Our twenty-two-year-old son comes into the kitchen and asks if I’ve heard the story of the chickens and the fox.
“You mean a children’s book?” I ask.
He shakes his head no and laughs. Apparently it’s a true farmlet tale.
I’m making a batch of muffins for His Majesty, the nickname he’s had since he was five and I switched husbands and the Bearded One first called him that. Now he’s six feet tall, home for the summer, and designing and building us a new back deck. His laughing is worth a lot.
“What fox?” I stop working. I think about how a cougar killed a goat a mile from here this week. Maybe the unseasonal heat is stirring up all kinds of predators. There’s never been a fox here that I know of, though. Coyotes yes, but not the littler fox.
His Majesty smiles and tells it.
He’s out in the back deck area measuring steps and otherwise obsessing about stringers, joists and risers,
when he looks up and across the back yard lawn, beyond the smoldering hot hoophouse into the lower pasture. At first he just sees hens pecking and scratching as usual. A couple are molting and look scraggy, but that doesn’t account for the small red animal with a pointy snout and bushy tail. He adjusts his eyes. Can it be?
He waits and refocuses. The critter is a long way away. Plus it’s so unseasonably hot, it could be a mirage. It got up to 88.
No. It’s there. It’s real. There are clearly four legs. It’s a fox!
He drops the measuring tape and races across the back of the house to the gate. The Bearded One just helped him with a measurement, and must still be right around the corner.
“THERE’S A FOX IN THE LOWER PASTURE!” yells His Majesty.
The Bearded One instantly drops what he is doing and they silently sprint through the gate, past the sleeping dog and the stretching cat, past the pile of deck debris and wheelbarrow full of tools. We’ve lost chickens to eagles and raccoons. Coyotes are always hanging around. Predators are a big deal on the farmlet.
The men breathe hard as they scan the pasture, searching for the fox. The hens peck quietly in the sun, LaLa the goat scratches his tush on a stump, and all the serenity makes it pretty clear there was no fox in there just a few seconds ago. The Bearded One suggests gently that perhaps there never was an actual fox.
I imagine the conversation unfolding in the same male octave with the same slow cadence as all their deck planning talk this week, lovely phrases wafting in through all the open windows and doors as they work together — “From here can you see this?” and “The bigger question is…” and “You could always do…”
His Majesty’s eyes twinkle. He says he stared hard at the chickens again and again until the truth of what actually happened dawned on him.
“Two hens can line up,” he says, and gestures with each hand representing a chicken, “and look EXACTLY like one red, four-legged, bushy-tailed fox! They were perfectly camouflaged!”
It’s the first Farmlet Fable, I think. The moral? There’s optical illusion and camouflage everywhere. The title? The Boy Who Cried Fox.