Recently, I went walking with a friend in the Northern Ontario town of Iroquois Falls. There isn’t much going on at night in town. Most of the buzz is happening around the arenawhere games of hockey always seem to be going on. There is little traffic and very fewpeople on the streets and I don’t mind that at all. On this night the bright lights of thepaper mill and the distant hum of the machines cast an eerie backdrop to the quiet, snowy streets. Half way through our walk we stopped at the local park and sat on a bench in silence as we stared at the flood lit mill and the retired black locomotive.

As we sat sinking deep in our own thoughts, a ghost-like form silently slipped through the shadows of the bushes and tree trunks. It was low to the ground as it swiftly darted from shadow to shadow. It seemed to just appear out of thin air. Then it finally made itself known and it entered into the subtle light of a street lamp. It was a small sly red fox, or Mah-Keh-Sho in Cree, prowling for a meal or a hand out in the night. It was obvious he or she was familiar with the human animal as this little creature showed no fear.

Mah-Keh-Sho seemed friendly and quiet. The sight of the animal was pleasant. It had a small body with cunning eyes that seemed intelligent and thoughtful. Mah-Keh-Sho moved gracefully and almost danced with its bright bushy tail following like a long elegant feather. It was beautiful.

However, when you hail from a remote northern First Nation community, you learn from an early age to respect any wild animal no matter how friendly it may seem. My non-Native friend admired our new found friend and coaxed it closer. He seemed to want to reach out to pet Mah-Keh-Sho like he would a neighbourhood dog or cat.

As soon as I saw Mah-Keh-Sho, I sat back and waited to see where the animal would go and watched what it would do. As it moved closer, I got up from my seat and started waving my hands in the air and spoke to Mah-Keh-Sho in Cree, almost shouting repeatedly, “Mah-Sh-Cha-N-The” – the Cree phrase for go away. My friend seemed confused and surprised at my reaction and wondered what I was trying to do. Then I told him to be careful and to move away from the Mah-Keh-Sho.

The fox seemed to understand my message. Maybe he or she knew the Cree dialect and understood what I was saying. It stopped where it was. Mah-Keh-Sho looked up and tilted his or her head to one side in a moment of confusion. Then the

Mah-Keh-Sho turned around and quietly blended back into the shadows and away from us.

We watched Mah-Keh-Sho disappear into the night. I then explained to my friend that wild animals, no matter how small they may be, can be dangerous creatures. We do not know how they perceive our world or what they think of us or what we will do. At a distance they may be curious but up close they may feel threatened. Any animal will attack as soon as it feels that it is in danger. This may happen at any given moment during an encounter. Don’t let the size of Mah-Keh-Sho fool you. A Mah-Keh-Sho is equipped with small claws and sharp teeth and it will use these if necessary if it feels threatened. There is always the chance that the Mah-Keh-Sho could have rabies. If a rabid animal bit you, even if it were a small fox, it could cause serious health complications.

This night in the park my friend saw the Mah-Keh-Sho as a cute little animal coming to visit. I wonder how the fox saw us. Did he see us as giant animals waiting to turn him into lunch in the night? Did he see us as the bearers of food? He must have been a town fox as he did seem streetwise. Perhaps people in the area were feeding him. That would explain his seemingly trustful approach. It must have disappointed him to run into this Cree from up the coast and it might have been a bit of a shock to hear the ancient words that have probably been uttered by my ancestors through the ages to visiting Mah-Keh-Sho. No doubt he won’t be stopping by anytime soon for another close encounter of the Cree kind.