Red Fox

For a year, we lived on Grande Isle in Vermont. Our home was a rented house with a view of the lake from the living room, and the main road and hills from the large country kitchen in the front. You had to turn down into our drive, which made leaving a bit difficult at times during adverse weather. To the side of our drive way was a big red barn. In front of that, in the field all by itself, was a beautifully shaped evergreen in perfect Christmas tree form.

That first winter, snow began to fall before Halloween and never left once it took hold. The lake started freezing all around the shoreline, and ice filled in the small bay in front of our house. Along the access way to the mainland, we could see tentative tracks in the snow near the water as fisherman tested the ice anxiously, checking for that magic time when they could put up their ice fishing shacks.

As Thanksgiving came and went, the snow grew higher–brilliant white, powdered crystals that drifted around the house and along the side of the road. The crews kept the roads remarkably clear, and we could see from our 'mud room' the cars zipping down the hill, as it curved around the field where our house lay.

We had feeders in the big, gnarly old apple tree in front, which were appreciated by cardinal and chipmunk alike. The chipmunks were especially funny, because they would stuff their mouths so full of nuts that their eyes were almost forced shut.

On Thanksgiving day, two busy beavers took time off from easting roasted turkey and fresh baked pumpkin pie, in order to create our own special Christmas scene. That night, we flipped the switches, and on came the lights surrounding our house, the red barn, the bushes in front, and especially that evergreen tree–now splendidly lit in its proud isolation in the snow covered field.

Not elegant white lights, no. These were a child's delight of color. Rich reds, greens, blues, and sparkling yellows and oranges chased themselves around the eaves and danced in their own reflection in the snow and around the icicles hanging down from house and barn.

We stood out on the porch looking at the lit tree, sipping hot spiced cider and enjoying the results of our work when we heard a car coming down and around the hill facing toward the tree. Muffled against the snow was the sound of racing engine almost stalling as whoever was driving took their foot off the gas. What must they have seen? A house covered in lights, and in what was once a dark, formless nighttime field, a perfect tree, glowing with color?

From that night on until New Years, cars would slow coming down the hill, sometimes even pulling over to the side to stop to look at a tableau of moonlight streaking across a frozen lake, fronting a snow softened valley and field filled with home, barn, and tree, sparkling in color.

Christmas morning dawned with sun shining brilliantly on the snow and ice, glowing richly against the red of the barn, the green of evergreen brush and trees; blue sky forming a backdrop for lake and field. Snow had come and gone since the lights had been added and covered the tracks and electrical line to the tree, leaving a field unmarked by human.

I was at the window looking out at the field, drinking a cup of coffee, when I noticed movement to the left. Out from the brush and trees separating us from our neighbors came a red fox. We watched as it stopped for a moment, seemingly also enjoying the view. It then took off across the field; hopping rather than running, as it would sink into snow that almost covered its head with each jump.

The fox hopped to the Christmas tree and stopped once more, looking closely into its depths. Perhaps it wondered what strange stuff was wrapped around the familiar old tree. Maybe it heard the rustle of bird or small creature. The red of its fur was brightened by the sun, saturated against the dark green of the tree. A breeze blew a wisp of powdered snow from the tree down on the fox, and it raised its nose into the air and sniffed at the stream of glitter flowing past. Catching the scent of rabbit or den, it once again began making its slow, hopping away across the field and out of sight.