“Little foxes,” she said.
My friend and I were walking with dogs. It was early morning, late autumn. We were discussing everything and nothing. And we were not walking too near to each other, which somehow prohibits the natural sharing of confidences. But we had been talking about something – I can’t remember exactly what – that concerned small worries, the kind that keep you awake at night and prevent you from truly enjoying a day of doing nothing. And that’s when she said: “Little foxes.”
It’s the little foxes that eat the tender grapes in the garden, she elaborated. The little foxes that can ruin the garden. It was a reference from the Bible, she said.
Although I didn’t remember the Biblical passage itself, I did recall the Lillian Hellman play by that name. And her metaphorical use of “little foxes” to represent greed, and to example the harm done by those who simply look on, silently, as the garden is eaten away.
It made me think of the wasted opportunities that are lost to little foxes of “doubt” – about stories never written, journeys never taken, loves never known, truths never told – because of the little foxes of doubt nibbling at the edges of our confidence and courage.
I suspect little foxes can take the form of “guilt” as well – the need to perform tasky little duties we feel we must get through before we allow ourselves to reach out for something bigger, or more satisfying, or more personally rewarding. Eat the vegetables before the dessert. Practice the scales before playing the song. Read the emails before reading the book. Rake the leaves in the front yard before scrunching through the wild ones on a proper walk in the woods.
I also suspect there are little foxes of “fear” that can disrupt any number of new gardens of beginnings. Even now, when our need for new beginnings has perhaps never been greater and more compelling and more possible. And I suspect that the greatest of these fears is the one of letting go. Letting go of the known, the familiar, the comfortable, the safe.
Later that day I raked the leaves from my front lawn – fully appreciating the irony of it, with the sound of the rake itself repeating the words: “foxes, foxes, foxes,” as the tines scraped across the ground. And I looked up from beneath the large maple tree under which I had been raking, and I noticed that only the top half of the tree had released its leaves. The bottom half was still clinging to its red coating of familiar fall beauty. Only the part with the most new growth, the arms outstretched for a new spring yet to come, had let go of its old leaves. And I remembered that foxes, too, are born mostly in the spring and summer – but venture out on their own, beginning their own true lives, only in the autumn – just as the forest leaves are released from the trees.
“Little foxes,” she had said. And I felt them nipping at my consciousness. And so I leaned the rake against the base of the tree and gathered up the dog for a proper walk in the woods. And we scrunched through the wild, fallen leaves, and I thought about beginning a new book and beginning a new garden, and about releasing all the little foxes.