It all started one hot, muggy Wednesday morning. This morning at 7:47 to be exact. I was happily walking Flatlick Stream Valley with Alfonso Emilio (Alfie for short), proud of my newfound committment to cardiovascular activity. There I was, sweatpants, giant headphones fanny pack and puppy poop biodegradable bag in hand when suddenly, in my peripheral vision, I caught sight of the weirdest looking dog I’d ever seen. The dog was just sitting there scratching its head as dogs do. As I said, this dog was weird-looking but I saw no cause for alarm. It was skinny and not much bigger than Alfie, with an unfamiliar and rather uncommon auburn tint to its fur, long, pointy ears and a bushy flat tail. I figured the dog had escaped its house…probably some kind of loner dog, or perhaps an explorer type with a love of unfenced, unleashed freedom. I could relate. Naturally, I took my iphone out to take a picture because I wanted to look online and find out what kind of dog it was. So I zoomed in and saw and as the pixels came into focus something became abundantly clear to me:. This was no dog…This was a fox. A real life wild animal!
Now, I’ve heard of foxes in the area and I’ve even seen a couple from the safety of my car, but I’ve never been in such close proximity to such a large non-domesticated, non-captive carnivore. And just as the fox’s foxiness was coming into plain view on my iphone, the animal took off running. At first it started running in my direction before turning and running off into the woods, but for about half a second, I felt the kind of oh my God that fox is charging me what if it has rabies who will hear my screams I might die kind of fear that I’ve only experienced a few times in the last few years. I would like to report that I took charge of the situation and did whatever you’re supposed to do to save yourself from a fox, but I did not. I froze and let out a weird, barely human scared baby kitten sound and stared unblinkingly at the fox. Yes, I was scared. And I’m not talking low-grade fear, stress or anxiety…I’m talking heart-pounding, deer-caught-in-headlights, adrenaline surge kind of fear; the kind of fear where your body goes into life or death mode. In retrospect, (12 hours worth) I realized that my fear was an overreaction. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone being killed by a fox in Fairfax County — but I had forgotten what it felt like to be THAT afraid. I have to admit that on some level, I kind of liked it. Because being that afraid reminds you how very alive you are at THIS very moment and how easily you could be unalive. I guess this whole fox showdown helped me understand why people ride roller coasters and watch horror movies.
There are only three other times I can remember feeling that scared in the last ten years. The first was when a stingray chased me down during a Panama Vacation just after Steve Irwin’s stingray death. Some might say the stingray just happened to appear while I was snorkeling, but I was there people…I know that stingray was out to get me. Once I saw it, I swam faster than Michael Phelps to shore and that thing swam beside me the whole way back. Then there was the time I got held up at gun point on a Bogotá bus. That was the first time I’d seen a gun up close. And let’s not forget about the time an entire night abandoned and forgotten on the Pan-American Highway in front of brothel. I really thought I’d end up on a Dateline Mystery Feature that time…”Death on the Pan-American: Travel Writer Goes Missing.” All I knew was that I wanted my episode narrated by Keith Morrison. Now there’s a man who knows how to tell a good, old-timey, ominous story.
But I survived. The fox did not attack me. The stingray did not sting me. The bus thieves did not shoot me. And I was eventually rescued from the Pan-American Highway, even if my passport and money was stolen. Nothing like a good scare to remind you how lucky you are to be alive. This whole being alive thing is a very exclusive club.