A group of 15 partially clothed, blue-tinted men and women huddle together outside Canaday on a brisk November night, glancing anxiously at the horned figure who stands before them. They taunt the lone individual and mutter impatiently amongst themselves, anxious to begin the Wyld Hunt.
Suddenly, there is silence as the horde hails the emerging huntmaster. She steps forward, addressing the eager group, “Hunters! We gather here on this solemn night to slay this stag!” At her call to begin, they let loose barks, whoops, and hollers, sprinting after the young freshman.
He takes off through the yard, jumping bushes, circling buildings, and, when cornered for the first time, scaling a wall. When the hunters meet up with the stag once more they surround him by Boylston Gate, snarling at their prey as an onlooker stares, munching his popcorn. A minute later, the hunt is off once more, racing toward the river Houses.
As the chase winds through the streets of Cambridge, passersby look on with mixed expressions of confusion and amusement. Some howl along, some yell words of encouragement, but most respond with baffled smiles.
The pace slows from a sprint to a run to a jog, some hunters struggling behind the rest. Each time the stag comes close, however, the group pursues with renewed vigor, their barks return with full force. After twenty minutes, the stag tires. Trapped at the top of the steps of Widener, he makes feeble attempts to fight back. When a hole in the crowd finally appears, the weakened stag makes a meager break for it, taking off across the lawn.
At the steps of Memorial Church, he is cornered for the last time. The hunters close in, surrounding their prey with hungry eyes. They knock the stag down, appearing to rip at its fallen body. Satisfied with their kill, the hunters carry the stag off to the Canaday Common Room, ready for their feast. The inhabitants of Canaday B offer an appealing ice cream cake, however, and the freshman stag is left to be.
“NUNS ON ROLLER SKATES”
Meet the Harvard-Radcliff Science Fiction Association. You can call them HRSFA (they’ll laugh at you if you try the whole thing). The group’s Web site proudly claims that they “do bizarre things and confuse people” and the annual fall Wyld Hunt is no exception. Though its origin is disputed (some members claim it originated from a traditional boozer that fell out of favor and needed to be transformed into a more family-friendly activity; others contest it is based on a Union protest against the Confederates in 1864) the hunt itself has changed very little.
At the first meeting of the year, prospective freshmen are asked if they would like to fulfill the position of the freshman stag with the tempting incentive of a waiver of the $8 yearly dues. Last year’s stag becomes the huntmaster, and plots the course along with the current prey.
The night of the hunt, the hunters gather together, preparing for their “kill.” Some are shirtless or wearing kilts, all are painted in blue and eager to begin, taunts flying before they even step into the cold November night air. “I’m just afraid I might lose these guys,” retorted Pavel D. Shcherban ’13, this year’s freshman stag.
It may not be the average Harvard student’s idea of a Friday night but, for HRSFA, it’s one of the most exciting nights of the year. Jason P. Brodsky ’09, who was a stag as a freshman and happened to be in town on a visit, participated in his fifth Wyld Hunt this year. “I just like the reactions people give us. Last year we got, ‘Hey, is this a Sarah Palin thing, are you hunting a moose?’” said Jason. “I like seeing people’s expressions as we go by, it’s sort of like they’re seeing nuns on roller skates,” commented Betsy Isaccson ’12.
It’s not HRSFA’s only “Wyld” event however. With the spring comes the Myld Hunt, an event in which the members dress up in Victorian clothing and chase after a fox, finishing with tea and biscuits. “We do a lot of weird things spontaneously,” said Isaacson, “people got into the Mass Ave. intersection with ball gowns and a boom box once and ballroom danced every time that traffic stopped. Once a group went trick-or-treating with a door. So you would open your door to a door, potentially knock, and get candy.”
“All of Harvard’s a stage,” says Shcherban, and HRSFA’s play is about tribal paint, a pack of hunters, and a half-naked freshman. Primal scream is about a month away, but these predators are already getting in touch with their Wyld side. Next time you hear a howl off in the distance late one November night, take off your shirt, throw on some paint, and join the hunt.