When is a Fox Not a Fox - A Coyote in the Suburbs
When is a fox not a fox
A few years ago, I saw this strange animal trotting down my suburban street in the thin pink morning light. It certainly wasn’t a dog. It looked like a fox but no fox I’d ever seen. Where was the luxuriant fur, the famous fluffy tail? It was spring and perhaps the creature had just shed its winter coat.
The tail was there, long enough but…it looked tall for a fox. Maybe a short-haired fox would look taller without all that fur like a person who loses a lot of weight suddenly seems taller.
It didn’t look sick like the poor stinking creature that gagged my friend out in her yard last fall. This animal moved with a jaunty air, cocked its head when it noticed me and bounded off in spirited health.
It wasn’t red, but we see those dull colored foxes in the neighborhood. I’d seen a mother with her kits gamboling around by the edge of that scraggly little woods near the beltway ramp. Hardly National Geographic material but foxes nonetheless.
I searched for something similar online and found what they call a Sampson fox, a genetic abnormality, a fox without guard hairs, those long hairs that give a normal fox its dashing countenance. A freak. But still in the realm of possibility.
All I knew was that this creature was something that I had never seen before. I couldn't take a photo. I was mesmerized.
Here in Parkville, a post-war suburb on the edge of a post-industrial city, a suburb not old enough to be fashionable, the houses seem dull with a paucity of trees. Although, from the top of the Ferris Wheel at the American Legion Carnival, Parkville looks like Sherwood Forest. Yes, foxes lived in the neighborhood, a good thing; they eat mice and rats. People have even seen deer.
Once, out weeding the garden, a great blue heron soared overhead, barked at me, gliding along in search of easy pickin's from some back yard pond. My son, Dave, claims to have seen an eagle. He stopped short, heart-grabbed by that impressive bird, spotted just around the corner from the 7/11.
A woman leaned out her car window.
“What the hell was that?” she cried, squinting up at the great, flat wingspan and air of nobility as grackles and sparrows scattered in panic.
But still in the realm of possibility. Eagles nest up at the reservoir, a mere two miles away, nothing for an eagle.
What with development and shopping centers erasing the woodlands and meadows, what is a wild thing to do?
When I was a girl, I walked past a farm on the way home from school. Woods lined the streams. It seemed you could hit the trees and hike, if you had the endurance, all the way to the great north woods, an unending forest connecting us to the real world.
My sons, Dave and Ajax see foxes all the time. Ajax is on ‘good morning, Mr. Fox’ terms with one who hangs around up at the baseball fields at dawn. They see two distinctly different foxes.
There is the standard red fox. As Dave likes to say, ‘a fox right out of a cartoon’ with fluffy red fur and great bushy tail.
Then, there’s the ‘other fox.’ The tall one. The grayish blonde one with some red highlights. The one that actually doesn’t look like a fox at all, when you really think about it.
The other night, lying in bed with the window open, the house gone silent, as I lay awake trying to decide what color to paint my kitchen, I heard a strange sound. I’d heard it up north in the mountains. But never once here, so near the shopping centers, schools, and tidy lawns. A soft, distant howl, undulating and mournful yet beautiful conjuring up the lost wild places, the forested hills and great sweep of meadows of the past, of somewhere else. Howling.
Foxes scream and yip. The make some pretty outrageous noises, resembling the scream of a banshee or a crazed woman in serious distress. Foxes are not tall. So, what is about 2 feet tall, grayish blonde and howls on moonlit nights?
We’ve got a coyote in the neighborhood.
Where the wild things are.
Coyotes are smart and adaptive. They’ve become fairly common in the suburbs, even in urban areas. Coyotes hunt woodchucks, rats and mice, proving themselves worthy neighbors, helpful in combating the vermin attracted to open garbage cans, shopping centers and bird feeders.
If there are coyotes in the area, you might not want to put the cat out at night. Bring in the little foofy dog too.
I’ve always been sorry we didn’t move out further to a rural area. I’d like more nature and less asphalt and cement. But it’s been convenient here. School is in walking distance. An easy stroll to the library or a store. The kids could mingle with other kids down the street or around the corner and not be dependent on play dates.
I smiled to myself alone in the dark. That distant howl carried on the cool, moonlit air of late winter with just a touch of spring in the air. Coyote brings the wild places to me. Coyote brings an impish magic, a song of far away into my ordinary window in an ordinary house on an ordinary street. Coyote tells me that anything is possible.
If you think there are coyotes in the neighborhood
- Do not feed coyotes. Feeding can tame them and lead to aggressive behavior.
- Keep your garbage cans firmly closed,
- Bring pets and pet food in at night.
- Close off crawl spaces under your porch or shed. You don't want them moving in.