Neighbors: Fox Pays a Visit
Updated: Jul 15, 2020
Given Sheltering in Place, I envision a Neighbor Series - brief snapshots about the other-than-human-beings that share space with me. These uncomplicated, in-the-moment visitations keep me appreciative and grounded. And less alone.
The local fox used to be brazen – a true vixen. Would match my longing for a glimpse with startling appearances that left me breathless. Since those magical times, fox encounters have become more elusive. No in-person sightings, but my motion detector camera lets me know of occasional visits. And every so often I find telltale tokens on my deck or on the driveway. This fox is particular about scat placement, seeming to prefer slightly elevated locations, on rocks or where the asphalt has buckled.
My son and I have each buried a special dog on the hillside near my house. Their graves are within ten feet of each other - they were great friends. Each gravesite is encircled with large stones we have collected from favorite places we frequented with Otis and Shadow. There are smooth rounded rocks from the nearby San Lorenzo River, red dusty volcanic chunks from the foothills of the Sierras, and special stones from friends who loved these two black and white canines.
This neighborhood fox brings his offerings to this special area, always choosing a flat grey rock in Otis’s circle. Occasionally, when I go to visit Otis, I find a tidy dry turd there, with delicate white bones and stiff hairs strewn throughout. As scat goes, this is elegant. I am tickled by his ritual and figure it gives Otis some company. When I cracked a favorite cup featuring a red fox, I decided this is where it should end its days, rather than in the local dump. It adds a cheerful note.
Two weeks ago, I stepped off the trail to pay my respects. I burst out laughing. I’ve never seen such clean, colorful scat – the two-inch mounds look more like granola bars than fecal matter. I considered other contributors, but there have been no signs of coyotes or raccoons in the last year. And other than the fox, no other animal - wild or domesticated - has deposited here before. It appears the fox has been licking up my scattered birdseed, supplemented with a few Manzanita berries.
We’ve had days of rain, so it was almost two weeks before I called again. I did a double take. The scat had become a lush garden bed, with tall slender shoots of dark wild grass sprouting from the surfaces, probably from seeds the fox ingested. I know this may seem strange, all this attention to scatological matters. But it keeps me posted on what’s happening with my local fox – what he’s eating, when he visits. And I’ll probably never know, but I wonder, what is it about this particular rock?
Post Script: This fox hasn't actually been around for the last few months. That is, until a day after posting this blog. I went to Otis's grave and there was a fresh, tidy deposit on the adjacent rock.
About Grey Foxes:
Grey foxes are omnivorous and do most of their hunting at night. Rather than chew their food, they swallow it whole. They range between six to fifteen pounds and can live up to fifteen years in the wild, although many die within the first year from disease or human activities. Distemper, spread by unvaccinated dogs, has recently reduced their numbers in California. They are also less adaptive to urbanization than the red fox, so encroachment on habitat has had a negative impact.
Except for the Asian raccoon dog, the grey fox is the only member of the canidae family (foxes, coyotes, wolves, jackals, dogs) that is able to climb trees and is sometimes called a tree fox. They can climb sixty feet and then descend by jumping on branches or backing down like a cat. They are monogamous and may den in hollow trees twenty feet above ground or create burrows up to seventy-five feet long.
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