Foxes in my Forest
As I write these words, I am sitting on the end of a large, rotting maple log, in the middle of a small forest of black cherry, white ash, maple, and majestic white pine trees, on a south facing hill in Vermont; my backyard. It is a cool morning in early August and the air is pleasantly sweet, moist, and clean. Sunlight is filtering down through the green summer leaves in patches here and there between the trees, looking like randomly scattered movie spotlights shining through a light mist.
Twenty feet above me, near the top of a small, extremely steep hill, twin kit foxes are frolicking in their own little patch of sunlight at the mouth of their den. They were sleeping when I arrived at this log and never saw or heard my approach, my reward for walking slowly and silently into the forest this morning; a habit developed long ago, and aided this day by the soft carpet of damp pine needles beneath my feet. The young kits are beautiful in their new red coats as they now tumble around, wrestling, nipping, and occasionally yipping at each other.
Two winters ago, I was surprised to see what I thought was a beaver poking his head out of this den, but couldn't fully believe he would be this far from the brook across the valley until some days later when I found his unmistakable tracks, paddle-tail dragged through the snow, where he had skidded down the hill.
A few short minutes of rough and tumble play and it's naptime again. Both kits close their eyes and stretch out in the sunlight next to opening of the den with just an occasional yawn or ear twitch to break their stillness... Suddenly, there is a gentle, subdued bark off in the distance and the twins warily pop up on their front legs, ears erect. In another few seconds a dull brown, female fox, more than twice the size of her children, arrives at the den from a narrow trail traversing the steep hillside from the east. The kits' tails begin wagging wildly, shaking their entire bodies while their ears lay back on their heads, as mom drops breakfast, a rodent bigger than a mouse, but still too small to identify from where I sit. Standing guard over them as they feast, she looks all around, then intentionally stares straight at me, perhaps sensing that that something is not quite right. If I remain perfectly still, she'll not see me, and after a moment she continues scanning the area.
Now, from the west, carrying another rodent in his mouth, a male approaches. He, dull brown like his mate, is just a little larger than the female, and after presenting his offering, greets her with a quick nose nuzzle and face lick. Immediately, mom turns off to the east again, presumably to resume hunting while dad takes his turn with the kits. As they finish up the last morsels of their meal he heads back east, leaving me to surmise that each parent has their own hunting ground in opposite direction from the other; smart, efficient, and productive. Do they plan this? Do they ever switch?
Watching the kit foxes settle down for yet another nap, I marvel at the display that I have just witnessed. On this little hillside, in this little forest, lives a very nice little family; its members displaying the same emotions and loving care of any decent human family. Yet, they are not humans, they are foxes. How many animal families, in how many other forests are doing similar things today, I wonder?
Rising slowly to leave the sleeping twins, a feeling of great satisfaction comes over me that in this frantic world of ever expanding human habitation and highways, I can provide this little forest for them and quietly leave them here, undisturbed.
The photo at the top of this page shows the fourth sibling to the three fox kits shown in the photo to the right. (He was always wandering off on his own!) All four kits were born in April of 2007 in the same den as the twin kits mentioned in the text above, but two years later. It is likely that these kits are offspring of one of the twins.
Sadly, all four of these foxes are now gone. Three may have moved on, but in late 2008, I found the skull of a one-year-old near the den.
Life is hard for foxes in the wild!
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This is the the front door of another fox den, about 150 feet
from the one inhabited by the quadruplets. Altogether there are three dens on our land. Foxes must like this shady, south-facing hillside!
The den entrance in winter.