Barbara Karas drives a 1995 Jeep Wrangler, four-wheel drive, manual shift. It's rugged, practical, and simple, much like its 63-year-old owner.
The rear license-plate frame reads: "I'd rather be running." The front license plate depicts a running fox.
Foxes dominate the decor inside Karas' rustic cedar-clapboard house on a secluded wooded hillside near Romansville. There are fox figurines, foxes on lampshades, foxes on the wallpaper border in the kitchen.
Her dog, Vicky, is a Jack Russell terrier, a breed trained to rout foxes from their hideouts. The little girls who live in the house near her long gravel drive salute Karas when she passes with a cheerful "Tally ho!"
When she was a girl herself, Karas broke a Coke bottle to remove the bottom. Then she pressed the bottle's mouth to her lips and began blowing. She had fashioned a makeshift hunting horn.
Though a tad rusty, she can still make a real hunting horn speak and warble, sounding the distinctive notes that signal when the hunt is on, when a fox has been spotted, when the hounds are running riot, when the prey has gone to ground. Recently, she performed "Going Away" at a friend's funeral - fox-hunting's equivalent of Taps.
"The music of the hounds, at full cry, is bone-chilling," she says. "I don't think I'll ever get over the thrill."
Her roots in the sport run deep. Her maternal great-grandfather, who owned the Embreeville grist mill, kept and hunted a pack of hounds. Her paternal great-grandfather was a huntsman with the West Chester Hounds. Karas began hunting when she was in junior high school, starting with a farmer's pack. The gatherings were informal, the fields usually small, the attire veering more toward worn denim than the ceremonious "pinks" or scarlet jackets of fancier society hunts.
Karas hunted primarily with West Chester and West Bradford, serving the latter for many years as field master, the shepherd for the flock of saddled-up humans.
"I think I have a footprint in every part of Chester County," she says. She can remember joint meets when 50 or more hounds scrambled to pick up the fox's scent, when there was so much open country that hunts lasted six hours and stretched over 10 miles.
"She was a bold rider," says Moses "Mose" Cornwell, 74, who hunted with Karas often. "She was not afraid to face a jump of fair size and go down bushy banks and be with the hounds when they needed being with."
In her youth, Karas was a redhead who gaudily fulfilled the stereotype - fiery, determined, fearless. As a girl, she taught herself to swim and dive at the West Chester Y. By age 13, she was transmitting those skills to others. In high school, she swam, played field hockey and tennis - No. 1 singles. She retained that rank at West Chester University.
She returned to her alma mater to teach. "I'm a retired associate professor in the College of Health Sciences, department of kinesiology," Karas says. "Actually, I taught gym."
The quip captures her humility but hardly the scope of her contribution.
"Not only was she an enthusiastic teacher who cared deeply about the students," recalls Craig Stevens, a fellow professor, "but she was also a great role model. During breaks in her class schedule, she would be out on the road running or, in really inclement weather, running around the hallways in the bottom floor of the health science center."
Karas also coached. In the early 1970s, her swim teams placed second in the nation twice and won the championship outright in 1973. The tennis team she guided won the state title in 1985 and was invited to the nationals five years in a row.
At the university, Karas secured another prize, her husband, Larry, who had come to earn his master's degree. "I always wanted to marry the star quarterback," she says. Larry, who set records helming the football team at Ithaca College, is an avid triathlete. Together, they have bicycled 450 miles in Nova Scotia, competed in a 35-mile cross-country ski race in Minnesota.
"I don't understand people who get bored," Karas says. "There are so many exciting things to do."
Later, she adds: "So many people waste their talents because they haven't explored enough to find out what their talents are."
Karas is the stable manager at Iron Horse Farm in Pocopson Township. There, she bestows special affection on Comet, her gelding quarter horse/thoroughbred cross, chestnut in coat, 22 years in age.
Hampered by an arthritic knee, Comet hasn't hunted for a presidential term. So too Karas, and the withdrawal from the addiction has not been easy.
"I miss it," she says. "I feel so fortunate to have lived when I did, to have been able to ride and hunt Chester County before it got built up like every other suburbia."
There are still active, surviving hunts - Pickering, Radnor, Cheshire, most notably - but the framed and yellowing map hanging on her wall, "Hunting Country of the Brandywine Hounds," explains why Karas is not sanguine about her sport's future.
For starters, Brandywine is defunct. Big Woods, Saw Mill, North Brook Woods, Ground Hog College, Hoffman's Honey Suckle, Cemetery Woods, Bushy's Mill, Stargazer's Woods - all prime hunting ground, all now gone, covered with the domiciles of latter-day country squires.
One day recently, while driving down a dirt stretch of Broad Run Road close to her home, Karas passed a stream where the rushing water, tumbling over a small fall, juggled glints of dusky sunlight.
"People hurry so much they don't take time to see things," Karas says. She stopped.
"Maybe this is where I'll have my ashes sprinkled," she recalls thinking. "It's such a pretty spot, and I don't think it will ever be developed."