Even as Notre Dame burns, as Our Mother burns, in my meadow spring is exuberant and full of surprises. The monarchs have returned, but no bees, in spite of lots of fodder, including borage, their favorite. Even the normally plentiful bumble bees are conspicuously sparse, and I am concerned. Should I have set up new hives here this spring, even though I do not have the time or the disk space to properly tend them? Perhaps it’s not too late. I will look into this.
In the meantime, the lovely Phoebe, my resident fox, continues to visit the meadow I planted last year. The daikon radishes, rosemary, vetch and alyssum and thyme are already blooming. The poppies are roaring forth and the lavender is starting to bud. The matilija poppies will follow, along with carnations and, hopefully the milkweed and sunflowers will sprout soon. Phoebe and I have known each other for about a year now, and she has grown, both in size and in confidence. She does not bolt when she sees me, and merely looks quizzically when I tell her how happy I am to see her, how beautiful she is, how welcome. I still whistle the same tune when I bring her a snack or when she’s in the garden and I’m going outside to do a little late afternoon yoga on the deck. I don’t want to startle her.
A few weeks ago, I glimpsed a second fox, very elusive. Last week, he (I’m assuming) came to check out the buffet. Phoebe always eats the fruit first, eggs for dessert. Sometimes she comes back for them after dark. But last week the egg disappeared right away and, sure it was our Fantastic Mr. Fox, I hurriedly put out another, just in time to see a raven swoop down and make off with it! The raven returned to peck at the pear and, later, to steal a piece of apple. Cheeky fellow! I clapped my hands at him, explaining that, though I loved him (her?) the food was meant for someone else. After a while, Fantastic Mr. Fox came close enough for me to snap a few photos. His coat is shiny black, much darker than Phoebe’s and he’s a bit larger than she is. On his face he has a luminous ‘zorro’ mask (a little redundant to describe it that way, since zorro is Spanish for fox).
Yesterday, I saw the two of them waiting, sniffing, looking for food by the lavender bush where I always put it. I had put out two eggs (one duck, one chicken) and sliced a large apple into quarters. Phoebe came right away, but instead of eating nearby, as she often does, she started taking the food piece by piece… somewhere. A few minutes later, I found them by the Shiva statue, resting, playing and grooming each other. Actually, he was grooming her.
Unlike their cousins, the red fox, gray foxes mate for life. The males are slightly larger and heavier than the females, and both parents tend to their young. The male brings food to the female, who stays in the den with the cubs (pups? kits?) Gray foxes are ubiquitous throughout the continental U.S., northern Mexico and southern Canada, except for in deserts and high mountains. Depending on the weather, mating season begins in March or April –about now, and continues until early fall. Their gestation period is about 53 days and they usually have three to seven babies, who are born both deaf and blind. Later in life they develop exquisite hearing and keen sight. Foxes have very sharp claws, which they use to dig their dens in the ground, though they can also climb trees, where they like to go to feed, seek protection or rest. No wonder I see them up on the roof and find mysterious fox poops up there! In addition to fruit, eggs, and small animals, they eat grasshoppers and other insects from the garden. They can also swim, and prefer to live near water. Sometimes they chase their prey into it and catch them there: they can run 20 miles an hour and keep going for a long time without getting tired. As a species, the gray fox is 10 million years old. Their DNA is completely distinct from other foxes (red and Arctic). What a privilege to find ourselves sharing a portion of this life, in this place, together.