By Brian Arsenault
Just past twilight. First dark. The fire pit burning well but modestly. Saying something of little consequence to Kath when her eyes go beyond me and wonder comes into them. I turn in my chair and am startled to see two foxes bounding toward us. For an instance I feel I must jump to my feet as they split as if to circle us. Primative flight or flee adrenalin surges.
“There little ones,” Kath reassures. “Just little ones.” And they are. Almost certainly born the preceding spring. It is one of the first truly warm July evenings and they have come out to play, amused to find these two humans in the dark.
I would seldom use the word “frolic” except that’s exactly what they do. Frolic on the lawn. Chase each other around the flower garden. Roll on the soft unmowed recently grass. Jumping and dancing together and then apart to flop down and gaze at us, I swear smiling at our amazement.
Soon they are off to go and plague Jim and Judy’s big old cat until it truly howls. Then they sprint easily, hardly seeming to touch the ground, up the hill on the gravel driveway, I swear chuckling at how easy it is to rile a cat.
We never saw them again that summer but they were truly the good natured kitsune of Japanese lore. Kitsune of course, like most creatures of myth, were not always benevolent.
In Akiro Kurosawa’s late film masterpiece, Dreams, the first segment is based on Kurosawa’s dream — as all the segments are — from an old Japanese legend. In “Sunshine Through the Rain” a boy has gone to the forest when the weather is so. The problem is foxes have their weddings when the sun shines through the rain and no human may view them. The boy is spotted.
Time in dreams doesn’t move as in waking so by the time the boy makes the short journey home the foxes have canvassed the neighborhood and found where he lives. His mother says he can’t return home until he seeks the forgiveness of the kitsune who are known to be unforgiving.
One of a handful of film images that I can recall in every detail throughout my life is the boy trudging away from the camera toward the forest and the unforgiving foxes. The segment ends there.
Such folk tales invade our dreams, do they not? I had one, more than once, of standing just outside the clearing in front of the witch’s house. I know Hansel and Gretel are in there and wonder if I am next. I can’t move. Nothing happens. The dream passes.
I have read that some psychiatrists believe such tales can help us deal with our fears. I’m not so sure. That may be upside down thinking. Consider it in the dark sometime.
The fox for us on the island, though, is our clever friend. Kath variously believes that our visitor is one of the two rascals from a few years ago. She has also seen it as a mother soon to birth kits eating ravenously for three. Those views are not mutually exclusive of course.
Foxes are not so shy of humans on the island. We knew an octogenarian who fed a pair hot dogs regularly. Another island resident, we are told, feeds every creature that comes by. Still another, recently deceased, was a keeper of homeless cats.
Such closer relationships are more likely free of highways and traffic and fast paced life. And perhaps less contempt for forms of life we view as “below us”. Or we’re all just silly eccentrics. In which case, ain’t that great.
If we are on the island, Kath looks for her fox friend and since she leaves food for it as well as good feelings, the fox visits. Kath expects we will see the two kits to be born this spring and who am I to deny the possibility.
There was after all a second magical moment with the other great creature of the island, the white tailed dear. A fawn specifically.
Liam was nearly two and comfortable on his legs. That is to say running whenever possible.
So there he is sprinting down the lawn and suddenly there is a fawn — fawns seldom leave their mother’s side — keeping pace with him. I see the rest as in stop action. The fawn beside Liam, the fawn intersecting his path, the fawn racing back around the house to its mother and they are quickly gone. Liam has stopped in an instant and his head and body follow the fawn, a smile as broad as the summer sun on his face.
So what happened? I don’t know what I believe about the connections between people and other animals but I do believe young creatures are less closed down and fearful across species.
What I really don’t believe in is coincidence. Things happen. Sometimes for no reason, more often for one or another. I also believed in that instant that magic has not been fully chased from our mechanized, now digital, world. And belief sometimes crowds out the disbelief of our age.
Deeper in Japanese lore are the Inari, fox spirits, gods we might say though jumping words from culture to culture can be so inadequate and I am inadequate to the discussion. It’s tied up with shintoism, ancestor spirits and more; worthy of study I have not undertaken but maybe shall. At least should.
For now, we watch the quickness, deftness, grace of our visitors, recognizing some ancient wisdom there even if we can’t perceive its fullness.