I really hate it when the chemistry professor is right.
It’s not uncommon for me to naturally link concepts I’m learning in school to this lifestyle that I’ve chosen, especially when I’m dealing with subjects that aren’t exactly my strong point (i.e. chemistry). Often times it’s the only way I’m able to fully understand and remember the concepts. It happened when we moved onto a new unit in chemistry the Monday after Mr. Wayne and I went hunting a few weeks ago. Before asking the class to solve for the amount of energy transferred within reactions, the professor refreshed our memories of the law of thermodynamics, with the first one being, “Energy can be changed from one form to another, but it cannot be created or destroyed.”
Of course, I’ve had this law drilled into my memory since 5th grade, but one night I realized how this statement can be so much more than a simple law to be memorized and regurgitated on an exam.
When Mr. Wayne and I got to go hunting for the first time in 6 weeks, so needless to say, my anticipation was already through the roof. As we loaded horses onto the trailer on that dark, cold November morning, a sharp breeze cut through my heavy coat and every star could be seen shining brilliantly in the sky. It was a damp 32 degrees that morning, but temperatures were expected to climb into the mid to high 60s by midday. Not exactly ideal for hunting. But it didn’t matter; I loaded the awesome Tobey onto the trailer, made sure he was tied properly and gave him a pat on the neck before excitedly hopping down from the trailer and jogging over to the truck to hit the road.
This particular Saturday, Mr. Wayne and I volunteered for gate duty since we expected to be going through territory with several gates and it’s slightly easier for me to get on and off of the 14 hand Tobey than it is for riders on the taller horses. The hounds really worked well this morning, especially considering how clear the skies were, and the game cooperated beautifully. Red foxes and coyotes seemed to be popping up everywhere, so there was plenty to chase. I lost count as to how many gates I got that day, but I think I was closing my 7th or 8th one when I quickly placed Tobey on a slope and swung my leg around as quickly as I could so we could catch back up to the field; hounds had hit a line and had taken off running and we could still hear their deep, booming music echoing among the hills. Mr. Wayne and I started to move off at a trot when I heard him ask, “Stirrups?”
Without missing a beat, I let Tobey pick up a canter and replied, “Nah, it’s fine!” and we broke into a gallop up a dirt road to find the hounds again. Once we had caught up to the field and slowed down to a strong canter, I focused on slipping my feet into the stirrups, but moments before it didn’t matter; I knew they were close and all I wanted to do was make sure we missed as little of the action as possible.
After a few good, shorter runs, the huntsman took hounds to one last covert to draw through. Everyone had been having an absolute ball so far, and as we approached the final covert, the few words that were being spoken quickly died down until all we heard was the sound of the horses’ steady hoof beats, the crunching of leaves and the occasional snap of a twig.
After a few twists and turns in the woods, we ended up on a set of trails that carved through a large patch of pine trees. The bed of fallen pine needles absorbed nearly all the sound from the horses’ footfalls and the spaced out pines allowed us to easily see the hounds working with their noses glued to the ground. We would occasionally pick up a trot for a few moments before coming back down to a halt. Even as we were moving through the woods, there were just low, dull thuds from the horses’ hooves. Everyone seemed to be holding their breath from anticipation of watching the hounds, and even the horses were silent. The setting would come across as eerie to somebody who wasn’t a hunter. All eyes were on the hounds. The huntsman could be heard encouraging the hounds, giving them help when they needed it, and the occasional whimper from a hound would echo across the woods. I would hear the quiet panting of a hound and turn to watch him steadily run forward towards his pack. Even as we stood there in complete silence, I could feel the same jolt of energy I had earlier when the pack was running.
It doesn’t matter where I am; whether we’re waiting to load up the horses in the dark, tacking up as the sunrise begins to warm the earth from the nighttime chill, galloping up and down the hills with my ears filled with the rush of wind and the sound of hound music, standing completely still as the hounds work diligently around us, or even back at home, telling my parents about our adventures that day, that energy is always there. There is something incredibly absorbing about this sport that seems to fully immerge everyone participating in the excitement and anticipation of what’s going to happen next. It’s that energy that somehow gets everyone out of bed hours before the sun after a long week of work, travel or school. This same energy makes even the bitterly cold days or damp, boggy runs worth it.
And it’s certainly this energy that keeps foxhunters going in pursuit of hounds, no matter what obstacle may stand in their way. It has the power to remove exhaustion, block pain (although this may only be temporary!) and create an incredible focus. No matter where I am or what I’m doing on a hunting weekend, I can always feel that energy somewhere, and I’ve yet to find anything that can destroy it.
Now if only I had that type of energy for studying for my final exam in chemistry.