Zen & the Arts - Field Notes

Whenever we are reunited with our soul others are involved. Sometimes those others don’t have a human shape. Mario da Cunha was generous in sharing on PZI Talk a small bit of the years-long relationship he’s had with a fox. At the end of his posts Mario would thank us for listening. We are thankful that he has been listening, a wide open listening, not limited to ears. – Editors

Baizhang’s Fox

A Teacher Appears

I live and work on a large piece of property in Santa Barbara. Many birds, trees and small animals live on this property and have been very helpful to me over the years. I’ve grown to understand how to belong from them, to take my place among them.

For longer than the six and a half years I’ve been here, one of the residents has been a lovely petite western red fox. The Hispanic gardeners, here for decades, call her “Mama”, or “perrita roja” (little red dog) affectionately.

I’ve seen her raise 4 litters of adorable kits over the years. On late summer evenings, when the light was dimming, I would hide behind a stone balustrade and watch the littles chase, joust, duck and roll all under the watchful eye of their mama and papa. If either parent caught a whiff or sight of me, a small yip would be sounded by one or both, and off the kits bolted for the nearest cover.

Over the years I’ve watched her as she has watched me. I started to feed her a bit when she looked too skinny during her mothering. Now that she’s at least 10 years old I feed her more regularly. It’s a thing we do together. The photo above is of her eating some roasted unsalted peanuts. Ted, the grounds foreman, and I call it her peanut face. Squinty eyes and a yapping chewing motion.

Over the years, Mama and the trees and all the others have taught me so much about the nature of love, community and belonging. Loving something just because it is, just the way it is. Including me in there as well.

Not sure what else to say.

Thanks for listening.

First, the Breakfast Protocol. 

Dana Accepted

Early each morning I listen for the crow calls on the large property where I live and work. The timbre and tone let me know if they’ve seen Mama fox and how near she is to the house. I warm a few ounces of chicken meat and add a bit of broth, warm a whole raw egg, and grab the big bag of roasted unsalted peanuts. I serve breakfast in a couple of different places depending on the work being done by the gardeners.

Roasted peanuts in the shell, a small pile of shelled roasted peanuts, the chicken and crushed peanuts at strategic places for the shy towhees and juncos. The bluejays (“cowlick” and “apollonia”) are daring enough to dart in and out while I’m laying out the feast. The small birds make their little noises under cover in the junipers and orange trees. The quiet crows line the cornice 20 feet above. Their respectful silence is out of character in my experience.

Mama first takes the egg, trotting off somewhere to bury it. She digs a shallow hole, gently places it inside and fills the hole by using her nose to push the earth. The crows then let me know that she’s returning with raucous jeering calls. Mama usually starts with chicken, then part way through the course, supplements with either the shelled or unshelled peanuts, then back to finish the chicken. When she’s finished, she moves away without the slightest gesture toward me. Full now, time to move on….

The crows, until now silently watching, now erupt in chorus of seeming excited calls at their turn at the bounty. They are the connoisseurs of fine dining, shoving and squabbling for every bit. The banquet table is completely cleared and cleaned by the last guests.

Sometimes, I wonder why I have the urge to write to you all about this part of the life I live. I sense that I have the desire, if that’s the correct word, to share something that touches me so deeply, to convey something of the way I crack open and the universe enters.

I often find that I’m engaging in an unconscious effort to “pave” the world and my experience in it with language. When I sit with Mama, or see weeds growing through cracks in the (my) pavement, then something unnamable is stirred and comes forth. There’s freedom. The landscape of this life expands in such surprising ways.

Thanks for listening.

(Editors’ note – Mr. da Cunha understands that foxes come in many shapes, some with eight legs. A weaver recognizes a weaver.)

Light in All Things

I am continually moved by the smallest things. This morning, after a difficult night following some difficult weeks, while sipping tea from a mug my daughter made in her childhood, a sister of the arachne family slowly creeped up the side of the monthly planner on the table. She, being the size of a dot used to top a lower case “i” in 24 point font, was just visible to me as she made her way across the month of August. Beginning on the 4th and leaving near the 24th. Across dates and activities that have happened and those yet to be. Traversing post-its, coupons, pieces of cornice stone, worn drapery tassels and finally onto the clear paper of the future date yet to be. As I watched her I greeted her with a “hello there” that likely sounded to her like very close thunder rumbling. The point I guess for sharing this is that the smallest of things offer great freedom for me. Boom. Like that.

Thanks for listening.

What is This?

Are You Listening?                                 

                                   Awoke today with many answers,
                                   luckily, a fox — just now,
                                   chased them away.

Thanks Dears

New Kits!

Fox Spirits

I emailed a friend a couple of days ago telling her about how there are actually eight kits and how watching them play around their nursery is like watching an English farce play — all the comings and goings from the large hedge — and how the baby foxes play all the roles. She said “…. the baby foxes play all the roles. It is thus.” Yes! We baby foxes play all the roles! Another way the subtle touch graces us all. 

So here is one of her kits, she ran all the way across the lawn with her mom for a chance at a chicken drumstick. The kits are solitary eaters. They grab food from their mum and sprint to evade their siblings.

After the food is gone, everyone settles into games and playtime. Mama might groom a couple of the littles that will sit still for it. Boo sometimes plays with her stepbrothers and stepsisters, but mostly she lays in the grass near Mama where they both stretch and scootch along the rough dry grass to scratch their sides and backs. Then after a bit everyone goes their separate ways. 

Something about all this touches me in a place where there are no words. Thanks for listening.

Invasive Species

A New Presence

This is a daughter of Mama Fox’s. Mama is the OG (original Guanyin). This daughter is sitting in the place, on top of the garden wall, where her mother usually waits for me on feeding days.

You know, I looked up these little creatures to find out more about them. They’re an invasive species brought to the west coast in the mid nineteenth century for their fur and to be prey for human hunting. I have a deep feeling for them and an internal conversation about supporting them. As a singular example of another invasive species I have mixed emotions. Maybe more on this later.

Anyway, I’m so struck by the lovely innocence of the expression of her face.



A Dear Friend

A Teaching That Lasts a Lifetime


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