I noticed the color immediately, flashing in and out of view as the fox moved through the trees. It was several hundred yards away, coming toward me from the direction of the beaver pond, and it moved with purpose. It was too early in the year for it to have kits, so I knew it wasn’t headed for a den, but it trotted in a nearly straight line, fluidly moving around any trees in its path. I was sure it would spot me, the bright red parka I wore was a dead giveaway, but the fox’s head stayed down, its eyes apparently focused on the ground immediately in front of it.
It reached the base of my hill and turned right, skirting the foot of the slope, and then it stopped, pausing like someone noticing cash on the sidewalk. I could see the black whiskers on its muzzle and powdery snow on its back and tail. It cocked its head to the side, and I figured that it had heard me or caught my scent. In a moment, it would bolt away. I would have a good story for Herb and a good memory for me.
Instead, the fox leaped into the air and curled its body, arching its back into a downward, lopsided “U”. Its forefeet came down hard where it had been sitting a second earlier. Paws deep in the snow, the fox shoved its muzzle in after them. It had something, and a split second later, the fox extracted its nose and I could see a dark, furred body between its jaws - a jumping mouse or possibly a vole. The fox flicked its head once and then again. Maybe it was adjusting its catch or trying to shake the snow from its face. Either way, that’s when it saw me. It spun and took off, continuing in the direction it had been headed before hearing its prey underfoot. Within five seconds, it was out of sight.
But that isn’t what happened. No fox showed up. That’s what I hoped would happen. That, or maybe a deer walking by or a coyote loping along. The way Herb said those words – something will happen – it left me with the expectation of something big, something momentous and memorable. But nothing did. I sat there, listening and watching and thinking, my fingers and toes getting colder, the woods get brighter around me. Then, when the ten minutes were up, I got up off the bench and continued my hike.
I don’t recall what Herb said when I told him about my first Sit. I don’t even know if I did tell him about it. If I did, he probably didn’t say much – he might have joked that I’d done it wrong or that I must not have showered and that’s what kept the animals away. He had a gift for finding and encountering wildlife, so I wouldn’t have been surprised to hear that when he sat for ten minutes, animals paraded by. Maybe that’s what he meant by “something will happen.” But maybe not.
We never talked about it much. I did The Sit many other times – still do – and what I eventually discovered is that the “something” that happens, at least for me, isn’t necessarily something big or even something external. Take, for example, the memory I just related to you. If I had not done The Sit that morning, the hike would’ve just been one of dozens of enjoyable but unextraordinary hikes I’d taken at Beaver Meadow during my time there, hikes I’ve forgotten. That one, I remember. The Sit created an experience, a memory that’s stayed with me. Something did happen. On subsequent Sits, I’ve come up with great ideas for helping struggling or difficult students, mentally worked out problems with my wife and friends, thought up the idea for this blog, and yes, wildlife has made appearances. Up close and personal appearances, too.
The act of just sitting has made me realize how rare it is for me to just sit and do nothing except to watch, listen, and think. It’s safe to say that this is true for most people, and what makes me sure is that most times when I bring it up, the idea is deemed strange, a waste of time, or just plain stupid. Some take offense at the idea. Some are intrigued by it, but not enough to act on it. I can’t hold it against anybody. Even now, the first few minutes of any Sit feel strange. I feel uncomfortably self-aware, as if people were making fun of me. Once, I started my Sit along a trail and when someone happened to come hiking along a minute or two later, I hastily stood up, pretending that I had just been resting. What is that about? It’s silly for me to feel embarrassed or guilty for just sitting there, but it’s been ingrained. Obviously, if I’m just sitting there, then I’m not being productive, and that’s just wrong, isn’t it?
I know I said I would have this wrapped up by tonight, but it's taking me longer to work it out than I thought. Tomorrow - the point!