Friday, October 29, 2010

When Is A Farm Not A Farm?

Following up on last week’s discussion of Legacy Rape, we now take a closer look at a “farm” development that manages to degrade the word “farm” with a faux bucolic image while also insulting Virginia’s status as the Birthplace of Presidents. (One realtor’s website for this development encourages readers to “Enjoy the privacy of virginia foothills.” That opening line clearly tells you there won’t be much respect for the Old Dominion’s glorious history when they can’t even manage to use an initial cap for the proper name of a US state. Makes you wonder how reliable their contract documents are.)

Little River Farms offers houses in their “Executive Collection” named after former Chief Executives. The models are called Harrison, Jefferson, Tyler, Wilson, and Zachary. Maybe it’s mere coincidence that those are the names of five of the eight US presidents born in Virginia. (One can only assume they opted to use Zachary Taylor’s first name to avoid confusion with John Tyler, certainly a better choice than calling one model The Taylor and the other The John.)

Except for Jefferson and Wilson, this is a less-than-illustrious group of Chief Executives, their Virginia nativity notwithstanding. I’m not sure I’d be comfortable spending a million bucks on a house named for a guy who was so vain, and arguably so stupid, as to insist on delivering his hour long inauguration speech in a cold driving rain and died 30 days later from pneumonia.

Harrison’s successor, John Tyler (pictured above), is one of our least noteworthy presidents. Can you name one thing for which the man is remembered? Go ahead, give it a try.  (I’ll hum the Jeopardy™ theme while I wait.) Come on, just one thing. Nope, I didn’t think so.[1] Zach Taylor lasted only 16 months in office. A serving of milk and cherries at a July 4th celebration resulted in severe gastroenteritis that laid Old Rough and Ready low. Jefferson and Wilson, of course, did the Old Dominion proud. But I have to assume the developer opted for the other three names because Washington, Madison, and Monroe were already taken.

With this as an example, it’s possible to imagine that a hundred and fifty years from now a builder will be marketing space pods with names like The Carter, The Reagan, The Clinton, The Bush (two models to choose from), and The Obama. When those names have all been used, a desperate developer, banking on the public’s lack of historical knowledge, might even offer The Nixon. Or maybe he’ll stick to The Zachary theme and call that one The Dick.

As the builder of Little River Farms chose to befoul the memory of US presidents rather than the image of foxhunting, my only gripe with him is the misleading use of the word “Farms” in the project’s name.

There are no “farms” at Little River Farms. The bugle-toting fox of Fox Gate is a cartoonish sham. There is neither heritage nor hunting at Heritage Hunt. These few examples serve as a stark reminder that progress trumps preservation and that marketers will manipulate any messages they can to sell product.

I will, however, agree to make a personal appearance at the grand opening of the first presidential-themed housing community that includes a model named The Dick.

© 2010 J. Harris Anderson

[1] Unless you’re of a certain age and attended school when American history was still taught, you probably never heard the wonderfully alliterative campaign slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too.” Tyler’s only other claim to so much as a footnote by Doris Kearns Goodwin is that he was the first vice president to assume office on the death of the incumbent (a rain-soaked chap who died of pneumonia). He was also instrumental in the annexation of Texas. It remains to be seen how well that will work out.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Legacy Rape

Don’t it always seem to go,
That you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.
They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.
      Big Yellow Taxi
      Joni Mitchell
There Goes the Neighborhood

Our old friend Oog, the Cro-Magnon hunter portrayed in the Primal Urges posting, was so successful as a hunter/lover that there were soon lots of little Oogs running around. Oog wasn’t particularly adept at reining in his own primal urges and neither were his progeny. Consequently, living space began to get cramped and, as one candidate running for tribal chief put it, “Rent for cave too damn high!”

So Oog’s nomadic hunting descendants spread out in all directions, searching for woolly mammoths and other tasty animals. Some went west, stopped when they ran into the Atlantic Ocean, and decided to hang out in Europe for a few thousand years until they could figure out how to make a boat big enough to sail to the edge of the world. 

Others headed east, found a narrow strip of land connecting one continent with another, and kept going until they hit the opposite Atlantic coast. Having no desire to see what the edge of the world looked like, they chose to stay where they were, go on living the uncomplicated Stone Age life, and wait for a chance to play a supporting role in Dances With Wolves. They did improve their language skills, at least as names were concerned. Instead of guttural grunts, they came up with colorful monikers like Pisky-hoppi-gonquin-pachee-kota-nole, which means Son of the Forest Who Makes Big Wampum Even Though He Still Hasn’t Discovered the Wheel.

Meanwhile, the boat-building project was going pretty well and some enterprising Europeans decided it was time to see what was out there on the ocean’s vast horizon.

One day Pisky stood along the banks of Ohey-lookee-whatta-lotta-water (Big Pond) and saw the grandest canoe he’d ever seen in his life, loaded with pale-skinned people wearing funny clothes, headed straight for his lovely little piece of shoreline property. “Damn,” he said, “they’re probably going to expect free health care and public education. And I’ll bet they won’t even bother to learn our language.”

Ever since that day the history of North America has been driven by the tension between indigenous peoples and recent arrivals. The only thing that’s changed significantly is the definition of “indigenous.” In Pisky’s day it meant “We’ve been here for thousands of years and who the hell are you to show up and claim the land in the name of some king or queen four thousand miles away?” Then it was “We’ve been here for a couple hundred years, worked hard to drive out Pisky and all his kind, and who the hell are you huddled masses moving in and lowering the property values?” Now it’s “We’ve been here since last spring and are so upset someone’s building a house across the street that will block our view of the golf course.”

Foxhunters like to think of ourselves as indigenous, as if we sprang spontaneously from the ground over which we ride, that we are as much an intrinsic part of the land as are the foxes we chase. We point out that the first known pack of hounds brought to the Colonies to hunt foxes arrived in 1650. George Washington was an avid foxhunter who kept his own kennels and maintained careful breeding records. The lineage of some hounds hunting today can be traced directly to the pack Washington kept at Mount Vernon.

If foxhunters themselves are not indigenous, the sport has certainly been a part of North American history for well over three hundred years. Its influence can be seen in many manifestations, such as the lovely prints of elegantly dressed ladies and gentlemen mounted on exquisite horses surrounded by handsome hounds that hang on bank office walls. Customers can imagine themselves part of the landed aristocracy just before discovering how much they’re overdrawn.

These depictions are at worst benign and may serve as positive reminders of the sport’s romantic appeal, even if almost everyone viewing them thinks no one actually does that anymore. Far more insidious is the trend to pave over sections of hunting country, build residential communities or commercial centers, and then use the allure of foxhunting to market these monstrosities.

A trend I call “legacy rape,” this duplicity has become pervasive as development pushes ever farther out from urban centers, steadily converting the outlying areas from open countryside to suburban sprawl. At the current rate of expansion, by the year 2025 the continental US will be little more than the paved-over parking lots of two million contiguous Wal-Marts.  If you live in an area far removed from the creeping edge of this infestation and think you’re safe, think again. Wherever your little piece of pastoral bliss may lie, the bulldozers will reach you soon enough. And whatever element gave your region its distinctive flair, expect that to become the foundation of the developer’s marketing program.

In Northern Virginia there is a new adult community (no young families with children allowed) built on land that was once the territory of the local foxhunting club. Named Heritage Hunt, it is a place completely devoid of heritage where no one is allowed to hunt. Furthering the insult, you can sign up for special privileges on the golf course, which makes you a member of the Hunt Club. Perhaps this refers to searching for errant golf balls in the rough.

A few miles away stands a sign announcing the planned creation of something called Fox Gate Town Center. No town named “Fox Gate” exists so just why this imagined locale needs a center is a matter of speculation. The logo consists of a jaunty, anthropomorphized fox clad in hunting attire – scarlet coat, stock tie, boots and breeches – and holding a bugle. I’ve never seen or even heard of any huntsman using a bugle. But this stylistic error is telling in an unintended way: it brings to mind the image of the cavalry charging in, uprooting the current residents, and reshaping the land to suit someone else’s agenda. Only this time the invaders aren’t on horseback; they’re riding steamrollers.

Spend a few hours driving through Northern Virginia and you’ll spot many more examples of equestrian and countryside themes usurped to sell the very structures that now make the horse-centered life nothing more than a romantic memory. There’s a host of developments with the word “Farm” appended to the name. According to my old Webster’s, a “farm” consists of “a tract of land devoted to agricultural purposes or to the raising of animals, especially domestic livestock.” I don’t think begonias and golden retrievers qualify as “agriculture” and “livestock.” The word “farm” can also be applied to an area containing a number of similar structures or objects, such as an oil storage tank farm. So I suppose in that sense referring to a cluster of cookie-cutter homes in the same way one would describe a collection of containers for petrochemicals is fully appropriate.

This is emblematic of the overall trend to employ words and images that convey a sense of rusticity when the reality is a sanitized landscape from which everything even remotely rustic has been removed.

The following words should be henceforth banned from use in the names of home models, residential communities, golf courses, business centers, or any other development where equestrian activities or agricultural pursuits have been rendered impossible:

Hunt • Chase • Fox • Farm • Pasture • Meadow • Field • Paddock • Barn • Stable • Ride/Riding • Saddle • Bridle • Canter • Gallop • Estate • Acres

Strike them from the marketer’s lexicon, delete them as options for descriptive copy that would paint an enticing but fallacious image of a project’s true personality.

Also forbidden are images of foxes, real or cartoon-like. No photos or paintings of hunt scenes are allowed. Elements of foxhunting such as a cap, whip, scarlet coat, brown-topped boots, or horn (including erroneous depictions of bugles) are not to appear.

Legacy rape – defined as promotional messages using images of a foxhunting past rendered obsolete by the very existence of the promoted development – should be made an offense punishable by a stiff fine and lengthy incarceration. 

I’m thinking the fine proceeds should go to a fund for retired foxhounds. And that lengthy incarceration should consist of confinement with a psychopathic bulldozer operator who smells of diesel fuel, constantly makes “Brrrrrrr!” sounds, and wants to see everything in his cell knocked over and flattened, including his legacy rapist cellmate. This would assure, in the words of Gilbert & Sullivan’s Mikado, that the punishment fits the crime. Anybody with me on this?

© 2010 J. Harris Anderson

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Creature Connection

This week we take a look at what makes a man sexy. Fortunately for us foxchasers, it turns out that a key ingredient is the horse. Actually, with the possible exception of spiders and snakes (as  per the old Jim Stafford song), the ability to relate to any animal can go a long way to endearing a man to a woman’s heart. Which brings us to Tip #4 from The Foxhunter’s Guide to Great Sex:

Tally-Ho Tip #4:
When a man whispers to an animal, a woman listens.

Describing “Buffalo Bill” Cody in The Colonel and Little Missie, Larry McMurtry makes an adept observation: “…it is hard to overestimate how far a man can go in America if he looks good on a horse.”

Allow me to tweak that comment just a tad: It is impossible to overestimate how easily a man can get laid if he looks good on a horse.

The image of a man on horseback as romantic, sexy, and powerful goes back to the earliest days of recorded history. A knight in shining armor would have been just a klutz in a clanking can without his mighty charger. A man’s status, and thus his appeal to the fairer sex, was greatly enhanced by how many horses he owned (sort of the old-time version of a garage full of Bentleys and Maseratis). When European explorers arrived on the shores of the New World mounted on horses, the local inhabitants, having never seen a horse, thought the combination was one god-like creature. This may have been the first time a woman, eyeing this strangely stimulating sight, used the phrase, “Hung like a horse.”

Sheiks on their fleet-footed Arab steeds, legendary warriors like Genghis Khan and Attila the Hun, Alexander the Great and his trusty equine partner Bucephalus — these and thousands more have, over the centuries, made the man on horseback one of the world’s most enduring figures of power, confidence, achievement, and, no matter the era, one downright sexy dude. (Is it merely another etymological coincidence that the second half of “Bucephalus” is just one “l” shy of “phallus”? Was the great Alexander perhaps trying to make up for being not-so-great in one critical respect by implying that he was hung like his horse?)

In American culture, the equation man-plus-horse-equals-sexy is embodied by one iconic figure: The Cowboy. Now, I realize foxhunters may seem a far cry from cowboys. But they share more in common than might be apparent at first glance. Forget the difference between Wrangler jeans and tailored breeches, leather chaps or scarlet coats. What they share is an ability to relate to another sentient creature, to be dominant yet supportive, firm but gentle, to sense the subtlest non-verbal cues and respond in a way that bridges the communication gap.

And that, pardners, is sexy!

One of the best selling books of recent years was The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans. It’s sold over 15 million copies since it was published in 1995. An estimated three copies were bought by men. Robert Redford directed and starred in the 1998 movie version. Approximately seven men saw the film without being dragged to the theater by a wife or girlfriend. (Six of them actually bought tickets to Lethal Weapon 4 but wandered into the wrong theater at the Multiplex and were too lazy to get up and leave.)

What was it about this book and movie that drove women wild? It was the hero’s blend of self-confidence, strength, humility, ruggedness, and, above all, his Creature Connection, his ability to inspire a sense of trust and compliance from one psychologically damaged horse. When Redford, as Tom Booker, whispered to the horse, Kristen Scott Thomas got hot. When he started whispering to her, every woman in the theater got hot. Booker took sexiness to the next level: He became a Woman Whisperer.

The fictional Tom Booker was cast as a Montana cowboy. But if the story had been set in hunt country, he’d have definitely been a foxhunting man. Foxhunters have developed their Creature Connection in triplicate. Not only can they relate to horses but they also must be able to communicate effectively with a pack of hounds while understanding the natural ways of the fox. Bring all that together into one fellow who can communicate with his horse, loves hounds, and respects wild animals, and your typical foxhunter leaves even the sexiest cowboy in the barnyard dust.

One of the best ways you can demonstrate that you’re in tune with your primal self is to develop your ability to relate to animals, to be both dominant and nurturing, to connect to another thinking, feeling carbon-based life form as a caring individual without the aid of intricate verbal communication. If you can attune your senses to pick up on the subtlest cues from your partner — a necessary skill for cowpokes and foxchasers — you’ll be one step closer to mastering what horsemen have known throughout the ages: When a man whisperers to an animal, a woman listens.

© 2010 J. Harris Anderson

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Thrill of the Chase, Part 1

This excerpt from The Foxhunter’s Guide to Great Sex requires a note of clarification. I realize that many of you reading this do not chase foxes, some not exclusively and some not at all. The coyote, of course, is now the dominant, and in some areas the only, quarry for many mounted hunters. Then there are the really radical outliers such as Lynn Lloyd’s incredible Red Rock Hounds who not only chase coyotes across those wide-open Nevada spaces but even get on the occasional big cat. At the other end of the spectrum we have the drag packs that chase no live quarry at all. Yet I hear no gripes that these clubs, such as Alexis Macaulay’s Misty Morning Hounds in Florida, are not giving good sport.

But there’s no denying that the critter most associated with “foxhunting” is – are we ready for the obvious? – the fox. Given that, this posting is unabashedly fox-specific, with attendant apologies to all chasers of coyote, bobcat, wild boars, mountain lions, and sacks of artificial scent.

So now on to excerpt number three from The Foxhunter’s Guide to Great Sex: The Thrill of the Chase, Part 1.

Tally-Ho Tip #3:
Embrace the Chase.

Why chase foxes? Why not groundhogs, gophers, beavers, badgers, wolverines, or wombats? Why foxes? Because foxes are sexy. They’re cute, smart, elusive, and tricky. They’ll tease you and play with you, tempt you to come on to them and then disappear in a flash, only to reappear two fields away, grinning slyly and waiting for you to resume the chase. If the hunters don’t mess things up, the fox will give you a long, thrilling run, with twists and turns, near catches and misses. She’ll keep you alert and focused, caught up in the action, every care of the world dispelled, wrapped up in a single-minded mission to stay with her to the end.

Jimi Hendrix immortalized the phrase “Foxy Lady.” Tell a woman she’s a vixen and she’ll take it as a compliment. (Try referring to her using certain canine, bovine, or porcine metaphors and the reaction may be less than pleasant.) It’s certainly not a modern invention that “foxy” is a synonym for “sexy.” It’s worth noting that the Latin word for the external female genitalia is “vulva” and the Latin word for fox is “vulpes.” Etymological coincidence? Perhaps. But maybe two thousand years ago the showstopper at Rome’s Coliseum was Jimus Hendricus wailing out his big hit, “Vulpes Femina.”

The heart of foxhunting, the soul of the sport that makes it so alluring, can be summed up in one phrase: The Thrill of the Chase. And what is it that makes the chase thrilling? Two things: Anticipation and Challenge. Will a fox be found? Will she get up and give you a good run? Can you handle the pace? Can you respond to her cues and guess where she’s going? Do you have the stamina to stay with her until she decides it’s over?

Some folks now use the term “foxchasing” to differentiate themselves from other “hunters” who are out to kill their quarry. It can be argued, though, that those other sportsmen aren’t really “hunters.” If you’re sitting in a tree stand looking for a buck to come within range of your telescopic sight, lured by the salt lick you strategically hung from a branch, so you can nail him with a heart-lung shot from your high powered rifle, you’re not, in the strictest sense of the word, “hunting.” You’re “waiting.” When the moment arrives, it’s over in a split second: BAM! (Sounds like the Gobbler model to me.)

Whether you call it “hunting” or not, chasing foxes is an entirely different sport. On a good day it can go on for several hours, with multiple chases. And, ideally, when it’s over everyone — riders, horses, hounds, and foxes — are all still in one piece, maybe a little tired and sore, but ready to rest up and go at it another day.

Is your sex life about chasing groundhogs or chasing foxes? Groundhogs are easy to find, they don’t run very fast or far, they don’t tempt or tease, they don’t show any pleasure in the sport, they just want it over as quickly as possible and then to be left alone. No chase, no thrill. If you want thrill, you need chase. And for that you need to think like a foxchaser, someone who knows how to Embrace the Chase.

And no creature is more fun to chase than a fox, whether of the two- or four-legged variety. All foxes are hard-wired for the chase. It comes naturally to them. It’s what makes them so alluringly sexy. It’s the chasers who need to learn the ways of the fox and to then respond in kind. It’s about playing the game according to the fox’s rules because, when you’re talking sexy, foxes rule!

© 2010 J. Harris Anderson