Forgive me, Ceiling Cat, for I have discovered that I like foxes.
In honor of Dylan Thomas’s wonderful poem, “Fern Hill” (go read the whole thing), from which I give an excerpt below, I present two picture of wild foxes taken and sent to me by readers.
Photo of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) by Andrew Berry (click photos to enlarge). The story is below:
Katie and I were doing a day hike in the Sawatch Range of the Rockies (around Independence Pass between Aspen and Leadville), a long ridge traverse between two 13,500+’ peaks, Petroleum and Anderson. Coming off the first top, Petroleum, we were surprised to meet this fox right up on the ridge crest. Presumably it was hunting pikas, the diminutive rabbit relatives that are the major small mammal inhabitants of these high alpine environments. The curious thing about the fox was that it seemed to be as interested in us as we were in it. It would sit and wait for us. We would approach to within about 5 yds and it would skip off another 25 yds ahead of us, and then pause, sitting down, and wait for us to catch up again. It did this six or seven times, sticking with us for some 20 minutes. Katie was convinced that it was trying to lead us somewhere… Was it hoping that it could scrounge some food off us (some mountain animals, marmots in particular, on tops and other places where people often stop to eat can be quite aggressive in their attempts to participate in the meal)? Unlikely, because this area sees virtually no human visitors: the summit registers on the two peaks indicate that these mountains are climbed by just a handful of people every month, even in season, so it seems improbable that the fox is any way human-habituated. It’s impossible not to anthropomorphize a little: the fox was lonely and bored. Pikas are the only company to be had up there at around 13,000′ and, as prey items, they tend to be neither especially companionable nor socially forthcoming. Here, suddenly, were two strange, apparently non-threatening, large mammals. What a thrilling and entertaining diversion from the norm of pikas, rock, and wind.
A stanza of Thomas (can you name another poem of his that mentions foxes?):
And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.
“Fern Hill” (1945) is one of the most beautiful evocations of childhood freedom I’ve read.
This photo of a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is by reader “cremnomaniac” (I’ve cropped it a bit), who adds this:
This little fellow might have been ill. We came upon him/her bedded down and in the semi-open under some brush. We were exploring an overgrown road from the early days of mining at New Almaden mine (now a park). It was just above the road at eye level.
It didn’t move while four of us passed just below him.
I should note that I went by here the next day and he/she was gone.
Oh hell, I’ll just embed a YouTube clip of Thomas reading “Fern Hill” (his readings were always a bit too monotonic for me, but hey, it’s Dylan Thomas):