Old Fox on Thin
The Old Fox traveled back and forth over the same creek every day of every month and had done for the past three years. Ever since his vixen had their first set of pups. He traveled through a track of pines, then a swath of scrub and pucker brush, to the creek side, where he would cross, leaving no trace of his presence for the old dogs who guard the farmyards when the farmers sent them to track whoever had stolen the latest gosling or duckling or even old slow stringy chicken, leaving behind only a fuss of feathers and a spatter of blood. By nature, the Old Fox would seek and find the shadows, low hung bushes and branches, the better to steal silently to and back when hunting.
The town was both near and far enough to allow for an occasional foray when food was scare, nosing through the trash bins and dumpsters in back of the last town houses or buildings. But that was a practice more of his youth, at first drawn by the excitement of getting close to humans and then by the lazy easy way to feed, on trash with its easy pickings. When he began looking for a mate, he turned back to the old ways.
The woodlands grew deep and dark in places and light and sparse in others. The creek wasn't the only source of fresh water - there was Deep Pond and Long River and Leaping Lake, around which there was much wild life - some of it fierce and fearsome as the Old Fox considered himself to be. Proven warrior with the long ragged scar along one hind leg and one nicked ear to show for it.
Now a faithful spouse and good father, his vixen was beautiful, with a thick russet coat and brilliant eyes, and was quick and clever in the raising of their annual litter of pups. The burrow they lived in in winter was formerly a badger's and was dug deep into a bluff, its entrance hidden among the roots of an old battered but noble oak -- a good den where his mate and his pups were safe. They lived separate from those fox families who lived together in a troop or a skulk. The natural predators of the fox were few except for the coyote, and the local farmers had successfully killed or run off the coyote population over a year ago. By a quirk of nature, both he and his mate preferred being loners. The Old Fox was sometimes lonely, it was true. But he was settled and well enough content in his life.
Now winter had the countryside in its grips. Snow lay even in the deepest corners and covered the barest ones with its quilts of white, laced with brilliant icy lights. And now the creek was frozen over. The Deep Pond was frozen at its edges, but open still in the center. Long River and Leaping Lake were iced over in sections of their shallows and open in others, Long River continuing to run between the low foothills. But the creek was frozen solid. While foxes are mostly nocturnal, the Old Fox often ventured out in the day. If his vixen were to call, with the long waaaaaah to summon him home, he would easily hear it from where he now stood, out on the thin ice of the creek.
He could not stay away from the lure of the thin ice. When he ventured out in the early dawn, the light of the rising sun showed him his reflection in the smooth ice, and it was the first time he had seen himself thus. It drew him back. Though the ice was thin, untried and uncertain in its freshness, it was also clear and unscarred as yet. He had chanced upon this phenomena under a full moon some nights ago when racing back to the den with a fresh kill - a small gosling. And had skidded to a stop to stare at the shadow-self revealed in the surface of the ice. He couldn't stop to gaze, though. The weight of the gosling was not much, yet he had a fair way to go and could easily tire and so lose his grip.
But he ventured back early the next morning. And the morning after that and the next and the next and the next. This view of himself, this reflection of who he was and how he appeared, a phenomena that filled him with a new sense of self and life. Perhaps there was another life out there for him to live. Perhaps another vixen. Perhaps he was not such an Old Fox after all.
Perhaps. If. If only. Could a human reach into the Old Fox's heart and warn him of the treacherousness of those small word-pathways and the countries they led to, would it deter the fascination, the addictive stir of old embers newly flaming up? Perhaps. If. If only.
In time, as winter tightens its grip, as there are small melting's and re-icing's, when winter snows fall, when there are winter rains, then the thin ice will slowly thicken and become vaseline-like. Any reflective qualities will blur into distortions and then vanish altogether. The Old Fox will trot across the creek bed without thought for these sudden brief stirrings of what might have been or maybe yet could be. Come springtime, the ice will retreat out to the center of the creek and then disappear and the water will run clear, offering itself for drinking and for joyful leaps and bounds and splashes. Then any ghost of the thin ice reflection will retreat still further from the Old Fox's thoughts.
But, perhaps late next fall or early winter, with a new coating of thin ice, might those feelings return? Perhaps. Perhaps, if the Old Fox is still alive to run the trail that leads over the creek bed. Then he might stop to glance down. And see himself reflected there again. And, if he does, he might well experience again what the I Ching says in part about Old Fox on Thin Ice: "...a hidden sadness resides in the heart of true euphoria..."
Old Fox on Thin