The sound of a fox barking is not what you might expect. Not, at least, what a city kid might expect. It wasn’t the sound of a deer snorting a warning to its tribe of my predation when I was out back yesterday at 3:00 AM under the stars. I well know that muffled staccato of an alert that serves both to make its kind aware of me and gives notice to me of it. It’s what my middle son when quite young sounded like when trying to smell Karen’s coffee, only he did it in reverse. Or a deer stomping. I’ve heard that sound over the years more times than I can count, going back to our childhood at Fire Island, where there were so many deer and so few rifles and cars that my father, tending to his vegetable garden, would see them often within arm’s length and, as he phrased it, “I could have reached out and strangled them. And I wish I had.” During this same childhood and to ward off those deer, he’d request that we ask our barber for hair trimmings from the barber shop floor. He said that the smell of humans repelled deer. (Yeah. No.) So he’d tie up some hair trimmings in old pantyhose — yes, we obliged our father’s request — and, like heads on pikes, place them on top of wood stakes along the garden’s perimeter.
Yet the deer were more fearless than Goths.
You can imagine that in the stillness of 3:00 AM, a moment more like a photograph than a video and under stars that were brighter-than-usual pinpricks in the celestial blanket that covered all those still asleep, when I heard a noise that was unfamiliar — a sharp shriek that punctured the silence — my little hairs stood up. And they really do — my little hairs: on the back of my neck and on my forearms. I can feel them pressing against whatever sweater or hoodie I’m wearing. There’s an interesting and sadly ineffective reason for this. When we’re afraid, adrenaline stimulates the body to pull on the roots of our hairs, making them stand up. The purpose of that is to make us look bigger to the enemy we feel threatened by.
I gave you the interesting part. Now let me tell you the “sadly ineffective reason” part.
The sound I heard was not a deer warning its young or mate. Believe me, as soon as I came inside, which was not long after I heard the noise — defining “not long after” as being the time it takes to Google “What the fuck was that” — I searched for what a deer sounds like when threatened. I got videos of the snort and the stomp and even, when I scrolled down, deer stags with mating calls. I knew then that I’d scrolled past a possible answer. I didn’t find online anything like what I’d heard until last night, when Karen played for me the sound of a fox barking.
I swear to you that yesterday morning, my hair follicles were trying to make me look bigger and more threatening than a small canine that would have been no match for me. (Most likely.)
Sadly, adrenaline didn’t help me stand my ground. It made me want a cup of coffee in front of my laptop.