November 5, 2013



Rex Burress


            I was prowling around the house at four A.M recently, and the motion-sensitive back porch light went on! “Let me see, then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore;/Let my heart be still a moment, and this mystery explore;/'Tis the wind, and nothing more.” So said Edgar Allan Poe.

            The truth of the matter is it was quite windy, but in addition to wind-movement, I did indeed see something larger than a cat but not as big as a bear out at the fringe of light! Not as large as bigfoot, nor as small as a ring tail. “...Deep into the darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing...” but it wasn't so long until the creature emerged from behind the shed into the full beam of light.

            It was a Gray Fox! Our yard is fenced and I don't know how it got in, but the gray-and-tan beautiful furbearer was trying to find a way out! After it realized nothing was chasing it, I'm sure it could escape, as gray fox, unlike their eastern cousins the red foxes, are agile and good climbers. I suspect it could even leap over the five-foot fence, like I had seen a deer do one night!

             We have more wildlife viewing in our backyard than at the river, mainly because many nocturnal animals are out prowling in the dark, and we have no dogs to scare them. Raccoon, opossums, and skunks are regular visitors, and rats, too, until the predators cleaned them out. Bats live in the attic. [My physician was telling me to avoid mosquitoes as they can carry West Nile Virus and my immune system was compromised, and then I told him I had bats that took care of the mosquitoes. “Oh,” he said, “watch out for bats because they carry rabies!” Can you win? I didn't tell him about all the spiders, sharp-tailed snakes, ring-necked snakes, centipedes, lizards, yellow-faced bumblebees, and even  Pseudacnises in my back yard! Oh yes; as many as 30 species of birds through the seasons!]

            The good view of the fox reminded me of how exceedingly trim and delicate they are. A small nose, large ears, and its most prized possession—that well-groomed fluffy tail that seems almost as large as the fox floating along behind! I see them sometimes, early or late along the river, as they silently glide through the weed patches like a soft breeze, and they are so altogether cute, efficient, and alert you just want to pet one! You're lucky to get within camera-shot distance.

            There are some of the larger red foxes in California, especially in the Sierra foothills, and even a  few near communities and cities. They have been condemned for killing endangered clapper rails in the Bay Area marshes, but they are more widely down-cast by killing an occasional pet chicken, although rodents are their main fare.

             You can imagine the turmoil caused when a State Warden shot a pair of Irish Setters in the Alameda marshes that were catching the clappers! Farmers are allowed to shoot dogs when they are killing their livestock, but a hunter in the field will seldom get a chance to shoot a wily fox.

            I came from a land of red foxes in Missouri. Their elusiveness makes them a challenge for hunters just as hunters on horseback with dogs call it sport in England. It was the European red fox that was introduced to eastern America, and they flourished right into the No Creek bottomlands where we hunters had exciting times in finding them in the rip-gut during MO rural days.

            Sometimes a fox would take a chicken, and once when the carnivores became too abundant, the local farmers made a dig on Fox Den Bluff dens, and even though several groundhogs, two opossums, and a skunk were found, Reddy Fox and her family were not at home. The eerie panther-like shrill squall at night emphasized their presence.

“Let every fox take care of his own tail.”

--Italian Proverb

“In the autumn the fox is fully furred. The stripped and shapely maple grieves the ghosts of her departed leaves. The ground is hard, as hard as stone. The year is old, the birds have flown...”

--John Updike