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autumn dec 13Autumn Clarke photoIt was a dark and stormy night. I sat at my desk, furiously flipping through a history textbook and scribbling notes as quickly as my hands would allow. All day I had listened to the lashing of rain pelting my window, growing in strength as the day came to a close. It had been pouring down rain for the last 36 hours, which I hadn’t decided whether or not to be a good thing. As the night encroached, I was startled as a flash of lightning lit up the sky and a long rumble of thunder swelled to shake the house.
It was Finals Week Eve, and the outlook was not bright. Some of my Spanish notecards had mysteriously gone missing, my computer protested violently at every other keystroke, all of the Spanish verb tenses were beginning to blend into one and I could feel my brain turning to mush as I attempted memorize all of American history since 1650. I was trying to suppress the urge to slap my neighbors who had been singing for the last thirty minutes and I contemplated eating cereal and a veggie tray for dinner just so I wouldn’t have to leave my books. Months of dragging my feet to class and frantically scribbling notes had added up to this one fateful week where my future would be determined in a matter of hours.
When I left you all last, I was slowly pounding my head against the wall out of sheer boredom and despair, having lost all hope that I would ever return to the hunt field. But as I prepared for finals week, my mind drifted back to a few hours of happiness from Thanksgiving break.

I raced under the moonlight that Saturday morning, giving myself a strict time schedule. I was taking care of some horses and a dog down the road from my house, so I worked as efficiently as possible to have everyone fed, watered and stalls cleaned no later than 6:30 AM. Unlike finals week, everything this morning went according to plan and I hit the road at 6:20.
The morning started out looking like there wouldn’t be too much to chase. Hounds got on a few short runs here and there but nothing was lasting too long. But what happened at the end of that day remained a vivid picture in my mind until notes for a Jane Austen research paper viciously gave it the boot.

I was road whipping that day and was listening to Shakerag’s huntsman, John Eaton, make “one last draw” through Ramsey’s woods. I heard a voice on the radio, “John, I think the fat lady may have sung,” to which John replied, “Yeah, I think so. But I’m hoping that just maybe she’ll be drowned out by the hounds’ beautiful voices!” Of course I was praying with every fiber of my being that they’d find something that day, but at this point I had begun to just be thankful for the chance to finally be back in the hunt field. The clear skies and high wind certainly weren’t helping scenting matters. It figures, they run the coyote for two hours last weekend when I couldn’t go because of school, but the one day I finally show up it turns into a vortex without a cloud in the sky. At the same time, sure, a really long chase would’ve been good, but hey, I’m here, hounds worked hard all day and got a couple short runs in. All in all, not too bad, right?

All of a sudden I heard hounds strike a line, and I’m pretty sure my heart skipped five beats. Somebody called in, “Tally ho coyote!” Hounds began to run parallel to the road I was on and were headed straight towards Seagraves Mill so I leapt back into my car and headed towards Seagraves. Just as I crested the hill to where I could see Seagraves Mill, I heard John holler over the radio, “I need a road whip at Preacher’s on Seagraves!” I let him know my position and I was instructed to NOT. LET. HOUNDS. CROSS. So with my blood up and ready to follow orders, I threw the car in park, jumped out and began making noise to hopefully turn the game and hounds back into country.

What happened next confused me a bit. I’m still not entirely sure if the coyote had crossed Seagraves before I got there, or if it turned back and crossed somewhere else, but the cries that had seemed a little too close to Seagraves for comfort broke up. The next thing I knew, John came out of Preacher’s trail and told me to make sure the rest of the pack followed him as he made a U-turn and went back down Sam Swindle, away from my post and back towards their starting point.

So I did just that. I counted as hounds streamed out of the woods and took note of which hounds I had seen; it seemed like everyone was keen to follow Dad’s horse back down the road. I was waiting on the last two. Galaxy loped down the trail towards me and didn’t give me a second thought as she turned left just as the rest of the pack had. But then a few seconds later, the last hound came down the trail and as I opened my mouth to encourage her back to John, she looked at me and put her nose to the ground.

Uh oh. She’s a good, experienced hound. She knows something I don’t, but she has to go back to John…and she can’t cross…Oh man…

She turned right, away from John’s direction and began running. And I don’t know why…but so did I. For some reason it just made sense to me at that point. I took off in a full-blown sprint down the road, running as fast as I could to get in front of her. I somehow pulled alongside her hindquarters, sternly called her name and yelled, “Leave it!” and I swear that girl stopped dead in her tracks, looked at me as if to say, “Well excuse me!” and then happily turned back. 

John was doing roll call for the hounds and I stood at the head of Preacher’s trail, waiting for the final call of “all-on,” when all of a sudden, road whip Shawn O’Brien came over the radio from his post near Sam Swindle and Seagraves Mill, “Sir, that coyote just flipped me the bird and is coming in right towards you!” Somehow the coyote had snuck past us on Seagraves Mill, waited until all the hounds had been taken back, and then trotted back across Seagraves Mill in the direction of the hounds!

John put the hounds back into action and they continued to chase the coyote for another ten minutes or so. We knew where he liked to cross out of country: right near the county line on Wardlaw. Three road whips spread out on this area to prepare to turn him back. Just as everyone was beginning to make noise at his crossing, the coyote leapt out of the woods, onto the road, and made a beeline right between two road whips that couldn’t have been any more than 100 feet apart. I imagine he must have had several laughs over us that day!

Suddenly I’m woken from my daydream as my roommate returns to our room from the depths of the library.
“So, how’s the studying going?” she asked.

“Oh it’s just dandy!” I replied. “Is it over yet?”

“Ha! You and I wish.”

And with that, I grudgingly returned to my textbooks. My relief had been brief, but it was enough. I was beginning to see a faint, dim light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe, just maybe, I’ll escape the clutches of final exams once again, and then I’ll be home free to hunt for a whole month!

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