The bear comes for me, moving quick. I grab hold of his ear and ride like a ribbon streamer as he bounds up the mountainside. The smell of hot dirt and sage washes through me. On the mountainside I am perfectly at home. I am this.
I do not know where the bear’s urgency comes from. I feel languorous, content. He pushes me with his nose into the cave dark, against the back wall and through the fissure.
I am in the road. It is dark. Not night dark, storm dark. The wind is thrashing through the tops of the trees, but it is heavy and still on the ground where I am crouching. The fox is there, a little ahead, waiting for me to see him. “Follow me,” he says and then he goes, off the road, into the bush. I follow after. We make our way along narrow trails. He follows his nose. I follow his tail.
Before long we arrive at a steep bank above a brown river. There is a hollow in the bank among the roots of a great tree. We tuck ourselves into the hollow, out of the storm. “We’ll be safe here,” the fox says.
“What if the river floods and rises and catches us here?”
“Do you think the river will rise?”
“I don’t know.”
“I don’t think it will.” He is very calm and contained. His bearing is both comforting and unsettling.
“Who are you to me?” I ask.
“I’m just a fox you met in the road.”
I make a sound of protest. Here we are folded around each other in this small shelter while the storm blows all around. I have entrusted myself to him. Surely there must be something special between us. Something intended.
“Sometimes it just happens like that,” he says. “Nothing special.”
I’m not sure I believe him. I settle my face against his hip. “Are we friends?”
“Are we sharing shelter from the storm?”
“Mmm. Tell me a story.”
“No. I don’t tell stories.”
“Everybody tells stories.”
“I don’t. But here’s what I’ll do, I’ll tell you what I believe…
“1. I believe in keeping my feet clean.”
“Oh, it’s like a manifesto.”
“2. I believe in listening to what people say.”
“That’s just what everyone says. Listen Listen Listen. Everyone tells me that.”
“Don’t be rude. Hear me out…
“2. I believe if you listen to what people say you will learn what they believe. If you listen without being drawn into their belief, you will see the holes and you can step through without getting your feet wet.
“3. I believe the river is full of things that didn’t get out of the way.”
“How will this help me in my day? I don’t see how any of this will be of any use to me. I can’t hide in a hole all day.”
“I have things to do.”
“If you try to do delicate things while the storm is blowing, your efforts will be in vain. The wind will take everything out of your hands. Better to lie low until it blows itself out.”
And so we do that, lie low.
When the storm has passed we clamber out and stretch our joints and dust ourselves off. The river is swollen and swift, carrying all kinds of debris, branches and rooftops and chicken coops. There are a lot of trees fallen along the banks. The fox shows me how to lay a slow fire in a big log and hollow it out to make a boat.
When the boat is done, we climb in and push off and the river carries us. The fox rides in the stern with his nose in the wind. I ride in the back holding the rudder paddle and steering around debris. We are going fast and steady. Now we’re getting somewhere. I let out a little whoop of pleasure.
The fox smiles back at me over his shoulder. “And,” he says, “we’re keeping our feet clean.”