a Road, a Fox, and a Song
One evening a few weeks ago, I was headed to a musician buddy’s house for our last practice before a studio session we'd booked. It was around eight-thirty at night. I had my teenage son with me and we were driving down one of those winding, hilly North Carolina roads in the pitch dark of a mostly overcast night, wending our way through the trees.
Coming down a hill, I saw a truck approaching. This is unremarkable in a place where jacked-up trucks are like three quarters of the traffic, but just before we were about to pass each other something extraordinary happened: a beautiful red fox ran out into the truck's headlights.
The fox froze. Panicked.
I hit my brakes.
“No-no-NO!” I cried out, as the fox leaped out of the path of the truck and under my car.
I drove on, destroyed. Looking for a turnaround. Repeating "no, no, no."
I drove back slowly. Eyes peeled. No fox. I turned around and drove past the spot again. Again, no fox. Was it dead? Was it in the woods, wounded and dying? I didn’t know. I had to go. The guys were waiting.
As I drove the rest of the way to practice, I spoke to my son of the horrors of our modern transportation system: of the millions of animals killed on our roads each year. Of the tens of thousands of humans. Of the way nothing grows where the asphalt lies, and how I think of the roadways as a black web of death, tendriling all over the country. Choking us.
After practice I drove my son home.
I was jazzed up by an evening of making music, but also sad thinking about the fox.
As I drove, I began to make up a song for the fox. A song of lament, and apology. And something about that moment just worked. It all just came together: melody and lyrics, all gathered up into a plaintive cry that was so full of truth and sorrow that somehow, magically... it was good. But it was also, I also somehow knew, a song for only that moment. So I wove into my singing wistful lyrics about how the song itself was just a wisp of fog. About how as soon as I got home, I would forget the lyrics and the melody and they would be gone forever. Their beauty lost to memory. I would forget, as I always do.
When I got home, I did.
But in that moment as I sang, I could feel my son grow quiet next to me. I could feel him growing still as the song filled the car. I sung of the moon above, and of how, even though I’d forget the words of the song, there would be moments throughout my life where I would see that same moon and remember the fox.
At home, I parked the car.
We walked in the silent darkness across the grass. Through the fence. When we came in the door, I heard my son sniffle. I asked him if he was okay. “
Just a bit sad,” he choked out.
“About what,” I asked.*
“The fox,” he said, in almost a whisper. Eyes downcast.
He turned back toward me.
I looked him in the eye and said, “Son, it is always okay to be sad. It is always good to feel what you feel. And I love you.”
Then he said he loved me, too, and I pulled him into a hug, which he held for longer than any fifteen year old ever holds a hug with his father.
And even if the world's all just hot garbage and bound to end in bitter ash before the next election cycle's through, and even if nothing gold can stay and tragic fox deaths just keep happening, over and over and over… I do have that moment with my son.
In that moment, Art, which I struggle SO hard to do excellently (but in that moment did not have to struggle for at all), bridged the unbridgeable gap between two humans. It told a truth that MATTERED, and became a part of his and my story forever.
I don't think this makes that fox's suffering and possible death somehow worth it, or inherently meaningful.
But I do think that moment, for all its bitter context, was good.
On dark nights when the moon stays mostly hidden, I'll hold onto that.
- - -
* Not my brightest moment, I'll admit.