The Chickens and the Fox

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.

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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.

Back Deck 2 002

Deck planning 2 003

“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,

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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?

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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.

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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…”

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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.

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12 responses to “The Chickens and the Fox

  1. So cool. Award-winning illustrations, too. Ba-bok!!

  2. LOVE this! Illustrator One has outdone himself. I say this as I gaze out at my Oly-orchard and watch the GIANT orange cat that’s been begging my kitty to come out and play. If I didn’t know better, I’d say Tex’s ghost is hanging around, looking for love…

  3. I say the fox is somewhere muttering to himself, “I did it again, I out selfed them”

  4. HA! 😉 Great save Austin and great drawing of 2 hens in disguise B.O. My guess is that this isn’t just the stuff that fables are made of. It is a legitimate escape attempt! Those chooks were in the early stages of formulating an escape plan and Austin saved you from their nefarious plotting. They will think twice before they plan their mutinous plans again! I note that Austin (the hairy headed one) was in front of the B.O. in his picture…a concession to youth B.O.? 😉 Love the story, the deck building and the mutual relationship that the B.O. and Austin have forged. Sometimes these mixed up family things just “work” and sometimes they don’t. You just have to enjoy those moments when everything is sliding along in the same direction and grab a cup of tea and enjoy the moment 😉

    • I think you’re on to something here, Fran. Chickens are SO dang clever. And you’re also right on about how lucky we are that the B.O. fell in love with the kids and vice-versa. It has “worked” — and I love to watch it. My favorite drawing this week was the two men bolting to save the day, His Majesty in the lead. lol No doubt exactly as it happened…:)

  5. Great story! So make it a book, eh?? BTW, I’ve sent you an email and now have happy, yeasty hands . . . 🙂

    • Two-and-a-half weeks to cross the USA/CANADA border, gah! Where have those poor kefir grains been languishing? I hope they can be revived! I’m glad they finally arrived, of course, but I just have to complain a bit about the Pony Express delivery of our times. Glad you liked the blog, my Canadian friend. 🙂 Love from Olalla.

  6. Christine Widman

    Here we have Camouflagers “par excellence”!
    Both Dennis and I saw, for the merest of seconds coming up on a rise during a hike, a young fawn ahead of us when VOILA! it was a jack rabbit standing up.
    Once we almost stepped into a small indent of dust on the trail until Den’s astute wildlife eyes recognized the “perfect circle of dust” was a baby rattler.
    One night I stood outside in the dark talking on my cell phone to my sister and didn’t see a young female javelina standing stark still just 4 feet away from me…a smudge of night shadow in the desert. We were both startled – she when she realized I had seen her and hoped I would be a benevolent human and me with a little frisson of fear…then delight…then laugh out loud wonderment at her “in plain sight” invisibility.
    And – I swear on all that I hold holy – I have seen and Dennis has seen coyotes shape-shift into cactus, creosote bush, and thin air.
    Foxes are pretty wily. Maybe they shape-shift also.
    I love foxes! They are so rarely seen.
    One of my memorable animal sightings was a red fox running in front of two calves…looking backward at them every few seconds & grinning!!…as if the 3 of them were actually playing…maybe Tag or Follow the Leader.
    **********************Star Rating for the “Fox/Chicken Morph”********************

    • The desert is the pinnacle of camouflage, I agree. How else to hide? I love your examples and can just see that baby rattler! SQUEEE!! Life is chock-full of “in plain sight” stuff that we miss or misinterpret and it is an interesting reality check to get completely bamboozled. Sunday we were one of the two hottest cities in the USA! It was us and Phoenix! Impossible, but there it is. Kisses to you and Den. 🙂

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