Exactly three times this week I have been privy to the sighting of one particular fox and my old heart has leapt with astonished joy each time, as if I were meeting my long lost soulmate after a somewhat storied absence. I want to tell you he is one handsome dude with his black tuxedo markings and snow white chest; his tail alone could bring the house down with its grand bushy plumage and its staccato black tip. Jaunty as hell, he trots proudly across the path in front of me and disappears into the woods on the other side, playfully daring me to follow. Yes, this fox goes about his business with sass and class and everything in me wants to know what this noble messenger has to say.
The third time I saw him I called my friend and local nature sleuth, Candy, and blabbered on and on about my new love interest. She suggested that the coyotes must have left the area for a while and created an opportunity for the resourceful fox to set up house. Lucky us. “Let’s call him Penultimate!”, I said in my little girl voice, “Penault or Penny for short”, mistakenly thinking that penultimate must mean most ultimate, which of course the fox was. Candy, being a good friend, laughed in agreement and we ended our call and went about our important lives.
Later that day when I had the chance to sit down at my computer and google the word penultimate I was dismayed to find that it doesn’t mean most ultimate at all! Seeing as how Candy is an English professor and continually whips my ass, and my brother’s ass, and my late husband’s ass, in Scrabble, I knew she had known the correct meaning all along, even when I exuberantly blurted out my chosen name for the fox. As in similar instances with Candy, mainly when playing Scrabble, when I have been vocabulary-challenged I usually resort to my ‘but I am a visual artist’ defense. This usually invokes a fairly big scoff from her, but this time she had let me get away with misusing a word and had said nothing.
The real definition of penultimate is next to last which is something of a conundrum if Candy knew at the time and agreed to the fox’s name. Since she is not normally prone to humoring me and is usually adamant about the correct pronunciation, spelling, meaning, etc., of all words, I am becoming rather suspect of her fox-like cleverness. Phenomenally effective shapeshifters and incredibly adaptable, the fox beckons us to not make too many waves but rather, adapt to our surroundings, blend into it, and use our surroundings (and circumstances) to our advantage. Is this what Candy is up to? Is it some kind of covert Scrabble strategy? And If by chance she thinks next to last is a good name for our fox, then what cunning secret could she and he be hiding?
I know you may be thinking that I am over thinking all of this but one can never be too careful when fox is around. Although he has a reputation as a trickster in many myths, make no mistake about it, fox does not joke around when executing clever strategies. Maybe the next time I see him it will be the last or maybe he and Candy are just pranking me. Any way you look at it I win because I saw the fox and he was penultimate to me.