You know those complicated relationships where you can both admire and detest someone? Feel anger but also sympathy; sadness but also amusement? I have one of those roller coaster relationships with the fox.
As a youngster, I hunted rabbits with my dad. One wintry morning, a brilliant red fox crossed my path. I still recall the contrast of that brilliant fur against the glistening snow. It was so stunningly beautiful, I froze in place. When I told my father about it later, he said, “You should have shot it.” At that time prime fox pelts were worth quite a bit of money, but no way would I have shot that amazing creature.
That wasn’t true forty or so years later when a fox snuck up to me and two adolescent ducks in my backyard. Startled, it took me a moment to come to my senses and shout at it. It didn’t move. Instead, it boldly confronted me. I waved my arms and shouted louder. My husband, hearing this, saw what was happening. He brought out his hunting gun, and I was relieved to see it. The fox knew it was outmatched and ran off, but its fierceness remained in my memory.
Sadly, I saw that characteristic again several years ago on Memorial Day when a fox climbed our six-foot duck penf and in less than a minute killed seven of our nine ducks. I heard the crows raising an alarm and ran out but could only save the last two. I developed a strong hatred for that fox. Then, two days after the incident, I caught sight of a kit sneakily peeking out from under our shed. The fox I hated was a mother.
This kit’s twitching ears and quivering nose told me it knew it was disobeying by venturing out, but this big new beautiful world held such promising adventures, it couldn’t help but explore it. Despite myself, I smiled. I spotted two others also peeking out. The vixen that had killed my seven ducks was trying to feed these three adorable kits.
The complexity of the fox showed itself to me again while on a three-day wilderness hike on Isle Royale. Lake Superior’s National Park island is famous for its wolf and moose population, but its reputation also extends to having sneaky foxes. I was sitting on the ground visiting with others when I saw a flash of red fur. A fox grabbed the handle of a daypack and was dragging it off! Luckily, a campmate was fast enough to jump up and wrestle the bag back.
Isle Royale foxes are not only known for stealing packs, but they steal hiking boots. They evidently are after the salt on the boots. One hiker found a fox’s cache and discovered 13 boots. Even more bizarre is that all were for the left foot! The image of 13 hikers needing to hobble along with only one boot has stayed with me.
We thankfully got our pack back and kept all of our boots during that trip, but one woman had a surprising and unlucky fox encounter. She was the type of person who loved to mention the brand names of her top-end equipment. A few minutes after she announced she was going to get her Eddie Bauer jacket out of her Patagonia pack the group heard a loud “Pee You!”
Several of us walked over. The smell was overwhelming. One old-timer laughed. “That’s pee. My guess is one of the foxes is trying to tell you something.”
Ah, yes, that baffling creature. It has brought angst and anger, but also astonishment and amusement. The complicated fox.