Ten minutes. Ten extra minutes, that's all it will take to turn off the strip of bike path that parallels the highway and loop through Turville Woods. I don't have to work today, so my morning jog can stretch out a bit, and rush hour traffic is getting on my nerves. I duck under the metal gate and adjust my pace to dirt, rock and root. Maybe twenty minutes would be more like it.
Trees soon give way to meadow. The hum of traffic doesn't mesh well with native prairie, but my town is always surprising me with disjointed mixtures of urban and wild. This place feels far away from city life, whether in time or place I can't exactly say, even though only a supermarket-width of forest separates this path from the highway. Green is everywhere; even the path beneath my feet is made of lawn, still fresh-smelling and sneaker-wetting with morning dew. Prairie grasses stretch overhead, so that I can't see around the corner where the path forks to the left.
He sensed I was coming, the fox. His back to me, he has his neck twisted my way, ears stiff and nose tilted up to the wind. He doesn't bolt like some dumb cottontail; having calculated the distance between us, he watches and waits.
I could skip the fork and stay on the main path, the sooner to get home for breakfast. Then, with the threat of me past, he'll be back in his world: hunting a vole, tracking a ripple through the grass, ignoring cars and airplanes and fast food wrappers. But having come this far, that just won't do. Somehow I have needed to see this fox. Somehow I've earned him.
Two steps left onto the side path and the fox doesn't move. Two steps more and he twitches his tail. I stop for a minute to memorize him – neat tail tucked into a cushion, black legs and yam-colored fur, banker's expression. Then I move slowly forward, talking to him in a low, meaningless voice, hoping that curiosity about me will keep him fixed.
But his calculus is exact, and when I take one step too many he bolts into the grass. Even a fox used to backyards and city parks allows our intrusions only up to a point; probably such a fox keeps his limits all the more exact. That's something a city girl can understand.
So I remain outside his boundary, happy enough to have seen him. I continue on the side path past the indentation where he sat, the rustling gap where he vanished, the piles of furry scat along the trail. The highway's roar comes gradually closer, but somehow birdsong keeps drowning it out.
words: Cathy Douglas, Wisconsin (Cathy's Page)
image: 'or is it 1' - Benzo Harris, Scotland (website)
another walk along a side path: In Solitude (#17)