Blackfoot Valley Dispatch - The Blackfoot Valley's News Source Since 1980

By Dick Geary
Featured Columnist 

Chickens, a fox and a lie


January 29, 2020

My father was 91 years old the last time I lied to him.

He wasn't a demanding father, so there were never many falsehoods necessary in our lives – usually just the teenage ones, such as, "No, we weren't drinking beer when the car went into the ditch" - the common lies of youth. He died last June, and I was lucky to have enjoyed a year of morning visits with him before his death. I think we parted as friends.

He was active up until the end, and that last year he had a few chickens he enjoyed tending. They were disappearing one by one, and we knew a fox was taking them. We'd see her occasionally, but always at a distance – too far for a shot. He kept his rifle beside the back door, just in case, and even with his age and failing eyesight, he might have killed the animal if the conditions were right. The man could shoot.

We were sitting at the kitchen table and gazing out the window one morning when we saw the fox working her way toward the barn and the chickens. My father rose, grabbed his rifle and handed it to me. He had been losing hens for weeks, and enough was enough.

I can't kill anything any more, not even an insect, but in consideration to my aged father and his dwindling chicken herd, I took the rifle. Dreading what he expected of me, I walked into the back yard where I waited, watching the path I knew the fox would follow.

It was only a minute before she appeared, sneaking through the tall grass on the way to her chickens. I got her in the scope, but instead of seeing a sleek predator, fat from eating domestic fowl, I saw a shabby, bedraggled little animal, thin and tired and beaten from the incessant chore of feeding her litter of kits. She worked hard and she showed it. She deserved a break. If it had been the fox that I expected, I'd have shot and then suffered the remorse of killing, softened, maybe, by the satisfaction that had I saved an old man's peace of mind and a few shabby chickens.

I held her in the cross hairs, with the safety off and my finger on the trigger, but I couldn't do it. I took the rifle down from my shoulder and watched her continue on to her chicken supply. She was just doing her job, and other lives depended on her life. It was over a half-mile from the corrals to her den in the meadow, and I knew she had to carry the fat hens, easily half her weight, through brush and sloughs and mud and ditches to her kits. It must have taken her hours of dreadful effort, and it was obvious that she worked hard at being a good fox.

It was agony to return to the house and disappoint my father - much harder than agreeing to shoot the fox in the first place. He respected animals, but he liked his chickens, and a fox was a fox. It was then that I lied to him, saying that I had her in the scope, but she slipped into the grass before I could shoot.

He made direct eye contact with me when I told my lie, and I'll always remember that look. Eye contact was a rarity between my father and me. I still don't understand it, but that's the way it was. Maybe some day I'll figure it out. Maybe not.

I told him that the old fox had a litter and I didn't want to spend days thinking about them starving to death in the weeds. It was an awkward instant. He knew I was lying, and I knew he knew – one of those things.

But we worked through it, and I'd like to think he considered my lie to be a sign of respect for both him and the exhausted fox, not the weaseling of a coward. I continued the charade for some days, sometimes mentioning in a contrived, off hand manner that I had seen the fox in the meadow, and how tired and shabby she looked.

It was the chickens that suffered, of course, disappearing one by one until just one lonely little bantam survived. At my father's urging, I caught her and took her to another bunch of hens in a better place. He asked about her occasionally, and I always assured him that the little hen was safe and happy. And she was. I didn't have to lie about that.


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