The Innocent Fox

Loren Eiseley
Loren Eiseley (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have been re-reading some of the works of the biologist, Loren Eiseley. You should too! Here is a famous story of his:

Finally, the dawn began to touch the sea, and then the worn timbers of the hulk beside which I had sheltered reddened just a little…It was then that I saw the miracle. I saw it because I was hunched at ground level, smelling rank of fox, and no longer gazing with upright human arrogance upon the things of the world.

I did not realize at first what it was I looked upon. As my wandering attention centered, I saw nothing but two small projecting ears lit by the morning sun. Beneath them, a small neat face look shyly up at me. The ears moved at every sound, drank in the gull’s cry and the far horn of a ship. They crinkled, I began to realize, only with curiosity; they had not learned to fear. The creature was very young. He was alone in a dread universe. I crept on my knees around the prow and crouched beside him. It was a small fox pup from a den under the timbers who looked up at me. God knows what had become of his brothers and sisters. His parent must not have been home from hunting.

He innocently selected what I think was a chicken bone from an untidy pile of splintered rubbish and shook it at my invitingly. There was a vast playful humor in his face. “If there was only one fox in the world and I could kill him, I would do.” The words of a British poacher in a pub rasped in my ears. I dropped even further and painfully away from human stature. It has been said repeatedly that one can never, try as he will, get around to the front of the universe. Man is destined to see only its far side, to realize nature only in retreat.

Yet here was the thing in the midst of the bones, the wide-eyed, innocent fox inviting me to play, with the innate courtesy of its two forepaws placed appealingly together, along with a mock shake of the head. The universe was swinging in some fantastic fashion to present its face, and the face was so small that the universe itself was laughing.

It was not a time for human dignity. It was a time only for careful observance of amenities written behind the stars. Gravely I arranged my forepaws while the puppy whimpered with ill-concealed excitement. I drew the breath of a fox’s den into my nostrils. On impulse, I picked up clumsily a whiter bone and shook it in teeth that had not entirely forgotten their original purpose. Round and round we tumbled for one ecstatic moment. We were the innocent thing in the midst of bones, born in the egg, born in the den, born in the dark cave with the stone and ax close to hand, born at last in human guise to grow coldly remote in the room with the rifle rack upon the wall.

…. For the moment, I had held the universe at bay by the simple expedient of sitting on my haunches before a fox den and tumbling about with a chicken bone. It was the gravest, most meaningful act I shall ever accomplish, but, as Thoreau once remarked of some peculiar errand of his own there is no use reporting it to the Royal Society.

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