The fox and the jelly beans

An old Easter treat tossed in the yard turns out to be a delectable delight for a fox.

My tendency to save everything and waste nothing sometimes has unexpected results. Friends know that I'm the one to see if they need an empty box, a length of ribbon, a couple of pots for plants, or just about anything else that most people discard without a twinge of conscience.

I, unfortunately, am made of sterner stuff. You simply do not throw away a perfectly good item just because you don't happen to need it at the moment. You might possibly need it next week, or next year or in some unforeseeable future. Be prepared! Better safe than sorry! My grandmother was never at a loss for mottoes such as these, and indoctrinated me at an impressionable age.

The same thinking holds true for food that is still good – even if it's stale, expired, or you're just plain tired of it. In the days when we kept chickens, this was no problem. They gobbled up old bread and any other treasure we brought them. But after many winters of carrying hot water to them every morning – which soon froze over and needed to be thawed yet again – my husband finally opted out of the egg business.

We soon learned that wild birds appreciated these offerings every bit as much as the hens had. Not all wild birds, of course. Some are much more dainty and finicky in their choice of comestibles – the pretty ones, usually. You won't see goldfinches or fire-red cardinals dirtying their beaks with such stuff. That leaves crows who good-naturedly accept any tidbits that come their way.

And, you may not believe me, but one can even become fond of crows. They are bold and smart, their glossy ebony feathers shine in the sun, and their bright black eyes regard you with interest and without fear. A one-footed crow partook of our largess for several years. He was always accompanied by at least two others who seemed to act as escorts and watchmen, while he hobbled about, enjoying the scraps. I missed him when he no longer came.

Recently, in clearing out the shelf where odd dishes are stored, I opened a covered candy dish to discover that it still contained Easter jelly beans. Mind you, I don't mean this Easter just past, but the Easter before! How they came to be put away there, I have no notion. And perhaps it reveals a little too much about how seldom I clean out nooks and crannies. To all appearances, the candy looked fine. But even I, user-upper supreme, wasn't about to eat them!

However, waste not, want not. I couldn't just throw them in the trash. After all, they contained sugar, a nutrient. Unable to think of any other solution, I threw them outside, along with the regular offerings, under the bird bath.

Later, "Come quick, come quick!" my husband hissed at me as he peered out the window.

Joining him, I was dumbfounded to see a gray fox. He – I say he for convenience, but perhaps it was she – was beautiful. His coat was a handsome, peppery gray but he sported reddish sides. He was tiny and delicate, with slender legs and pointed muzzle, and sharp, forward-pointing ears. His long, bushy tail was marked by a line of black along its length. He found a piece of bread, which soon vanished. He continually looked around as he feasted, checking this dangerous area so near a dwelling.

But then he found something irresistible. Jelly beans! We tried to muffle our laughter as he chewed – and chewed and chewed – on this strange, delightful treat. Never mind that the candies were rock-hard. His little jaws worked at the job, savoring every bean. I could picture the jelly sticking to his teeth but that didn't stop him. He stayed until he'd found and devoured every last one, searching carefully until convinced that none had escaped him.

Then with a final flourish of his handsome brush, he loped away into the orchard and disappeared among the wild rose vines.

Now you may have read some of Aesop's Fables. They were meant to instill in us as children the lessons of the wise versus the foolish animals. As you might suspect, saver that I am, I still have my book of those fables, including "The Fox and the Grapes," and "The Fox and the Crow." But you can be very sure that, until now, there has never been a story titled, "The Fox and the Jelly Beans."

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