A Salubrious Day for Uncle Niah and the Fox

THEN there was the day that Uncle Niah caught himself a fox. So I was told, because Uncle Niah lived long before my time, and he was well over in his book when he caught the fox. He appears in our family tree as Jedeniah, hence 'Niah, but his name was really Jedediah. But everybody said Jedeniah and one day he gave up and accepted that. On the day he caught the fox he stated his purpose at breakfast time of going to the far wood lot to fix a place in the fence that had been tangled by, probably, a moose, but it might have been a bear.

On our old Maine farms, the ``pasture'' was usually that part of the land least adaptable to tillage and the most remote. The cows and sheep had to trot their legs off to find something to nibble, and the ``pasture'' would include the wood lot, the sugar bush, and swamp, ledge, and sidehill. On our place, the far end of the pasture was a bog that we shared with Uncle Niah. He was there and we were here, and the fence between us. It was here that a rambling moose had wrought the damage.

Uncle Niah was by no means a spring chicken. Fact is, he was the one who used to hatch a chicken every spring. Sitting in the rocker by the kitchen window made for tedious hours, so they used to give him an egg along in March, and he'd keep it warm until it hatched. Gave him something to do and spared him any feeling that he was retired.

But this morning in spring promised a salubrious day, and Uncle Niah asked for a lunch and said he'd take his time and walk up to fix that fence. ``Get me into the air,'' he said. So with an ax and a hammer and a pail of staples, and his kindly, beat-up tin lunch bucket, he had set out, promising to be ``keerful.''

IT was a long walk, and at first he followed the cattle lane to the pasture bars, which were down because the cows were still on winter schedule in the tie-up. Then he took the rutted wood road, with still a little snow in places, and next veered to come to the fence. Carefully moving along, he followed the fence and came at last to the broken place. He was glad to find the moose hadn't broken or moved any posts, so the job consisted only of untangling the wires and re-stapling them. He sat on a stump for a time to ``catch a breath.''

Uncle Niah, in his time, had been a fencer with the best of them. Even if he had to cut his posts as he went, he could string wire faster than anybody else around, and he never allowed a sag. This time, he removed his ``frock,'' which is the jacket that goes with overalls, and he soon had the wires in place and that part of the fence was again ready for the cows.

Afterward, Uncle Niah went up out of the boggy place to a knoll, and found a blowdown where he could sit in the sun and have his noonin'. He explored the gusto of his lunch pail, and found that, as usual, Aunt Liddy hadn't stinted. She never did. ``Ample of everything,'' was her motto.

The sumptuous repast concluded, Uncle Niah rolled his frock into a pillow, adjusted it just so in the lee of the blowdown, and laid his head upon it so his recumbent posture became an invitation to slumber. The warm spring sun pervaded the sylvan glade with amiable and docile serenity, and when Uncle Niah closed his eyes he went immediately to sleep.

Upon opening his eyes later, he noticed first that the sun had advanced, but that it still shone upon him and around about, and then he became aware of some activity close to his extended feet.

Moving no muscles save those that worked his eyes, he discovered a vixen stretched out in motherly generosity almost at his toes. She had no notion that Uncle Niah was anywhere around. Her four cubs were frolicking like kittens, and the old girl was watching them at play. Uncle Niah pondered, and then with a sudden movement he whisked his frock from under his head and clapped it over one of the cubs. Then the mother and three cubs disappeared into a den between two pine roots some six feet away.

UNCLE NIAH brought the cub back to the house, saying to the youngsters, ``You didn't know your poor muscle-bound Grampie could run down a fox, did you?''

They made the little thing comfortable overnight in a long unused barrel churn in the shed, and the next day Uncle Niah carried it back and let it go by the den. He said it went right into the hole.

When I was a tyke, they showed me the place where Uncle Niah ``ran down'' his fox, so I know this tale is true.

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