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Repetition, however, can make for satiety. I gave myself an honorable discharge from the mechanized hunt-followers corps after a certain near disaster that occurred one weekend when I had brought my father along to give him a taste of the bracing life into which his daughter had wed. With the show-off authority of the half-smart explaining a subject to an ignoramus I gave him a running commentary offensively peppered with terms like "giving tongue," "breaking cover" and other John Peelisms.
I had, meanwhile, taken a small side road, my reason being, I said, that I thought the fox would go "down wind." Sheer bravado on my part. I had no more idea of which way the wind was blowing than what down it meant. Father made the politely attentive face that showed he wasn't listening. Then suddenly he went tense and cried "Watch out! You're going to hit a dog!" A lean, furry animal darted past the front wheels and only a violent jamming on of brakes prevented our squashing it. As it scuttled into an adjacent field, we paused in wild surmise, caught breath and gasped in unison "Good God! It's the fox!" We watched it lope easily away to safety. Then, both of us being underground members of the Animal Resistance, we shook hands and never told a soul. What would have happened had I run over the creature is a supposition too frightful to dwell upon. I should certainly have had to leave the community, the state and, in all likelihood, my husband.
And while we're on horses?which, thank heaven we are not?I'll mention other equine activities which over the years have forced me into sports widowhood. I don't count horse racing, which I happen vastly to enjoy. But I do count horse showing, which I happen vastly not to.
I tried. I really tried. My husband, who did a lot of judging in those days, suggested that perhaps if I were to go along with him and watch him judge, I'd acquire a taste for the thing. Watching a horse judge at work is like watching a chess champion at play. There are long, long periods when absolutely nothing happens. The horse-show judge stands in the center of the ring, most of the time quite motionless. Occasionally he tells someone who tells the riders who in turn tell the horses when to vary their routine. Occasionally he makes mysterious notations on a pad. Occasionally he carries on a whispered conversation with a co-judge. At last the horses are lined up, their saddles removed and, as they stand there nude, he walks appraisingly around each one, signs something which proves to be his final decision, watches the ring master attach the ribbons, then retires with the co-judge for what I presume to be a drink. And there you have the thrill of watching someone officially judge a horse. I made a friendly pact with my husband to the effect that every time he insisted I go with him to a horse show, I'd insist he go with me to the Museum of Modern Art. It works out very well. I go to Madison Square Garden for the ice carnival, and his shadow has yet to fall beneath the Calder mobile.
AFTER THE HORSE...THE DUCK
A coasting accident, which resulted cruelly enough in my husband's losing a leg, ended his riding career. But not my sports widowhood. For after the horse, the wild duck raised its pretty beak.
Again I made a brave attempt and again was brought home to me that basic sportsman's rule of self-torture. Duck hunters get up even earlier than fox ones. In fact, it isn't early at all. It's just terribly late the night before. This entails the gulping down, either in your own icy kitchen or in an overheated dog wagon crowded with truck drivers, of a nocturnal breakfast?traditionally mammoth, despite the fact that only a few hours previously you have stuffed yourself with dinner and drinks. On possibly four occasions I tasted the primitive joy of deep-freezing from dawn to dusk in a duckblind and never seeing a bird. For, not being a "gun," I was always told to cower silently out of sight (fingers well stuffed into ears) while the marksmen let fly their volleys and, sometimes, felled their prey. Then I abandoned any ideas of being either a spectator sportswoman or an apathetic decoy. Now when my marital Nimrod and our mallard-minded house guests arise at 3 a.m. I lie in bed. But I don't sleep. As soon as duck enthusiasts put on their shooting togs, they go fearfully virile. Their voices deepen to a roar?a subdued roar, so as "not to wake Cornelia,"?and, because their boots and breeches must weigh half a ton, the effect when heard through a closed door is that of a number of romping dinosaurs.
And, speaking of that attire, until I found out that other duck fanciers were the same way about their shooting clothes, I kept secret the horrendous state of my husband's. Ordinarily, he is a gentleman of meticulous cleanliness, and so, as far as I can in all propriety make out, are his duck-shooting companions, but why, I ask myself, must their garments remain undesecrated by dry-cleaning as though they were Coptic textiles? Well-seasoned shooting clothes are doubtless delicious to the dog in the duckblind, but in the evening when the hunter comes home from the hill and starts warming up over a fire?!!
During the season, my husband goes out about three days a week, and being a good shot, always gets his limit. Personally I am all for amending the game laws and limiting the limit. For although he manages to distribute a fair amount of the trophies among his duck-eating acquaintances, the overflow remains in our iceboxes, whence all superfluous delicacies are removed to make way for the spoils of the chase?and sometimes I do mean spoils. If the weather is "right" (meaning I wouldn't quite know what), a few "brace" may be "put out to hang." In everyday parlance, a few pairs dangle like rag mops outside the back door until they are "properly hung," which is just a day or so before the buzzards start coming up from southern New Jersey. For a duck should be approaching a state of fine Stilton in order to suit the sportsman's palate. And, as everyone knows, the correct way to cook it comprises very little more than holding it near the oven.
Shocking as it may be to admit, I don't really care for wild duck even if it has remained for some time in the oven. And I don't think that biting into Number Four shot is an adventure in good eating. Thank God, I say, for the game laws that confine the duck season to two or three scant months!