As my winter vacation comes to a close, I’ve been reflecting on how I spent most of my time compared to my peers at school. As friends excitedly talked about the various beaches, cruises, or ski trips they were headed for the moment school let out, I had my hopes on spending as much time as I could at the kennels, and I have to say that was the highlight of my break.
I know, it’s weird because I’m a nineteen-year-old college student. I should be sleeping until at least noon. Ten am should be an early morning. I should be dragging my feet with droopy eyes at any hour before nine. And if I’m up before eight, I should be chugging energy drinks to function. But I’ve found over my break that there’s something about a good hound walk in the morning that just puts me in a good mood. Is that so wrong?
A few times over my break, our family friends offered to let me stay at their farmhouse across the street from the kennels so I wouldn’t have to make the trek to the kennels from our home in the suburbs. On these days I would usually get up around 6:30, but if I were home, I would get up at 5:30 in order to beat the highway traffic.
Walking into the kennels at 7:30, the sound of impatient, excited, and hungry hounds filled my ears as well as the clank of the cold metal troughs we placed on the floors and the clatter of dog food being poured into the troughs. Shakerag’s huntsman, John Eaton, let out Galaxy, a pregnant hound, to eat her fill first, and then went into each lodge to let out individuals who may be skinnier than others. Despite all of the hounds leaping and running in excitement, he was able to only pick and let out each individual hound. While the hounds needing a little extra nourishment chowed down, the remainder of the pack continued to cry to be let out. Finally, he let the rest of the hounds out, and once that happened, the entire kennel fell silent of crying hounds, and the only noise left was the sound of all the hounds desperately lapping up the remainder of their breakfast. There would be the scrape of the metal troughs on the concrete floors as some hounds pushed the troughs to get food that may have spilled out, and then the ringing of water hitting the troughs as John washed them out. Soon after, John would spread the Clorox mixture he makes for the floors of the kennels, and would leave me with the hose so I could wash down the kennels while he and his wife, Kelly, collected hounds from the hound yard for hound exercises. Right at 8:00, somebody would tell me it was time to go, so I would hang up the hose and run out of the kennels as my boots slapped the puddles left on the concrete floors.
At this point, the sun had come up, but was still fairly low in the sky. The air was cold, and the excited hounds had small clouds of fog from their breath. As we headed out towards the big field, the huntsman and the whips had the hounds packed in, but not too tightly, until they left the kennel/barn area. Once they reached the big field, John would quietly say, “Go on then,” and the hounds burst forward like racehorses let out of the starting gate.
My boots were crunching on the frosty grass as we continued our walk across the big field. The bright December sunrise made it difficult to see anything but silhouettes of huntsman, whips, and hounds. The air was cold and still, and each breath rose in a thick fog. As I looked out over the field, I would watch the puppies race after Blue Dog, a stray who’s decided staying around Shakerag is pretty nice. John would pick up a branch or two and throw it into the field, and hounds would chase after it, only to end up with two or three all carrying it at once. Saber would come trotting up to me, wagging his tail so hard, his whole body shook, then jump up to see me before running off with his friends again. Some hounds would roll in the cool grass before jumping up and scooting off to catch up with the rest of the pack.
As I sit here typing this, I’m back at home in the suburbs, with only one week left before I head back to school. A dull exhaustion is starting to set in from spending the past few days at the kennels and hunting, and as I’m getting ready for bed, I realize it’s 8:30 pm; most of my peers are probably at their peak right about now. Maybe I didn’t spend my holidays the way a typical nineteen year old would. My own mother has quite blankly told me that I have lost my mind for willingly getting up at odd hours in the morning, whether it is for hound walking or hunting. My twenty two year old brother told me at dinner that he went to bed at 7 am…nearly an hour after I had woken up. But as I looked across that frost-coated field in the sharp, cold air, and the blinding sun warming my face as hounds romped about, I couldn’t help but think that I could not be happier spending my vacation anywhere else. I was home.