Thursday, December 28, 2017

Reindeers Resting in a Remote Region

I was lucky enough to be given the secret location of Santa's retired reindeers and so after the hunt went in search of these critters. I had seen a couple of images on Facebook and was delighted when, upon request of the location, I had been given the street name. I knew it was local and down a little used road, but after driving up and down very slowly I had to admit defeat. I couldn't see them anywhere.
 The road was pretty and ended up turning into a dirt track. I scoured left and right to no avail and so drove to the local country store to grab a soup and sandwich while I contacted my source for a more precise location. I hadn't really expected him to reply quickly but within 10 minutes I had the exact house description and I drove back. The house was empty and up for sale. I walked around the back and towards some woods, nervous that a neighbor might emerge with a long beard, overalls and a shotgun. But it didn't happen and soon I was standing next to a tight line of stone reindeer.
 They had been standing at the back of the property behind old wooden outbuildings that were tumbling down for a long time, and looking equally worn. 7 of them faced me while another 2 pointed the other way. Their shadows thrown in front of them made a great photo and I stood there wondering what their story was and wishing I could find it out.
They brought to mind animals on a fairground carousel but being made of concrete this wasn't likely their origin. And how had they ended up here, and why in a straight line, as if they had been brought here to be sold and sent to another destination? They hadn't been arranged decoratively if they were garden ornaments. It looked like they had once been painted brown with white bibs and tails.Even their mouths had faint remnants of red paint and their eyes were still a dark blue glass. But time had now brushed them with a green mossy hue, the weather had eroded some of their features, only one antler remained on all of them and a few ears had perished.
They weren't wearing forlorn expressions, some even seemed a little impish. Though they had once all looked alike, time and Mother Nature had now created different expressions on their concrete countenances, reminding me of the hunt hounds from earlier. But these were a far cry from those bounding dogs, the reindeers stood stoically silent, like they were standing guard. I took a few more photos from different angles and then left them in peace, realizing as I walked away that my visit had been almost quiescent, a complete contrast from the morning's event. Just as well, I was happy to get back to my car without meeting any concerned neighbors!

Red Riding Hounds in Orlean

On Boxing Day, a day celebrated as a holiday in England, but increasingly being observed in the States, I drove down to Orlean, a tiny village a few miles from Marshall. I pulled into the parking lot of the Orlean Market, a small store and restaurant. Just a couple of organizers were walking about and a small fire blazed on the grass. I was surprised as I had been expecting crowds of locals and visitors, and not seeing these, I looked about, wondering if I had arrived too early. It was 9:30 and freezing cold, a brisk breeze stroking icy fingers against my cheeks. I spotted another lady, holding a camera, and walked over to chat. This was Cody Leeser, a local artist, who sells her oil paintings in Middleburg and Warrenton galleries. She was taking photos for possible future paintings. She knew a few of the hunt team and introduced me. We learned where the hounds would becoming from and made our way down the road to meet them, as large horse boxes, coughing out diesel fumes drove by and into the field. I kept my hands deep in my pockets as we walked down the road, finally choosing a spot where road signs wouldn't hamper our shots and more importantly, where a tall bank shielded us from the winds.
We could see the white Old Dominion Hunt kennels in the distance and watched as hounds raced and forth behind the gates, while a small group of horses, who weren't hunting today, pranced and twirled, caught up in the dogs' excitement. And then suddenly we saw them leave their enclosure. A red jacket atop a horse could be seen with a pack of hounds milling about him, and they made their way up the road towards us. I had learned that fox hunting here is all about the chase, they don't catch and kill the fox, as they do in England. A great article is here.
Because of this attitude towards the foxes, I have grown more interested in the sport, and let go of my animosity towards those who partake in it. So today I was excited and for the first time was letting myself enjoy this new experience.
 And here they came! I crouched down as the hounds came rolling over the crest of the hill, a big bouncing wave of deliriously happy canines. These woofers were thoroughly enjoying themselves. So well trained, they kept close to The Master, who tipped his hat and welcomed us with a, "Hello ladies, thanks for coming!" I greeted him in return but kept my head behind my camera, aware that there were vehicles behind him, and this whole busy happy scene was passing by me very quickly.
We followed them back to the field, where I was amazed to see so many horses already tacked and with riders atop them in the field. These guysdon't waste any time! As we walked in the hounds were again keeping close to The Master and grinning hugely at everybody, tongues hanging and ears flapping as they bounded about.
 I took only a few photos of the horses and riders.There was little time before they would be setting off and I was anxious not to miss anything. I grabbed a few quick shots, wishing I had more time to focus on smaller finer details, like the horses' tack or some of the beautiful shirts and tie pins I'd spotted. I didn't even manage to get a horse portrait. I was constantly aware of the dogs behind me and had to turn my focus back to them.
 Even though they were keeping to a small area on the field, they were making a huge impact. Rolling, leaping, and just bouncing about all over the place, their joy and excitement was almost tangible. I couldn't help but smile, and me being a devout cat person! But their happiness was so infectious, their friendliness turned me instantly into a hound lover as I was greeted by them all, almost all at once! Their training was evident, they jumped up, but not into my face and they didn't lick,but instead shoved wet noses into my palms or just pushed against me. They loved caresses and I was amazed to find my fear of having a dog's face close to mine completely evaporate as they bumped and ground against my legs. I bent down to get a better camera view and immediately found a wet nose pressed into my lens, it was hilarious. They loved greeting me and I loved receiving their affection. I wish I had had the time to get to know them. In just a few minutes, I was recognizing some of them and was aware how different their personalities were just from their expressions. Some looked older and wiser, some were content to just sit and observe, while others were just happy, happy, happy, jumping and prancing around and over the ones lying down. They were wonderful.
 The owner of Orlean Market shaking hands with The Master.
And then after what seemed like just 5 minutes, Cody and I were walking through the village to be ready to photograph the hunt as they passed through. We had only been standing a very short time when we saw the lead vehicle making it's way towards us with the hunt behind them.
My battery died as they were approaching so I raced to pull out a charged one from my pocket. I missed the hounds as they passed but was able to shoot the riders. Within minutes they had disappeared from our view and turned into the fields. Cody and I stood by a fence looking across the brown winter landscape. In the distance we saw a red jacket galloping over a rise, the sound of baying carrying across to us from the woodlands. A brief flash of white as a hound charged up a slope within the stark trees and then they were gone. The whole event had lasted about an hour but felt as though it had been a 20 minute whirlwind. It almost felt like it had been like a dream as we walked back to the store, where the field now stood silent, empty horseboxes lined up against the trees and the small crowd already gone. Time to grab a hot coffee from the store and move on to the next attraction...

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

A Blazing Biscuit Bonfire

Saturday was a shopping and preparation day. Shopping for a couple of Christmas presents and also groceries for the Bonfire Bash I was hosting on Sunday. I kept to local stores, wanting to avoid the hoards of shoppers rushing about trying to buy a whole family's gifts in one day. That's the beauty of living rural, no stressed crowds or racing traffic, the pace of life stays the same whatever the time of year.
 I stocked up the fireplace with wood and swept the patio, the leaves were still accumulating, but I had no idea where they came from as the branches above me had been bare for a while. I likely had amassed everyone else's who lived on the hill but regardless, they were energetically swooshed onto the meadow by my busy broom. As I swept and tidied up the wood pile, I spotted a tiny pile of seeds. These had been carefully accumulated, by Sebastian or Suzie, from the birdseed I had been scattering outside. I hadn't the heart to sweep away this little Squirrel Stash and so carefully replaced the tarp with their treasure intact. They'd no doubt be looking for that soon since their winter mating season had started.
The weather was perfect for a bonfire bash. No snow, but with the heavy clouds hanging low over the hill tops, it seemed there was a hint of flakes falling. But the temperature would be in the 50's with no winds so that anticipation of snow would just hang in the air, lending a slight excitement to the day.
I had made a huge chili the day before and it now sat on the stove top warming up slowly. I had also started to make meringues but mixed in the sugar too fast so despite my mixer running on full speed, the mixture wouldn't peak. I gave up, spreading the gooey mess on to 2 baking sheets, so I would end up with 2 large flat meringue rectangles. I broke these up and knocked together my own version of an Eton Mess. Raspberry puree was mixed with brandy and drizzled over the smashed meringues in the bottom of the dish. Then a layer of Ambrosia custard was poured in. This was topped with a layer of Greek yogurt mixed with a raspberry preserve, and then fresh raspberries with grated Cadburys chocolate on top.
Once that concoction was in the fridge chilling, I went outside to pull chairs together and get the fire started. I loaded up my little cart with firewood and trundled over to the fire ring. I soon had flames licking skywards and sat down for a few minutes to savor the smell and heat of the fire. It really was a lovely day for a bonfire.
 Kota Kat sat on his rocking chair watching out for the guests to arrive.Rosie Lee sensed something was afoot and disappeared to the bedroom, always shy at the beginning of visits from my friends, but she does build up her courage and makes an appearance later during any event, greeting everyone by rubbing against their legs, her tail upright like a flag pole.
Folks started appearing and the fridge started filling. Bottles of beer quickly made a temporary home in the cold storage while those already chilled were plopped onto the counter top and were then promptly opened and carried out to the fire pit. Some folks carried more than one bottle, even stuffing them under arms so more could be transported in one trip. None of my friends are alcoholics, we're all just avid beer enthusiasts. Just sayin'.
Margie and Rob looking a little bored but at least a beer's being poured! It seemed every time I took a photo of these two, all I captured were glum faces, which couldn't have been further from the truth. We were all soon chatting away nonstop and I was constantly grateful that we were having such perfect bonfire weather. Just cool enough to appreciate the fire but not too chilly to feel uncomfortable. I was also glad there wasn't any sunshine, I loved the earthy, wintery atmosphere, thick clouds nestled overhead, crispy brown leaves crunching underfoot, perfect weather for jeans and boots with chunky sweaters and fleeces.
This Rob had on his Jets hat. I'd never seen one of these before, it looked rather cumbersome but he loved it. He didn't keep it on for long though, so I suspect my assumption had been correct. I kept looking at him thinking the hat would nose dive into his chili, but it didn't, and I was secretly miffed about that. I'd made a huge pot of this and was very pleased to see that it was nearly all consumed, leaving me with just a couple of portions to pack for work lunches. The raspberry trifle thing was nearly all eaten too, so the remains were also later packed for snacks.
 A brilliant photo of the group, which would have been dramatically improved if my good looks had been present, but someone had to take the photo, and they all still looked fabulous regardless. I make the comment about my good looks because Richard told me my hair looked gorgeous. I've had months of bad hair days, so was ecstatic that someone told me that it finally looked great. No photo though, unfortunately.
 Looking even more bored than before, what's going on with these two? Probably wishing they were indoors watching TV or something. Honestly, they weren't bored, I'm sure of that. I just kept clicking my shutter at the wrong time.
But they were finally roused by some excitement! Margie had brought a tin of homemade cookies and left them on the ground close to the fire. And they caught alight! Everyone jumped up, skipping and leaping about, stamping the flames. Except me. I sat and howled with laughter, taking photos.
 Margie's enthusiasm still wasn't blazing as bright as her biscuits, her hands remained in her pockets as she casually stomped out the offending flames.
The crispy cookie survivors. I'm sure they were still edible, a fact that Kota confirmed when he decided to join the party, making a beeline for the tin, enticed by the aromas from the freshly baked biscuits. He wasn't allowed to help himself to these though and so started working his way around the group to find abandoned plates.
A sneaky look about before licking the dish, not realizing Mom is right next to him and fully aware of his activities. Either that and he was aware, but not caring that I was watching. This is likely the reality as he does exactly as he wants. Most of the time.
He found a vacant chair and was soon comfortably settled, eyes closed, enjoying the warmth from the fire and listening to the conversation. He has come so far since his prognosis in September, it's as though the medications have given him a new lease of life. Richard even wondered if the side effects of the drugs were somehow fighting the cancer, since his nose is almost completely healed. An interesting and very possible theory, and definitely one that I welcome.
We sat as the light faded, watching flames lick up into the dark sky while sparks flittered and disappeared, as if glitter had been thrown up into the air. Our little party ended when tiny drops of rain started spitting onto our heads, gradually increasing their intensity. We had time to gather up bowls and bottles and head for the house. Later that evening, even though the rain was still drizzling, I emptied a kettle of water over the fire to douse the flames. It had been a great little fire and a great little get together, a perfect end to the weekend.