Yikes! Or why the hounds stayed in today (with video)

Who left the tap on? Boone Creek, which runs alongside the historic Iroquois Hunt Club, was a raging torrent this morning thanks to several days and nights of heavy rains.

Who left the tap on? Boone Creek, which runs alongside the historic Iroquois Hunt Club, was a raging torrent this morning thanks to several days and nights of heavy rains. If you're familiar with the area, this photo was taken just a few yards upstream from the hunt club's back door, right alongside Grimes Mill Road. The road evidently flooded overnight but Boone Creek was back in its banks--barely!--early this afternoon. Yes, the old bridge is still standing!

I ADMIT it. For the last few weeks I’ve been hoping for rain. Well, we got it, didn’t we? (Tonight I’m going to try hoping for a winning lottery ticket and see how that goes! Floods of money, maybe?)

Roading the hounds was cancelled today, which is easy to understand, considering the extremely wet conditions. Farmers don’t care for hoofprints dug into their soaked farmland and dirt roads, and with creeks and waterways at flood stage, it’s dangerous to the hounds, too.

The thing about Boone Creek, someone once explained to me, is that most of it is lined by rock at the bottom, not by sand. And when a really serious torrent gets going, like it is today, the water moves especially fast. And it carries a lot of danger with it: fast-moving stones, metal and household debris, and branches are some of the things we saw racing past under the bridge while we were out taking pictures. Makes you shudder to think what would happen if one of those hit a hound or your horse’s leg. Of course, today’s flow was so exceptionally fast, you really wouldn’t stand a chance if you even edged into it.

Like they say, don’t fool with Mother Nature. The most amazing things we noticed, besides the sheer speed and volume of the normally placid waters at Boone Creek, were how loud the rushing water was and how strong the floodwaters’ smell was. The odor is difficult to describe, but it’s very earthy and almost mushroomy, but it smells a bit cleaner than the slightly decayed smell mushrooms often have. You can get an indication of the creek’s roar and speed from the video below (sorry we couldn’t tape the creek’s distinctive odor!).

The water was lapping the back wall of the hunt club at about 2 p.m., but it actually appears to have receded since nighttime. There were debris paths across the road that indicated water had crossed Grimes Mill Road at some stage, and someone had put a flood-warning sign in the middle of the road before the bridge. I’d guess the water was about five feet from the bottom of the bridge.

Flood waters at IHC 007

Seeing all this, we were thankful our horses are stabled on high ground, and we hope yours are, too! I should hasten to add, for those blog visitors who are not familiar with the Iroquois layout, that the hounds also are safe on high ground. The club house is for humans, and the kennels are well up the hill!

And now we see the sun is shining, so that bodes well, even if it takes some time for the creek to go down again. In the meantime, stay safe and dry!

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Bedtime Stories: Captain Edward Pennell-Elmhirst

Baffle's wee pups April 2009

An occasional series in which we offer a pleasant “good night” to our readers, courtesy of hunting literature. Sweet dreams!

THE OOTACAMUND HOUNDS

“AND SO at the commencement of the season of 1877–the hunting season, be it remembered, being contemporary with the period of the year during which Ootacamund is a fashionable resort–there was a fine pack of hounds in the kennel; but at so low an ebb were the funds of the Hunt that the adjective fine was gradually assuming a distinct and secondary meaning, and sale or starvation were only just warded off by the self-sacrificing efforts of Mr. Schmidt, the keenest and most thorough of honorary secretaries.

“Thirty-one couple; and you might almost have taught a child his alphabet from the varied brands on their ribs. From the Atherstone to Lord Yarborough’s, every initial was represented that ever figured on a list of hunting appointments; and there is little reason to doubt that the causes which had procured the banishment of the various members were well-nigh as numerous, embracing every sin of omission and commission to which hound flesh is heir.  

” … For very fear, the gates of the kennel yard had been kept closed on them for the month they had already spent on the Neilgherries. Half the pack, it is true, were tried and trusty servants … Another three couple had recently arrived from Leicestershire, and it was hoped that not even a sea voyage would have eradicated the discipline inculcated at Quorndon. But the rest no language can give any just idea of this band of wild irrepressibles, of the atrocities they committed, or of the anxiety, and oftentimes shame, that they caused before any glimmering of the idea that they were to consider themselves ‘component parts of one harmonious whole’ could be made to dawn upon them.

“… The inmates of the kennel had already begun to sniff liberty and the noise within had become appalling, when at a signal the door was opened, and out they rushed, scrambling and tumbling over each other–those underneath yelling for their lives, and the puppies giving tongue as freely as if on a hot scent in covert. The cracking of whips in their faces hindered only the old stagers of the mob, the remainder dashing forward, heads up and sterns down, as delighted as schoolboys at their unexpected holiday.  A nanny goat startled at the uproar sprang away before them, and naturally enough the puppies seized the chance presented, raised a hue and cry in her wake that must have roused all sleeping Ooty, and pursued her pell-mell down the road. A check was brought about by Nanny manfully turning round upon her pursuers; but reinforcements arriving (the contagion having now spread through the whole pack), she was forced again to betake herself to flight.

“As ill-luck would have it, a Mohammedan shopkeeper, of high caste and position, was taking down his shutters close by. In through the open door dashed Nanny, after her rushed the thirty couple of noisy fiends, upsetting the shopman on their way, and defiling his carcass with their unclean feet. The uproar in the shop became hideous, as the nanny goat stood at bay on a shelf, the counter swept of its wares, and the floor a chaos of every conceivable commodity that a store affords.

“The huntsman, almost as enraged at the conduct of his pets as the now foaming shopkeeper, stood some fifty yards away, blowing his horn with might and main while his attendants plunged into the melee, and plied whipcord and rating with lavish freedom. [The shopkeeper], regaining his feet, seized a double-barrelled gun; but, fortunately, could not find his cartridges, or assuredly some crime, and possibly bloody reprisal, would have been committed. The old hounds soon tired of their disgraceful lark, and their younger confreres were quickly made to feel the situation too hot for them.

“This was only the first act of a stirring morning’s performance. But I need not dwell on how the young entry found further genial occupation in chivying a black retriever until he plunged under his sick master’s bed; nor how they ran the pug of a lady of high rank and position (this in India, too, where rank and precedence are words of awful significance) to ground in its mistress’s pony carriage, frightening the owner almost to death, and starting her pony in their determined efforts to draw their prey. When at length they were brought back to kennel, master and whips were exhausted and despondent.  … A great part of the remainder of the day was spent in impressing upon the subjects under treatment that names had been given them in their youth, with the intent that they should come when they were called, and not before.”

From Foxhound, Forest, and Prairie by Capt. Edward Pennell-Elmhirst (1845-1916)

Of horses and hounds

Stalker the horse and Stalker the hound

Stalker the horse and Stalker the hound

IROQUOIS has a lot of horses that are named for hounds. Joint-MFH Jerry Miller always has named all his horses for hounds, not all of them Iroquois hounds. Miller’s great hunt horses Furrier and Tennessee Lead, for example, were both named for famous hounds from history. (Furrier was described as “crooked as a crab’s claw” but the black and white Belvoir-born hound “ran hard at head and was as stout as oak” in his career with the Quorn and Brocklesby, according to author William Scarth Dixon; Furrier went on to become not only a famed hunting hound but also a renowned sire).  

But many of Miller’s current horses–such as Gangster, Farmer, Bonfire, and Grundy–are named for Iroquois hounds of the recent past. A few are named for hounds that are still with us, such as Stalker (pictured above with his equine namesake). Now retired under the auspices of the Hound Welfare Fund, Stalker is the fourth hound profiled in the “Meet the Hounds” link provided with his name above.

The Iroquois field secretary has a hunter named Harlequin after her favorite hound, the Hound Welfare Fund’s retiree of the year for 2009-2010.

Members of the field also have honored hounds by naming horses after them. I understand one of our accomplished young riders has a horse named Glog, just as Iroquois has a hound named Glog. Willy, if you’re out there, send us a photo of your horse!

If you’ve got a horse who shares a name with a hound, please e-mail beagle52@aol.com. Tell us why you chose the name you did and a little about your horse. If you’ve got a picture of your horse, send that as a JPEG file, too, and we’ll post it.

I’ll get the ball rolling. My horse, Sassoon, and the hound Iroquois Sassoon ’04 both were named for the English writer and World War I soldier Siegfried Sassoon. He’s best known for his poetry about the war, but he also is the author of the sporting classic Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man. I got my Sassoon in 2003 from the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation. The same summer, Jerry gave the name Sassoon to the only male puppy in that year’s litter by the great Iroquois stallion hound Grundy and out of Bicester Sandal.

The hound Sassoon was entered at Iroquois in 2004, the same year my Sassoon hunted his first full season.

Sassoon hound

Sassoon hound

 Iroquois Sassoon ’04 has gone on to fame and fortune! He won the foxhound championship at the Mid-America Hound Show a couple of years ago and has turned into an exemplary hunting hound. He’s easily recognizable in the hunt field, because he’s large and woolly.

My Sassoon has had a more up-and-down path. In 2005, just before the start of what would have been his second full hunt season, Sassoon got a tiny puncture wound underneath his fetlock while he was turned out. The puncture went into the tendon, infecting the tendon sheath, which then required four surgical tendon flushes and a stay at Hagyard Equine Medical Institute.

We weren’t at all sure he’d survive, but he did. Then we were pretty certain he’d never be rideable again, but he surprised all of us by coming all the way back. It was a long recovery, but in 2008 my vets declared him hunting sound again. He had missed two full seasons when I took him out again last October for the first time since his injury.

 

Sassoon horse

Sassoon horse (the black one!)

He’d been off so long, I put a green ribbon in his tail to let everyone know he might be unpredictable. That morning I overheard another rider remark, “She’s saying that horse is still green?”  That seemed unkind, but then she didn’t know the full story!

Sassoon doesn’t get out hunting as much as either of us would like (this really is true, according to a “horse psychic” I met at a horse sale the other day!), but he’s a great pleasure in my life, as I’m sure your horse is, too.

By the way, Siegfried Sassoon died in 1967, but his son George carried on his father’s support for hunting. When the foxhunting ban was debated in England, George and his stepson put pro-hunting signs on the family’s pasture fencing. The day the ban went into effect in 2005, George attended a local hunt’s first post-ban meet for drag hunting. He was too frail to ride anymore, but he wore a Countryside Alliance sticker (and an old Soviet army hat!).

George Sassoon and his furry Soviet hat attended a local drag-hunt meet in February 2005 after live fox-hunting was banned in England. He thought it was both flattering an amusing that there was a hound named Sassoon across the Atlantic in Kentucky!

George Sassoon and his furry Soviet hat attended a local drag-hunt meet in February 2005 after live fox-hunting was banned in England. He thought it was both flattering and amusing that there were canine and equine Sassoons hunting across the Atlantic in Kentucky!

George, a farmer, engineer, and linguist, died in 2006 after a remarkably interesting , though sometimes turbulent, life. After his funeral, the attendees gathered in in his regular pub. One of his pals at the bar, on hearing I was from Kentucky, said, “That’s where they’ve  got that hound and horse called Sassoon!” I got a kick out of that, and I guess George did, too.

Teachable moments, thrilling hound work, and Paper’s first word!

Tall grass, a suicidal raccoon, and a cooling line provided excellent lessons for the hounds Tall grass, a suicidal raccoon, and a cooling line provided excellent lessons for Paper and the other young hounds

AS humid as Friday morning was, you could smell a little fall in the air. Undoubtedly the hounds can smell it better than we can, and now that they’re getting fit and the mornings are dawning cooler, you can see that the older ones know what we know: cub-hunting season is only a few weeks away.

Paper and his fellow freshmen don’t know about cub-hunting yet, but they do know this: morning exercise has gotten a lot more interesting recently. Their leader, Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason, is on horseback now, and so are the whippers-in. We all–hounds, horses, hunt staff, and field members–move along briskly these days. And there are alluring trails left in the dewy grass when the hounds pass across the fields, smells that intrigue them and are stronger in the cool early air. Things seem somehow more serious and purposeful. “Yes, things are very interesting now,” the puppies must be thinking!

At this time of year, just before cub-hunting, we can begin to see the summer’s lessons paying off, especially for the puppies. Trotting along with six couple on Friday morning, Lilla pointed out how the older, experienced hounds were leading the way, straight through a field of tall grass and tangled clover and toward a covert known as The Sinkhole. The grass was thick and breast-high to the hounds, but they bounded along, with puppies Paper, Gaudy, and Hailstone willingly following their elders.

“This is good for them, to teach them how to get through tall grass,” Lilla said. Much of the grass will die back in the winter, but the fact that the young hounds plow through it now reinforces their confidence to jump into coverts, too, which can remain dense with brush, vines, and briars even in the winter.

Paper had an outstanding day and spoke for the first time on a line! Paper (left) had an outstanding day and spoke for the first time!

The older hounds went straight into The Sinkhole’s heavy brush without a pause; they learned long ago that this is a likely place for a fox or coyote. Again, the young hounds gamely plowed in behind them, though a few puppies popped out again before pushing back in.

Suddenly, a field member exclaimed, “Raccoon!” A young raccoon, disturbed by our arrival, had bolted from a hedgerow and was hustling through the deep grass, visible only by the rustling trail he made as he went. But he wasn’t running from the pack. He was racing toward them.

“Not one of your smarter raccoons,” someone observed as we watched in dismay. Sure enough, the juvenile met up with two couple of hounds right at the edge of The Sinkhole, who looked just as startled as we did to find a raccoon right under their noses. The surprise, we assume, was mutual. But the raccoon, taking advantage of the hounds’ surprise, shot into the covert just as the two couple pounced. There was a lot of growling from all parties, but the covert was so thick we never were exactly sure what became of the foolish raccoon. We think it’s possible he got lucky and found a safe spot in the overgrown debris that clutters the middle of The Sinkhole. We never saw any evidence that he didn’t survive the encounter! On the other hand, we didn’t see any evidence that he did survive it, either. There’s just not much to do, we agreed, if something decides to run harum-scarum into your hounds rather than away from them.

The puppies, Lilla said, actually got a good lesson from the bizarre episode.  “Now they’ll know that coverts are interesting places where interesting things happen,” she said.

Paper was in on the raccoon, but he quickly discovered something else at least as wonderful and much easier to catch and carry out of the covert: an old bone. And here he came, with a graceful leap, straight out of the thickest part of The Sinkhole, the priceless artifact in his jaws. Tail curled, he darted around the covert, advertising his find and clearly hoping to make his colleagues jealous of it. To be fair, it was a lot better than the usual dirt clod, and even better than last week’s highly desirable stick. 

Paper: “Ooooh, bone! I’ve got a bone! Catch me, I’ve got a bone!”

The pack: “Dude. Get over yourself. It does not compare with the wonders of The Sinkhole.”

Even Paper soon saw the logic of this and rejoined the group inside, exploring the thickety depths. But when Lilla moved off, he came out promptly with the others, ready to trot on to Davenport’s Corn.

Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason Iroquois huntsman Lilla Mason

One hound, however, did not follow everyone out: Barman, one of the four English imports that arrived from the Cottesmore and the North Cotswold in the spring. A pure white hound as handsome as a pinup, he has become the Big Man on Campus in the kennel, according to kennelman Michael Edwards. But he and the three other new imports–Bonsai, Baffle, and Driver’s mother Dragonfly–are still learning American culture.

You wouldn’t think it would be that different; isn’t the Currier-and-Ives scene pretty much the same around the world? Not a chance. Consider it from the hound’s-eye view. In the Cottesmore’s hunt country, the grass doesn’t grow to such a monstrous size as it does in the hot, humid Kentucky summer. (The hot, humid weather is, in fact, another thing the English hounds have to get used to.)  And each huntsman has his own distinctive way of blowing the horn. The Cottesmore horn’s English accent, so to speak, is not the same as Lilla’s American one. It can be pretty confusing for a hound who finds himself on the far side of a woolly covert while the pack is disappearing into the grass on the other side.

With the aid of whipper-in Blaine Holloway, however, Barman soon got sorted out and found his way back to the pack.

The morning air was lush with the scent of mowed grass, late wildflowers, and the slight tang of decaying foliage that signal the coming autumn The morning air was lush with the scent of mowed grass, late wildflowers, and the slight tang of decaying foliage that signals the coming autumn

The best part of the day came shortly after The Sinkhole, when the hounds, after exploring an overgrown fenceline, moved out into the low grass of Davenport’s field. Suddenly, the first group, a couple and a half of older hounds led by five-year-old Stax, had their noses down and were running excitedly in tight formation, each trying to own what appeared to be a coldish line, probably one from early that morning when a coyote had made his way across the field.

We all sat up straighter in our saddles, alert for what we knew would come next, and it did: Stax spoke, and the group of white hounds took off faster, criss-crossing the field as they puzzled out the faded scent. This was a beautiful scene, but even more exciting was that, as they wound around in front of our horses, Paper was right in among them, periodically lowering his nose, too. From the way he carried himself–loping along a little more relaxed than the older hounds, not working hard as they were, and putting his nose down only here and there, a little more tentatively–it was clear that Paper had felt the stirring of instinct but wasn’t quite sure yet exactly what it meant. He was excited, he knew something was up, he was catching the whiff now and then of a something that excited him, and the rapid, electric movements of the older hounds excited him, too. All at once, he put his nose down and spoke, a brief, clear note. It was thrilling.

The hounds quickly charged to the end of the field and into an adjoining one, but they were silent, the line now fading further as the day heated up, and in the end Lilla collected them and took them to a cool creek for a much-needed drink. We had been out less than two hours, but there had been so many little victories. The hounds lolloped along in front of Lilla’s dappled-gray horse, their eyes bright and their tongues hanging out as they went along, completely at ease and satisfied with their morning’s work. 

Approaching a gate, Lilla extended her right arm and lowered the thong of her whip over her horse’s shoulder. “Come behind, come behind,” she called out to the hounds, and they obediently moved behind her horse to go through the metal gate,  as disciplined and professional as an Army platoon. Once through the gate, they spread out and trotted along again, always casting an eye back to their huntsman. They were the picture of canine contentment.

“You see how relaxed they are?” Lilla said. “They’ve had their run, and now they know it’s time to go in. It’s the worst thing if you take them in before they are ready–it’s like they feel cheated. I did that once, and I’ll never do it again. It broke their hearts, and it broke mine, too.”

Remains of the Day: the biscuit bag after a morning's work Remains of the Day: the biscuit bag after a morning’s work

Vintage dogs

Photographic evidence that my love of hounds is genetic

Photographic evidence that my love of hounds is genetic

AREN’T old photographs fascinating? Even more so if they have dogs in them. When I see a fading picture from the 19th or early 20th century, if it has a dog in it it somehow seems much closer in time to me. I find I identify with the people much more easily if there’s a dog hanging around in the frame, lounging on someone’s lap or sitting politely next to its owner in the otherwise stiff formal portraits of those times. 

If you’re stuck inside due to rain this week, you might enjoy this website, full of vintage photos of our best friend through the ages (at least, the photographable ages). Maybe it will inspire you to go through that neglected box of photographs in search of your own old dogs.

“Hark to Sthenon!”

The hounds, as captured by photographer Peggy Maness

The hounds, as captured by photographer Peggy Maness

CAME across this advice from Xenophon this afternoon, complete with examples. The advice is good, but the names? Maybe not so much anymore.

“Give the hounds short names, so as to able to call them easily. The following are the right sort: Psyche, Thymus, Porpax, Styrax, Lonche, Lochus, Phrura, Phylax, Taxis, Xiphon, Phonax, Phlegon, Alke, Teuchon, Hyleus, Medas, Porthon, Sperchon, Orge, Bremon, Hybris, Thallon, Rhome, Antheus, Hebe, Getheus, Chara, Leusson, Augo, Polys, Bia, Stichon, Spude, Bryas, Oenas, Sterrus, Krauge, Kaenon, Tyrbas, Sthenon, Aether, Aktis, Aechme, Noes, Gnome, Stibon, Horme.”

That’s from Xenophon’s Cynegetica, written sometime around 400 B.C. You know, on second reading, I kind of like some of those names!

Meanwhile, more recently, in the 16th century Gervase Markham put forward this formula for composing the perfect symphony of hound music:

“If you would have your kennel for sweetness of cry, then you must compound it of some large dogs, that have deep, solemn Mouthes, and are swift in spending, which must as it were bear the base in the consort; then a double number of roaring and loud ringing Mouthes, which must bear the counter tenor; then some hollow plain sweet Mouthes, which must bear the mean or middle part: and so with these three parts of musick you shall make your cry perfect. … Amongst these you may cast in a couple or two small single beagles, which as small trebles may warble amongst them: the cry will be a great deal the more sweet.”

And, finally, George Tuberville (1540-1610) on “sundrie noyses of hounds”:

“As you heare hounds make sundry different noyses, so do we terme them by sunry termes: For hounds do call on, bawle, bable, crie, yearne, lapyse, plodde, baye, and such lyke other noyses. First when hounds are firste cast off and finde of some game or chace we say, ‘They call on.” If they be too busie before they finde the Sent good,  we say ‘They bawle.’ If they be too busie after they finde good Sent, we say ‘They bable.’ If they run it endwayes orderly and make it good, then when they holde in togethers merrily, we say, ‘They are in crie.’ When they are in earnest eyter in the chace or in the earth, we say ‘They yearne.’ When they open in the string (or a Greyhound in his course) we say ‘They lapyse.’ When they hange behinde and beate too much on one Sent or place, we say, ‘They plodde.’ And when they have eyther earthed a vermine, or brought a Deare, Bore, or such lyek, to turne head agaynst them, then we say ‘They baye.'”

Now, lest I bable, I will plodde to a halt and go feed ye dogges, who are telling me their sweet Mouthes are a good deal too hollow. But before I go, I’ve been hearing good things about our friend Paper, so we’ll check in on him again in our next post.

Many thanks to Peggy Maness for the use of the great photo accompanying this post!

Falcons’ eyes and hounds’ noses in the news

Harry: 300 million scent receptors. Me: 6 million scent receptors. That explains a lot!

Harry: 300 million scent receptors. Me: 6 million scent receptors. That explains a lot!

THERE were two news notes that got my attention this weekend. One was a book review in Sunday’s New York Times about Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know. It’s an attempt to understand and explain how dogs experience the world, and there are some interesting observations in it (I already bought my copy). This isn’t a dog-training book; it’s more of a natural science book, although it’s written in very accessible, non-technical language. I’m not that far along in it yet, but here are some interesting bits and pieces:
  • A beagle’s nose has 300 million receptor sites, compared with a human’s paltry six million (“I could have told you that,” says Harry the Stealth Beagle)
  • Scent equals time, for dogs. “Trained dogs don’t just notice a smell. They notice the change in smell over time,” writes author Alexandra Horowitz. “The concentration of an odor left on the ground by, say, a running footprint, diminishes with every second that passes. In just two seconds, a runner may have made four or five footprints: enough time for a trained tracker to tell the direction that he ran based just on the differences in the odor emanating from the first and fifth print.”
  • Dogs are social animals, but their idea of a pack doesn’t appear to be based on the “alpha wolf” pack theories put forward by trainers who say owners should behave dominantly. “What dogs do seem to have inherited from wolves is the socialty of a pack: an interest in being around others. Indeed, dogs are social opportunists. They are attuned to the actions of others, and humans turned out to be very good animals to attune to.” Trainers who use dominance techniques are “farther from what we know of the reality of wolf packs and closer to the timeworn fiction of the animal kingdom with humans at the pinnacle, exerting dominion over the rest. Wolves seem to learn from each other not by punishing each other but by observing each other. Dogs, too, are keen observers–of our reactions. Instead of a punishment happening to them, they’ll learn best if you let them discover which behaviors are rewarded and which lead to naught.”

We’ve certainly found that last part to be true in our household. It took some creative thinking to find our way around Harry’s sinister side and Toby’s seemingly incessant barking when we made the dogs’ meals each night. Various forms of “no” didn’t have much effect, but psychology did, and in surprisingly short order.

THE other bit of the hunting world in the news this week was a story on National Public Radio’s “Weekend Edition Saturday Show” about the use of falcons to keep starling flocks away from California’s vineyards, where they can wreak expensive damage to the grapes if left to their own devices. Though just under five minutes long, it was a fascinating piece on an ancient hunting art. You can hear it (and also read the accompanying article) at the link above. One of the more tantalizing aspects of it was the notion that “the golden thread” arguably can exist between falconers and their charges, just as it does between exceptional huntsmen and their packs. Clearly, falconer Tom Savory thinks so. In any event, the working falcon-human partnership here is as interesting as the working hound-human one. In each case, as one vineyard owner says in the piece, you have an animal “that basically is doing what it would do in nature anyway, but for our benefit.”