, an interesting nexus from which to re-launch the hunt. Staff were dispatched to get around hounds, if possible, and after some little while, that task was accomplished. From being down half the pack, I believe we were short around a couple and a half when everyone met up again to compare notes. As interludes went, it was rather boring. As instruction over where and how this country can be ridden, it was rather helpful. Plus, I was asked to help move hounds about and didn't "step on my whip", so to speak. I was honored.

Now that we were put back together, let's see if we can run a few more fox around. Grosvenor hands the horn over to Adrian in a barely understood exchange, and off we go to the next covert right in the heart of the Muckamoor fixture, minus the Master; he went off to visit with the prison Warden.

Rosie and I ride flank on the road, as good little whips, and Adrian casts the pack and draws along a bit of a frozen creek. Rosie and I split up a bit to cover more of the road, both horses amenable to the arrangement, and I grabbed the sort of left of point position. I was just in time to hear hounds find and to view a fox streak out of covert and turn right-handed along the frozen creek Adrian had been drawing. No need for a holler, as hounds had hit already, and a tally-ho might have confused our huntsman into thinking that the fox had gone left across the road instead of the real right-handed path. But it was hard to stifle a whoop at seeing the hunted fox. (Lessons learned on the list parading across my minds eye.) Rosie caught up instantly and we watched the pack pick a path back and forth across this frozen, tree-lined creek, speaking and checking. I believe we took a coop, carefully, and managed to avoid some leg-swallowing holes as we shadowed hounds along this creek. Adrian and the field were hunting on the other side.

There's a concept in business of employee ownership of an idea or program. This idea is supposed to help increase employee enthusiasm and dedication to the idea or product that was their brainchild. That translates entirely to the hunt field. This was "my" hunted fox, and the blood was up.

Hounds were making for a bridge over which ran a blacktopped road with a lovely covert on the other side. As slow as they were going, I was pretty sure Charlie had slipped across the road or under the bridge to the trees on the far side of the upcoming pavement, and I cast my eyes ahead for a glimpse. All at a canter, I'm dividing my attention among Rosie, the ground, the hounds, and searching for the fox, and as I work my gaze back from the bridge I catch a flash of reddish brown not ten yards in front of the hounds. Charlie was having as much trouble getting through the ice as the hounds were. Adrian is streaking and calling ahead of hounds, now, making for the bridge and road, and I remark my observations to Rosie, expecting Adrian has also seen the fox and is trying to turn the pack to him, which he does.

He hadn't seen the blighter, though, and while the mounted field's attention was on Adrian, Charlie slipped around behind horses and hounds and took off at a right angle to the creek. He was heading for a different covert and a set of farm buildings, or so said the hounds as they picked up the line behind the field as they cast back for the fox. Classic self-starters.

Rosie and I are faced with another whip's choice. Do we follow the field and huntsman, or swing back along right-handed and guard the creek. We chose the latter, out of duty, and were again left out.

Barclay, who during the entire day was in the right place at the right time (a tribute to his hound knowledge and fox sense), viewed the hunted critter coming back from the lovely covert near the farm buildings. Brother Rives executed a classic putting-the-hounds-on-the-line maneuver. He stood on the heel portion of the line, dropped his cap, and Adrian brought hounds up to the fox's trail. Off they go... for about ten yards where Charlie had slipped into a hole.

Bull Run has some pretty good marking hounds, and they vented their frustration in their very vocal manner. We had been faced with some slippery turf, chuck holes, coops, post and rails, and a nice little chase on a red that was a closer run thing than any of us had counted on. Best run of the day, and the sound of the marking hounds provided a beacon for the return of the erstwhile Grosvenor. Of course we weren't done.

The covert across the road that I thought the fox was making for turns out to be our last draw. Hounds jump in pretty quick and again find right off the bat. This fox takes a page out of the previous vulpine's book and starts a crisscross of the same frozen stream, only the ice is patchier, slicker, and the water the ice covers is deeper. Rosie and I are again faced with a whip's dilemma, follow hounds closely where no trail exists, or get into the open where room to maneuver can be had. We choose to follow through the underbrush, and are treated to the same exhibition of hounds working back and forth on the line of the fox who takes them over as much ice as he can.

Our intention was to find a place to cross the stream and be in a handy spot if the fox takes off left-handed over the beckoning fields we keep catching glimpses of between ducking thorny vines. (I'd give you compass directions, but I had no idea where North was that whole day.) The ice was acting quite the barrier. Instead of studs, I was wishing my horse came equipped with... you guessed it, ice skates (chuckle, chuckle).

The fox finally left the ice stream behind, giving that tactic up for awhile, and ran out and away in front of hounds. Ole Red took a turn that would have taken hounds back into uncrossable land, the back of the prison again, and the hard working pack was stopped and picked up at that point and re-cast.

Another fox makes him or herself available soon thereafter, and manages to indeed take the pack into forbidden ground. Nuts! But those of you wise to the ways of foxes know they have a habit of running circles. Pack came right back at us, back to the frozen creek (are these foxes sharing the same playbook?), and finally lost somewhere along the bank. Probably in a hole in a wood pile. Grosvenor winds his magic horn, and off we trot for the meet and home.

I now have conversation ammunition for the curious Irish, having acquitted myself well in the Bull Run hunt field (I think), and had a heck of a day watching hounds. Not everything went smooth as silk The hounds showed flashes of brilliance mixed in with flashes of G@# D*&^%d hound stubbornness, but the day was a winner in my book. All the more for the fact that it might not have happened, barring my presence.

Dinner is a tired affair at a nice little restaurant, except for Zander and Nicky who amuse themselves on giant piles of parking lot snow for an hour, chasing one another and chucking snow chunks at the unwary. But the great, good news is, we are off to Ireland in the morning. We'll be there and riding in a day! Again the optimism is running high. Will I never learn.

So Close, And Yet So Far orThe Day JFK Worked On My Last, Good Nerve

Friday the eighth of January was a date long etched into my memory. For weeks beforehand I would calculate the correct date and day of the week based on this trip to Ireland's span of days. The day to start had arrived.

Things, as you know, had been interesting up till now. Weather had given me grief for over six hundred miles on my pre-journey journey, but now was the time to set that all aside and get on to Ire. We were in a part of the world where snow doesn't cause much trouble, icy temperatures are fleeting, right, so getting to the airport will be no problem? I've heard it said that every day you don't learn something is one that was wasted. I learned on Jan. 8th.

We've had fun hunting the day before, and now Rosie and Grosvenor must pay the price and condense packing into a morning's work. Add in sending Nicky and Zander off to school (and pray the school bus doesn't ignore one or both and whiz off again today as they stand at the stop, waiting), settling the house sitter, and taking down Christmas decorations, and you've got a picture of the bill they were looking at taking care of. Certainly, I would do all I could.

Buses ran on schedule, kids on them in the correct order, house sitter arrives in time to take instruction, and the Christmas tree and various indoor and outdoor decorations descend and are dissected back into component parts for next year. The plane IS SCHEDULED to leave at three in the afternoon, and we're ready to be out the door at quarter to eleven. I'm told it's around an hour to Reagan National Airport. Looks like we're in great shape, except ... what's that fluffy white stuff that's been falling the past hour or so? It seems to be accumulating. Do I sense trouble?

We're to get a lift to the aerodrome from a friend and BRH member, Yank, (who is on this list, lurking around, Hey Yank!) in his van. We three are to meet Yank at his place, drop a car there, and then pick up his son, William, then on to the launch pad. My car is elected to make the journey to Yank's because of the dual features of large cargo capacity and four-wheel drive. Both are utilized as necessary.

On our way to Yank's we were given a small lesson in civics. Snow plows and salt trucks from counties that voted to give the road commissioner enough money to clear roads know exactly where their county line ends. Even if that terminus is in the middle of a road. We were creeping along in four-wheel drive, following tracks of the foolhardy before us, and there weren't that many to follow, when all of a sudden the road clears in an eye blink. Wonder how the next county board meeting will go?

Yank greets us at the door, we chitchat for a few, then move out and collect William. William's made this journey to Ireland several times before, is an old hat and a dab hand, and still in High School. And a fine young gentleman as I came to find over the course of the trip ahead. We spend as little time in a static position as possible as the snow is still dropping from the sky like flies. Good thing we had that extra time allotted for travel.

The interstate chosen to get us to the airport should have been swift. The snow made it pretty slow, what with cars off on the side and all. A familiar sight for me from Illinois to Tennessee, and now Virginia. I'm beginning to wonder if I should jump a car in the ditch just to get it over with. Good thing I wasn't driving because a hypnotic call to do that very thing was teasing at my hind brain. Cabin fever, I guess.

We take a spin through downtown D.C. First time I've been there, and what sights of national historic significance did I see? A Nieman Marcus store and other upscale shopping spots. No time for dillydallying though; we've used up almost all our time budgeted for mishap on the way to the plane and we've only minutes before take off!

Three more of our slowly evolving crew are waiting for us at the Delta check in counter. Jeff Rizer, Ed Harvey, and Ed's stepson Rob. Ed and Rob are used to Merle-Smith time, a state of being that depends on the phrase "in the nick of time," but Jeff, being a relative new comer (first trip to Ireland with Ro and Gro) has a worried expression on his friendly visage. I believe Grosvenor had their tickets, along with the four of us from the van, so we were all in the same boat for lateness. Everything's cool, though. Our bags get checked with fat minutes to spare, and we dash off to the boarding area.

The plane is pretty full. People jetting off to New York for the weekend, or commuting back after a hard week's work, or trying to make a connection with one of the numerous and myriad international flights that leave from John F. Kennedy International Airport. We're in the latter group, scattered about the plane, but excited about taking off to meet the last three of our little company in New York, Eileen O'Farrell, Hugh Faust, and Dick Askins, hunting people from CA and TN. Ah, but there's a delay.

Three o'clock comes and goes. Four o'clock comes and goes. Many people deplane in a huff, preferring to take their chances in Washington than in New York. (Wish we were among 'em in the clarity and certainty of 20/20 hindsight vision.) An announcement is made that if we get going by five thirty, I think, we'll still make our connections if those connections don't leave JFK before 6:45 p.m. Our plane leaves at 7:30 so we're staying.

The crowd had thinned to a shade of its former self, and such free seating encourages conversation. We band together in a group for a confab, pass around Deer Jerky and Mentos as provided by Ed, William, and Jeff (whose recipe for Deer Jerky was killer) and proceed to get to know a bit about each other as time permits. Time permitted a lot, and one portion of our talk revolved around baggage that doesn't always end up with you at your destination. A fairly big concern for those of us depending on the specialized, and expensive, gear we call hunting kit. Ours was to be put into use almost immediately upon our arrival in Ireland, and missing a bag could cause a lot of disruption. To me, especially, as I had chosen to place all my eggs in one barrel (I can be a nut, at times.)

One of the warning signs for potential baggage misrouting is a change in an outgoing flight. Seems the baggage system has a problem recognizing that you are on a different plane with a different flight number. And a big indicator is if you see your bags waiting by the side of the plane as you pull away from the terminal for take off. As we are sitting on our Delta shuttle, minding our own business, I happen to glance out the window and see ground crew unloading bags. Lots of people had deplaned, and they wanted their luggage, naturally. I must have been delusional to think the baggage handlers could tell whose grip was whose in the hold of the airplane, but for some reason I held on to that belief right up until the time I watched my bag deplane without me. Bad luck is compounding.

I make a comment and the rest of us watch our bags go off on their own as well, and we two Jeff's march up to the front of the aircraft to make sure someone knows mistakes were made. Didn't mean we'd see our stuff before the middle of next week, but at least we would have tried. A large man on a radio, official looking, is talking to someone else with a hand set, and trying to put that someone right. We heard the words international passengers (and there was one Greek family that had refrigerator boxes of stuff in transit on our flight), mistake, and re-load in the same sentence, so our message was heard. A half sigh escapes our lips.

We sit around some more, Ed deplanes to get food (the jerky didn't fill him up, I guess,) and William and he scarf a sub while Rob steps out to get a nicotine fix. The future is looking dim. But wait, the intercom crackles and a pleasant voice (they're all pleasant, aren't they?) says get your stuff together, we're taking off! Just as soon as we get the bags on, passengers sorted, and wings de-iced. We start calculating.

We watch our bags rejoin us, passengers file back in, and the plane doors are shut. Now we wait for the de-icing crew. Never been in a plane that needed such treatment before, and I was kind of intrigued with that process. It was very much like being in an automatic carwash, only this was a giant, big plane. This yellow junk gets shot out at the lane, windows covered in some soapy, crusty, slurpy kind of stuff, and magically the leading edges of the flight control surfaces are free of lift-destroying ice irregularities. Pretty cool if it wasn't for the fact that this process is slowly eroding our chance to connect with an Aer Lingus plane bound for Shannon and our fix of Irish countryside. Learning patience was the lesson for that day, and the lesson was not over.

Motion is felt. Means we're blowing this pop stand and on our way to the next stage of our journey. We've been sitting on the plane at the terminal for three hours, long enough to have flown to NY, back, and on to NY again. Finally! We're sitting back to enjoy the ride when I feel a hand tapping my shoulder. William, sitting directly behind me has noticed that the starboard engine seems a bit funny. I look over my shoulder and notice a lack of movement in the fan blades. They stayed unmoving throughout the flight, and our plane ride from Washington D.C. was made with only one working motor. How pleasant.

All right, we're on the ground, which was a relief. Fog off the ocean had created a nifty little landing situation where the pilot could only see ground the last ten seconds or so of the approach. That pilot was a champ, and I'd fly with him again. I did see a rabbit break covert in the middle of the airfield as we were taxiing to our gate, taking that for a positive omen (grasping at straws, here).

On our way to the gate, we could see planes warehoused everywhere, waiting for clearance to leave. No one was moving. We passed the Aer Lingus terminal complete with two Aerbus jets still attached to gangways, indicating we had an excellent, if hurried, chance to make our connector. I also was treated to a look at the worlds largest snow plow, snow in NY being the culprit that kept us on the ground in D.C. The blade of the plow was easily thirty yards wide.

Now, the fun starts. Rush off the Delta plane to get to the Aer Lingus terminal. Have to wait for a bus because it's cold as hell and there is no real good way to get there on foot. Where's the bus stop? Ask three or four people, getting several answers and no real help. Jeff Rizer, the pit bull, flags down a Ramada hotel shuttle, slips him a twenty, and off we go to the Aer Lingus terminal. The Delta and Aer Lingus terminals are physically next to each other, you can see where you want to go, but not attached. You need a bus, and traffic patterns send you around the whole damn airport like some lunatic sight seeing tour. Patience, please, patience.

We're at the Aer Lingus departures entrance... and it's closed. A room that should have had a load of people is near empty and the deck is being swabbed by a janitor. A sinking feeling sets in. We talk our way in and find out that our plane left the terminal on time. How in the hell could it have left on time when we saw rows of planes sitting on the jetway, begging to be let out of here? "Gone", the crabby Aer Lingus rep says, "come back tomorrow." And what will we do until tomorrow? "That's between you and Delta, you need to go talk to them, goodnight." These two airlines are international partners, for Pete's sake, any chance of cooperation between them. Apparently not.

We make our way back to the Delta terminal, in a dejected daze, and attempt to reason with the unreasonable. Our man, Jeff Rizer, has a real talent for raising a ruckus, and he volunteers for point duty in this our hour of need. We burn through countless Delta agents and managers, waste hours of time arguing with penny pinchers over hotel room availability, narrowly avoid spending the night in an airport lounge, and finally get a promise of reimbursement for lodging at some motor inn on Long Island, cafare to be picked up by Delta. That process sucked, we're indebted to Jeff for his tenacity, and the night was not over yet.

We need two cabs to get to the Diplomat Motor Inn, and two were hailed for us by the shady looking cab director, or whatever his "official" title was, outside the Delta terminal. Neither spoke English well, surprise, and neither knew where this place was. They barely knew where Long Island was. Our cabby was asking everyone for directions, including us, and we spent twenty minutes traveling the same stretch of road three times before we made it to this "hotel." Ever been in a sixty-dollar cab ride? We were. The other cab had made it in forty-five dollars and fifteen less minutes. What a night, but not done yet.

The Diplomat is one of those places where the desk staff is protected by bulletproof Plexiglas. How's that for ambiance? We step up to the partition, a skin flick is on the tube behind us cleverly placed for the amusement of the night clerks, and rooms are grudgingly dispensed. Our airline vouchers are laughed at, but at least we will have a bed for the night as opposed to a lounge chair with forty strangers. The fight with Delta can take place tomorrow. It's Midnight-thirty, TGIFridays next door closes at One, and we need food and the calming effects that a good stiff drink can provide.

We join our comrades, order up burgers and beverages, and revel in just sitting down quietly. Drinks arrive, and for those who ordered whisky, it came in a schooner-sized goblet. The first truly nice thing that had happened all day. I made the mistake of professing my extreme distaste for the birthday routines at places such as Fridays (the clapping, attention, and bad sorority drinking song rip-offs touch a sore spot) so of course Grosvenor tells our server that it's my b-day. This gal put up with a group of grumpy and tired travelers, plus she had just had her tongue pierced that morning, so she deserved some slack cut. But, when the crew came out in their chant I was obligated to break for the door. She felt bad and I didn't make a big deal of it, cutting as much slack as possible, but that signaled the end of the day. Back we trudged to the Diplomat for some shut eye.

We weren't in Ireland. We were mere minutes from boarding our plane, but the weather, JFK personnel, and the designer of that most confusing of airports had all conspired against us that day. We really were so close, and that rat's nest of an airport really worked hard to jump on my last, good nerve. But Ireland still awaited. We had confidence that a plane would take us there eventually, the price of our penance being the trading of a day in Ireland for a day in New York. The price will be paid.

All Together Now

I awaken to the sound of a steady stream of water hitting carpeting from a height of three feet, or less.

Quick as lightning I go into a personal inventory check list. How close to the edge of my bed am I, and how much did I have to drink last night? Middle of the bed and two Black and Tans (the kind with the laser distinct line between Bass and Guinness). It's not me! Thank God!

I'm in the hotel with this particular roommate for the first time (maybe of the first water!?!) and the sound, to my more finely focused hearing, is from his side of the room. Cast my mind back. How much hooch had HE had to drink? Didn't finish his schooner of whisky and didn't stumble to bed. Is there an incontinence problem manifesting, and will said problem be with us all week? Holy crap! Do I just lie here and pretend it isn't happening, sparing us both an embarrassing morning greeting, or do I pipe up and nip this in the bud. I'm more likely to commit an error of omission than commission, so I wait.

Ten minutes later the same dreadful sound invades our room. No way anybody's bladder has that kind of recovery time, and I bestir myself to address the situation out loud. "What the heck is happening over there?" I mention. Reply, "I was about to ask the same of you." My chambermate (not chamber pot), Jeff Rizer, had had the exact same thoughts flashing across his mind as the unfortunately timed water spout was "leaking" into our room. Turns out this hotel is fancy enough to have a roof leak that woke both of us at the same time and cast aspersions on both our characters. What a way to start our day in the Big Apple.

The weather and the airline have kindly given us a day to play in New York, what joy, so what will we do today to take our minds off the fact that we must wait until 7:30 p.m. to catch the next Aer Lingus flight to Ireland? (To those who live in New York, and more to the point, in New York City, I apologize for my attitude. My Chicago bias was reinforced by the hideous encounter with JFK and the frustration of NOT being in Ireland. I'm sure the place is nice.)

Ed Harvey had given us a blow by blow of his two-year battle with Tiffany's over some earrings for his wife that the famous jewelry purveyor was jerking him around on, and his aim was to take the fight to their home ground. Along the way, he'd show William, the teen representative in the group, Times Square and the Empire State Bldg. Good tourist fare, and perhaps a bit of fun. Rob went along to stimulate his senses.

My roomie and I, along with the Merle-Smiths, decided Delta owed us some more, and decided to take them up on their offer of free use of the VIP lounge. Open bar, to those of you not hip to the ways of the VIP traveler.

We do a bit of business with Delta beforehand, camping out at the supervisor office just off the bank of ticketing stations, saying hello to old friends from the night before, and trying to get cash compensation for cab rides and room rates. Surprise, surprise, they'd given all their cash away! None in the till, try us on your way back through, if you'd be so good. We will be so good, which way to the VIP lounge?

Our man Jeff, the airport liaison specialist, explains in no uncertain terms our situation and the guardians of the Delta Hot Shot Lounge swing wide the gates, figuring peace at the price of a few drinks a fair bargain. Football games are playing, and these beautiful banks of semi-private phone booths allow communication with our "people." We determine that Hugh Faust and Eileen O'Farrell are safely in Ireland and out chasing after Co. Tipperary hounds in a rental vehicle. But, weren't there three people in this scaled down entourage? No, one man, one woman, no pets. Where, oh where has Dick Askins gone?

We all had assumed that Dick had come with Hugh, and that the two had stayed at the Faust's New York apartment, as likely jumping off point as Eileen May's place in Queens. Nope, didn't happen that way. So, if you want to find out anything in the Askins household, you call their house. I'd watched both Dick and his wife, Lugene, call home often enough at the Institute Farm of the National Beagle Club in Aldie, VA for that to be a knee jerk reaction.

I call Tennessee, engaging in a pleasant conversation with Lugene, talking hounds and her husband's whereabouts, and am told Dick spent the night in Charlotte, NC. I think. The weather had prevented him from making it to NY, and we should expect him in the airport in the afternoon. His own battle with airlines and their overnight accommodation policies having gone much more smoothly for him than us. I know he'll check in with Lugene when he gets to JFK, so I leave word that free drinks are being passed out in the Delta Lounge, some with his name on them. We leave a pass for him at the entrance to the lounge, and sure enough, he appeared.

Our afternoon was then spent with playoff football and Bloody Mary's, while Ed, William, and Rob had made good on their threats to chastise Tiffany and Co. and climb the Empire State Bldg. We all meet up in the Aer Lingus terminal, snacking on Guinness and pizza (Guinness being a sort of unifying theme and general panacea), and await our departure. The plane is boarded without mishap, weather delay, technical difficulty, terrorist attack, air sickness, or earthquake and we take off. As I write this, imagine I'm doing so in a whisper. I don't want the fates to know that we made it out of NY.

The plane ride was uneventful. All engines worked the whole time, the food was average but edible, and some got sleep. Others, myself included, did not, but so what? This plane would land in Ireland, not New York, or Manitoba, or India. A short car ride and a horse waited on the other side of the flight.

We land in Shannon and enter our prayers that our luggage had made the trip with us. Those coming from Washington D.C. had had our bags checked through to Shannon, so we did not recover them during our forced layover at JFK. As you know, the longer a bag sits around in the nether regions of the baggage realm, the more likely it is for said bags to grow legs and wander to strange and out of the way places, like Dubuque, Iowa.

We gather around the baggage carousel's with a host of fellow travelers, straining to catch a glimpse of our gear. A cry goes up as a garment bag is identified, captured, and recovered. The chances for the rest of our stuff surfacing rise exponentially. Another bag is found, and another, until the entire contingent is weighed down with the correct and appropriate amount of stuff (damn, did I really need all this!) and off we head to the rental car kiosk.

Cars are arranged, including a vehicle with automatic rather than standard transmission for those less-skilled unfortunates. (Oh, that one was for me.) We step outside to our first breath of free flowing Irish atmosphere… and a distinct nip in the air. Everything is covered with frost, and though the Sun isn't up yet, that is not a sign that bodes well for the smelling of foxes for the coming day.

The eight of us sort ourselves into three automobiles and caravan over to Inch House, the Merle-Smith home away from home, and our base of operations for the coming week. I surprise myself by keeping my station in line behind the wheel, avoiding major damage to life, limb, and fender, and learning the tricks of a rental vehicle all at the same time.

The car ride was over in far too short a time, the scenery being the kind that invites contemplation on the habits of the people who live behind the fences and hedges. We pile out of our rides at Inch House to be greeted by the enormous grin of Hugh Faust and the demure smile of Eileen O'Farrell. We're indeed all together, now.

We exchange stories in that sort of talking at the same time and interrupting one another and barely getting the gist of each other's conversational style. It's learned that hunting the day before was a bust, and we didn't miss anything important, so those of us stuck in America felt a bit better (and a couple hundred pounds ahead.) Breakfast is served and consumed, hunting clothes unpacked, shaken out, pronounced fit for service, and donned. We're to meet the Golden Vale at Killea, down the road from Fairy Hill which was the sight of the "session" from November (keyword, poteen), and boy are we ready.

If you've heard it once, you've heard it a hundred times. Ireland and hunting this season means mud and wet. The draws for the day are uphill, away from the lowlands and the streams they harbor. Horizontal is not to be part of our vocabulary that day as the hills are to be our playground.

Our horses come from known and trusted sources. I've got my pal Archie, again, whose nickname I learn is "The Thug" as he is king of the herd back home and not shy about browbeating lesser beings. It's nice to get on a horse you know, quirks and all, and not be worried about how he will react to crazy horses acting up alongside, or what maneuver he'll try at a ditch, fence, drain, bank, wire, or gate.

The first draw is pretty much straight up a thousand feet (I'm totally guessing) from the meet, and some in the group were a bit disenchanted with their horse flesh. Eileen had to cut a switch to "coax" her horse to move off up hill, and the field strung itself out a bit along the way to the first covert. Now, the hunting since November had been spotty at best, with a lot of cancellations, and instead of bouncing with energy, some horses were a bit out of shape. My bud, Archie, was huffing a bit as we neared the top, something I hadn't really expected, but as he was a pal, I let him pick his own pace until hounds started running. He picked the pace all day.

Earlier I remarked on the frost at Shannon, and that meteorological condition did have a bearing on our day in Killea. The roads and tracks we followed along behind hounds were, for the most part, covered in ice. Glare ice. And no one we were riding had anything like borium or studs on their shoes. I'd say a good two hours out of the four or so that we were riding was spent in the imminent apprehension that a patch of ice would claim a victim. But do you know, not one horse hit the deck from slipping on ice. At least, I never heard of such an incident.

We really didn't have too many typical Irish obstacles to negotiate that day. A few drains, but no banks, walls, wire, what have you, until the very end. There was one field high up on the mountain that was unique in my experience. The territory we were drawing that day was heavy in forestry. Plantations of pine trees that, as far as anyone knew, had very little commercial value, but did a bang up job of creating runoff to clog streams and rivers, adding to the "wet" hunting conditions. We emerged from one clump of pine trees into an open field of cut over pine, pine trees that had been harvested and replanted with saplings, making our way across this "open" ground to another line of pine. A few strides into this field it becomes apparent that either you or your horse had better pay attention to where he puts his feet or you're going to fall flat on your nose pretty quick. This field had a series of horse belly deep trenches cut along its entire length, the slot just about hoof wide, and spaced mechanically at five or so foot intervals. I spent the entire time in that field goosing Archie with my spurs so that he would pick up his feet. No way was I going to let him snap a leg.

The other side of the field in question, and the woods out the other side, produced a long check on a logging road, we field members lining the track and trying to steer a fox in a desired direction. I don't think this tactic works too well, but what are you going to do? We sit around, waiting for hounds to find, drinking Warre's Warrior Port from my brand new saddle flask, and taking stock of our situation. Seems Ed had had a close encounter with a tree of the branchy kind and lost his glasses. Pat Lyons, a jt-Master and general nice guy, snatched Ed's frames and one lens from the offending conifer, but the missing eye glass had decided to become one with the Irish countryside. Very existential for the lens, very myopic for Ed. He spent the rest of the day out of focus.

Hounds work and they work, we ride and we ride, the Sun climbs and then falls, threatening to set on a pretty blank day. The ice that had thawed while the Sun was just past zenith remembered that cold allowed it to be mischievous again, and it decided to refreeze, becoming all nice and slippery. The combination of falling temps, crappy footing, and lack of visibility prompted about half our contingent to duck and run for the horse boxes. As we passed a log barrier off the road back to Killea, I watched several lads jumping it. I thought they were schooling, as often happens in an Irish hunt field when hounds aren't running, a notion reinforced by the sight of most of these character's horses refusing. I thought nothing more of it and followed Grosvenor back to Killea. A noteworthy event as it goes pretty much against the grain to come back before hounds.

Feet so frozen they have lost feeling. Face so numb speech is possible but without my usual dulcet and lilting quality. Bladder so full I was in mortal danger of rupturing and incurring some form of sepsis. (Note to self: find a bigger group than just Grosvenor and myself to kill off the contents of saddle flask on the way home.) We slip off horses, running up stirrups and loosening girths in an attempt to contribute at least minutely to the care and grooming of our steeds before we hand them off to their real caretakers and slink off sheepishly to the pub and a badly needed date with the head.

The second thing we've come over here for is about to begin. Drinking Guinness, hot port or whisky at preference, and various other libations in company after hunting all afternoon is an experience best repeated as often as possible. I think you can guess my first choice. Thinking about it even now has my mouth salivating. Must have spent time with Pavlov in my youth.

Quite a crew has gathered already, and hounds not in yet. The place was average by pub standards, but we were going to pack the joint. Plus, music was advertised for later in the evening. And then the hounds came back.

In the falling dark and freezing conditions, hounds finally got a fox to shift and tore away for a twenty minute burner that sent our more hardy (I'll admit it) comrades back to us with facesplitting grins and tales of bravery and daring-do. The jump that I thought was a schooling exercise turned out to be the portal to the one and only run of the day. At the end, Rob found himself riding right behind the huntsman, that close to hounds. Jeff, the rank rookie, negotiated killer drains and other notable obstacles with skill and aplomb, touching Mother Earth only after his horse miscalculated a drain and fell over on its side. Those who had left the field early absorbed these tales with charm and grace, all the while cursing under our breath at missing the fun. Oh, well.

Taps flowed, tales were spun, old friends reacquainted and new ones made. The band showed up, an older gentleman with a turntable and an electric piano. Dancing in too small an area commenced with yours truly dragged onto the dance floor and deliberately making a hash of it to stave off any more such attempts at foolishness. It was difficult to leave that party, but if dinner was to be had, it were better we left to chase it down early rather than late as food is not served as conveniently there as here.

Having taken our leave, we dash off to the old standby of the Chinese restaurant in Thurles, practically the only thing open at ten at night on Sunday. I'm not sure the people in that place would recognize Rosie or Grosvenor if they didn't show up in soiled and stained hunting clothes and filthy rubber boots. Which is good, because time for a change of clothes was nowhere to be found.

We're tired, but glowing. It's cold outside, but we've warm beds to go to (for some, a bit too warm, but that's for later). And finally, finally, we're all in our places with bright shining faces. The next day has us splitting forces to hunt variously with Duhallow and Co. Tipperary. I may have to wear shades to bed as the future is looking too bright. And I say yet again, will I never learn?

Jack Frost and His Wicked, Wicked Ways

Monday the Eleventh sees me up before the Sun. Just in time to take a lukewarm shower. Since we had last been to the lovely and gracious Inch House, the proprietors, Nora and John Egan, had found a plumber to install a pressure pump to get hot water to all the rooms before it lost its kinetic heat energy and arrived cold to the unsuspecting hydrous user. The Egans had gone round and round with this infernal system, spending thousands of pounds to get it fixed, and yet, here we were in the same boat. Oh, well, at least I don't feel slimy.

The room is a bit on the chilly side, though. The central heating in this particular structure was of the boiler and radiator variety, on a sleep timer for conservation, and every day the juices in the old place got themselves flowing about half an hour after I felt the need to be up and stirring. Plus, as if that wasn't enough (and don't you think it ought to be?), the bathroom window facing West (from whence all weather comes) has been painted open. A right brisk breeze is blowing through each and every morning.

My roomie comes to after I finish in the commode and is looking flushed. Despite the scaled back room temperature at night and the dip below freezing for outside temps, the blankets and comforters provided have just about cooked my partner, Jeff Rizer. I had no such problems sleeping next to a drafty window, and my night was spent in peaceful slumber ( a marked contrast to the nights from November, if you remember those ordeals.) Feast or famine, I guess.

The meet

Foxhunting