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Outer Banks Guide > Outer Banks Blogs > Eve Turek's Natural Outer Banks Blog

Thursday, June 27, 2019
Fox Friends
Why do I love wildlife so much? Specifically, why do I love being in the presence of critters, from birds to mammals to amphibians and reptiles and insects? Why do I receive such joy from simply being invited, for seconds or minutes or days or years into their lives? And why does photographing settle my heart, lower my blood pressure, and rescue my thoughts from the all-too-pervasive anxiety of living in a world where, seemingly, not only do awful things “just happen” but one in which humans seem hell-bent on making them happen, and then the rest of us gape like voyeurs as the scenarios are replayed again and again on the nightly news?

Maybe it is because my name is Eve. Maybe it’s the wording of that verse in Genesis in which one translation names Eve “the mother of all living.” (Not just all humans, mind you, all living.) Maybe it’s the movie I begged and pleaded and cajoled my father into taking me to, just the two of us for the only time ever, as a Saturday matinee in which the heroine was, as a young girl, rescued and nurtured by wolves. Maybe I was influenced by the St. Francis story, the one in which he supposedly made a bargain with a wolf that was terrorizing a village, and taught both the wolf and the villagers impossible, important, miraculous lessons about mutual trust and care. Or the Dr. Doolittle movie with its catchy sing-song Talk to the Animals soundtrack.

I was not a particularly adventurous child. I was given to undue influence by others seemingly stronger and older and wiser than I, who mostly counseled caution or encouraged fear. But as I have grown I have developed this curious stubbornness, a mix of PollyAnna and hope, which, by both linguistic and biblical definition, means to anticipate good when you don’t quite see it yet in reality. PollyAnna wasn’t stupid. She had her own misfortunes. But she remains early childhood fiction’s quintessential optimist, choosing to see the glass half-full, choosing to seek and find blessing and reasons to be grateful where none seem to be. She would be the sort of gal to eat the first raw oyster instead of starving to death in a sea of plenty—and give the world a new culinary delight in the process. If a family of foxes showed up in the garden, I suspect she would suspend her chores to watch them frolic.

So am I naïve? Stupid? Foolish? Or merely longing for a kind of innocence in which “all living” relate to one another in loving and giving ways? Maybe I am just searching for snapshots, brief vignettes, tiny cracks in this reality that point to the next, where lions and lambs and wolves rest together, and nothing hurts or destroys in all the holy mountain. Not this side of heaven, I’ve been told. But I believe otherwise. Heaven has come down to earth in a myriad of ways, and why shouldn’t an intersection between humans and animals, however brief, be one of those ways?

And so it is in that spirit that I give you the gifts of the past season. This spring, from the end of March through the middle of June, I spent time—a lot of time—with a wild fox family. Not since 2013 when a mother gray fox denned underneath our frame shop, back when our gallery was on the beach road in Nags Head, have I had such trust given to me. That fox, whom we had named Freddi (before we realized she was really a Fredericka instead of a Fred—a word that means “peace” in Danish, by the way), was a Gray Fox. The den I watched this year was a den of Red Foxes. Reds and Grays are such different species that their chromosome differences prevent them mating with one another. Gray Foxes are generally stockier and heavier, with an overall rounder face. Red Foxes are mostly reddish in their fur, but not always. There are a myriad of color variations, in which the red fur is intermingled with gray and even with black. Some variants are black all over with white-tipped tails, but are still Red Foxes by genus. The mother I watched this year was a “cross-fox,” so named not because her parentage was a cross between red and gray, but because her coat showed a particular variation of darker black fur down her back and across her shoulders, forming a cross pattern. For millennia, humans received divine messages through encounters with the natural world, a spiritual skill we westerners have mostly cut ourselves off from in our modern era. I had read about cross-foxes for years but never seen one in the wild, until March 31 of this year. That is a spiritually significant time of the year for me. I made my own, reasoned decision to align my life with that of Christ when I was 16 years old, on April 1st. I did so by myself, at home, and not in any church setting, as my parents were not attending any church at the time. I had already investigated a variety of other spiritual modes at that point, dabbling in this and that, hungry for a relationship more than a dogma. I have avoided dogma since. One of the best metaphoric explanations I have ever heard, on why a Cross, found meaning in the structure, aligning earth to heaven, and humanity and the rest of creation to God (the vertical post) and all creation, humanity included, to one another (the horizontal post). Here was an emissary in fur reminding me of all I deem most important, all the connections I treasure, and on my commitment-anniversary weekend at that. I paid attention.

In past years I have seen elusive sightings and for a couple of years have enjoyed a week or two of foxes before the parents inevitably move the den and the growing kits learn new places to forage and live before being ready to be fully on their own by late summer. This year was different. This year, I had ten weeks to watch babies grow. I learned much about fox behavior that I had previously experienced only through reading the written observations of other naturalists and biologists. Most importantly, I learned how tense I often am, how I need to let go of so much worry and angst despite the world’s seeming insistence on self-destruction and receive again all the gifts nature offers a willing, receptive, listening and loving heart.

I made thousands of images. Thanks to my camera’s frame rate, I was able to witness the young foxes’ growing agility, discern differences in marking and personality among the kits and for the first time ever, observe an attentive father-fox and his role in the family dynamic. I saw the kits enthusiastically greet either parent with eager kisses and boisterous tail wags, exuberant enough to easily take the “wiggle butt” award in Hallmark’s rescue dog show were they only allowed to enter. I watched them curiously explore their ever-widening world, saw both parents groom the babies much as a mother cat grooms her kittens, watched as a young fox learned to lick its own paws.

I saw how the six babies often paired off for playtime as they grew, so that two would be playing hide and seek in one spot while another two were involved in race chase somewhere else out of the frame. The morning we lost one baby to a car was heartbreaking, as six babies became five. I kept wishing I could freeze time, keep them small and safe and confined, prevent their crossing the street. Now one sibling had lost its playmate. The mother moved the den a few days later. Friends who know how I feel about foxes alerted me to their next location and I watched them there a couple of times before the parents moved them again. And just like that, spring turned into summer, and the foxes were gone. I hope the rest grow up strong and healthy, and that another spring brings me another chance to enter their world, however short my sojourn there must be, this side of heaven.

Earlier this week, the NC Wildlife Commission put out an article about why we see foxes even in daylight this time of year and how to safely enjoy their presence while the young grow and explore. The article also included tips on scaring them away if folks would prefer not to have them around, such as making loud noises and removing outdoor pet food as soon as your pets have eaten their fill. For my part, I relish these encounters, even while remembering I was once as a child consumed with fear about anything I did not fully understand. I am glad I am older now and can enjoy the gifts they offer. I hope you can share my joy in these few photos below.

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How precious are these tiny kits! Baby foxes first emerge from the birthing den when they are about a month old. Like kittens, they are born with eyes shut and wholly dependent on mom.

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Early play.

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Here is an image from the first day I saw the Mama. Does anyone else notice the heart pattern in the shadow on her shoulder?

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This image shows the love and patience a mother fox has for her growing, rambunctious babies.

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The kits always greeted either parent -- this is the Daddy fox, here -- with enthusiastic kisses and tail wags.

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Both parents groom the kits. Here, Dad is licking a baby much as a mother cat licks her kittens.

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When youngsters tussle they are really learning the skills that will help them survive into adulthood.

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Learning to pounce quickly and quietly will give foxes meals from mice and squirrels to frogs and crickets. Here, the only one surprised is the sibling! Watch out!

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The young kits have grown tremendously in 6-8 weeks.

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At 3-4 months old they are almost as big as their parents. Mom is on the left, and that is a kit running to greet her on the right. In just a few more weeks they will be completely on their own.

posted by eturek at 11:13 AM

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