Saturday, May 9, 2015
On a Fox Wedding
When it is early May in southeastern Minnesota, the weather doesn’t know what month it is. The seasons are scrambled. On the evidence of the craggy, leafless oak trees, it is early February and, sometimes, there are gust of icy sleet riding the north winds. But the lilacs imagine it to be June and are in blossom, pillars of violet trembling in breezes that are alternately cold and warm. A curious-looking long-legged insect, a creature with an almost tropical mien, skitters across a curb: a bug like this would be at home in the Amazon basin. But the squirrels nearby still wear their matted winter coats, a bit threadbare if still thick around scrawny bodies starved by the months of cold, deprivation and darkness. Branches fallen from trees battered by blizzards are serenaded by bright yellow dandelions. Next to a tuft of clover, the shells of two tiny eggs rest in the grass; the eggshells are pale blue, the color of the sky when drained of all its rains. Next to the eggs, a fat, thuggish-looking toadstool pokes its head through the dirt. The grass grows so swiftly that the dog steps on it gingerly, as if treading upon the spine of a living animal.
The sky is all uncertain. Stormy pillars full of hail march up and down the fields. Sometimes, the sun is hot and lances through the chilly air to the muddy earth igniting the puddles so that they glitter like gemstones. The season trembles between two dull immensities – the humidity and languor of the warm months and the vast darkness of winter. And, if you look up into the sky and dream a little, you will see the young maize god arriving in triumph to his land. He sits in the center of a wooden canoe. Two old gods are at the helm and stern of the canoe and they guide it through the heavens with paddles that are shaped like planting sticks, the tools used to insert the corn seed into the fields where the crop will be grown. The old gods have toothless jaws and wrinkled foreheads and noses like the beaks of predatory birds. Wise and fearsome, they grimace with the effort of paddling the sky-canoe. The maize god is serene with a smooth brown and he carries in his arms a bundle containing seed corn. This is something that you can see if you stand at the edge of town and look out toward the Iowa border across the plowed and unplowed fields.
While walking my dog, cold droplets of rain fell from a sky bright with sunshine. The clouds directly overhead seemed too lean and vaporous to contain the rain that was falling and so I scanned the sky for some other source for the rain. In the margins of the heavens, some big pillowy clouds reached upward, dark pierced vessels from which gusts of irregular wind blew. Light alternated with dark – suddenly, the torso of a cloud that had seemed very remote was overhead, turning so that the sun could inspect its edges. But then it was gone and the sky was blue-yellow once more at the zenith. Rain hissed through the lilacs and was, sometimes, ice cold, sometimes warm and humid as sweat. A bird confused by the dampness and the freshening breeze thought that it was the hour before dawn and embarked on a solitary aria, a high-pitched fluid trilling misplaced in the brightness. More than anything, it was the sound of that single bird singing in some secret bower as if in expectation of the dawn that stirred me – it was a remote, lonely music. The rain drizzling down from the sunny sky glittered as it fell.
On such a day, of course, foxes have their weddings. Sometimes, the fox-brides marry human males that they have seduced. If you encounter a beautiful young woman, walking alone in the woods or on the prairie, it is most likely that she is a fox that has taken human form to plot mischief among mankind. Everywhere in the world, it is understood that sunshowers signify fox-weddings – this is true in India, Japan, Nepal, Galicia, and Bangladesh. (In other parts of the world, rain falling in sunlight signifies wolf or hyena or jackal weddings. In the American south, a sunshower occurs when "the devil is beating his wife" – annoyed at the beauty of the world, it seems, the devil expresses his anger by striking his wife and her tears fall as rain.)
Foxes, particularly those with nine tails, are powerful beings and sufficiently cunning to trick even very wise people. The sunshine lures you into the open and, then, the blue sky spits rain on you – it is, indeed, a kind of mischief. To stand in a sunshower and feel the rain on your brow, liquid gold falling from the sky, and, then, to see the rainbow that arches across the heavens is propitious. But, it can be very unlucky to actually see a fox wedding. In Akira Kurosawa’s film, Dreams, a little boy wanders away from the compound where his family lives. It is a day of mingled sun and rain and the family lives at the foot of wild mountains shaggy with old cryptomera trees. In an ancient grove on the mountain slope, the little boy sees misshapen porters carrying paper lanterns. He conceals himself behind the red trunk of a tree and watches as the procession passes. At its end, there is a fox-bride in a ghostly white dress. The fox’s dance and, when one of them glimpses the little boy, they freeze in place glaring at him with their bright, intelligent eyes. The boy is terrified and he runs from the forest, across green meadows that the sunshower has dampened and made glisten in the yellow sunlight. Reaching his home, he tells his mother that he has seen a fox-wedding. His mother is enraged. She had told him not to leave the home during such weather. From her kimono, the mother draws a short dagger. She hands it to the boy and tells him to return to the woods and seek forgiveness from the foxes that he has offended. "Otherwise, you must use the knife to commit suicide," she says to her son. The little boy is expelled from family compound, a palace of wood structures surrounded by a stockade. He walks slowly across the bright, wet landscape now bedecked with a million wild-flowers. In the distance, a fat rainbow hangs over the mountains.
I didn’t see a fox wedding. I walk my dog along residential streets and foxes are wise creatures, too clever to associate much with human beings, at least where men and women congregate in towns. Furthermore, foxes and dogs are ancestral enemies and, so, the presence of my dog would preclude me from observing fox nuptials. But there was a rainbow, very flat and close to the horizon. I saw the rainbow through the trees where the bright new leaves were sparkling with raindrops. As I walked the rainbow intensified. The red of its outer edges leaked into the sky above the arch tinting the upper air. And, beneath the rainbow, deep violet clung to clouds that roiled over the horizon, further darkening them.
I came to a happy corner. At that corner, there are two neighbors who are very great friends and they are always outside with their wives and children grilling and drinking beer. As I passed, the families were sheltering in a garage. On the radio, there was a sportscast: the play-by-play of a baseball game and I could smell the charcoal on their grills and meat roasting. The men came from the garage and stood on the wet sidewalk to admire the rainbow. One of the wives was taking a picture of the rainbow with her cell-phone. The wind played in the tree-tops and shook down some rain on our shoulders and my dog pranced through the puddles.
One of the men said to me: "It’s Philadelphia, right?"
I didn’t know what he meant. "What?" I asked.
"You know, like ‘It’s always sunny in Philadelphia’," he replied. He was referring to a sit-com starring Danny DeVito.
I thought: the foxes are having a wedding.
When I looked up to the sky to where the rainbow had been, it was gone. I walked another block. Cold clouds suddenly domed the sky. A dark, icy rain fell and, this time, there was no rainbow.