Thursday, 21 January 2010

Sketches from a Hunter's Album

Elberry finds a blog that records the exploits, interests and thoughts of a handful of American hunters. He praises the prose but the photographs are remarkable too (bottom) and it's full of good sense. Of one post Elberry writes:
This guy writes beautiful prose because he has something to write about, something he knows and cares about, has observed closely, and lived with. His prose is good because he’s an observant man...

I suspect country sports lend themselves to good prose: hunting, shooting and fishing require careful observation, undertaken ostensibly for practical reasons but inevitably spilling over into a sort of aesthetic appreciation. Genuine enthusiasts of these sports will almost invariably tell you they do them less for the bag, the catch, the kill than for the enjoyment of being out in the field, or on a riverbank for the day, and seeing nature unfold, whilst you participate in a small part of its cycle. That and the deep satisfaction to be had from working closely with an animal, whether dog or horse.

There's something there that we don't quite understand, something that fundamentally must remain quite mysterious, paradoxical too perhaps. A passage is quoted in the blog from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's 'River Cottage Meat Book', which captures part of the strange fascination:
"... As I pull the trigger and the bird falls, or the beast tumbles, I feel the gap between me and the quarry, which a moment ago seemed unreachable, closed in an instant."

These pastimes are such an intriguing mix of the practical, aesthetic, companionable and, on occasion, the near-mystical that it's hardly surprising they can be productive of compelling prose.

Here's the penultimate paragraph in Turgenev's 'Sketches from a Hunter's Album':
And on a wintry day to go walking through the high snow-drifts in search of hares, to breathe in the frosty, sharp-edged air, to crinkle one's eyes unwillingly against the dazzling, finely speckled glitter of the soft snow, to wonder at the green hue of the sky above a reddening forest!. .. And then there are the first spring days, when all around everything gleams and crashes down, and the smell of the warmer earth begins to rise through the heavy steam of melting snow, and skylarks sing trustingly under the sun's oblique rays on patches where the snow has thawed, and, with a gay noise, a gay roaring, the torrents go whirling from ravine to ravine...

(From the Penguin Classics edition translated by Richard Freeborne.)


Brit said...

See also England Have My Bones by TH White.

Gaw said...

I'd forgotten about that post. What initially put me off getting hold of the book was that I didn't fancy the prospect of spending time with such an unsympathetic person. But then good writing transcends all. Will order it second-hand, I think.

Brit said...

I suppose it's really up to you whether you're sympathetic to him. He's not a monster.

worm said...

very nice post! And I thoroughly agree, country sports nearly always read well on the page for some reason

Never seen the point of hunting myself - I was brought up around it all my life and don't have any problem with other people doing it, but personally I can get all the enjoyment I need outdoors without killing things too!

troutbirder said...

Interesting blog. Thanks. I was especially embarassed about the quotes on the rifle post. How stupid. Its seems to have been our national policy for say about 8 years recently.

Sean said...

Ha a man after my heart, great blog.

Ive been out all morning with my 3 westies, my rotty Rolo (yup after the chocolate) and 2 cairns I am looking after at moment, All of them are flat out on the bed at the moment exhausted.

My Puppy westie grabbed his first squirrel this morning while out walking. I smeared some of the blood on his forehead hunting syle, it looks great on his white fur, he is a very proud boy today you can see it in his eyes and the swagger in his walk, Today he is a Hunter, doing what he is built for, and he knows it.

Lots of folks dress these dogs up in all sorts of fantasy fashions and post loving movies on you tube..if only they knew what they are capable off, the townies have no idea.

Of course I let them finish of the carcass, it took them 50 seconds, I timed them.

There is nothing as good as running with the pack. You cannot Thomas Cook that.

malty said...

Fortunate we are in these sceptered isles that the fur and feather in the Sturmgeshutz sights are docile wee things not often taken to turning the tables.
My Norwegian friend took me on an Elk hunt, one of the party winged one of the not so timorous beasties which then promptly lost it's rag and objected in the strongest possible terms. The Norgie who couldn't hit a barn door with a shovel hastily took refuge behind a small birch tree thinking he would be safe. oh-oh, oh no he wasn't, the Elk charged the tree, toppling it and the by now terrified Elmer Thud.
He was fine after some weeks in Lillehammer's best hospital. The Elk was never seen again.

Nice seeing Turgenev get a mention, brilliant writer, On The Eve my personal favourite.

Gadjo Dilo said...

I've had no connection whatsoever with country sports during my life, but have just finished reading The Snows of Yesteryear by Gregor von Rezzori, which contains fascinating stuff about hunting in the Carpathians, and is beautifully written.

martpol said...

The Fearnley-Whittingstall quote is interesting, perhaps because he has a somewhat different motive to some hunters: justification. He's big on animal welfare and has a particular type of affinity with animals. He doubtless has a deeper respect for them than the hunter who kills for sport or pleasure.

Anonymous said...

The Von Rezzori book is wonderful - i found a copy dirt cheap years ago and bought it for the cover alone. A vanished world in that book.

One good way to bond with dogs is simply to walk them every day - even more than feeding them (unless you're willing to near starve them), it forms a hunter's bond, especially if you kill someone en route and the dog watches for cops while you bury the body. The dog understands that in a court of law it is an accessory to murder and it therefore has no choice but to keep quiet - joined to you by man blood.

Gaw said...

Worm: I prefer beating to shooting so similar really. It's the tramping around and working with dogs that's most satisfying.

Troutbirder: Welcome! I enjoyed the dry humour on your Troutbirder II blog. Thanks!

Sean: Great picture you've conjured up there!

Malty: I'm beginning to spot a trend - people around you appear to come to quite sticky ends it seems. Mere coincidence, I'm sure. I like Fathers and Sons too.

Gadjo: Memoirs of an Anti-Semite is next in my reading pile. Good to know there are more if I like it. But I must say what a terrific title: 'The Snows of Yesteryear'.

Martpol: I think it's difficult to separate out utility from pleasure in this area. However, I do think some form of utility should always be present. It seems ugly to me to kill something for no reason other than to kill it (and I'd make no real distinction between the validity of various utilitarian justifications: we can do without all of them).

Elberry: Why can't you walk them and feed them? The example you give seems to provide every opportunity to do both.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Great, good choice. I think 'The Snows of Yesteryear' is a quote from Proust, isn't it?