Do farm kids still play fox and hounds? I loved being the quarry, with a half-hour head-start to try and make my footprints in the snow lead elsewhere than to me. This was back before the eastern coyote arrived on our mountain, so there were still plenty of red foxes in residence — Reynard was my role model, not Coyote.
It always seemed too easy: with the whole mountain at our disposal, I had hundreds of acres in which to hide my skinny frame and sit out the clock. I learned to walk backwards in my own tracks and to run in huge circles, to keep an eye out for likely vines and south-facing slopes with bare rocks. Places with odd echoes could be used to throw my voice — a taunting yelp.
I’d look for a likely thicket, laden with wild grapes, because if a flock of winter birds settled in around me, it was as good as a spider web across the door. I had to watch my scent, though, because the deer could give me away. A deer snort can be heard a long way off.
After an hour and a half of running, I loved the return to stillness as my heart stopped hammering and I focused on every rustle, listening hard and hoping to hear nothing but the wind. But it was also fun to cut it close, and spy on my brothers the hounds as they panted up the far side of a ravine, the smoke of their breaths signaling zero, zero, zero.