Early one rainy morning I awoke to a dark and depressing sky, the kind of morning that makes me want to stay in bed until the sun comes back. The dogs and cat would not allow me to wallow in laziness and meowed, poked or barked at me to get up.
After we all had breakfast, I washed the dishes, gazing outside occasionally at the gloomy sky. But, wait. Was that a beautiful Golden Retriever in my back yard? Had someone dropped her off during the night? I quickly walked into the sun room. Could it be? Yes, my fox family is back. The neighbors a few doors down, who have chickens, had not decimated the litter last year. At one time there were three adult fox and at least two kits. But I had not seen them for a long time and had heard gunshots last spring.
As the sky slowly lightened I watched the tall leggy fox, his auburn, bushy tail held out straight behind him. The rain and mud had turned his back legs, white bib and auburn coat into a heavy sodden mess. Yet he (I assumed it was a male), stayed in the yard for over an hour, hunting for food, running close to the chain link fence on the NW edge of the property, under cover of the trees. He stalked a bird but it finally rose awkwardly into the sky. The fox had almost been successful in capturing a meal. Eventually he disappeared from the property, jumping easily over the four-foot fence, allowing me to release my dogs outside to track the fox’s scent.
The following morning a smaller fox, perhaps a female, appeared in the yard at the same time as her mate had the previous day. I found some binoculars and watched her for over an hour. (Unfortunately my camera doesn’t have a telephoto lens so I was unable to photograph her.) She hid under my mom’s favorite evergreen tree, stalking the numerous scrawny squirrels who were gathering acorns for the winter. One tiny, hyper squirrel ran up a Lodge Pole Pine next to the fox’s position. But that meant the little creature was trapped. There were no overhead branches for it to escape from tree to tree. The smart fox finally realized that they were at a stalemate. She turned away from the tree and easily dropped down on the ground. The squirrel saw its chance for freedom; ran down the pine and tore off across the yard to an oak tree. The fox saw her chance too and quickly turned and chased the squirrel. But in the end she had no more luck catching grey squirrels than my dogs do every morning. And for what? There can hardly be any meat on the squirrel’s body. By the time she realized there was no chance of a quick capture she looked around and panicked. She was now closer to my house and out in the open. She scampered back to hide underneath the evergreen’s lowest branches.
I watched, a voyeur, mesmerized by the little animal’s intelligence and cunning. Sometimes she would drop like a cat, settling down for a nap, her feet tucked underneath her. Then she would take off to pace the property line or run behind the dog training building, alert, watching and listening, looking up into the trees for more squirrels, checking the open field for anything or anyone that would be a danger to her. The dogs in the house a distance away barked and she froze.
My dogs were becoming restless. Their morning run was now an hour late. I took them out into the fenced upper parking lot, making a lot of noise to alert the fox that she should leave. I released the dogs into the back yard. They were initially oblivious to the intruder, up wind of her, but eventually they caught her scent as they wandered to the back of the property. One Border Collie looked into the woods and barked. The fox may have been nearby still, watching and waiting.
I view the fox family as a gift from nature, presented to me as a respite from the depressing grey, winter mornings. The fox represent another life cycle, an animal who survives at all odds, living a hard existence. I’ve admired their outstanding beauty and seen them in moments of dog-like silliness, rolling in the grass, and then watched as they are overcome with fear, alert. It is mating season for the fox. Perhaps I will witness another cycle of life in a couple of months.
Be safe, my Fox.