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The Six O'Clock Fox

Saturday, November 19, 2022

I hated to leave Mason's Neck, but I was losing light, as one does in November. It was 6:30 when I decided to turn toward finding dinner and sleep. I was driving very slowly, drinking in the warm wind, the incense fragrance of the forest, when a big fox walked out of the woods and headed toward my car. 

Foxes usually avoid making eye contact, but this one was as bold as he was beautiful. 

It didn't take long for me to figure out that people have been feeding this animal.

For he was clearly begging.

He came up to my car and sat down.

I'll just wait here until you decide to give me some of those snacks I can smell you have in your car.

And then he lay down and pretended to doze.

I am nothing if not patient.

It is very dull, waiting for you to do the right thing. Do you have any fruit? Nuts?

Chips? Fried chicken?
Apples? Ham?

Instead of throwing him what he was asking for, I spoke to the fox. 

You, sir, are far too healthy and beautiful to be begging from cars.
Someone has done you a great disservice, throwing treats from their car. 
Probably many someones. I've no doubt you're famous around here.

But make no mistake:
You're the most beautiful fox I've ever seen, but you're a garbage hound.
There's nothing wrong with you that you need to abase yourself this way. Your fur is thick and glossy, your eyes bright, your legs strong.

But there is something wrong with the people who think it's a good idea to feed a fox.
Those are the same people who carve their initials on beech trees, you know. 

The very same?  I hate to see the beeches marked up. It's so ugly, and it never heals.

Yes. They aren't bad people, but they are ignorant and they have little respect for the beauty and sanctity of living things like 100-year-old trees, or wild red foxes.

And though you may think they're being kind, they have no respect for you and your amazing ability to catch food with nothing more than your teeth. They couldn't do what you do in a million years. They'd die in a week out here. And you're letting them turn you into a junk food junkie. Nothing they give you is good for you.

You are wild and free, making your living off the land, and there is absolutely no reason you should be begging for Cheetos from cars. 

The fox thought for a moment, then slowly walked away, his great thick brush low.
The white tip shone like a beacon in the gathering dark.

He stopped three times to look back at me.

You are an unusual human. You're not like the rest of them, who are very loud and who move too quickly and throw their hands around when they talk.

That's right. And you're not like the rest of the foxes. Go in peace, and find yourself a squirrel or a vole before dark. The world of people is no place for a soul like yours.

I drove away, and he continued walking around the bend. I hoped he'd change his ways; I sent him mind pictures of speeding cars, dogs let loose to chase him; people with guns.
I tried to send him back to the woods to stay, but I knew he'd do what he'd do.
I hoped he wouldn't bring his kits up begging.

I Yelped around until I found an El Salvadorean restaurant that, contrary to reviews and my high hopes, was awful. Who serves a quesadilla with frozen french fries? Ish. All white food.
 I'd have done better foraging in the woods.
So I Yelped some more and found an ice cream stand called Tim's Soft Serve and that was good.
It more or less balanced out. I hoped the fox had done better than me for his evening meal. 



What a special moment and important message, so beautifully written! 🖤 It makes me think of so many Mary Oliver poems, but especially "Straight Talk from Fox"

If anyone could convince him, it would be you.

I love your conversation and interaction with the fox. What a wonderful moment.

It is good to have you posting more regularly again. I do enjoy your writing very much. Tony

Why IS it that my first impulse when seeing a wild critter is to feed it? Yeesh. Perhaps it has something to do with the human 'instinct' to break bread with others? I dunno. Your words are a great reminder to respect the order of things and to live and let live. Thanks for that.

I feel so grateful to read this post. I would never feed a wild animal as I think it is cruel to habituate them. However, I wondered what you think of feeding the birds and as is the order of things, the squirrels who eat the birdseed. I don’t do this until natural food is scarce in the colder months but I still wonder if I am doing them a disservice. I would dearly appreciate your opinion.

@DeniseinVA, I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that bird feeding isn't as helpful as we like to think it is. I've sworn off summer feeding and I didn't start winter feeding until November. I'm keenly aware of the disease implications --please see my posts from early spring 2021 about fighting Mycoplasma in gold and house finches. All attributable to the use of tube feeders. I'd strongly recommend subscribing to BWD at (it's a print magazine) where I will be discussing the perils of winter feeding in the J/Feb issue. I talked about why I don't feed in summer in the S/Oct issue! Thanks for asking.

Thank you Julie for this blog! You have explained it beautifully why not to feed wild foxes. I got it.

Thank you Julie for your response to my question about bird feeding. I will take a look at the articles you recommended. I want to educate myself as much as I can on this particular subject, though I am always happy to expand my knowledge on everything in nature. Much appreciated!

He may have been begging, but maybe not. Every single time I've seen a red fox, it's bold as brass. Hanging out in a front yard on a state highway mid-day, approaching me on trails close enough to make me think about rabies--once with pups, trotting along the same state highway like a dog. There's a den in the ditchline on my well-traveled road, a foot from the pavement. These aren't suburban, habituated foxes--I live in rural Ohio with a big Amish population--I'm sure they're hunted and trapped. The gray foxes here behave like wild animals.

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