November 27, 2008

Giving thanks for foxes

I took advantage of all the other folks sleeping in on this cold Thanksgiving morning to get out for a hike and had a few encounters along the way. Not with any of the hunters whose pickup trucks were parked along the road (I had a blaze-orange vest along just in case), but with a few of those critters that they might have liked to get in their sights This isn't the first time I've seen a fox along this particular trail, but it is the first time I've seen so many in one ramble.

I ran into the first one a ways down where the trail skirts close to the creek that it follows. The fox seemed to be looking in my direction when I spotted it, but then it turned its head away and stared off into the grass. After a moment, it began trotting away from me down the trail. I stayed back, only taking a few steps forward to keep it in sight as it passed an old tree stump. It stopped again near a curve in the trail, then did one of those hops that foxes do that seem to take it straight up in the air and forward at the same time. Whatever it was pouncing on must have gotten away, though, because it lifted its head and trotted off around the curve. I moved as quickly and quietly as I could until it was visible again, heading off of the trail and up a small hill. It passed through a patch of sunlight at one point and its fur blazed orange against the muted gold of the dried grass around it. I watched until it was gone, then put my hands in my pockets and ambled on.

This particular section of trail runs 2.5 miles from one road crossing to the next which, if you do the math, makes for five miles round-trip. Due to the time constraint of a Thanksgiving dinner commitment, I figured I'd just hike an estimated 2 miles down the creek then head back to get ready. Before I'd gotten quite that far, though, my turnaround point was decided abruptly for me when I spotted another fox lying along the trail about 20 feet ahead. I moved a few steps closer and could see that the fur running from its head down to its shoulder, where the rusty orange of its back turns into white under its neck and belly, was still fluffy and looked soft enough to touch, though its stillness implied an uninviting hardness. Strangely, the one thing I couldn't see was its tail. A fox's tail is generally almost as long as its body and often almost as big around, as well. The leaves on the ground weren't deep enough to hide something that full and furry. I tried not to dwell on ideas as to where it might have gone and instead spent few moments soberly contemplating the impermanence of
beautiful things. Then it was time again to amble on.

On the way back, I saw a third fox. This one had seen me first, and was already streaking away. It stopped and watched me as I continued along, then took off again as the trail curved and I headed towards it. I also saw a few deer scattered along the way, including one young buck splashing his way across the creek. At one point, I wondered whether I should have spent this time in the woods pondering those things for which I'm thankful, but decided that was b.s. There've been a whole lotta days recently that I've felt grateful for the people in my life and the things that I have, so what really makes this day more significant than any other? I'm a firm believer in being thankful every day, even those on which you feel like life sucks and the world is coming to an end. But as the hike concluded, my thoughts followed suit and settled on one thing for which I am exceedingly grateful: That there are still little pockets of nature tucked in amongst the sprawling suburbs that comprise this over-developed portion of the east coast. Yes, on this day, I am thankful for that.

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