~ By Amy Hale Auker
The dogs found a dead fox in the pool below the culvert on the trail leading into the forest. All I could think about was how beautiful she was, even as she lay, half in and half out of the ice, frozen into the pool. When I pried her out, I was shocked at how heavy she felt, and I almost expected her to still be warm, almost expected her to reach around and bite my arm when I freed her muzzle from beneath the surface, this dainly blue-coated creature. Then I looked down and saw a huge piece of ice still clinging to her front legs. The ice made her heavy when she should have been running away from me, like a shadow.
Her fur was hard to feel with my insensitive hands, the hands that carry wood, wash dishes, shovel dirt. Surely there is another part of my body more suitable for feeling this fox's fine fur--and I think of rubbing her on my belly or along my inner thighs where the skin is protected and more able to feel. Her face was patrician, sharp, pointed outwards at the world and I wondered how panicked her eyes, milky with death how, must have looked as she scrabbled on the slick traitorous ice before she died. Because I have decided how she died--the deep pool cracked and broke under her weight at midnight just as the year flipped over the edge. While all but a few hearty patches of snow beneath the perpetual shade of boulders have melted, the clear nights are cold in our mountains. The little fox drowned quickly, her pads and claws slipping off the cruel edges over and over again while the water quietly regained the shape and state it had been in before its thinness betrayed her. I wasn't there, but I know that the cold put the little fox to sleep and her dainty muzzle dropped into black water that clung and stiffened and held.
Its warmer today and I fled my office and its keyboard that links me to a million people and ten times that many words, that snares me in the clutches of "just one more email," one more glimpse at facebook, one more pass on chapter four, but oh what about searching ebay for a wool sweater, women's size small? Dreams of a new year, promises made to self of a new way of being, breaking out of the ice of inertia at the end of the old year, drive me with a kind of restless desperation out into the wind and sun--out into a forest of surprises I'd rather have than any gift I unwrapped last week.
But I go without expectation--no agenda--the antithesis of hunting. I go for the going. I never know if the surprises or treasures will come from the forest or from within my own wilderness. Both require vigilance--old fashioned paying attention. And then, of course, sometimes the going, the walking, is its own reward.
Today the surprise required paying attention because the pool of water is off the trail, beneath the lip of the culvert, a long way down the steep slope. But, as I said before, the dogs found her first. I could explain away my actions with words like "natural exhuberance," but the fact is that I have a very low ick-factor and while I always feel a twinge of sadness when I see a dead animal, I am not scared of death, not put off by it, don't feel squeamish about how the wheel of life circles 'round and 'round again from flourish to entropy. I have a dead hummingbird, several beetles, and a snake skeleton on my nature shelf in the living room. I don't like to kill, but would if I had to, and didn't see the dead fox as anything but a treasure, even as I envisioned her slight figure as it really should have been, her cold nose buried in her warm tail deep in her burrow. This is the closest I am ever going to get to a fox, really, other than catching a glimpse of startled eyes and a flash of a fluffed-out tail disappearing into the oak brush, so I carry her by her thin tail bone, the rich fur clinging to my hand, back over the trail, all the way home, her head swinging above the dirt, to lay her out in state and call my boyfriend out of his office, feeling a little bit self-conscious only then. She's just a small wild creature, allowing us through her own tragedy to see, to know, to hold, to feel, to appreciate, to love something more of the mystery. But she's still a dead animal and no, I didn't consider rabies or disease, or how silly it looked for me to carry home a dead animal. I carried her back, put her back where I found her, and I went on with my walk.
We played cribbage in the late afternoon and outside the window a hummingbird buzzed by the seed feeders, on January 1, 2010, and the surprise was just a little more warmth on a day in which the ice had already been broken.
(c) 2010, Author Amy Hale Auker
So many of us know Amy as Cita but mostly, as Herself . . . above all things! What a tender tough femme. She writes while breathing with the seasons. Twenty years on commercial cattle operations in Texas barely prepared her for living and loving and laughing on a forest service allotment in Arizona where the gaps are filled and freedom abounds, but Amy? Freedom? Yes, she found her new happy trails.
Currently, Amy has a book of essays, Rightful Place, in the pipes for publication at Texas Tech University Press. Her first foray into fiction, The Story is the Thing, is complete and she's beginning the beguine of the good work of editing, polishing, and asking everyone to please pass the compliments. (Like you didn't see that coming - our Amy is no shy filly ~ rather one who will take her readers on a ride with such touching attention to nature's genuine fulfilling life, you just want to move in and call that wild place home.)
Seems everyone is duct-taping notes in the upper balcony - we found this tattered piece of barn-parchment in Amy's characteristic scrawl~
"Really, fiction was an uncomfortable and scary new world, so now I am ready to get horseback and work cattle through the spring and forget about writing. My family of heart are all of those in the cowboy poetry and music world who were part of blowing the doors off of my cute little ranch wife existence and showing me that thinking people abound in the ranching industry. I plan on earning enough with my writing to feed myself, though its hard not to dream of that big advance check someday. My boyfriend is so happy that I wrote him a boat, I mean, a book."
THANKS Amy for your honesty, your scrawl, and best of all ~ the wonders of your piece of peace, seen for the first time here ~ AT THE BIJOU.
~ Absolutely*Kate and the fine staff of renown,
AT THE BIJOU, where a little hummingbird just blew in (Honest!)