On a warm late summer afternoon a few weeks ago, Nancy glanced what she thought was Dingo ambling through the plantings beneath the kitchen window. On closer inspection, she saw it was a vixen, confirming her gender by squatting to pee next to a pole supporting bird feeders. She appeared comfortable there by the patio, sniffing about and finally settling in to snack on bird seed generously left on the bluestone by our gray and red squirrels. Undisturbed by our two little dogs snoozing elsewhere, she dispatched the seeds, produced a respectable amount of scat where the seeds had been, and moved gracefully to our neighbor’s yard.
It was an unusual sighting that I shared with neighbor Joe a day later. He wasn’t surprised. The vixen denned under his porch in the spring and had five kits. Joe was apparently a generous host, so the family stayed and thrived under his porch. Until one kit wandered into our yard and met Luci(fur).
Luci is a twenty-pound cairn terrier bred in the Scottish Highlands to find and dispatch badgers and foxes that inhabit farmers’ cairns built from stones removed from their lands. We were not aware of this when we acquired her five years ago as an eight-week old pup. She was cuddly and cute, decidedly non-diabolical. By the time she was a year old, however, she was the scourge of small creatures: voles, snakes, chipmunks and squirrels.
If deer have the temerity to stray closer than fifty yards from the house, Luci alerts Dingo and together they escort them back to the woods. On three occasions, to my knowledge, she has ushered large black bears back up the hill to their normal pathways beyond the old stone walls..
I sadly report that Luci slew the little kit in an eye-blink. I didn’t witness the event but, based on what she does to slow squirrels, I know it was so. Dingo, otherwise occupied, was not around.
Although it’s disturbing to witness what Tennyson calls “nature red in tooth and claw,” I think it useful to be reminded of harsh realities so we don’t drop our guard, especially in these perilous times.
A week later Nancy and I noticed a double-decker pile of scat where the fox had made her deposit before. It will probably not surprise anyone that I have an illustrated volume identifying wild animal scat that showed it was fox scat. On the next five mornings, a similar pile of scat appeared, prompting me to set up a trail camera to confirm who was its originator. As shown, it was the vixen.
As a writer and anthropomorphic romantic, I make up stories about things I witness in the natural world, unconstrained by scientific input (apparently fashionable these days). So, I imagined a bereaved mother vixen expressing in her most offensive way her anger and sorrow at the death of her kit, like leaving a memorial at a headstone. I honored that idea by removing her scat daily, awaiting her next contribution.
This went on for a week before a friend who will remain unnamed scoffed at my story and told me that all foxes mark their territory this way, which I confirmed on Google. No grieving mother, no retribution, just a natural imperative. The single pile of scat kept arriving daily, embarrassing me and my foolish romanticism.
Until this week.
Yesterday morning, in the regular scat location on the bluestone, there were three large, almost identical, piles of fox scat at the points of an imaginary three-foot triangle.
Help me try to make sense of this. Was this when the monthly meeting of the vixens’ root beer and chowder club got out of paw? Was this three foxes marking the boundaries where their individual territories meet? Was this the result of a geometrically inclined fox’s upset stomach?
Ah, the list goes on.
And I’m already upset by everything else that’s going on around here.