Thursday, March 24, 2011
A fox, red and glistening with the moisture of the brown, sodden fields, scampered over the fence and across the moor. He followed the gully, hoping that the water would cast off his scent, or that the dogs would get caught in the maze of rock and sluices of swift flowing water.
I saw a wet, fearful eye, the flash of a bristled whisker and a panicked scurry, for the beast’s only chance was to reach the forest. Being the consummate Manhattanite, I had never seen a fox before. I imagined they would be crayon red, or the bright crimson of the cartoons, but in actuality it was a dusty brown.
Squeezing through the cleft in the rock I caught a glimpse of the animal’s backside, as if I were a hulking Moses and he were a canine-God. There was a boom, and a burst, and a scattering flurry of birds heavenward, and the dogs came charging, multicolored hounds of black and white, brown and yellow, baying and howling, stalking low to the ground as they followed the fox’s musky scent.
Once the hounds departed there was a moment of calm. I heard Clare emerge from between the cleft behind me. She did not have all of her clothes on yet, only her skirts and my cape which she clasped to her bare shoulders and neck. I glanced back at her.
“It seems the hunt is on,” she said.
There was a thunderous clomping of earth and the horses reared above the hill. Ten to fifteen black and brown equines foaming with sweat, and riders, wearing plush red jackets, tar black riding pants, and shinning knee high reflecting boots, shot by in a flash. Some momentarily glanced at us, but most leaned forward on their mounts, oblivious, intent on the hounds as the hounds were intent on the fox.
One of the last riders was Gavin, sitting surprisingly high on his saddle. He glanced at us, and as if to acknowledge our presence he raised his crop before disappearing behind the far side of the rock face. The hooves shook the ground, there was a rattle as the stones around us shook, then it was quiet again.
“That was unexpected,” I said.
“I’m afraid none of the Budge’s are excellent horseman. Gavin’ll probably spill and break a bone. But he fancies himself a sportsman,” Clare said, and then added, “I’ll get fully dressed.” She disappeared back into the crack.
I sat on a stone and lit a cigarette. The sky was a dull English gray, but the disk of the sun, a pasty yellow, was trying to break through the opaque sheen. The ubiquitous black rain clouds fringing the horizon had yet to produce a single drop of moisture. England, a dark smudge, a rolling plain of expansive uniformity. And these people, enveloped and smothered on an island of dreadful drafts and mists had, until recently, conquered most of the world worth conquering.
“What are you thinking of?” Clare asked.
“There is no England,” she answered, settling down on my knee, taking a drag of my cigarette.
“How can you say that? You’re staunchly English, even a Royalist!”
“There is no one England,” she snorted, “before the Norman invasion there were several, now there is the illusion that there is one. Just like England needed a Chaucer to speak one English language, England needed one government to be an England.”
I sat silently for a moment. Uncle Albert stood in front of me. He looked like a fine, average, Anglo-Dutch American from all angles. But then there were some Vandemark cousins high in the hills of the Catskills, and in broad daylight traces of their ancestry shown on them like projections from antique silhouette projection lamps.
Then my father, not much there to be concerned about except a flat nose. Homer had curly, wavy hair, but his chronic illness wiped concerns of ethnicity from his defining essence and left only sickness, which classifies a person in their entirety.
“No, there is one America.” I said.
“Hah,” she laughed, “I lived in your United States Langley. What about your Negros? What about your Indians?”
“All assimilated,” I said, smiling faintly, “especially the light skinned ones.”
“Your historic sense is totally daft, completely skewed,” she said, taking my cigarette and making it her own. I quickly lit another one. For a few moments the yellow disk of the sun burned through the clouds and we were in murky sunshine. I felt post-coital lucidity.
“We Vandemark’s are in a unique position to judge our nation’s history, my dear girl, since we are some of its oldest white residents. Marteen Van de Mark was one of the original settlers of New Amsterdam. His son, Roote Vandemark was a patentee in the nascent hamlet of New Paltz.
During the Pequot War of 1680 he served with distinction and valor and was given a patroonship on the upper Hudson River. Unfortunately, after the British took control of the region they did not recognize such a feudal structure as a patroon, so he lost it. But Roote landed on his feet. He settled in Brooklyn and started a successful import trade… all Vandemark’s in the New York area are descended from good old rusty Roote.”
The wind blew Clare’s hair across her face. She brushed it away from her eyes and gave me a satirical, wry look.
“I think that’s shit,” she said, stamping out her cigarette with her small hoof, “pure unadulterated shit. Americans don’t know who they are. They bloody mutts.”