This spring I\’ve been running a fox restaurant in the backyard. I feed the birds, who drop the seeds that feed the squirrels, who are then eaten by my fox. Given his dedication to hunting, I assume he\’s a male, working hard to feed his wife and children.
It is not easy to watch Nature doing its red-in-tooth-and-claw thing right outside my door. The squirrels, grown fat on a diet of oil-rich sunflower seeds and berry-studded suet, make a slow-moving prey for the fox, and a calorie-rich dinner for his family. In the space of three days last week I saw him kill two squirrels and, despite my mixed feelings about the squirrels, I felt sorry as I watched them perish in the fox\’s narrow jaws.
Until, that is, I saw him limping as he carried off the body. Then I felt sorry for the fox.
He\’s a good-looking red fox with a luxurious white-tipped tail and black-stockinged legs. What caused his lameness? Was he hit by a car, or bitten by a squirrel? Is his foot dislocated, infected, or what? Lame or not, he trots across our yard as gracefully as Fred Astaire.
I wish I could shoot him with a tranquilizing dart and take him to the vet, but my little dog, Bisou, harbors no such kind feelings. To her, the fox\’s presence in our yard is an outrage, and she barks explosively every time she sees him run past. She barks explosively even when the fox is not in the yard, putting her nose on the ground and sniffing until I drag her back inside. Yesterday I bent down to investigate a spot that she was glued to, and found two clumps of squirrel fur.
I think about the fox all the time. Looking out the window, I ignore the two kinds of finches, the three kinds of woodpeckers, and even the orioles that a month ago sent me into ecstasies. All I want to see is the fox.
To tell the truth, what I really want is to tame the fox. I want to offer him bits of Bisou\’s kibble so he\’ll slowly get used to me and come close enough to let me pet him. And after weeks of patience and perseverance, one day–maybe in the fall, when the leaves are turning and the evenings grow chilly–he will follow me into the house and curl up on the hearth.
This is of course utterly insane, and an inappropriate fantasy for a grown woman. But it\’s just one in my long list of wildlife fantasies, such as the one about the chipmunks that come to drink at my birdbath, so neat and trim that they look as if they\’ve been drawn with a calligraphy pen. How, I wonder, does one tame a chipmunk? One frigid night in the garage I caught a glimpse of an ermine in its bright, white winter coat. As he vanished under the car I was already taking stock of my pantry to see what I could offer him (canned salmon? sardines?) to get him to stick around.
I\’ve been this way for as long as I can remember, and I doubt that I\’ll ever change. The lonely only child surrounded by a tribe of ever-attentive adults still lives inside me, and craves the presence of a fellow creature who neither praises, corrects, nor instructs, and whose wordless companionship somehow allows me to be fully myself.
So what am I going to do about the fox? Even if by some miracle he were to follow me into the house, he would give Bisou and the cat Telemann, not to mention my spouse, heart attacks. Therefore, I\’ve downgraded to a humbler fantasy, in which the fox and I sit together on the grass and quietly watch a beetle climb up a twig, while the scratchy song of the cicadas thrums in our ears. I can\’t think of a more perfect way to spend a summer afternoon.