It was 3:00 a.m. And it was the third night in a row. The scream (for there was nothing else to call it) came from nearby, and woke me from a sound sleep again. It was not human – definitely animal – but not cat or dog or rabbit or bird. Nothing in pain. It sounded intentional, yet not frightened or even angry.
It screamed again – long and shrill and primitive. And it echoed around the hollow stillness of the neighborhood. Everything else was absolute silence. My windows were open to the night, but I could see nothing in the moon shadows. Nothing but the shadows.
And so, without consideration, compelled by another wild scream, and something more than simple curiosity, something more like instinct, I ran out into the street, without shoes on my feet, but with a flashlight in my hand.
And there she stood. Not half a block away. Alone and alert. A beautiful fox, screaming.
It was only a matter of seconds that we stood and watched each other. My flashlight upset her, so I switched it off. Her outline was clear in the moon-glow and streetlamp anyway. And somehow we spoke to each other across a narrowed separation of species in those few suspended moments of shared night.
“Hello,” we both said.
“Are you okay?”
“Why are you here?”
“Because I am.”
“Why are you screaming?”
“Because this place is mine.”
“And does this night belong to you, too?”
“Should I go away?”
It was she who ran away then. Not directly away from me, but off to the side – to someplace where I was not, where she felt hidden. And the screaming stopped.
It was the first time I have heard a fox in the night. I hope it won’t be the last, although I am glad to know the startling sound is perfectly natural and without pain or fear. I keep waiting for her to return.
Perhaps I will declare this my summer of authentic listening – not just for foxes, but for listening to the earth. My summer for sitting beneath birds’ nests and hearing their hunger for life. My summer for walking into the woods and listening for the heartbeat of trees. For catching out the voices of wind and water, the scrabble of bugs and snap of seed pods. Listening to the way the dog’s paws squish in mud, and how my own bare feet sound walking out into the night on slick wet grass to talk to foxes.
Perhaps by doing so, I will be able to experience firsthand more exquisite earthbound conversations, which, according to philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, allows for wonderfully compelling and absolute connections: “Unlike seeing, where one can look away, one cannot ‘hear away’ but must listen … hearing implies already belonging together in such a manner that one is claimed by what is being said.”
Perhaps by such hearing, and being claimed by the voices of the earth and her inhabitants, we can all understand how utterly we do belong to each other. Perhaps we might all run barefoot into the night and talk to foxes under the moon.