Red Fox, Hemlock Woods, and Me

Sitting at my desk I heard the screeching sounds that came from either the front yard or the woods beyond. Since the air temp had risen into the 20s overnight, I thought DSCN3205raccoons had come out of their dens to hunt and raise some hell. Outside, I heard the screeching sounds again, but this time they were broken by several wow! wow! barks that led me to see their source in the sloping woods.

A pair of red fox, probably in the courtship process, but possibly two males (each one trying to gain the upper paw in this ritual) cavorted noisily as a flock of crows above them tried to inconvenience the canines for whatever reason that crows might have for doing so. I prepared for a little observation of my own, hoping to sneak up with a camera (so unlike a murder of crows) to report on the January antics of Vulpes vulpes.

DSCN3181I climbed the steep hill in the general direction of the now departed foxes, keeping an eye on their foot prints that were quickly vanishing as additional snowflakes tumbled in upon the hills and hollows.

As I entered the hemlock woods high on the south ridge, I heard the screech and barking sounds again. I hoped to make a careful approach, but staying downwind of the foxes and avoiding the noise from crunching ice and sticks was difficult at best. Within minutes, though, I caught a glimpse of a large fox loping through the mix of hemlock and hardwood trees about 75 yards above the point where I quickly dropped to the ground.

The fox ran westward along an old lumber trail, no doubt scenting a two-legged beingDSCN3191 who, oddly enough, did not carry a gun but did rely on a beaver-cut walking stick. I didn’t see the animal pivot beyond the screen of trees, but I caught several glimpses of a rich orange color as it headed back in the direction of its mate or competitor in the deep woods east of me.

The healthy looking fox paused once or twice on its jaunt, as if to scratch its pointed head in wonder of what was going on, or maybe even to allow me to zoom in for a furry, though sadly insufficient, image of its world. [To all of you inquiring kids who I wish were out there in my audience, I must say that, No, I still don’t know what the heck the Fox Says, if he says anything to me at all].

DSCN3193One value in a fox chase of this sort is that it stimulates an interest in the world of winter wildlife, and it helps to print a clearer picture of the place in which a human lives. To state the obvious, we live with more than people in this world, and we’re neighbors to its mystery and wonder, even in the coldest part of winter when a large portion of this life is either dormant or in full hibernation.

Although the snow was falling hard across the fields and forest, I was able to get a decent view of life not readily available in any warmer month of the year. In addition to red foxes, I encountered several deer (including a large antlered whitetail), as well as a rough-legged hawk, a gray squirrel, some fungi, ice formations, and a striking buck rub on a beech tree.

i'm there at center, really

i’m there at center, really

To quote John Muir, in My First Summer in the Sierra: “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” That said, I encourage everyone, if you haven’t already done so, to go pick at a thread in the fabric of existence. Please don’t pull it out completely. Just study it as something new, or tug it gently, and wonder where it goes.DSCN3187DSCN3189DSCN3180

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About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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12 Responses to Red Fox, Hemlock Woods, and Me

  1. stflyfisher says:

    Love foxes! My son interned as a golf pro this past summer at En Joie Golf course in Endicott and said there were several that seemed to enjoy the game! They are beautiful animals. Thanks for sharing, Walt!

  2. Thanks for reading and commenting, Bob. Foxes are incredibly adaptive and playful and mysterious, and they offer insights into the wild if we want to give them a chance. I, too, have always loved to see them on the prowl.

  3. marymaryone says:

    Well stated! Thanks. Great pictures.

  4. Glad that you enjoyed this, Mary, and thanks!

  5. Foxes always look like they’re late for an appointment. Thanks for helping us stay connected to the outdoors, Walt.

  6. Either late for an appointment, Jim, or else blowin’ off appointments altogether. Interesting either way. As always, thanks for reading and taking time to share a thought or two.

  7. Foxes are neat. It makes me wonder where sly like a fox came from. Foxes are sly but not in a maniacal way. They seem more majestic to me.

  8. Thanks Feather Chucker, I agree with you. Foxes have had a bad rep through the centuries, I think, because they’e incredibly adaptive, like the coyote, and can grab a loose chicken if they need to. I don’t think they’re sly as much as… smart, or inventive, or in tune with their changing world.

  9. Alan says:

    In the day when I hunted birds with my Brittany we were stalked for quite some time by Mr. Red. Don’t know what he was up to and I cant even guess. They are crafty, and beautiful. Love observing them.

  10. Thanks for this evocative response, Alan. Who knows why a fox would do this, but it’s awesome that it does.

  11. Junior says:

    I like the sentiment that winter provides an opportunity to view other life in a different way than we would in the summer. Wintertime is often misconstrued as “dead,” but it is a lot easier to focus on something beautiful like a fox when you’re not surrounded by the constant hum of micro-fauna.

  12. Lots of folks forget that there’s more to it than a handful of birds at the feeder (as pleasant as those can be). You’re right, Junior, if we focus on something beyond, like a trotting fox, or maybe even that “holy grail” of a rambling fisher (weasel-type, not angler), winter can really open up.

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