This semester, I’ve been taking an “Abnormal Psychology” class. It’s about the only class on the planet that I don’t dread attending and loathe with every fiber of my being. All this analyzing and reading diagnoses for various people with mental abnormalities has allowed me to pinpoint what I’ve been struggling with this semester. I’m afraid I have had a severe case of the SLOTH Blues, a side effect of this Fox Hunter’s Disease we all have been diagnosed with.
SLOTH Blues is short for “Significant Lack of Terrific Hunting Blues.” It works similarly to mononucleosis in the sense that it never fully goes away, but it can be kept in check. Severity and time of onset for this illness will vary from individual to individual, but it’s most severe form occurs any time a fox hunter is withheld from spending a normal amount of time in or near the hunt field, fellow fox hunters, and hounds. Symptoms oftentimes are similar to the steps of the grieving process.
Initially, the individual will live in denial of the situation. Patients may forget that they, in fact, are not going to be hunting this week for whatever reason. They will also have the most realistic dreams they’ve ever had in their lives when they dream about hunting, as if their unconscious would like to taunt them with all they are missing.
Next comes anger. While some people may just act out contrary to their typical personality, some people become incredibly frustrated by little tasks that normally are a mild annoyance, and every single problem will be the end of the world. (That finicky paper clip really did not need to be mutilated and thrown into the trash.)
With the bargaining phase, individuals will seem desperate to do anything that gets them even close to the hunt field, no matter how ridiculous they may seem, and every single item that has a fox on it in Wal-Mart will be noticed, if not purchased. “If we get a snow day, maybe I can steal the barn four-wheeler and drive it to the kennels. One hundred forty miles one way isn’t THAT far, is it?”
So after a long, torturous seven weeks of seeing photos from the hunt field on Facebook while school tightened its clutch of steel around me, I determined this was precisely my problem. Thankfully spring break was right around the corner. While chipping away at yet another set of response questions for my Victorian Literature class, I was tempted to throw all the papers in the air, leave campus, and just drive straight to the kennels in escape. During lessons with the school’s equestrian team, I yearned to ignore Coach’s requests for yet another rollback or bending line, and instead jump out of the arena and go for a good gallop across the pasture. I had crazy thoughts about which school horse is the magic combination of being fit enough to make it to the kennels, sane enough to be a fox hunter, and also comfortable enough to ride for 140 miles (mostly next to the highways). Halfway through the final week, I felt so crummy to the point that I ended up taking a nap instead of going for my usual evening run. When I woke up with chills, a severe cough, a voice worse than Darth Vader’s, and a 102-degree fever, some would say I had a bad cold, but the SLOTH Blues can’t fool me! I knew what the real problem was!
Well, enter spring break week, and I was actually ill enough to stop doing anything other than going into coughing fits severe enough to rack my whole body and make tears spring to my eyes. Awesome. My immune system has the best timing ever. After a whole two days of battling internally with the decision, I decided I needed to skip hunting on Tuesday in order to have a prayer of hunting at Closing Meet on Saturday. School may have made me miss more hunting this year than I had liked, but I was not going to let this funk keep me from missing Closing Meet. So I ended up spending nearly every day of my spring break in bed or on the couch beneath a heavy layer of tissues and in a cold-meds-induced coma, but by golly I was going to hunt Saturday!
Fast-forward to Saturday, and I was cruising down I-85 yet again in the shadowy dawn hours, feeling pretty good about myself. Whatever brick had been lodged in my chest all week had finally disappeared, and it no longer hurt to breathe. My ability to breathe was highly, highly questionable, but it at least wasn’t painful. I could even talk again! I thought I was doing pretty well. That is, until I arrived at the clubhouse that morning. When Shakerag Hounds’ huntsman, John Eaton, looked at me and said, “How are you doing Killer?” I responded with a simple, “I’m doing alright.” Then every single person around him gave me a look of pure terror while backing away slowly and saying things like, “Stay away! We don’t want what you have!”
Dang it. And here I was thinking I sounded so much better.
Despite my plague-like symptoms, what followed was one of the best days I’ve ever experienced as a road whip. Though the action didn’t slow down too much for the whole day, the highlight for me came sometime around 11:45. I was standing on the side of Sam Swindle Road. The heavy mist that had been thoroughly soaking us all morning had finally stopped, but the gloomy clouds and dense fog still made it difficult to see anything clearly. I peered across the field into Ramsey’s woods, hoping to catch a glimpse of something as hounds opened on a line somewhere deep inside and the echo of their voices crept out of the thick crowd of hardwoods. After a couple minutes of straining my eyes to see any sort of detail through fog, I saw a flash of red and my heart stopped. I quickly moved my gaze over the hill, closer to the road, and shortly after, a red fox came loping over. I quietly moved closer for a few steps so I could better see which path he took. Meanwhile, I heard John call on the radio for road whips to keep their eyes peeled. After I had seen the fox cross the road and disappear into the woods on the other side, I called in my tally-ho on the radio, and waited for the hounds. 12 ½ couple followed right on the path maybe two minutes later, and safely crossed the road together. I watched the huntsman enthusiastically encouraging his hounds to press on, and the field of mud-coated foxhunters followed shortly after. I waited a couple minutes to make sure the fox wouldn’t cross back across the street, as he’s known to enjoy crisscrossing Sam Swindle at that point, but once I heard John mention “the big field” I knew I was safe to move on.
So, I’ve never been good at jump rope. In fact, I’m disastrously coordinated. If I can jump rope for more than two jumps in a row, it’s almost always a fluke. But sometimes, when all the pieces fall into place, and I’ve had the right amount of sleep, and I picked the right jump rope, and the tread on my shoes isn’t too wet, and the jump rope gods are smiling upon me, I can start to jump rope, I hit this rhythm that I just can’t get out of, and I feel like I can take on the world. That’s exactly what the rest of Closing Meet felt like. Once I viewed the red fox, it never slowed down! They must have run the red for nearly an hour after that, and I felt like I was constantly in the thick of the action. Each time I decided to move to a new post, the hounds and game got there shortly after I did, and I was able to help the other road whips turn them back in country. Sure, I couldn’t really breathe and all I really had to do to turn back the game was start coughing, but hey, it worked and that’s all I’m concerned about! And when I woke up Sunday morning finally sounding like a human being again (a human with a very deep voice, but at least I didn’t sound like a monster anymore), it confirmed my suspicions that this illness really was a nasty case of SLOTH Blues. Or maybe it was pneumonia. Same thing.