Fox and Friends
When I first moved in to my house, I would sometimes glimpse a pair of foxes in the field along the driveway. Soon, one of them – the female, started leaving her fox-poop calling cards around the perimeter of the house. These I sometimes acknowledged by leaving a small apple next to the poop, as I had learned to do at a small ranch nearby that had a lot of apple trees. Foxes love apples. Over time, the fox began leaving her messages on the back deck, which my daughter immediately christened the ‘poop deck’. Eventually, I began leaving apples beside the lavender bushes next to what is now the pollinator meadow, and soon the fox started showing up most days at dusk to see if there was a snack for her. My daughter calls this Fox News, of course.
I began leaving foods that she would likely eat in the wild: apples, pears (a favorite), blackberries (top of the list), and the occasional raw egg. Over the summer I discovered that she especially loves apricots, blueberries and plums. I took to whistling the same tune when I put the food out, and now she often comes when she hears me whistling, or when I walk around singing, and she has gradually become more trusting. This means that she doesn’t bolt when she sees me, and if I am doing yoga on the deck when she comes for her snack, I studiously ignore her. I’m careful to stay about 20 feet away and she cautiously retrieves the food even when I’m out there, though she prefers it if I stay inside the house. We look at each other through the window. We make eye contact. I talk to her and tell her how beautiful she is, and that I love her, and I am so glad to see her. She squints and tilts her head.
Once in a while she brings the male. Fox and Friend. He’s larger than she is, lanky, and also very skittish. Sometimes she leaves the egg or the apple for later. Perhaps he comes to get it under the cover of darkness, or perhaps she brings it to him. Maybe she eats it. Once I bought a fresh watermelon at the Farmer’s Market but it wasn’t as sweet as I had hoped. I tossed it gently into the garden and it split open. The foxes devoured it.
Sometimes if the fox comes at twilight, the deer come as well. They eat the radish flowers in the meadow. When I first moved in, there was an old doe that lived behind the rock rose (and ate them, too), but I haven’t seen her for a long time. I believe she must have died. The ones that come now are four young bucks with fresh budding antlers. There was an older male with them at first, but he hurt his leg last winter and had a terrible limp. One day last spring there were vultures gathered on the fence posts and I knew he had died. The birds, too, take the fox in stride, even the quail. But the fox is very wary of ravens and hawks, and stops frequently when she’s eating to anxiously look up. Every few bites she paces back and forth or scampers away and back in a quick circle.
My neighbors are seldom home. They’re only here part time. And the highway is a ways from the house. I pray that this will help keep her safe. Sometimes the house closest to mine gets rented out and sometimes the renters are noisy city folk. The deer and the fox stay away when this happens.
I long to know more about her. Sometimes I imagine what her fur would feel like if I could touch it. The people at Earthfire Institute, a private animal rescue center in Idaho, say that it takes a long time to build trust with a wild animal. And the ones they house have been injured or traumatized and cannot be re-released into the wild, so their whole scene is different. The humans there spend hours calmly hanging out and waiting for the animals to approach them. Only then, and only very respectfully and carefully do they touch them. I think about this a lot, asking myself whether or not to build this bridge. So far, my intuition says no, because I am afraid that if the fox learns to trust me, she may think that all humans would be kind to her, and unfortunately this isn’t the case.
At night she runs around on the roof and leaves her calling cards up there, too. When she doesn’t come around for a few days I worry. Sometimes when I’m out of town, someone else feeds the fox. She’s got a growing fan club. Friends who come to visit and stay a few days quickly fall in love with her. There are at least a dozen people now who want to know the latest Fox News. It’s so much more beautiful and reassuring than the kind we get on TV.