Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Fox and the Grapes

"Cunning as a fox; sly as a fox; clever as a fox; quick as a fox." There are many different fox quotes. In this case, the 'quick' one applies. It is pretty hard to get a close picture of one of the several foxes I often see early in the morning near the pond.

Yesterday morning I saw four. One sat quietly near the fence just watching as the others sniffed and ran up and down the dam. I imagined they were the little ones looking for breakfast and the one watching was the mama. When a bull frog croaked from the marshy area below the dam, one of the foxes nearly leaped off the dam in that direction. Frog legs for breakfast?

Foxes primarily eat small rodents as well as birds, insects and fish. Also, as I well know from my chicken raising days, one of a foxes' favourite meals is chicken. "Don't let the fox guard the chicken coop," has come to mean "don't put anyone in a position they can exploit for their own ends."

Foxes will also eat fruit. One of my earliest 'being read to' memories is Aesop's Fable of The Fox and the Grapes. The book Mom read from had this same 1918 John Rae illustration.

The way I remember the story, the red fox was very hungry. When he saw the grapes hanging from a vine above his head, he tried jumping up to reach them. Even when he stood atop the wall, he still could not jump high enough to get any grapes. Finally he gives up, declaring that the fruit was probably not ripe yet, anyway. Is this where we get the term sour grapes?

Another childhood memory involving foxes was "helping" my Grandpa Ridnour dig out some fox dens. I don't know what the bounty on foxes was at that time and I don't remember the name of the terrier he had then, I just remember one of the dens was in the pasture north of Ira Jackson's and the other was along the road over east of our place. Two emotions stand out from those memories - the first was excitement about helping Grandpa capture those marauding predators. The second was fear for Grandpa's dog. I was just certain when it went down into the den either the fox would hurt it or, more likely, it wouldn't be able to get back out. I did not realize that terriers were bred to hunt both above and below ground. (Terrier from the Latin terra meaning earth.) His little black and white dog was as fearless as the breed is noted to be.

Around the time when this picture of Bud was taken thirty years ago, fox took on a new connotation - it was the nickname he called me. (A female fox is a vixen - a term sometimes used to refer to an attractive, flirtatious female.) He called me 'fox' and my daughter, 'little fox'. He gave me the small carved figure above and my daughter a stuffed toy fox. (No wonder I fell for him.)

So when I see the foxes down at the pond early in the morning, I am reminded of many different things, not the least of which is this favourite poem:


When foxes eat the last gold grape,
And the last white antelope is killed,
I shall stop fighting and escape
Into a little house I'll build.

But first I'll shrink to fairy size,
With a whisper no one understands,
Making blind moons of all your eyes,
And muddy roads of all your hands.

And you may grope for me in vain
In hollows under the mangrove root,
Or where, in apple-scented rain,
The silver wasp-nests hang like fruit.

by Elinor Wylie

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