I sensed her — a blur in the woods, a fresh set of tracks in the snow — before I saw her. At times, when the feeders were usually aflutter with activity, the birds would suddenly vanish. I had the unsettling sensation of being watched. And then one morning, hunger or familiarity emboldening her, she trotted out of the woods: a red fox with black
socks and the triangular facial features that marked her as a vixen. She skirted the house with cautious fluidity, slowing to a stop in the front yard where a pair of gray squirrels were scavenging obliviously under the birdfeeders.
She attacked with lightning speed, driving one up into the eaves, the other scurrying to safety. Gray foxes have hook-shaped claws which allow them to climb trees after their prey, but the red fox is more earthbound. The vixen’s lunch made a flying leap into the trees and escaped. The fox lingered in the yard (in the photo she’s watching the feeders from behind our long border) until another fox — larger, seemingly older, probably male — approached and they circled each other for a time, then ran off together into the woods.
I’m not sure why foxes seem so magical, but there’s something otherworldly about their gaze (like cats, red foxes have vertical pupils to enhance their night vision). Ancient lore holds that foxes bring good luck — and news from the afterlife — both of which were true, it seems to me, for our lucky squirrel.
Here’s a poem on the subject by the great American poet W. S. Merwin. As is so often the case with Merwin’s work, the meaning is amorphous and shapeshifting, like some strikingly beautiful creature you might have seen — that just vanished.
By W. S. Merwin
Comet of stillness princess of what is over
high note held without trembling without voice without sound
aura of complete darkness keeper of the kept secrets
of the destroyed stories the escaped dreams the sentences
never caught in words warden of where the river went
touch of its surface sibyl of the extinguished
window onto the hidden place and the other time
at the foot of the wall by the road patient without waiting
in the full moonlight of autumn at the hour when I was born
you no longer go out like a flame at the sight of me
you are still warmer than the moonlight gleaming on you
even now you are unharmed even now perfect
as you have always been now when your light paws are running
on the breathless night on the bridge with one end I remember you
when I have heard you the soles of my feet have made answer
when I have seen you I have waked and slipped from the calendars
from the creeds of difference and the contradictions
that were my life and all the crumbling fabrications
as long as it lasted until something that we were
had ended when you are no longer anything
let me catch sight of you again going over the wall
and before the garden is extinct and the woods are figures
guttering on a screen let my words find their own
places in the silence after the animals