Dean Wolstenhome, Greyhounds Coursing a Hare
The self-styled I-Team (“I” for investigation, get it?) of KGO-TV in San Francisco hit pay dirt Superbowl weekend. While couch-potatoes all over America swilled beer, munched pretzels, and watched steroid-enhanced gladiatorial combat over the pigskin spheroid, Ted Baxter discovered that a tiny minority of Americans were still afield in California pursuing the ancient sport of coursing.
Coursing is a very old and traditional form of hunting, whose literature goes back to the 2nd century A.D., cultivated both in Christian Europe and in the Islamic Middle East, consisting of the reduction to possession of game (typically, the hare) by the pursuit of gazehounds, i.e., dogs which hunt by sight. Some breeds typically used in coursing are greyhounds and saluqi.
Ted, of course, was engaged in a more modern, and far less sporting, type of hunting: the pursuit and elimination of the unpopular minority by a pack of fools and bigots down a trail of prejudice, guided by curs like Ted himself. Ted Baxter in this case being an orthodontically-gleaming opportunist named Dan Noyes, who preens and congratulates himself publicly for his reporter’s instinct (I’d call it something else), and for telling a compelling story.
The compelling story consists of the survival of a “blood sport” within the Bay Area, an esoteric and little-known activity, incomprehensible to the urban masses, with the controversial feature common to all blood sports, including fishing, of the death of the quarry, at least on those occasions –often in the minority– when the pursuit is successful. To city boys like Ted, meat is produced in government-supervised nutrition factories, where it is processed, packaged, and then shipped to convenient supermarkets. The death of an animal is unthinkable. As one city-dweller once said to me: how could you be so heartless as to kill an animal, when you can eat a hamburger at McDonald’s?
Ted Baxter’s indignant news story, which opines: “That’s got to be a tough way to die for a rabbit.” implicitly imagines that aging jack rabbits retire to nursing homes, collect old age pensions, and die in bed.
Ted has no idea that, in California, jack rabbits breed year round, producing a litter of up to 8 leverets every six weeks or so. Females nurse the young for only two or three days, and then go back to making more jack rabbits. Crash production is essential, because the life of the jack rabbit is characterically short. Few jack rabbits live to the ripe old age of one year. The jack rabbit is a principal staple of the diet of coyotes, bobcats, foxes (red, grey, and kit), minks, martens, fishers, ferrets, mountain lions, bears, weasels, and numerous species hawks and owls and snakes; and are commonly killed by motor vehicles and by domestic dogs and cats.
It sounds terrible and barbarous to some busy-body old lady, left-wing state legislator from Berkeley, like Loni Hancock to whom Ted went running to tattle, that jack rabbits do sometimes suffer the unenviable fate (as Ted notes) of being slain by the jaws of the greyhounds. But, once Comrade Hancock introduces (see her blog), and in theory passes, her bill banning coursing in California, the jack rabbit saved by her efforts and those of noble Ted Baxter (and Channel’s 7’s crack I-Team) gets to run only a short distance further down the sunny California meadow, and, whoops! down come a great big red-tailed hawk which slays him with his talons, and tears him to pieces with his beak. Or up comes the hungry coyote, whose jaws are not readily distinguishable from those of greyhound.
The elimination of this ancient, complex and honorable tradition will, in reality, spare few pangs to jack rabbits.
Steve Bodio also comments on this classic manifestation of the well-known tolerance of California’s Bay Area.