The first post I saw from my newest Facebook friend went something like this—Actually, it went exactly like this: I know other people’s dreams are boring, but this one vexed (vixed) me. I was out at night, talking to a guy who had a dog with him. I felt what I thought was the dog nuzzle my leg, so I reached down and scratched under its chin. When I looked down, it was a fox.
“I could tell him where it came from,” I said to myself, “but who asked me?”
Kevin certainly did not ask. In fact, I wasn’t even sure we wanted to be FB friends, much less delve into a discussion of dreams. I friended Kevin based on a friend’s link for a subscription to a college literary magazine. His name was on the magazine’s Facebook page and it was the one I recognized. I’ve meant to subscribe for several months now.
But about that dream… Let’s see, what would I say to Kevin about it—if I said, I mean?
“Kevin,” I would ask, “Remember when you guys holed up at our place for the Southern Festival of Books? Did we ever talk about our foxes?”
We have foxes here on the ravine. We saw two young foxes the first week after we had moved in October, 2009. They seemed to be everywhere on our street but we most often saw them heading either into, or out of, the ravine in our back yard. There were two points of entry, one on the southwest side of Mom and Dad’s apartment and another across the courtyard on the north side of the property, where we’re cultivating a big flower garden.
Last year, the foxes loved the garden. They are expert mole-catchers. They even dig up grubs, the mole’s primary diet. One night in June, we watched several of the foxes leap into the air to catch fireflies lighting up the purple coneflowers, irises and roses.
Kevin and a few of his friends staff a literary magazine, The Pinch, at the University of Memphis. Five of them slept over in various places here in The Compound during the Southern Festival of Books in October, 2010. Kevin slept in Dad’s library. He had to walk across the courtyard to join his friends in The Cellar, for food and drink.
“Kevin, did you know that there was a fox den not fifty feet from where you slept? Oh yeah, right there on the edge of the ravine, a rocky hole big enough to house a mama – right, a vixen!—and five babies. Kits. Or pups. Let’s see, Kevin, you were here in October, 2010. The youngest in the skulk would have been over seven months old at that time.”
There were eight of those babies born in March. According to naturalists’ reports, they’re “naked” when they’re born and don’t leave the den until they’re about four weeks old.
We first saw five little balls of grey fur romping around a small trailer in the neighbor’s back yard, just on the edge of the ravine. It was April 10. It seemed that Mama had brought them out to play in the sunny spot closest to the ravine. Better to be able to make a quick retreat to the den.
A week later, we counted eight babies on one of the play-dates. Three of them seemed a bit smaller. Sometimes the little ones were supervised by two adults, sometimes more. Sometimes it appeared that one mother was watching the whole lot. Maybe the other was taking a much-needed nap. After all, fox babies are like puppies. They’re exuberant, rowdy, pesky.
The mamas disciplined the octet with barks and an occasional slap when a playful pup nipped at mama’s face one time too many. More often than not, the offending youngster bounded off to pounce on a brother or sister or cousin. They played hard until the vixen-in-charge herded them into a ball and sent them marching down to the den in a quick, straight line.
We also became acquainted with the raccoons. One of the regular visitors must have been fifty pounds and twenty-five years old. Raccoons usually weigh about twenty-five pounds and half as long. This one was silver grey and as wide as the doorway into the neighbor’s garden shed. I say “was” because we haven’t seen this old fellow for several months now.
By the time Kevin and his friends were here, we had already begun to treat the local fox population for sarcoptic mange, a common malady in red foxes. The farm supply stores sell injectable Ivermectin for pigs, cows, and horses. It’s a liquid of the same chemical makeup as that stuff we all give our dogs to prevent heartworms. You don’t inject the fox. You inject the fox’s food. What an impossible image that conjures up, giving a fox a shot!
By the time The Pinch people were here, we saw foxes much less frequently than we did during the summer. The males would have left the territory to find adult homes. It seems the daddy runs them off. The vixens would have stayed longer, but not too much. The females hang around to help out a bit and then they’re off, too. In mid-October, 2010, we figured we were feeding and treating three foxes.
By January, we weren’t sure that there was more than one lone fox in the territory. Then there was a big snow and the tracks said that two foxes walked side-by-side across the back yard, along the ravine bank, through the corner garden and back across the yard toward the old den. They stopped to frolic underneath the window of Dad’s library.
December to March is mating season. Maybe we’ll have some spring babies. We hope the $40 bottle of medicine saved at least a couple of our skulk. When we realized that we hadn’t seen the raccoons for months, we hoped we hadn’t killed the rascals with the Ivermectin meant for the red foxes. There is such a thing as an overdose, even though raccoons are also treated for worms and mange with the same drug.
And all of this fox-tale leads back to the night that Kevin dreamed of a fox. We drove into The Compound after dark that Sunday evening and stopped to let the old folks out at the garage of their apartment. Dave started to open the passenger door. He would need to open van doors and turn on lights downstairs so that Mom and Dad could safely make their way to the lift in Dad’s library.
I stopped Dave with my hand on his forearm.
“Look,” I said quietly, “There’s a fox in the garden.”
He (could be a “she”) trotted down the ravine bank.
“Did you see him?” I asked.
“I just saw his tail,” Dave said.
“Wait,” I whispered, “There’s another. No, wait, it’s not a fox. It’s a raccoon.”
“Yep, it is a raccoon. I guess they’re not gone after all,” Dave said, and then grinned. “I’ll just go through the basement. Go ahead and park.”
We met in the den upstairs just a few minutes later.
“Well, I’m glad we didn’t kill those raccoons. If we don’t have fox babies, maybe we’ll have raccoon babies,” I said.
“I sure hope the foxes have some babies,” Dave said. “Wasn’t it fun to watch them?”
Today, I treated a pan of cooked chicken parts, bread soaked in broth, and leftover pork stew and set it outside, just in case a fox trotted in for the afternoon. I saved an equal amount of the same tastiness for after dark.
Right after lunch, the wary little creature showed up to eat. Dave called to me from the kitchen window and I ran to get the binoculars. Mr. Fox is skinny, but not decimated. He has some bare spots, but it looks like the coat is replenishing. He seemed overly cautious, even for a fox, but he kept returning to the pan until it was empty. Then he came back again and again to lick the pan clean.
“Kevin,” I would ask, “Do you get it?”
I felt what I thought was the dog nuzzle my leg, so I reached down and scratched under its chin. When I looked down, it was a fox.
I’m going to send Kevin a message on Facebook.
I’m going to ask, “Did you mail my copy of The Pinch? Are you guys going to stay at The Compound again this year?”