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A Backyard Wilderness

Foxes and faeries on Mill Creek? The neighbor's house across the creek is barely visible through the leafless trees of winter and not noticeable at all in summer so my yard feels private, and the sound of the free flowing water is constant. Sometimes it's melodious, and sometimes it sounds like the applause of a large audience. During spring runoff, the high, roiling water can be alarming as the boulders in the creek crash together so hard the vibration of the impact can be felt in the house. It is during this time the rushed, consistent flow sounds like the high pitch of a tightly wound violin string being played with a long bow.

Creekside is a wild and busy place. Not only are the flow and vegetation constantly changing, but the riparian way is a corridor for travel up and down Mill Creek Canyon for deer herds, mallard couples, noisy kingfishers, hawks, owls, slim weasels, chittery squirrels, obnoxious raccoons, white ermine and lots of rats. In the summer, children and their dogs wade by the house, and I always enjoy watching the lone teenager kneeling low on the edge, fly rod in hand, trying to catch the fish he can see in the water while hoping not to snag on a branches behind him.

Occasionally, something bizarre occurs. Once a cop ran into the yard brandishing his gun and asked me if I had heard someone scream. (I had not.) Then there was the summer day when I thought I was seeing a ghost as I watched a beautiful, young blond woman in a sheer nightie make her way barefoot down the middle of the creek. I had no idea who she was, but an older man who said he was her father drove down our driveway looking for her and took her away. Very Opheliaesque!

Most recently, while working on the computer, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye. Looking up, I thrilled to see the most exquisite red fox walking along just on the other side of the creek. My daughter, who loves animals, was outside. In my excitement I stood up so quickly my chair tipped over, then outside to call her even at the possibility of scaring the fox away. Our two dogs rushed to my side ready to bark and chase, as I called my daughter's name over and over in hopes she would catch a glimpse of the animal before it bolted. She'd already seen the fox. "I know. I know," she called back in her cool, adolescent manner. Through all the commotion the fox, which stood a mere stone's throw away, did not bolt. It remained still and just looked at me. More amazing was that the eager dogs did not see it, even though it was in plain sight. The large fox took its time sauntering off down the trail, leaving me awestruck.

Now I know I did not dream this fox, although the vision of it did have that quality. This was not just any fox. This fox was perfection! Its color was rich, carnelian-gem red, its fur coat healthy, and its tail was lush, luxe, long and very bushy. Just seeing it made me want to touch and possess it. If there were ever an archetypal fox, this was it. I tried to hold its magnificence in my memory and immediately began to hope I would see it again.

Days went by. I paid extra attention to the traffic on the creek but did not see the beautiful animal again. I was so taken with it that I looked up the spiritual and magical powers of the fox in Ted Andrews' book, "Animal Speak": "feminine magic of camouflage, shape-shifting and invisibility." Well, the fox certainly was invisible to the dogs. It says it is a creature of the night and the in-between times, but my encounter was in the late afternoon. "Working to blend in to the surrounding, to come and go unnoticed, moving silently without revealing your intentions is all part of what fox teaches," the book states. Andrews claims that Merlin used fox energy to go undetected and conceal his identity.

One day while taking a break from my work, I went to the creek's edge. Enjoying the cool breeze and looking to see what plants were beginning to show themselves as the snow had melted, I walked up and down along the edge enjoying the sun. Even though our lot is less than an acre, there is a place on our property that I never go. Along the creek's edge, trailing ivy vines, vinca, young trees and old fallen ones have become so overgrown that it has become impassable. During my little wander, I walked over to this place and to my surprise discovered a large hole next to the creek that looked like a well-used entry to a den. I had never noticed this before and realized it was certainly a big enough opening for a fox. I ventured no further. If indeed the fox lived here, I did not want to disturb it.

I began thinking more about the fox and this small mysterious area where it seems to Andrews's book says that the fox is color blind; it sees subtle shades and movements, enabling it to hunt for the small rodents that it eats. This way of seeing, the book says, also serves to detect the beings of the "between places" like the faeries, elves and "little people" my Shoshone friend, Bennie Le Beau, has spoken of. I delight in imagining that possibly the spirits of nature move just outside my door in the wildest place on my property, a special place that created itself, over time, all by its own doing, my contribution being simply to ignore and stay away from it. I resolve to keep the area undisturbed.

Several weeks went by. I remained grateful for sighting the beautiful fox. I began to think it unlikely that I would be gifted with another glimpse. But then, standing at the kitchen window, I saw it come from the opposite direction it did last time. Its great bush of a tail straight out horizontally, it trotted swiftly on the opposite bank, a gait it can maintain for miles without tiring. I felt a jolt of ecstasy run through me, as I tried to take a mental photograph. I noticed its feet were very black and then as it passed further by so I could get a look at the marvelous animal from behind, I noticed something different. This fox had a great, broad, white tip at the end of its tail that I had not noticed before.

Was this a different fox? Could there be two in the vicinity? The book says foxes are "very monogamous." Vixens (females) only search for a den when pregnant and they can return to the same den year after year if left undisturbed.

I can only catch fleeting glimpses of all these lives going on just outside my door. I'm not so sure I hope to have a fox family living a few steps from my house and pets, but if they have moved in, I think some kind of peace has already been made between us all. As for the faeries or "little people," if they are here, they are surely welcome in that special, dark and dappled growth. It does have an otherworldly feel to it, and the way in is not apparent anymore.

Sometimes when the light and shadows are just right and a breeze lifts the leaves of this unique green space, I can peer into it from a certain position on my deck, and I notice beds of matted vegetation where I imagine the animals sleep. I'm tempted to venture for a closer look within to see if I can learn more of the mystery of the fox or other inhabitants of creekside, but I trust it is a place where I do not belong. I will not go.

Merry Harrison is a clinical herbalist, teacher, author and wildcrafter.
For class schedule and to ask questions: www.millcreekherbs.com

Reprinted with permission: Catalyst Magazine

Other Creekside articles...

Waiting For Spring  •  Nine Hawks  •  Infestation  •  Backyard History  •  Slammed  •  Taken By Water

*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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