Vixen Crosses Over


Vixen was out in the moonlight, hunting for some fresh meat. It had been a long hungry winter, with the world locked up in snow and ice, but lately there had been a new scent in the air. Tonight the breeze was southerly, and there was a salt tang in it. Vixen knew the other creatures sensed a promise of Spring, and maybe they too would be out tonight. Foolishly.
“Looking for a chance to cross over,” Vixen chuckled to herself. And who better than she to hasten them along?

But it was mighty slim pickings. Snow was still deep in the woods, and the furtive Little Ones were sticking to their burrows and winter trails under the white blanket. Vixen could hear them chattering and scurrying beneath the snow, and it made her furious. Time and again she leapt up and down on the rotten crust, plunging into the rodent highways, only to hear them scuttling away. She almost thought she could hear them laughing at her.


Vixen was getting snappish. Not only was she working up an appetite, but her coat was soaking wet, and nothing made Vixen more cranky than wet clothing. You see, Vixen was always a natty dresser, all decked out in formal attire, even when she was foraging for a feed, or giving the local dogs a run. It was a particular matter of pride for her to look her best when she was helping some other soul to cross over.

“The least I can do,” she thought, “is show them a little respect.”

But the only crossing Vixen seemed fated to make tonight was over the river. When her usual haunts proved hopeless hunting, Vixen decided it was time to check out Farmer Berry’s hen yard. That meant taking a stroll across the river ice.

It was very late in the season to be ice-dancing, though. Smelt had long since gone downriver to his spawning grounds, taking his song with him. Now the heavy ice was all rotten and fractured. In places the river surface was just a jumble of broken ice pans, jammed together by the tide. But it was still a passable road for Vixen, if she minded her step, and listened carefully for breaking ice. Vixen tip-toed across the river and crept up on the Old Berry Farm.

The declining Moon was just kissing the tree tops when Vixen snuck through the woods behind the hen yard. The faint southerly breeze rattled the last stubborn Beech leaves still clinging to their branches. Way off you could hear Owl hooting for his breakfast. But the farm dogs were too busy twitching and yipping in their dreams to hear Vixen’s soft tread. She haunted the shadows along the tree-line, and made a careful reconnaissance of the hen yard fencing from downwind.

Usually the fence was quite secure, and Vixen often came away from a chicken hunt with nothing more than hunger pangs and a sour disposition, but tonight she was in luck. The last big northerly blow had topped a dead pine abutting the yard, and a downed widow-maker straddled part of the fence, making a bridge into the yard. Farmer Berry had intended to clear away the mess and mend fence, but he had lots of irons in the fire, and the hens weren’t prone to wander while there was snow outside the yard. So the fence was still laid low.

“Ain’t that grand?” Vixen thought, contemplating the convenient bridge the limb made. Vixen jumped onto the bridge and danced across it into hen country. She could hear the fowls in the henhouse fussing and muttering in their sleep.

“Dream on,” she whispered to herself. “You’ll meet the Dream-maker soon enough.”
The next step was a bit tricky. Farmer Berry always shut the birds up at nightfall, but the door of the coop was only secured by a bit of bailing twine wrapped around two nails. On more than one occasion Vixen had hungrily watched from the woods while Farmer Berry buttoned up the coop, so she knew just what to do. Grabbing the bitter end of the twine in her teeth, she rotated her head and unwound the latch. Another yank, and the door swung open.

There was sudden silence in the hen house as a cool breeze wafted into the fowl fug. Vixen slipped in with the chill. She seized the fattest layer she could see, and bolted for the door. Pandemonium broke loose. The uproar was stupendous. Terrified hens and the outraged cock screamed bloody murder.

The farm dogs woke up fuzzy-headed, and before they even had their britches on Vixen was back over the bridge and legging it for the river, with a struggling hen under her arm. Vixen raced on.

The hen was squawking frantically, and Vixen had all she could do to hang on and sprint for safety.

“Hush now, Darlin’,” Vixen admonished the bird, between gasps. “It’s time to cross over, and you doing it in style. So just hush.” But the hen kept screaming. Vixen raced on.

What with the squawking fowl and the baying hounds on Vixen’s trail, the hullabaloo was raising the whole neighborhood. In that early hour many’s the critter – hunter and hunted alike – took bets on their favorite side. Some for Vixen, and many against. Vixen raced on.

The hounds were gaining fast on the burdened Vixen, and there was no point in her doubling back, or trying any of her usual ruses, with that bellowing bundle under her arm. She just streaked for the river. Vixen raced on.

It was nip and tuck. In fact, the lead hound almost took a nip out of Vixen’s tail as she leaped on the first pan of ice. Once on the river, Vixen had the edge, however. Leaping and dashing across the loose ice, step-and-copying over pieces too small to carry her weight, Vixen quickly out-foxed her pursuers. Vixen raced on.

One young dog tried to follow over the small pans, but panicked when they up-ended under him, and he fell in, barely scrabbling his way back onto the stuck ice by shore. The other dogs came to a stand and howled in frustration. Vixen raced on.

The sky was beginning to lighten, and the warm south wind was picking up. Vixen ran more slowly now, trying to catch her breath. The hen was still raising Cain, however.

“It won’t be long now, Honey,” Vixen promised the hen, and she shifted her grip to ease a kink in her arm.

As it would happen, Vixen was just then prancing across a frail bridge of window-pane ice. Feeling Vixen’s grip loosen, the hen squawked and shook herself loose. Vixen grabbed at the escaping bird, but in the uproar she didn’t hear the ice breaking under them. In an instant Vixen was in the river floundering to stay afloat, her soaked coat and tail dragging her down. And the hen was loose. The stupid bird flopped helplessly in the icy water. Still screeching.

Vixen managed to grab hold of a floating pan, and after much splashing and crashing through the fragile pane ice, she finally wrestled herself up onto it. Sopping wet and shivering cold. By the time she was wrung out and shaken dry enough to think about recapturing that hen, the bird was silent. And gone.

On a perch high above the river, Eagle had been woken by all the hoorah, and had admired the whole show in the dawning light. When Vixen went overboard and the hen got free, Eagle had dropped out of his tree, dove onto the waterlogged bird, dug in his talons, and flown back up with his prey. Now Eagle was tearing apart the finally silent captive.


Vixen barked angrily at Eagle. The great raptor just shrugged. So the weary and bedraggled Vixen tip-toed the rest of the way across the river, and made her sorry way home. The Sun was just coming up.

Which is why you must listen carefully when crossing the Spring ice. And why you can never be sure who will be your final guide when it comes time to cross over.