Thursday, September 27, 2007
SLEEPING WITH FOXES
On a summer afternoon I was taking a nap when suddenly Bob dropped this little creature into my lap. It took me a minute or two to figure our what it was: a baby fox just barely old enough to leave its mother. “The Boys” and Bob had spent the day digging it up. (Part of the reason people liked to work for the Scriver Studio is that they never knew what the days work would be.) I hope they left the other cubs. I was always careful not to ask too many questions.
But the critter was hopping with nano-livestock, fleas and other small stuff, so into the shower we went that very minute -- clothes and all -- and baby shampooed us both. It was a sort of baptism, a death to the wild world and a rebirth to the world of the domestic pet. But the way we treated our pets was not unlike the wild -- that is, we all slept in a heap together at night though the den was replaced by a bed. It wasn’t a problem until Vixen began to teeth and chewed her way through the electric blanket, wire included. Luckily, it wasn’t plugged in at the time.
Bob became mother. He took this pheasant out of the freezer to mount it and as it thawed, he fed the meat to the foxlet, until the bulging latter slumped down asleep in the middle of everything.
Bedtime was playtime for us all. The growing fox made a home for herself behind the books in the bookcase alongside Bob’s chair, so she could easily come rushing out and attack by surprise. Predator babies love to play -- it’s how they learn to hunt and it makes them lots of fun IF one enjoys the play.
Bob dearly loved playing and stripped for action, pressing his smelly old work glove into service as a lure.
Vixen had her favorite prey to drag "home" under the ironing board: the hot pink plush accessories in the bathroom (scales cover, bath mat) and the soap I got from Caswell-Massey that was supposed to look like a tomato because it had tomato juice in it. She hid these bits all over the house and every Saturday I’d find them and put them back where they belonged so she could drag them “home” again, stopping now and then to “shake them to death.”
Vixen and I had quieter times. Now and then I’d read her a story from a magazine. She was very attentive, esp. when the story was about birds or mice.
Then one day when the fox was about grown and had developed a passion for miniature marshmallows, Marie MacDonald -- elegant wife of a lawyer -- stopped by to visit, wearing her signature pearls. Interpreting her pearl earrings as marshmallows, Vixen leap into action and made off with an earring. It took me two days to find the earring poked into a corner under a rug. I was grateful Marie didn’t pierce her ears. She took the incident well. No lawsuit.
Not long after this photo was taken the story came to its inevitable and classic denouement. Like “The Yearling,” like Elspeth Huxley’s little antelope, the fox had grown and went about her own business. She might have found another fox and mated or she might have been killed. People don’t all like foxes. A fox in the wrong place is just another predator. A fox on an island where it is not native can devastate a whole ecology and extinguish species. They are not benign and harmless.
We didn’t keep this fox in a cage. The bedroom window was open at night and unscreened. If there was a full moon like the one last night, she’d leap out while we slept and come back just as we woke up and went to shoot gophers to feed the pets, so she’d be lined up to get one. One morning she just didn't show up. I have very mixed thoughts about all that.
My feelings are something quite different. To sleep with foxes, not metaphorically but actually and when they are young (You think adolescent humans smell bad -- they’re nothing compared to a fox coming into its skunky tomcat hormones.) is not that different from sleeping with cats. Except that when a fox cub wants to wake you up in the morning, its nose is sharp enough to stick it right into your ear. And if you twiddle anything under the covers, it will jump up a foot in the air and come down with all four feet on the twiddle. Fox fur is thicker and deeper than any cat’s fur, but it’s feet are like a dog, for digging.
In my mind it’s all mixed into a Japanese myth I read as a child, about an ill princess who could only be saved by the liver of a fox. A female fox sacrificed herself for the princess and then the mate of the female also sacrificed himself so that the princess would keep his fur always with her in remembrance.