We started looking for the fox each day, hoping its mom was in that field somewhere. One day, on the way home after dropping the kids at school, I saw two foxes. Soon, we realized there were four kits.
Through the next several weeks, as the hills evolved from brown to green and the temperatures warmed toward shorts and flip-flops weather, we saw the foxes almost daily. I would slow the car each time I passed the field and stare at what had before simply seemed a pile of rocks – but which we determined was the foxes’ den.
Sometimes, if I was driving by solo or out for a jog, I’d stop and watch the foxes from across the road. The kids loved to see them, too, but I was infatuated.
For about two weeks in June, we saw them every day, either on our way down the hill or on our way back up – sometimes both. They’d be perched in a spot of sunshine, alone or in pairs, sometimes the fuzzy ears of all four peeking above the rocks and tall grass. Often they’d be looking toward the mountains, sometimes curiously gazing at the road with their bright little eyes and black snouts.
We never did see a parent fox, and I imagined an exhausted mother and father – red foxes work together to raise their young – tuckered out inside the den after a night of hunting to provide enough to feed four fast-growing babies.
I imagined a den which had seemed snug and cozy at the end of winter, when the kids were newborn and tiny, becoming overcrowded as the little ones grew bigger – and figured Mama Fox probably kicked the increasingly boisterous crew out so she could get some rest: a fox’s variation of, “For crying out loud, go play outside!”
As the fox kits grew bigger, they also grew braver, wandering further from the den. I watched them hunt in the field and play-wrestle with each other. Once, I rolled down my window and scolded one of the kits for creeping too close to the sparse traffic. I was terrified we’d come down the hill one day and find a dead fox in the road.
Instead, the kits gradually disappeared from our view. Multiple sightings each day diminished to a couple a week, then none at all, as the nearly-grown foxes dispersed from their family unit.
Still, I kept looking at the field, wondering where they were. Perhaps, I thought, they were wandering through the woods between the den and our house. Maybe they’d moved – safely – across the road and up the hill, or into some forest-edged fields closer to town. Or they’d grown into a more nocturnal schedule and were simply sleeping away the daylight hours in the same old den.
While it’s been months since we’ve seen the foxes in that field, I still look as we pass by their old den, hoping to see a glimpse of a ginger tail or the black tip of a fuzzy ear.
Over the years, our game camera has captured images of both red and gray foxes, and we see fox tracks through the field and along the Woods Road throughout the winter. This time of year, we often smell the subtly skunky scent red foxes leave at various posts throughout their territories during mating season.
Lately, I’ve noticed a series of tracks crisscrossing the crusty snow near where the foxes denned last spring. I’m hoping that means they are setting up house again, preparing for the next litter of kits, and that we’ll get to watch them emerge from the den come springtime to gaze at the mountains, watch the traffic go by, and carry on their foxy ways.