Tony Vagneur: Saddle Sore

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

We stood in the middle of the Woody Creek road, my dad and I, involved in a discussion about the cost of an irrigation pump and who was going to pay for it. As we talked, a red fox with four or five kits worked her way down a fence line, coming in our direction without fear. As I leaned against the fence, the kits surrounded my legs, milling around as a litter of puppies might, and one in particular, a mostly white kit with variegated small brown spots on its legs, began licking my left hand.

“Quick, Dad – get my camera out of the house,” I whispered.

It’s a new Nikon, hi-tech, beyond anything my dad could have known about, and as he returned, I softly explained how to turn it on and how to adjust the telephoto lens. As you might expect, he was having trouble, so I asked him to hand it to me. I adjusted the lens and some other settings and handed the apparatus back, worried that the white kit was getting nervous.

“Hurry! This won’t last,” I breathed, and as Dad stepped back and put the camera to his eye, the fox and her kits took off, no longer trusting us. The dream ended.

I related this story to my neighbor, Amiee, who said such a dream may not bode well. Some Native Americans believe that to have a vision about a fox means that an otherworldly spirit is coming to visit.

Years ago, my friend Dan asked me to help him move a fox den out of an irrigation culvert. It was time to turn the water on, and Dan didn’t want to drown the tiny kits. I handed the two or three of them up to Dan as we both kept an eye on the mother. Cradling them softly in his arms, Dan walked across his property to a large mound of dirt, covered with bushes, grass and big rocks. A perfect new home, it seemed. The mother vixen never complained about our activities and followed us, like a dog would, curious to see what we were doing with her family. Life was good for the foxes thereafter.

On another occasion, I led a horse to our cow camp behind my pickup truck, at the end of a 35-foot length of rope, held securely in my hand. We needed a load of hay for the horses already in camp and after riding one out, led him back in behind the pickup filled with hay. I dropped the rope to the ground and led my horse to the corral, about 20 yards distant. Starting back, I spied a young fox playing with one end of the rope. Gently, I dropped to my knees and crawled along the grass until I could grab the free end of the line. The fox and I had a spirited game of tug-of-war for a minute or two, and every day after that, during my presence, the young slyboots came back around the same time, just to say “Hello,” it seemed.

The last couple of summers, I’ve had a fox living in my horse pasture. He pays me no mind but keeps an eye on my dog, Topper. The sly trickster will never be outrun by Topper, even though he taunts him to almost a draw, but only the fox and I know that. Greek legend says that the fox, child of Echidna, was destined to never be caught.

According to other myths, foxes can be as spiritual as they want, even taking the shape of humans from time to time, but that’s not what this is about. My father died in 1981, and we’ve had various conversations since, always in my dreams and always accompanied by a fox in some way.

Maybe my father’s spirit visited me the other night, maybe it didn’t, but I know what I think, and I’m not about to buck Native American legend or the presence of foxes. Some say they like sleep without dreams. I sleep to dream.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at


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