They were barely toddlers when we heard them on the rock outcropping off the back door.
That early June dawn offered a rare sighting of an entire family–both parents and their pups—6 in all!
Later, like last summer, it was just the pups who would come out all hours of the day, and they would let us join them outside, while lounging or nestling or playing, and we’d speak softly as we approached, and sometimes take a series of photos, like parents of little ones do, noticing, over time, how their fur thickened and their coloration and markings deepened.
Eventually, only Ollie and occasionally Cleo would stay when we came near, but soon, even Ollie dashed back into the den upon our arrival. (The other two never stayed long enough for us to get to know them.)
And then that July day came, and the day after that, and then a week, and then another, where we had to resign ourselves that they had grown too old for humans or had perished in the woods while learning to hunt with their parents.
And even still, I look and listen, every day, just in case, jumping up at any sound to see… Nothing.
This is how it goes. The wondrous gift of life and then the absence of the gift. The vacancy. The ache.
Our Aidan will do the same disappearing act this summer, has already done so, is always doing so, transforming from that chubby-cheeked, toasted-marshmallow fleshed, apple-berry-loving baby into an adult—all of an unfathomable 18 years this August.
One afternoon in the heat of early July, he and I were embroiled in a dispute of some kind, hollering at each other across the kitchen, and then simmering with hostility in our respective corners of the house.
Moments later, we heard the squeals, and then we rushed together toward the back door and stood there in silent adoration, our skin touching, our breaths slowed, our moods completely transformed in the holy presence of new life.
Once last summer, when I was working at my desk, I went to the door, in deep despair over our nation, and there were the babes who in an instant lifted me from rhythms of man.
Just the thought of that day is a teacher, a balm, a homecoming.
I slept poorly last night, even after stripping out of my nightgown and stepping onto the porch and into the rain, too soft for the good soaking I craved.
It may have been the moon. It may have been the strong coffee I had an hour too late in the afternoon. It may have been the news I took in before bed, a personal taboo that I’ve broken again and again since #45; so necessary is attention, so addictive is urgency.
Once asleep, I woke often, even in the wee hours of this morning, but it wasn’t until I heard the sound of squeals, not quite birdlike, just before 6 am, that I came to my feet and stepped quickly to the balcony doors, and saw with a mixture of joy and disappointment, three ten-year-olds scampering up the stone path to the outdoor tub.
“They’re so grown,” said Aidan, when he stepped in beside me, wiping his eyes. “Only three?”
“Do you think that’s Ollie?” I asked, as the other two disappeared in the woods across the lawn.
We watched the young fox alone there on the hill, until he too realized his solitude, and dashed off in search of the others, whimpering into the woods and venturing in just a bit, before reappearing, loping back across the lawn, and up the rock outcropping, to the cry of a parent’s reply from inside the den.
“Not Ollie,” we said, and then Aidan turned and went back to bed.
Once the sun rose a bit more over the hill, I went outside to bathe, and as the sole of my feet felt the heat of the stones beneath me, I thought of their paws there just an hour earlier, of how we shared the same path; and not just the foxes that morning, but the deer, and the chipmunks, the moose, the turkey, the groundhog, the fisher cat, the black bear and all manner of creatures with whom we share this land, seen and unseen, sometimes seasons, sometimes years, between sightings.
Once inside the confines of the tub, I closed my eyes and tilted my head back and floated upon the water listening to the my breath, each inhale and exhale amplified by the porcelin, and hearing even the beating of my heart, echoing like a drum, as the world around me disappeared.
When I opened my eyes again, it was the lush green foliage of the canopy that I saw overhead, and I felt much like a scuba diver, but in the jungle, deep in the center of me.
I was returning from my morning walk, and she was just heading out.
We spotted each other as I crested the driveway.
My first thought was:
“Oh, there’s our cat, I mean, our dog.”
I almost called her toward me, but then remembered that I didn’t have a pet, haven’t had one since I was a kid.
This freed up my brain to produce: “Wild animal,”
And then: “Fox,”
And then: “Baby fox,”
And then: “Hi Cleo!” the smaller of the two babes that I got to know when the four of them frequented the rock outcropping off my studio.
Surprised to see each other head-on, we stared for some time, and then to fill in the space between us and to keep her from dashing and to lessen any anxiety I may have felt about her further approach toward me, I sang the lullaby that I had sung when she was just a kit.
Eventually, she decided against continuing down the driveway, and turned toward the path into the woods, so that I could continue up, moving from the shade to the sun.
With two cars between us, we stared some more. Yet it wasn’t so much staring we were doing, but “stilling,” taking in the presence of each other, acknowledging our shared and distinct lives, as if to say: “Hello, there, nice to see you again.”
Then she turned to trot down the grassy path, and I stepped up onto the porch; two neighbors getting on with our day.
It occurs to me now that as the fox kits have aged, they like to see me a couple times a month, in quick bursts, while I like to see them at least every few days, in leisurely companionship.
The same seems to be true of my sons.