Red Fox: A (Brief) Natural and Social History

When the news came today that Mary Oliver died, I reached my arm from where I sat and dug into a box of books in my unpacked home office, and re-read all the American Primitive pages with dogeared corners. And then I re-read all the other pages.

In “Tasting the Wild Grapes” she writes of the “red beast…a muscled sleeve the color of all October!” And, after writing this month’s Creature Feature for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, I now know that the title and ending of the poem reference one of Aesop’s Fables, which often featured fox. And Oliver knew this. And she knew the excitement, the luck of seeing a fox – that all that is familiar is still a mystery, an equal blessing to behold, and so, forgetting everything, “you will leap to name it as though for the first time…”

And now for the first time I am remembering, too, that Fox Grape is the name of the grape native to North America…but Aesop didn’t know that, but Oliver did (foxes everywhere must like to eat grapes). Vitis vulpina means “vine belonging to the fox.”

And is this what poetry is? Forgetting everything, to describe it for the first time? Waiting for the one morning when something will explode like a branch of fire, a wild grape on an unsuspecting tongue?

Photo by Hal Winters