In her poem, "How I go to the woods," Mary Oliver included the lines, ... "when I am alone I can become invisible. I can sit on the top of a dune as motionless as an uprise of weeds, until the foxes run by unconcerned."
This poem and these words were like magic to me the first time I read them.
Sadly, Mary Oliver passed away in January this year, and I'm sorry I didn't find her beautiful voice sooner, because seeing foxes running by unconcerned has consumed my life for the past month or so.
For the first time in my long life, foxes are a concern, but only because I sat quietly and observed them.
And they seem unconcerned, and that’s just perfect.
In April, my father, who lives next door to me, texted me to let me know he’d seen a fox in my yard in the late afternoon hours. I was a little excited, hoping I might get a glimpse of an animal I’ve certainly seen before, but only from the periphery, trotting across a road at night, or loping through a field.
The next day as I was wrapping up my habitual birding fix in the late afternoon with camera in hand, I glanced over my shoulder and saw a gray figure tinted with orange through the leaves of a bush.
“Nah,” I thought, although I tensed up and remained as still as possible, because, well, it could be …
And it was.
I turned slowly and pointed my zoom lens through the foliage, sliding the autofocus button to manual to help get a clear shot of a beautiful gray fox filtered by greenery not 30 feet from me. I managed to get a couple of useable photos, but that was just the beginning for me.
I’ve always been an outdoorsman, so I’m not unfamiliar with nature and wild creatures.
But this was different.
This was an unsolicited encounter, not quite chance since I was aware the fox was in the area, but it was unexpected, nonetheless.
It was special.
Later that afternoon, I would get a better photo as human and canid both stopped to get a curious, but brief, look at each other from a distance.
Since that day, I still sit outside and pursue my birding passion, but the evenings now end with the anticipation of another kind of sighting.
I know now there are at least two foxes that breach the wood line that separates my yard from theirs, and vice versa.
And I’ve spent hours waiting for their presence, and usually have been rewarded, sometimes with a photograph, sometimes with just a quiet chuckle as they play the “pounce” game with nothing in general.
Two things I know: This voyeuristic thrill won’t last forever, and foxes are wild animals that deserve space and respect. I also understand that foxes carry rabies and other diseases, so close encounters aren't always a good idea, but these creatures appeared healthy and showed no signs of anything except caution and curiosity.
Despite my admiration for my new-found friends, and my desire to photograph them, I always keep that in mind.
Because sitting and waiting patiently, knowing that a wonder of nature, dressed in a gray coat that shimmers with silver and wearing what appears to be a reddish-orange bandana around its neck is enough.
Seeing this animal step through the green wood line as subtle colors paint the last light of day, almost appearing out of nothing, is startling, even after two months of watching.
And it’s enthralling.
I can almost feel Mary Oliver sitting beside me, both of us motionless as an uprise of weeds.
As the foxes run by.
Eddie Ledbetter is assistant editor at the Herald. He can be reached at 489-9403.