When I was in middle school my parents moved our family from a circa 1876 manse in Wadhams that they’d restored gradually over a decade, to a new home tucked into a tree-lined meadow near Lake Champlain.
Formerly part of the Higginson farm, the homeowners association comprised a little over a half dozen camps and homes tucked between Rock Harbor and the Split Rock Wilderness Area. During the next two years before I headed off to boarding school this wild wonderland dished up a daily buffet of adventures.
Recently I’ve been remembering the spring that we discovered foxes. Or the foxes discovered us. In the spring of 1985 a pair of red foxes got themselves in the family way and unwittingly lured my brother, sister and me into a full-scale Vulpes vulpes obsession.
I don’t remember now if there were two or three fox kits, but I do remember that their mother would let them play around the house while she hunted for mice or freshened up the den or got her hair done or whatever it is that vixens do when they get a little time to themselves.
The kits played and wrestled and chased butterflies and explored while we studied their every move, first from the windows and then from the open front door and then from the steps of the front stoop.
Day by day they became more comfortable with us, and day by day my brother and sister and I grew more entranced. At first the kits were skittish but they gradually grew more comfortable with us. They tousled and nipped at each other in the sunshine a mere 6 to 10 feet away. As we became more and more obsessed with the idea of diminishing the distance between ourselves and the foxes, they too became curious about us. They watched us and came closer to sniff and inspect.
I was 13 at the time, the eldest of my siblings, and I probably should have spent more time considering the dangers of interacting with wild animals, but I didn’t. I’d abandoned prudence and reason. The beauty and playful nature of the rapidly growing kits had swept me up, eclipsing any common sense I might have possessed.
No doubt it was my idea to see if we could entice the young foxes into the house. Little by little the kits followed the trail of snacks placed on the steps, on the landing, on the threshold, in the hallway… We gradually lured the young foxes into the kitchen where they sniffed briefly, nibbled the snacks and headed back outside. We were elated.
In hindsight, there was no meaningful reason to entice the foxes inside except curiosity. And challenge. And the almost primal thrill of interacting with beautiful, wild creatures.
I’m not quite sure how we managed this without my parents realizing what was going on. Perhaps it was early on weekend mornings. I don’t know, but somehow we managed over several weeks to overcome the foxes’ sense of caution and prudence. And then the adventure ended. I’d like to think we wised up, realized the danger of befriending the kits, the danger of having their mother return when the kits were inside. But probably my parents discovered our misguided obsession and abbreviated the adventure.
The memories flooded back this winter because that handsome (if somewhat short-legged) fox in the video clip above became a frequent Rosslyn visitor. Perhaps affected by the virtually snow-less conditions or more likely by my bride’s enthusiastic bird and squirrel feeding regimen, the fox made daily — and sometimes twice daily — tours of our front lawn. I was usually the one to spot him early in the morning while feeding Griffin breakfast, though Griffin’s attentive window watching served as a reliable early notification system.
It turns out that plump, well-fed squirrels are not only a tasty breakfast for a fox but they are also easy prey, unable to skitter up the ginkgo tree as quickly as necessary to escape the hungry hunter.
Despite the emotionally disturbing reality of observing any predator-prey showdown, the foxes cunning and efficiency intrigued me in the way the playful kits had more than a quarter century ago. I’ll save details for another time as I know that my bride suffers these descriptions. She’s informed my on multiple occasions that our yard is a safe haven for wildlife, which is a laudable decision, but difficult to enforce. So far we’ve failed to communicate the message to the foxes and hawks… Any suggestions?