Red Fox

winter_hillSnow fell much of yesterday and last night, our first real storm of the year. This morning we awoke to turbulent skies and deep powder snow.  Now, the birds are busy on the feeders; there is no sign of the squirrels. The breeze, which had been calm, is picking up, promising a raw day.

Yesterday, before the snows came, I was sitting at our kitchen counter, overlooking the woods. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed movement and looked up: a magnificent red fox was at the back of our yard. Immediately, it rose up and grabbed a gray squirrel that was headed up a tree trunk to safety. As we watched, the fox began making its way steeply up the hill, trotting through a few inches of fluffy snow, and stopping occasionally to look around or to re-position the prey in its mouth.

A few minutes later it returned, sans squirrel, and again climbed to the crest of the hill. As it neared the crest, it stopped abruptly, then quickly headed back down and out of sight to our left. Almost immediately, a large dog appeared at the top of the hill, leapt high into the air, then disappeared again over the crest.

We feel blessed when able to witness other creatures going about their lives and deaths. These moments are inevitably complex, often holding elation and grief, joy and trepidation.

In the non-human world death is quite often instant: several years ago I was walking through an alley in a densely residential district of town. Before me, a flock of pigeons was feeding. Suddenly they arose in a great whirring; simultaneously, I saw a streak of light pass by. The flock settled back to the ground amid a rain of feathers. I never identified the raptor, although I have always imagined it was a peregrine falcon.

Living close to an urban forest we are routinely reminded that for many this is an age largely devoid of the natural world. As a population we sit before our screens, insulated from the immediacy of nature, removed from life and death as the stuff of the everyday. Increasingly, we live in a post-postmodern world where “reality” is  disembodied, fragmented, and distanced, where lived experience is challenged and discredited, along with consensus and fact.

The postmodern, that discipline-challenging theory of knowledge, came as a relief for many. Finally, the carefully manicured history of the dominant culture might be challenged and room made for a diversity of lived cultures and worlds. Yes, the center no longer held, but this was OK. The new work was to find a new center, one that made space for the histories and practices of the many, rather than a select few. The task was to find an inclusive view of human nature, one that acknowledged the enormous variety and complexity of human experience.

Yet, there was, one might argue, a sort of center, a starting point on our quest for a grand view of humanity. Most people had exposure to some aspect of nature on a daily basis. While we might argue about our place in the natural world, our order in the Great Chain of Being, we were pretty much in agreement that we belonged here, that we were, and are, expressions of Nature.

Now that consensus is gone. Nature as a reference point, as a shared condition, has disappeared from the lived experience of many. Suddenly, we find ourselves adrift, deprived of context, and devoid of connection to the immensity of the nonhuman world. (In terms of our understand of ourselves, it matters whether god made the world 5,000 years ago, or Nature slowly, over billions of years, wove the immensely complex and fragile ecosystems we inhabit!) The risk is that without deep and abiding experiences of, and everyday connection to, the global ecosystem we call Nature, in all of its life and death complexity, we will lose our individual and collective souls.




11 thoughts on “Red Fox

  1. Michael, I feel a call to respond, but when I started I realized that I need to outline your reasoning and ponder it for a day or two. I don’t disagree with anything you say, I am only searching for how I understand it from my cultural perspective.

  2. You are lucky to live close to the nature and by that also being able to follow the law of nature, Michael 🙂
    Nature can seem tough, when you are not used to this. I find it sad, that many live inside the city or towns and don’t get out in the nature. They really loose so much, by not being close to the nature and natural life.
    Today, many kids don’t know, where the milk, eggs, meat etc. come from, more than from the supermarket, this is sad. I hope, this will change.

    1. Irene, it is lovely living in a profoundly rural, agrarian place like Vermont. W e have such fine life, with nature, working farms (although they are declining), and a rich and diverse cultural life. It is a blessing!

  3. For awhile we lived in Humboldt County here in Calfiornia. Very rural. Very different from the sort of city life I’m used to, grew up in. It changed the way I feel about life and death, nature and connection. I felt whole and everything was good. Everythig was okay. This is another lovely peace. /Jamie

    1. Thank you, Jamie. I, too, lived in Humboldt County for a while (in the seventies). It was a life changing time for sure. Over the course of two years I moved from southwestern Ohio to grad school in arid, northern New Mexico, to a job in Eureka. What a mind altering experience that was! I was deeply blessed.

  4. Not all will evolve well, Michael. We see that in the crazy that is happening in the world. People cannot take this and resist. We have a long way to go to find balance in such turbulence, in this unreal reality.

    1. Lara, You are, of course, right. Our all too real experience is unfathomable. That is, of course, an all too human experience in and of itself. Yet we are called to seek balance. Maybe we will have to journey to the sixth world before we can regain sanity. Sigh.

  5. At the Land Trust retreat I went to last week, there was a presentation about partnering with health institutions. Addressing the disconnect from Nature can be “marketed” as a health and wellness issue. But I squirm when Nature is relegated to how it can be relevant and beneficial for humans. What about its intrinsic value? Still, beginning the dialogue from common ground is useful. Yes, Nature can address many of the problems facing this drifting, tech-savvy but impoverished culture: food wastelands, stress, obesity, depression, etc. Begin there, and then explore Nature for its own sake. It is enough for all time.

    1. Priscilla, we have fallen into the pit where everything is given an economic rating. That hole is very deep, and oh so dangerous. We do the same with people. At some point that breeds great physical violence. Nature will abide our hubris and be here long after we are gone….. In the meanwhile, let we who are willing, be radical and be with her and ourselves.

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