Last week, I was hiking with a friend on a trail in town. We’ve been doing this once a week for two years, and in that time, we’ve developed a system: On the way up, we hike in silence and apart—each at our own pace. Halfway up there’s a granite ledge notched into the side of the mountain, where she sits and meditates while I hike higher before rejoining her for the hike down. The ritual itself is like a meditation. I know what is around every bend, so I’m free to let my nattering thoughts sail off into the air and focus on my breath, the crunch of my footsteps on dusty ground.
On this day, though, I’d been unable to settle into my usual rhythm. The trail seemed too beaten down, too wide and dry, too familiar. It was a dazzling day, the first of November, and freakishly warm. The pine needles were glittering in the sun. It could not have been a prettier, or luckier, day to be outside. But I was bored and restless, craving something less predictable, more remote. I sat down on a rock to try to calm my mind and ground myself in the day. That’s when I saw the fox.