New England is storybook status this winter. And running is a dream on this snow-packed back road that weaves itself through the woods and around a water garden-sounding brook. Only five driveways spur off this remote passage that never sees the town plow. I’m running free and clear. Not a soul around. Just me, the snow, the trees, the brook, the birds, the fox…
Ahead of me, off to the left, in the distance, in a small clearing in the woods, I see a fox. It looks completely grey, which is unusual. Even the grey foxes I’ve seen have some reddishness to them. All grey… It couldn’t be a wolf, could it? No, it’s too small and catlike. And it is shadowy there where it sits, like a sentinel, head down a bit, hunched. How odd that it hasn’t wheeled around and run back up the hill into the thick of the woods by now. Surely it has long since caught and identified my scent. It should have been gone way before I was even aware of its presence.
How extraordinary nature is—we’re allowed to enter it and all its inhabitants quietly let us look around, let us feel like we’re alone to marvel at the intelligence behind its infinite beauty. Often, we aren’t so kind when nature visits us. That’s sad.
Maybe the fox is nature’s revenge. It hasn’t moved. Run you silly thing! I’m a fierce creature from the species Homo sapiens, with a history of hunting that goes back 350,000 years. Some of us are black-hearted and kill just to kill. I could be one of those! Run, you foolish beast! It doesn’t move. I moderate my pace, for a thought crosses my mind to not look like I’m in serious flight, flight that may trigger the fox’s own killer instincts. I adopt what I think might look like a casual trot, travelling more vertically than horizontally, and I try to clear a path in my mind, through the fearful thoughts, just wide enough to push to the forefront a certain coolness, an indifference. I’m getting awfully close to this fox… And now I see it’s holding a front paw forward and up a bit. Maybe it’s hurt. What would I do? What would it do? Certainly, it didn’t enter my mind to put an animal control number for this area in my cell phone. I’m only here for a few weeks.
What if it’s rabid? I squint to check for foam in the area of its mouth. I don’t see anything, but really it’s still a bit too far to see that level of detail. But something’s up with it. It looks like a cat, frozen in a poised position, a retracted spring under pressure, waiting for provocation to tear toward its victim in a flurry, covering the ground from there to here in a helpless instant. Then what would I do? I slowly slide my cell phone out of my pocket and punch in 911. Now I’m poised, my thumb over the “talk” button. I’m walking now, trying to swing wide and as respectfully far away from the fox as I can given the limits of the snow banks along the road. If I leave the road I’m in snow up to my thighs. I’m not looking forward to getting adjacent to the fox, but if I go back I’m going further into the woods and farther from help. And when I pass it, if I can pass it, I’m going to have to keep my eye on it, walk backwards or sideways or something. That miserable fox still has not moved. This is it. Getting almost level with it. Then I think by the time the 911 call went through, the fox would have already…
THE “WHAT IF?” GAME:
What if a tree stump that looks like a fox is really a fox? And what if the fox attacks? What might be done with those thoughts?
A. Play ostrich: denial and avoidance rule. What are the odds of a fox attack anyway, for crying out loud? There’s no need to be inconvenienced with worry, no need to have to look up a bunch of stuff, no need to carry an arsenal when communing with nature. Don’t think about it and it doesn’t exist.
B. Freak out: get information from every source possible. Call the state fish and wildlife department, the local animal control and local police, and find out the exact number of fox attacks that have occurred in the area for the past one hundred years. Make a study, draw up a graph, create a what-to-do flow chart and print a bunch of copies—one to carry at all times, one for the car, and one for every relative and friend. Go to guns—get mace, get a concealed weapons permit, and for those who are bad shots, buy a scattergun.
C. Find a happy medium: get informed, be cool, and be prepared.
D. None of the above.
I did an internet search regarding fox attacks and I’ll be darned! The little rascals are occasionally into terrorizing, especially when their minds aren’t right, when they’re ripe with rabies. In the USA, except for rabies-free Hawaii, according to Rabies.com, foxes keep company with skunks, raccoons, and bats in the rabies hall of fame. Foxes live in dens and roam, so if one unfortunate creature’s brain and nervous system has been attacked by the rabies virus, chances are a bunch of them in and around the area have the same fatal problem. I understand rabies can show up in one of two ways: sickly lethargy or blind-scratching-biting-mad aggression. And apparently the best advice, if you’re faced with an aggressive rabid fox and there’s no escape, is to “fight it off as best you can, do as much damage as you can,” this, per Massachusetts’ Division of Fisheries and Wildlife biologist, Marion Larson. And once you break loose, head straight to the doc for your battery of rabies post-exposure vaccinations! But animal attacks are indeed rare so I’m going to take all that I learned with me into nature, be cool, and be prepared.