On my front door, overlooking the creek ,
the sign goes out when the cold sets in:
"All Animal Beings Welcome Here".
So, it was no surprise when a fox came knocking,
as the snow fell like star showers,
and the raw wind howled like wolves.
I opened the door and the rush of his presence blew in with a rush of cold air,
and swirled around my warm kitchen, dried herbs swinging and candle flames flickering in its wake.
I welcomed him in, and took him in as he passed by me.
His coat was splendid, the way it glistened with the glitter of snowflakes,
and moved with his graceful body, undulating like starling murmurations across a sunset sky;
but no more splendid than his eyes,
the color of ancient amber, glowing like embers, that warmed me to look at them.
He smelled of pine and earth and the sweet freshness of cold,
the kind of crisp cold that sharply greets you in the first light of dawn,
a scent too pure to be bottled.
Painting by Carl Frederick Deicker
He asked, without asking, but rather, with a twinkle of his eye and a nod of his head,
if he may sit by the fire and warm himself, before retreating back into the inky cobalt of night.
I proffered a seat and a meal, and, after explaining that mice, birds, frogs, and the like, could not be served,
as per the sign on the door,
he accepted my offer of bread and jam.
I slathered the jellied jewels of summer's sweet wild blackberries on thick slices from a peasant loaf
warmed on the wood stove,
and served him on fine china, along with steaming tea of fortifying herbs and golden, wildflower honey.
In return, he suggested a story as payment for his supper, despite my assurances that it was unnecessary.
He sat back in his chair, his auburn fur ablaze in the light from the fire,
and took a deep breath, seemingly to gather himself before beginning.
His eyes became dreamy, and then, somewhere deep, they almost seemed to spin,
like a compass near magnetite,
or an intricately etched Victorian pocket watch, rotating widdershins,
and I realized I was in the presence of a magician.
I took up my tea cup, but did not drink, held rapt, my own eyes fixed on my guest.
He then began his story, curling his tail in a spiral the way the steam from his cup spiraled toward the ceiling.
I settled in to listen...
Painting by Axel Raab
He told of a journey started in the dying days of Autumn,
when the trees of the forest had begun to release their leaves into the wind, like confetti,
and the air itself told a tale of colder days to follow.
He'd come upon a wee buff colored deer mouse waking from her sleep under the velveteen leaves of mullein,
who yawned and pulled the blanketing mullein tightly around her against the cold,
and sleepily pointed in the direction of the creek.
There, washing her hands in the icy, swift waters, a raccoon nodded up current,
just before grabbing a crayfish that meant to scuttle by.
So he followed the bank and the bends of the creek, past weasel dens and rabbit burrows.
He found himself face to face with a spider's web, covered in near-frozen, miniature crystal balls of late Autumn dew,
who gave reassurance he was on the right path.
The next days grew shorter, and, at times, the snow began to fall.
He met a rafter of turkeys, a murder of crows, a bouquet of pheasants,
and all pointed the direction to go.
He came upon a group of does with their yearling fawns who had not long before been the same way,
and they showed him their trail, all of heart-shaped tracks, that he could follow.
Finally, he saw the many skeins of geese, on their way to warmer weather,
that every year fly over his destination, circling, once, twice,
tipping wings down in greeting, and found himself at a door.
But, what happened next, I was dying to know!
The fox, with gem-like, jellied berry juice on his whiskers, smiled,
and told me he knocked, of course, and I answered!
And so, as bare branches scratched against frosted windowpanes, he drew me into conversation,
as I had drawn him into my home,
and we whiled away the time, both feeling warm and nourished,
and waited for those he had met along the way to come knocking, next.