Monday, August 17, 2015

Snipe Hunting with Levin and Stiva

A large section of Part VI is dedicated to an overnight hunting expedition with Stiva, Levin, and Vasenka (whose name I kept misreading as Varenka, putting a new twist on that scene). The men are hunting snipe, a waterbird similar to a sandpiper that lives in Scandinavia and Western Russia.

According to the Handbook for Travellers in Russia, Poland, and Finland (published in 1865, and available online here), the snipe-hunting season started on July 15 and was over by the end of  September, at which point the weather had gotten too cold for the birds, which migrate to Africa. The same book notes that English setters were the preferable dogs for such a hunt, which often involved slogging through marshes.

Photos from the Internet Bird Collection
While reading this passage in Anna Karenina, however, I was faintly amused by the notion of snipe-hunting, which I grew up knowing as a hazing ritual for those new to outdoorsy activity. The more experienced person sends the less experienced and more gullible party out into the woods, generally late at night, with instructions to make certain noises, or do certain movements to catch a snipe (generally in a bag or pillowcase). The experienced outdoorsman then toys with the "snipe hunter" in some way, either by scaring them or just getting them hopelessly lost, and if all goes well, everyone has a good laugh about it later. (The practical joke even made its way into an episode of Cheers, when Frasier is sent on a snipe hunt. Watch a clip here.) It wasn't until I read this book for the first time a couple years ago that I realized that snipes actually exist.

Did anyone else get sent on a snipe hunt grow up with this definition?

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