Blue heron photo 
Jason Lindsey/

Click here for the 
original  version.

A Fable For Our Times

In world literature, a fable is a narrative story. It is usually fictitious, but is always intended to teach a moral truth or precept and one in which animals or inanimate objects are often the speakers and actors. Here is just such a fable, tailored for our times.

The Fable

There once was a Fox who lived in a beautiful valley that bore the same name as he did. He ranged all over that familiar valley, diligently hunting for his food and building comfortable dens in which to rest at night. He took it for granted that it would always be a pleasant place to live.

One day, as he trotted along, he chanced upon a mother duck and her new brood of ducklings lying dead in a foul ditch leading to the river. He saw they had been killed by chemical pollution originating from a nearby manufacturing plant. The Fox made a gut-wrenching decision. He decided to “give a damn and then do something about it.” The Fox, always a cautious one, now became sly and covert. He slunk around corners and as he did, took note of the chief polluters of his beloved valley.

Finally the day came when he was ready to take action. “Over the last 29 years," explained The Fox, "I’ve capped smokestacks, plugged sewers and hung signs. I’ve distributed broadsides, defaced products and dumped rotten fish in corporate offices. I have also deposited, hung, sailed and poured (yes, poured) more dead skunks in more unusual places than anyone I know of. I’m probably the only person in North America who considers a road-killed skunk to be a natural resource.”

The Fox became well-known throughout the entire valley for these clandestine activities. Because some articles were written about his exploits, he was widely introduced to the public at large. A few trusted friends became his “kindred spirits” and quietly helped him with his ecotage. But it was The Fox himself who sniffed the air and picked the targets for their attention.

Whenever he could, he told his story to the young ones in the valley and urged them to become defenders of the local environment. He loved being a teacher and talking with the kids, especially as his fine red coat became streaked with graying hair and his long, fleet legs became sore. It became harder for him to range across the valley, but he had his memories to recall of the ecological good he had done.

Finally one day, the vital spirit that had energized him for so many years began to slip away. He knew the end was near and so, in a quiet voice, he said goodbye. This was his message for all of us here in the Fox River valley and all across the nation: “Keep listening. I will be in touch, one way or another. Adieu for now.”

The Fox’s Identity Revealed at Last

It was our friend, Jim Phillips of Aurora, who died October 3, 2001. Recognizing in 2000 that he was failing in health, his friends in the Sierra Club honored Jim with the Valley of the Fox Group’s “VOF Best Friend” award as the person who helped the group the most during the year. Since Jim never really officially revealed his identity as The Fox, we conspired to aid and abet him in keeping his thin disguise intact.

Surprisingly, after some years of capturing headlines, Jim abandoned his less-than-legal forays by the end of 1973. He hunkered down and was quiet during the 1980’s. Perhaps it was because environmental organizations like our Valley of the Fox Group were founded during this time and were addressing ecological concerns in a less confrontational way. Certainly there was a notable rise in public involvement and legislative responsibility. The activist trail chosen by The Fox was a very different one than that pursued by the Sierra Club.

In the 1980’s Jim turned his efforts toward organizing the Fox River Conservation Foundation of Aurora. When he offered to help our monitoring studies of the Fox River waters, we were delighted. His foundation provided funds which enabled us to purchase state-of-the-art water testing equipment. His only stipulation was that we share our information with teachers and schoolchildren along the Fox River which of course, we were delighted to do.

The Fox remained out of the public eye for most of the 1990’s too. Then one day, Jim called and asked us to preview a new video with him called “The Legend of The Fox.” It told The Fox’s story in his own words and in interviews with those who knew him. It had been carefully produced and directed by two of his dedicated friends, Jennifer Howard and Terry Romine, of Aurora. We were thrilled with what we heard and saw. Here at last was a summation of all he had tried to do! And, better yet, it was in an appealing format that would lend itself to school assemblies and classrooms. Our VOF Group agreed to write a Teacher’s Guide that could accompany the video to the classroom. It would be designed to encourage discussion and the exchange of ideas. It was written and distributed by kindred spirits, Gene McArdle and Mike Brock.

In order to promote the viewing of the video, we organized its premiere public showing at the Shoemaker Nature Center at Tekakwitha Woods Forest Preserve in St. Charles on Dec. 11, 1999, with the producer and director in attendance, but not the sly Fox himself. Both the video and the Teacher’s Guide were enthusiastically received.

In the last years of his life, Jim would shake his head in wonderment at how influential his autobiographical book, "Raising Kane," and the "Legend of the Fox" video had become. Copies of the book were covertly sneaking into homes, classrooms and libraries all across the country as well. They had taken on a life of their own.

The man who wore the persona of The Fox has departed, but he is still managing to keep in touch, much as he promised. His ideals, his sense of justice and fairness, his deep-rooted concern for clean water and clean air, linger on. A preacher once gave a sermon based on Jim’s activities. He said, “Now I ask you, is The Fox a dangerous character? I do not think so. I have never heard of any road graders that have been damaged or dams blown up by The Fox. But if ideas are dangerous, well then, of course The Fox is a hazard.”

Ask yourself, as we have many times over the years, how many times do you encounter such men and women of action? The Fox had the courage to act boldly on his deep–felt convictions. It’s not a frequent occurrence. So long, Best Friend.