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Fox on the Run, owl, Mark Belanger, Steve Stone: Ramble with the Lady

A still-life arrangement of fresh hedge apples.
Credit: Dale Bowman

I’m dragging.

So even more than usual, the red fox bolting from a small clump of trees on the far end of an extended Ramble with Lady brought me joy.

I just love red foxes. In part, it has to do with what I find physically beautiful in them: their thick vividly red coats and bushy tails nearly as large as their bodies. I also find them graceful with their low-slung loping style of running.

And their relative rarity also makes them a good sighting, any time any where. Coyotes have basically pushed them out, making red foxes even rarer.

OK, long-time readers of the Rambles will expect this. Yes, I found the video for “Fox on the Run” by Sweet. Remember Sweet. Sheez, it was 42 years ago.

If you Google “Fox on the Run,” there is a much spicier video available.

I digress.

So I stepped livelier as the red fox ran past the burn pile and down the bank on the west side of the north old clay pit. If you’re wondering, I didn’t even try to get a photo of a running fox at 100 yards in the half light before dawn.

I just enjoyed it.

Like I said, I’m dragging this week. Have been all week. In part, it has to do with work. Covering the Chicago Marathon for the Sun-Times always takes it out of me. The Sunday of the actual race in particular knocks me around with its 14-hour day of high intensity work.

Then last week I was coming off writing a column about the internment of my sister in September. Click here for that column. That just psychologically took it out of me, only adding to a draining stretch.

And, lest we forget, I’m a sports guy at heart, so my evenings for the last week have been lengthened by the debut of Mitch Trubisky for the Chicago Bears on Monday. And I mean Monday night.

Not to mention the five playoff games by the Chicago Cubs. Those games have been riveting. They’ve also been long. The clinching game Thursday evening (Friday morning by D.C. time) was 4 hours, 37 minutes long. It also was not a well-played, managed or umped (is that a verb?) game.

But it was riveting, so till I calmed down and got to bed, it was something like 12:30 a.m. and I wake up like clockwork at 4:30-5 a.m. every morning in time to catch the 5 a.m. news on WGN-AM.

That brings me to Mark Belanger.

Baseball matters almost as much as the outdoors to me and I listen to way too much sports talk on “The Score,” WSCR-AM. But I happen to agree with many who noted how poorly played the clinching game was on many levels.

That’s where Mark Belanger comes in. He was the shortstop on the great Baltimore Oriole teams. I grew up an hour from both Baltimore and Philadelphia, but I listened to and watched the Orioles much more, largely because they were more interesting and much better than the Phillies. Other than when Dick Allen was on the Phillies in my very young years before he came to greatness with the White Sox.

I digress again.

Belanger, a lanky 6-1 had a career batting average of .228 (OPS .590). And that is what he was as a hitter. With those kind of stats, I don’t even think he would have been given a look at the major league level in this day and age. Let alone go on to be an anchor to the up-the-middle defense for the great pitching staffs of the Orioles (hello Steve Stone).  Before Stone arrived, Paul Blair was the center fielder, who had slightly better offensive numbers (.250, .684) than Belanger. Low offense or not, they were anchors on defense for those great pitching staffs.

Pure athletes are given the nod, for better or worse, now, especially at shortstop. But sometimes they are not baseball players, per se. And sometimes that shows in games like the clincher Thursday night. Players were just doing dumb baseball things all over the place, yet also doing great athletic things, too.

In my early years of writing and reporting, I covered high school baseball regularly. It was a much different game then at that level then, too. The kid at almost every position was a baseball player in the sense that they knew and felt the game. Games were much crisper 40 years ago, even at the high school level much like the pro game, though there are now better athletes playing baseball.

But I digress.

Dawn over the town pond on Oct. 14, 2017.
Credit: Dale Bowman

For a few weeks now I’ve been back to doing extended Rambles, not just regular Rambles, in the morning with Lady, our family’s mutt. It helps me back on the path to being a healthier me.

And it also helps my spirit, which is also why I’ve started doing occasional written and posted versions of Rambles with the Lady. Organizing my thoughts and writing them helps me in my head.

Today it was a fox. Yesterday, I heard an owl hooting as we turned the corner after crossing the side rail, separating the town from the wildness of the town pond, and turned left for the extended ramble.

I finally found the owl in that half-light before dawn about two thirds of a way up a bare tree. Surprisingly, Lady and I did not spook the owl as we passed. I’m pretty sure it was a young great horned owl, but I am not positive.

Sandpipers have been plentiful on the shores of the old clay pits, especially the north one. The fall color has been very drab this year, I suspect because of the lack of water until the last few days.

Speaking of which, we were able to do the extended Ramble this morning because the heavy rains stayed to the north at least early this morning.

For some reason, likely related to our warm fall, fish have been up shallow most mornings on the town pond, thrashing as we passed.

A rabbit bolted this morning just after we crossed the bridge over the neckdown between the two clay pits. Lady instinctively lunged toward it .

Dozens of hedge apples littered the trail on the east side of the south pit. I picked one of the cleanest ones to take home to my wife, who half believes in their magical properties.

Lady nosing around dozens of fallen hedge apples on Oct. 14, 2017.
Credit: Dale Bowman

A black squirrel played around a bare tree by the gravel road that is the entrance to the town pond as Lady and I turned to walk out of the wildness around the town pond on the old rail line now a trail.

Back in town, two blocks from home, Lady leaped high into a decorative fruit tree and nearly caught a gray squirrel. It’s rather hilarious to see her jump sometimes as high as eight feet into a tree. The squirrel made a death-defying leap and just caught the edge of a roof and pulled itself up.

Back home, I artfully stacked the hedge apple I lugged home in the glass pie plate my wife uses to arrange them.

The day began.