A fox pup peers from the cat door of an abandoned shed in rural Finland.
“There’s consolation in the idea that nature is reclaiming the places it has lent to people,” says photographer Kai Fagerström.
While running early in the morning through our neighborhood park, a ravine ecosystem that neighhbors worked years to reclaim and preserve, I came upon a fox lying on its side next to a new, large rain garden. I tell the story as the fox.
I am suspended in a hover of peace.
Just an hour earlier I smell fall-ripe apples spilt on the grass. My lifelong mate crouches patiently by the brook where the water divides in two directions. Our den is nearby. She watches a grey squirrel sleeping in a woodpecker-hollowed opening of a fallen red oak.
I stand next to the rain garden, now slightly full from a night rain. A mallard huddles between the tall stiff leaves of a native iris and Joe Pye weed. A northwest breeze blows apple fragrance towards me, stoking my hunger. I stand in the open at the edge of the street and face the road. I’ll need to cross it to get to the apples. Be quick.
I dart into the road.
A car. I can’t outrun the car. I’m hit. Hard. Within minutes, with only enough time to stagger back to the grassy softness alongside the garden, I fall and slip into leaving. I die. My essence stays with my body in a lightness. No feeling, just being.
I’m hovering when she comes. I’ve seen her often over the years. She worked in the woods removing invasive plants. Sometimes she sat for hours on a large, glacier-placed granite boulder near an area of the brook that babbled over small rocks. But this is the first time she sees me.
She’s running. I hear her rhythmic breath and light foot taps. A cottonwood leaf sticks to her shoe sole, one from the scatter of sycamore, maple, and other yellowed-leaves on the sidewalk. There is a peek of sunrise, enough to notice.
As she approaches the garden, she slows to a walk. And then she stops. She sees my reddish brown coat and full-haired tail slightly matted with burrs. I feel her think, “A fox. Is it alive? Still breathing?”
She slowly kneels by my side and closes, then opens her eyes. Her gaze slowly creeps over my body as I lie on my side, legs spewed as if trotting yet no longer upright. Had it not been for a trickle of blood from my mouth, she might think I am asleep in a gait-dream chasing rabbits. Her gentle hand caresses my side and feels my warmth grown cool. She begins to rock back and forth. She whispers a few silent words in my ear.
I see into the future what will come.
She rises and stands still. She turns and runs home. Home to call her mate who is not home. He is living in another state and working as a visiting teacher.
“A fox is dead beside the garden. Is this a surreptitious, wise messenger? A synchronous blessing of encouragement for our toil to reclaim this land for fox and mate? A friend of earth as I am?”
Mate listens from a deep place.
“I’m going to carry fox to final rest in our backyard, the ravine, fox's home.” He asks, “When you bring fox home, will you take its tail? Can you take the tail?”
She knows that the fox is his totem. Shape-shifting and invisible, she knows from his stories and others how foxes are seen and honored throughout the world:
Chinese people believe foxes take human form.
Egyptians think foxes bring favor from the gods.
Foxes help the dead get to the next life in Persia.
Cherokees, Hopi, and other Native American tribes believe in a fox’s healing power.
Apache native people credit the fox with giving humans fire.
Some believe the fox lives between times on the edge of land, visible as dusk and dawn.
I listen to their conversation. I hear her say, “Take the tail? I don’t know. I don’t know. No, I can’t.” He says, “Do what your heart tells you.”
She returns to the rain garden where I am. She kneels and says, “I’m carrying you into your woods.” She lays a soft white cloth on the ground and picks me up, gently holding the tear that opened my insides. Intestines tangle, stomach, spleen, and kidneys spill. Slowly her arms slide under, hands splay to lift and carry me home. She looks to gather every morsel of flesh, my fallen kidney, a string of artery, a piece of skin.
Up she stands, lifting me. She pauses. Step by step, her shoe slides on the slippery leaves. Regaining balance, crying and walking, she repeats a simple mantra, “Thank you. Thank you.”
She sets my body down to clear the leaves from a circle of stones she long ago collected from faraway places, hidden and assembled into a large sun dial. This is where she’ll place my body. I tell her, “Take my tail. With it, take my stillness and quiet. My peace. Place it within your heart.”
She feels my message and after sitting in the sundial circle with the red fur that once held me, she takes my tail.
She covers me with leaves.
After a long while, she gets up and walks away.
My body is food for those in the woods.
Later that night she hears my mate - short and then long pauses between cries.