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Foxholes

Updated: Mar 18, 2023

This Christmas was cold, the most demanding I’ve experienced in Northwest Washington State in 50 years. The lowest temperature was between seven and nine degrees, and I joined so many in our country as they struggled to keep pipes from freezing. It was also a daily chore to work through deep snow in order to provide water for our foxes and various outdoor birds. A perfect time, I realized, to buy a new computer.

Fox peeking over a log in a snowy landscape
Photo by Stanley W. Odle ©2023

Along with the computer, I had purchased a membership that afforded me some help with setting everything up. When the technician arrived and heard what I needed him to do, he suggested leaving everything in the box and returning on a day when he could stay much longer. Fine with me. A week later he returned and on a rare, clear winter midafternoon—sun quiet on the deep snow—we set down to this story.


The man was in his late thirties, tall and slender, and behind his face mask there lay a most witty person; highly intelligent, quick, and well-read. As we worked though my stumbling questions and all we had to do, we began to take occasional side trips through unusual terrain. I could see he held strong opinions, and was careful at first to hold these close. But he grew comfortable over time and soon we would stop for longer diversions from the path of ones and zeros.


He had much to say, and I was listening. “What I don’t understand about how people problem-solve is their lack of seeking a truth, while they labor instead to confirm an existing opinion.” I agreed. He continued much in this manner, and since my own training is largely in science, he received no argument from me. Yet for years now I have worked with animals, especially large canines, and tend toward trusting my non-verbal communication experiences with these magnificent creatures. Though my new friend displayed an impressive grasp of reasoning, I sensed something in this altogether likable man— the quick movements of the wary, the protective wit, the cautious looking around—all indeed spoke to something; I took a bit of a plunge.I asked, “If you can picture yourself as an animal in a room full of people, what animal would you see?” I had one in mind. After a short moment he replied, “A Meerkat.” I smiled and nodded. When I asked him why this animal, he again replied quickly that there was safety in numbers—security in that everyone was looking out for trouble, and that there were many holes nearby. He didn’t ask me my animal, and I was left thinking about holes in the earth.


Holes in the earth. Why such a thought? I looked away from the new computer, and out to the foxes playing in the snow. I followed them as they used the bright strokes of their red fur and broad tails to paint so much laughter before my eyes. They chased each others as shadows flowing over the land having, simply, the time of their lives. I began to smile and at that moment, as if on cue, they all stopped and faced a commotion out of my sight. My three Dingoes had arrived outside the fox encampment and were driving hard toward the fence. I looked back as the last spot of color was disappearing into the ground. Security, it seems, has its place.


Yes, a foxhole can be a handy thing. Holes offer escape from a true danger. Yet, came the question, isn’t there a time to accept risk, to leave darkness behind and dance in the snow? Holes, it seems, are forever, but snow certainly will not last. I thought too of a present I had received this year, a book by Charlie Mackesy entitled “The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse.” This dear work features simple illustrations of these four friends as they encounter life’s obstacles during their trek across the land. These discoveries are summed up in short dialogue between the friends. The one I recalled this day had the boy talking to the horse:


“I can’t see a way through,” said the boy.


“Can you see your next step?”


“Yes.”


“Just take that,” said the horse.


After the technician left, I called the dogs in and, leaving them proudly warming by the fireplace, returned to my desk. Outside the little heads began to appear and take survey. Soon they were out and again madly enjoying themselves. They almost caught a squirrel who had seized his own opportunity to climb from a tree and invade the small food shelter. But he made it, as did the visiting wild birds who leaped into their sky as the red-orange rush reasserted itself. And life resumed. Chasing their shadowy selves, knowing it was time to play, the foxes remained true to their instincts.

 

Afterwords: This story makes me laugh. Probably because I like foxes and enjoy chasing them, and in an instant turning to be pursued. They so appreciate life, keeping an eye out for trouble, but then returning to play. They know what they’re all about and, I’ll bet, take pride in being foxy.


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