the playing of the foxes
...Thoreau's Journal: 20-May-1858

Going along the deep valley in the woods, just before entering the part called Laurel Glen, I heard a noise and saw a fox running off along the shrubby side-hill. It looked like a rather small dirty-brown fox and very clumsy, running much like a woodchuck. It had a dirty or dark brown tail with very little white to the tip. A few steps further I came upon the remains of a wood chuck,, yet warm which it had been eating. Head, legs, and tail, all remained, united by the skin, but the bowels and a good part of the flesh were eaten. This was evidently a young fox, say three quarters grown, or perhaps less, and appeared as full as a tick. There was a fox-hole within three rods, with a very large sand heap, several cartloads, before it, much trodden. Hearing a bird of which I was in search I turned to examine it, when I heard a bark behind me, and, looking round, saw an old fox on the brow of the hill on the west side of the valley, amid the bushes, about ten rods, off looking down at me. At first it was a short, puppy-like bark, but afterward it began to bark on a higher key and more prolonged, very unlike a dog, a very ragged half-screaming bur-ar-r-r. I proceeded along the valley half a dozen rods after a little delay (the fox being gone) and then looked round to see if it returned to the woodchuck. I then saw a full-grown fox, perhaps the same as the last, cross the valley through the thin low wood fifteen or twenty rods behind me, but from east to west, pausing and looking at me anxiously from time to time. It was rather light tawny (not fox colored) with dusky- brown bars, and looked very large wolf-like. The full-grown fox stood much higher on its legs and was longer, but the body was apparently not much heavier than that of the young. Going a little further, I came to another hole, and ten feet off was a space of a dozen square feet amid some little oaks, worn quite bare and smooth, apparently by the playing of the foxes, and the ground close around a large stump about a rod from the hole was worn bare and hard, and all the bark and much of the rotten wood was pawed or gnawed off lately. They had pawed a deep channel about one and in between the roots, perhaps for insects. There lay the remains of another woodchuck, now dry, the head, skin, and legs being left, and also part of the skin of a third, and the bones of another animal, and some partridge feathers. The old foxes had kept their larder well supplied. Within a rod was another hole, apparently a back door, having no heap of sand, and five or six rods off, another in the side of the hill with a small sand-heap, and as far down the valley, another with a large sand-heap and a back door with none. There was a well-beaten path from the one on the side-hill five or six rods long to one in the valley, and there was much blackish dung about the holes and stump and the path. By the hole furthest down the valley was another stump which had been gnawed (?) very much and trampled and pawed about like the other. I suppose the young foxes play there. There were half a dozen holes or more, and what with the skulls and feathers and skins and bones about, I was reminded of Golgotha. These holes were some of them very large and conspicuous, a foot wide vertically, by eight or ten inches, going into the side-hill with a curving stoop, and there was commonly a very large heap of sand before them, trodden smooth. It was a sprout-land valley, cut off but a year or two since.

As I stood by the last hole, I heard the old fox bark, and saw her (?) near the brow of the hill on the north-west, amid the bushes, restless and anxious, overlooking me a dozen or fourteen rods off. I was no doubt by the hole in which the young were. She uttered at very short intervals a prolonged, shrill, screeching kind of bark, beginning lower and rising to a very high key, lasting two seconds; a very broken and ragged sound, more like the scream of a large and angry bird than the bark of a dog, trilled like a piece of vibrating metal at the end. It moved restlessly back and forth, or approached nearer, and stood or sat on its haunches like a dog with its tail laid out in a curve on one side, and when it barked it laid its ears flat back and stretched its nose forward. Sometimes it uttered a short, puppy-like, snappish bark. It was not fox-colored now, but a very light tawny or wolf-color, dark brown or dusky beneath in a broad line from its throat; its legs the same, perpendicular band on its haunches and similar ones on its tail, and a small whitish spot on each side of its mouth. There it sat like a chieftain on his hills, looking, methought, as big as a prairie wolf, and shaggy like it, anxious and ever fierce, as I peered through my glass. I noticed, when it withdrew, —I too withdrawing in the opposite direction,— that as it had descended the hill a little way and wanted to go off over the pinnacle without my seeing which way it went, it ran one side about ten feet, till it was behind a small white pine, then turned at a right angle and ascended the hill directly, with the pine between us. The sight of him suggested that two or three might attack a man. The note was a shrill, vibrating scream or cry; could easily be heard a quarter of a mile. How many woodchucks, rabbits, partridges, etc., etc., they must kill, and yet how few of them are seen.

1 comment:

michael jameson said...

it is rare today to come upon a foxes territory with a whole family and three or four dens visible!, they have adapted and become more spread out with one den every here and there!,even with mans encroachment upon the land the fox in its name has survived and makes use of our waste and hard to access kisses of nature to berth,with our vehicles being its enemy!. michael jameson oldantiqueguy@hotmail.com