In Defense of Little Foxes

Red Fox and Gray Squirrel (Credit: Mark Seth Lender. 2023)


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Fox has found here teeth.  Gone are the long months of nursing and nurturing. The kits are long gone.  The urgency gone. She can stop and sometimes linger. On the wide stone garden wall she stands then sits. Looking. Listening perhaps. Unhurried, over all, and the mild beginnings of winter have been good to her. She is fleshed out again.

Two weeks later I know why. That the chipmunks are few and far between. The absence of rabbits.  

She has a squirrel in her mouth.

The squirrel is a squirrel that I know, The Fat Man.  He has done better than the birds on sunflower seeds, driven out his competitors, claimed the grounds for himself and he is unfriendly. Then only yesterday there he was looking in the window. Asking, and in so doing acknowledging us a little. But The Tao applies equally to squirrels: Too much success is not an advantage.

All right.

Until I realize he is unharmed.

Foxes take like cheetahs. Nothing big. Softly. Not like watching lions at work or wolves for that matter where the game can outweigh them seven or eight times. She drops him, he comes to, she catches him again. Softly. And I am impaled. I want to let things take their course but the course has become personal. I move quickly toward the fox. 

Fox retreats maybe ten feet. Stops. Does not growl. Grimace. Lower her head. She just looks. Head tilted a little. Eyes neither too wide nor narrow:

What are you doing. What are you doing?

This is what the look means, clear as day.

I am breaking the law, that’s what I’m doing. And this is a law you do not break.

So much can be transposed from one consciousness to another without words, even across the impermeable Cartesian boundary of Human and Red Fox. Wordless, it begs the question: Who is Self, who is Other? Mice when they see or hear hurt being done to a mouse they know, feel distress. In a stranger, nothing. In that same vein, when the squirrel was any, I let it be. Knowing even a little who that squirrel was, look what I did?  Why only him?  Why not everyone.  

Mark Seth Lender is the Explorer in Residence at Public Radio’s Living on Earth and the author of the children’s picture book, Smeagull the Seagull (Seahouse Press), available for purchase at