Fox in the neighborhood is trying to survive


Gina and I were coming home from a visit with family after dark. It had been a long trip, and we were both tired. It wasn't yet my bedtime, but it was getting close. The night was clear, crisp and cool.

We rounded the corner onto our street, our house just 50 yards away. The headlights on my truck swept over a creature, sitting like a dog, in the vacant lot catty-corner from our house. It was a fox.

Growing up in the country, I was taught foxes were not our friends. They ate Aunt Neta's chickens. An animal that stood between me and Aunt Neta's fried chicken was my mortal enemy. But beyond the fact that they ate chickens, not much reason was given about why foxes were "undesirables." Foxes are omnivores. Maybe the fear was a fox would try to kill a calf or eat ripe oranges off the tree. I don't remember ever hearing of a fox killing a calf. Frankly if I had to bet on a momma cow defending her calf or a fox, I'd bet on the momma cow every time.

It could be people didn't like foxes because foxes seemed to know how to outsmart human beings. They avoided the traps Uncle Earl set to try to catch them. They would loop back when being chased by dogs and throw them off the trail. We actually talk about this. To "outfox" someone means to think ahead of them, to gain an advantage over them. Who likes that?

In some places, there are fox hunts. Hounds are released, and people on horseback follow. At home, though we had horses and guns, we never organized fox hunts. Usually we saw a fox's bushy tail as he was running away. Foxes can run 30 miles per hour. My running is measured at about 30 feet a minute.

I don't know when my attitude about foxes began to change. Maybe it was when Disney produced The Fox and the Hound. The film describes a friendship between a fox and a hound. They grew up as friends but had to navigate tricky expectations when they came of age. Or maybe it was Zootopia, a Disney/Pixar film about a rabbit who becomes a police officer and partners with a small-time con artist, a fox. When I am out in the woods or at the pasture and see a fox, it is a treat, not a threat.

Now I had a fox in my neighborhood. He was frozen in my headlights for a second or two. He'd been eating some trash in the vacant lot, scavenging for food. I don't know how a fox's brain works, whether they have the same "fight or flight" response as humans. This fox decided it was time to run. He sprang from his seated position, turned and ran into the woods, his meal interrupted.

The fox has been on my mind this week. He really wasn't bothering anyone. He was just trying to survive.

Ahmaud Arbery was out for a jog in Brunswick, Georgia. Sickening video tape shows two men with guns trying to stop him. There was a struggle. Arbery was shot three times and died.

It has taken over two months for charges to be filed against the two men involved, Gregory McMichael and Travis McMichael, father and son. Though I hate to say it, the McMichaels are white; Arbery is black. The older McMichael recently retired as an investigator for the District Attorney's office. He stated he thought Ahmaud was a suspect in a burglary.

A video surveillance tape has surfaced showing Arbery entering a house under construction and looking around. He is not seen taking anything. I've done exactly what Arbery did. While on a walk, I've gone into houses under construction and looked around. It's fun to see how people are laying out their homes. If looking around is a crime, a lot of us are guilty. Was Arbery trying to steal something? We'll never know.

What I do know is this: Everyone has a right to go for jog without being afraid of being shot because of the color of their skin. A young man's life has ended. His life mattered to God.

Maybe I've thought about the fox this week because of the Arbery shooting. The fox in my neighborhood is just trying to survive. That fox reminds me everyone has a right to live. It is the most important right of all.

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Baptist Church in Sumter.