The fox stood stock still in the middle of the lane. We watched each other silently for 10 or 15 seconds, then the fox turned to go. But she paused, then sat down and looked back at me. She seemed unsure how to proceed, and kept looking up the secondary driveway we use for moving trailers and the RV. There's a large woodpile there, an old barn the previous owners had dismantled elsewhere and brought here, planning to reconstruct. But the project was never finished, and we now have habitat for all sorts of critters--rabbits and woodchucks, chipmunks, feral cats, and now, perhaps, red fox. Had she moved her kits there, I wondered?
We learned about the fox from our neighbor, the fellow who lives over the hill behind us whose dog killed two of our chickens earlier in the year. When the third chicken turned up missing, we of course blamed his dog. But he swore his dog was with him all day that day. After we investigated further, we found a trail of feathers leading into the brush and away from his house, all the way down to the front of our property. He said his kids, who play in the abandoned gravel pit behind his house, had seen a fox and her kits at a den there at the top of a hill, and that he had seen a coyote only a week before on his property.
Several days after loosing a second chicken to the mystery animal, (we were still not sure if fox or coyote), and after we had sadly concluded that the hens just couldn't go out any more, I was working in my studio. I just happened to be gazing out the window when movement caught my eye. There, scrawny and lanky in her summer coat, trotted the fox, right down the trail at 12:30 in the afternoon. She moved from west to east, away from the chicken coops. Well, that explains it, I thought. And how bold, to be out at mid-day! Clearly no time was safe for the chickens.
This morning, after feeding the dog and letting the chickens out into their pens, I was sitting at the kitchen table when I heard a hoarse barking. I knew that sound--we'd heard it a week or two before, and Lori determined it was a red fox's territorial call. I went out the backdoor and quietly walked up the hill towards the chickens. I stood for a moment in the quiet morning when I heard the bark again. It was behind me, down front, so I walked down the hill and out to the lane, where I found her standing in the road, back-lit in the pre-dawn light.
You killed my chickens, I thought as she finally stood up and hurried down the lane, turning north and up the trail that divides our property and that of our other neighbor. But I could not be angry. She was only doing what she needed to feed her family. Our folly, believing the our birds would be safe roaming free, was really what caused the problem. I hold no grudge--how could I, against a creature as clever and elegant as she?
I am grateful for her sharing a moment with me on this hazy summer morning.
Photo by Adele Brand