"Vulpine" by Rion McCluskey
Updated: May 4, 2018
Note from the Editor:
If you are one who seeks to view the world from a completely different, maybe even non-human perspective, “Vulpine” is worth a read. This piece is crafted in a way which causes the reader to reflect on the kind of life we should strive to live. Traveling back to the sentiments of the Romantic writers, it highlights the clarity that the natural world provides. Rion McCluskey reinforces this idea through the use of stunning imagery, allowing the reader to “melt into the wilderness." The Effectrix team is ecstatic to debut "Vulpine," a story whose message is as beautiful as its writing.
Vulpes vulpes. The name alone sounds like a distant heartbeat. Vulpes vulpes, the red fox. Spiritual in its appearance and ethereal in its existence. With crimson fur and piercing eyes, foxes have tantalized humans since the time of Aesop. Perhaps they stir something deep inside us, a yearning to return to the wild and live free as a fox does.
The buzz of adventure was alive in the car as we drove to our campsite, winding through the curves of the backroads leading us to Tuckahoe State Park. Next to me in the car was Lyra, her dark eyes alive with a spark of adventure. And there was Finn, his stories and sentences and hair twisting on like the road. Carrie occupied the driver’s seat, her laugh almost as bouncy as her red curls. We had only our clothes and a few necessities packed. We intended to survive, and perhaps not only survive but thrive.
We wanted to live like the animals, like the foxes, if only for one sweet day.
As we entered the campground, we became enveloped in the lush green of a July afternoon. Our camping lot was isolated, a little hill surrounded by woods and not much else. We stepped out of our car and melted into the wilderness.
We immediately set off to make a shelter, our decisions driven partly by knowledge and perhaps partly by instinct. A mother fox, or a vixen, occupies a den when she has her kits, usually using those that have been left behind by a rabbit or marmot. We, on the other hand, did not have the luxury of finding a skeleton to live inside, so we made our own. A forked birch tree. Two long branches. Two tarps and a bungee cord. Countless smaller branches. An infinite number of leaves. These came together in a perfect ratio to form our shelter, our home for the next twenty-four hours. We dug trenches to block the rain in the forecast from running in and ruining our space. After all, we didn’t have tails to curl around ourselves for dryness and warmth.
Eventually we turned our attention to food. We would have to attempt to find what we could if we wanted to eat. Luckily, like foxes, foraging was a strong suit for us. Dandelions, Taraxacum officinale. Wild mustard, Sinapis arvensis. Wood sorrel, Oxalis stricta. They made a decent salad but, like foxes, we could not sustain ourselves on greens alone. Fish escaped our grip, so we focused on prey that could not run or swim or hide - clams. For these, we had to travel, we would have to go on the hunt. We found ourselves at Adkins Arboretum, alien in the dimness of early evening. The paths that I knew so well suddenly seemed strange and unfamiliar, like a different reality entirely. We stumbled our way down the stairway created by the roots of a large River Birch tree and splashed our way into the fast moving stream. We had no reason to be quiet because our prey could not run. Foxes use a different kind of dignity when they hunt, traveling as softly as a ghost. We collected as much as we needed and more, stocking up as a fox would. We added the buds of Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, and a branch of Sassafras, Sassafras albidum, to our menu and headed back as the sun dipped behind the horizon.
Here is where we branch from our furry vulpine friends - our ability to harness the power of fire. It had taken us four hours and six miles, but it was time to prepare our food. We eventually got our fire started, the scarlet flames consuming the wood as fast as we could provide it, the translucent smoke curling up into the void of the night.
We had brought a mess kit from our other, civilized life, to prepare our late night meal. However, a fox has no need for these luxuries and is unburdened by necessity of cooked food. It was nearly midnight by the time we ate, the thunder crackling above our heads. A layer of storm clouds blocked any light from the heavens, so we sat with only the light of our fire, a small beacon in the inky blackness of the night. Every so often, a stray pair of headlights would screech by, abruptly yanking us from our wild wonder world and back, momentarily, to the real world.
We were forced to abandon our survival challenge, if only for a while, by the tornado and storm that screamed through after midnight. The rain poured down on us as we ran to the shelter of the park’s restrooms. The winds screeched and the rain pounded and all we could do was wait. The foxes, the squirrels, the birds, the bugs, and the bees took shelter, too. We were all united in that moment, riding out the storm in our own ways.
Once the storm let up, we were elated to find that our shelter had remained dry on the inside. The four of us had to fold into our tiny shelter, which was maybe six feet by four feet, a cramped camp of twigs and leaves and moss. The tarp crinkled as we lay down, a mess of bodies and limbs becoming entwined and momentarily separating from their owners before reuniting once more, the electricity of our pulses traveling through our extremities to one another like a spark. We were fox kits then, blind and helpless, clinging to each other for any warmth we could muster, wrapped around each other and coated not in fur but in leaves and damp hoodies, the glowing moss on our wooden ceiling standing in for the stars that had called in sick that night.
I’m sure everyone’s heartbeat quickened at the same time as mine did. It was not quite morning and the sun was barely awake, but the scurrying footsteps outside our shelter indicated that something definitely was. I could feel hands tighten and muscles contract and blood race and eyelids flutter when the crunching of the leaves hit our ears. Foxes. Vulpes vulpes. Outside our shelter, dancing around in the underbrush. They came as soon as they went, staying long enough to rouse both us and the sun. They bounced back into the forest on their pretty black paws, disappearing into the oaks and pawpaws.
Oh, to skip away on pretty black paws. To curl around myself, laying my nose under my bushy, brushy tail. To survive and thrive as a fox does, shedding the material worries of the civilized world and trading them for the natural. Relinquishing my phone and clothes and books for fur and paws and a tail. Padding day after day through the trees and thorns and leaves, food and shelter the only thing on my mind. Life as fox wouldn’t be easier, but perhaps it would be more peaceful. The anxieties of modern life would give way to the primal needs of the wild. To sleep under the stars and live in the wild world, the real world, would be so liberating. Perhaps we should all shed our skins and our lives to live in the wild a bit more often. A life not dictated by the laws of men, but by the laws of nature. A free life. A natural life. A fox’s life.
“Red Fox.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 10 Sept. 2010, www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/mammals/r/red-fox/.
“Red Fox Information, Facts, Habitat, and Photos.” American Expedition, American Expedition, americanexpedition.us/learn-about-wildlife/red-fox-information-facts-habitat-and-photos/.
“Red Fox - Vulpes Vulpes.” Red Fox - Vulpes Vulpes - NatureWorks, New Hampshire PBS, www.nhptv.org/natureworks/redfox.htm.
“Foxes in Popular Culture.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Oct. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foxes_in_popular_culture.