This weekend, though, when Sabrina walked out onto our deck, she was startled to find a vulture lurking a mere ten feet away, sitting on our deck railing. As she told me later, "I waved my arms around to assure it I wasn't dead." The vulture lazily roused itself, and took off.
An hour later, after Sabrina had left to run some errands, I walked out on the deck, bringing the dogs with me. Both Teo and my lab, Ripley, sped out to the far edge, hackles raised, yipping and growling. At first, I thought they were harassing one of the neighborhood's wandering cats. But their energy was too insistent, too focused.
I walked over towards them, and scanned the yard: tool shed, the compost pile, lots of leaves piled up near the base of nearby trees. Perhaps a raccoon? But our friends Rockie and Roquette weren't usually out during the day. I dropped my eyes lower.
And then I saw. Right below us lay the body of a grey fox. She did not look as if she was sleeping; no animal sleeps like that. She looked as if she had fallen to her side, grown stiff, and then gone still.
I herded the dogs back into the house. The first thing I thought of was a need to cover her, to protect her from the vultures. I grabbed one of the blankets off our porch that the cats had been nestling in on cold nights, and returned to her. I didn't look long. I simply brushed away as many flies as I could, and draped the cloth over her, then waited for Sabrina. I knew we needed to bury her, but I felt we should do it together.
When Sabrina arrived, I showed her why the vultures had been so close. Did you know that a group of vultures is called a wake? It was easier to imagine them as mourners come to pay respect, instead of scavengers. The fox was so beautiful; no predator wounds marked her body. Neither of us had ever had the chance to be so close, to spend such time looking at a fox. Death brings a strange intimacy.
We brought out a pickaxe and a shovel, and set to work digging a grave nearby. We glistened with sweat within moments, unused to that type of labor. It takes longer than one might think. I didn't notice at first that Sabrina had shaped not a rectangle, but a circle. When the depth was right, she went to our fox, and gently broke rigor mortis, bending her into a curve. Then she picked her up and placed her into the hole, wrapping her tail up towards her head. Now she looked as if she were sleeping. Sabrina stroked her several times, murmuring, then stepped back. We filled in the hole, and were done.
But not quite. Sabrina had done everything she does so well, that touching and bonding. I, however, felt something was left incomplete on my side. For the last two days, I have been wishing I had done a simple service, recited a chant. I kept pushing the thought aside.
Tonight, I gave in to the desire. I put on my rakusu, brought my bell, chant book, incense bowl, and candle out to the deck. All alone, at two in the morning, I conducted a transition ceremony for our kitsune, the fox who came to us.
And after the last bow, I knew it had been the right thing to do.