Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Bugle Call

Will it be like this?

The barn where the kids ride horses is, like so much else around here, in the middle of a cornfield. And yet, for some reason, I always feel as though I'm leaving what's ordinary about this landscape every time I take them there. I think that it's the gravitational pull of the horses' world: the neighing and huffs across the stables corridor, the mouser cats primly avoiding the heavy hooves, kids leading horses in and out of the pastures, the calls of Candace and Lisa who keep this equine ecosystem moving and fed. The minute we're there, we're very far away from anywhere else. I watch my children ease into their fascination with the horses: thrill, control, dream. I give in completely to thinking of horses past, medieval palfreys - the deep dignity of this bridled animal who may be domesticated, but is not always entirely tamed; the force and courage of this fervent bulk that takes the hunter to his prey, somehow rides the warrior into battle. There is absolutely nothing there to stop me from the historical romance of the horses, even as I know that Apah would really just prefer a carrot thank you, that Indy will nudge you when you sing, and that mischievous Dukey just might canter unexpectedly again with my tiny Eleanor gleefully hanging on. So I watch the kids on the horses, and I always bring something to read that will let me daydream a little more. This time, it was Eric J Goldberg's article, "Louis the Pious and the Hunt" from the July issue of Speculum: a historical survey of the imperial status of the hunt long before I'm used to thinking about it. And in the midst of it, a most unexpected excerpt of Carolingian poetry by Walahfrid "On the Bone of a Little Doe," a relic of the fauna that now feeds the flora:

     What once covered bone marrow now nurtures a tree.
     A shinbone produces a seed - that must be a very good omen.
     I am astonished that the bark is not damp and that it is
     Tougher than the very wood: such is the strength of the bone.
     All things exist to serve you, great emperor: you go hunting for deer
     And a forest grows up from their bones! Hail!

Artificial deer decoys are still legal in Indiana
Deer in the forest. I think of deer in the forest every year at this time. We are in the period of transition from Archery Season to Firearms Season. From October 1 to November 15, it's still pretty medieval out there. The custodian from our building posted her archery kill on Facebook and there'll be venison to celebrate at her house. Now, though, the firearm hunters will submerge into the woodwork (via tree stands and quiet creeping). I have a standing invitation from a friend to go and I find myself, as I have every year, stuck in fascination, unable to gear up the momentum to say "ok, let's go, let's do it." I've seen very few animals die before my eyes: six magnificent bulls during the San Isidro feast days in Madrid during my honeymoon with Mac (yes, there's more to talk about there), and two tiny mice slowly squeezed to death by the snakes to whom they were fed at the McCormick's Creek Nature Center while Iris and I watched helpless, mesmerized, wordless. I'd have to stay wordless here, too - quiet, thinking about the Sir Gawain and the Green Knight conversation that prompted the invitation in the first place.

It won't be like this!
So to fill the empty space between the invitation and a decision, I poke around, I research a bit, I become even more fascinated: the rules and regulations of what is called "Fair Chase" (you may not use bait, not even salt, you may not use dogs except to track a wounded deer, you may not flash a spotlight, you may not use infrared, or electronic calls - but you may use a deer decoy); the "Disposition of Carcasses" (calling Karl Steel!), that would not allow for Carolingian poetry (you are responsible for every bit of the deer you kill); the requirement that an "antlered deer" have at least 3 inches of antler. There are still many things I don't understand: the land - there is state land and private land and there's great excitement because the state is opening up more land to hunting, but it all makes me realize that I know more about medieval forest law than about modern hunting lands. And of course, the kill without the hunt. The fought bulls, the snaked mice - there was an element of the chase, no matter how disparate. Here, we'll watch and wait. Is it the kill? the waiting? the trophy? the feast? This friend has shared quail and venison with us before and there'd be feasting to be done this time, too. Yes, I would definitely use a medieval recipe, and, moreover, heed the warning signs of the advice column entitled "Does Your Venison Taste Like Hell?" (nice medieval flavor to the pointed question). I don't yet know what I'll do. I've taught the incredible images of Gaston Phebus I put up here today. I've marveled at the medieval ritual of the fumets (the duke determines which stag to hunt based on the courage he smells in droppings). I've taught the intertwined wonder of the hunting scenes from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Now to move that into the real? (well, maybe not the fumets) - the quick and the vivid and the not-up-for-discussion. I imagine a surge of adrenaline in the forest as all parties involved realize what is happening in a reality that has no time or space for language. I imagine being cold and quiet and bored. I imagine horror subdued by quickness and precision. I watch my children on horses and know that there is a reality of animals approaching that both quickens and dissolves my daydreams.

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