A Rascally Fellow

Every morning at 7:30, the red fox stops by our granite bird bath to take a sip.

This oasis, lying low in Siberian iris, we now keep scrubbed of bird droppings and filled for our discriminating friend.  He sips carefully, his pointy nose finding the sweet spot, his tongue lapping, thin and quick.  I move silently to the kitchen window to watch. I want to run my hand down his gray-red back, down to his white-tipped muff of a tail.  His legs are thin.  He walks with delicacy on small paws.

Before political correctness doomed Uncle Remus’s rich wisdom, I enjoyed his stories as a child –– right alongside Aesop’s Fables, Grimm’s fairy tales, and Greek myth.  Brer Fox was my favorite character in Joel Chandler Harris’s Songs of the South.  I suppose I identified with him – a loner, pondering, watching, a sometimes rascally fellow into occasional thoughts of schadenfreude.  Even now, when I get stuck in my own “tar baby” messes, I remember my furry teacher, Brer Fox.

I imagine our fox feeling safe at our place.  His route is predictable:  up the hill from his den down in the field, a stop at the watering hole, a slow and graceful trot across the back yard, a clear preference for the steps through the perennial garden, up to a rocky outcropping where he pauses, listening, at a thicket of cactus.  I imagine that he remembers the chipmunk he discovered there, pouncing and capturing it in an arching leap through air.  I have learned that foxes hear low-frequency sound and that, perhaps, he heard the hapless little mammal with the racing stripes, burrowing, coming up for morning air.  The fox’s wait was quiet, patient.  No struggle about it.

Just a graceful in-the-moment watching, poised in a relaxed attention, natural to him, that holds him together.

Just a graceful in-the-moment watching, poised in a relaxed attention, natural to him, that holds him together, inside and outside. I remember thinking the lunge was cat-like.

“I said ‘Good mornin’,” Brer Rabbit said to the tar baby.  Dressed in a hat, the tar baby looked to Brer Rabbit like a real person. Impatient and not one to be ignored, Brer Rabbit punched the tar baby with a left hook, then with a right, then with both feet.  His struggles had landed him, stuck, in his own issues.  Brer Fox, laughing like crazy, enjoyed the show from behind a bush.

Several weeks ago, we watched with fascination as our fox cornered a mouse and played with his catch for minutes, enjoying a game of volleyball, of sneak and toss, of cavort and hide, until his joyful game became his lunch. And we know that good feelings and a few light moments at table aid the digestion.

This morning, our fox rests on the garden steps in full sun, grooms himself patiently and works those pointy ears like rotating antennae.  I stand at the sunroom windows, not moving, ten feet away from his small gray-red body, and look at him in wonder.  He looks at me straight on.  His ears come around when I move closer. He wraps his tail, white-tipped and muff-like, and rests there, confident.

Moments later, having had enough of me, he trots up the hill toward the vineyard, looking for something else to stick his nose into. His gait, so appropriate to his purpose, is unhurried.  Inhabiting his small body, he knows what to do, and when, while my human day stretches out, over-planned and held together by a list. When I remember the fox, I can slow my pace, remember my purpose, and inhabit my body too.