The Fox and the Coyote
Posted by DNW on 2011/08/09
I don’t have quail or pheasants in my backyard, and haven’t since I’ve owned the place.
Well, maybe a pheasant or two when I first moved in, but the bobwhites are long gone. Their once familiar cries at dusk are familiar no more, to flog a cliche; and I guess it’s that way through a number of areas of the United States where they were once common. A diminution of birds that is, not the flogging of cliches.
With the city recently demanding that the old paddocks and back lots be mowed as lawns under penalty of fines, there’s not likely to be a return to those tall grass farm field conditions that made the suburban back-acre lives of some of these creatures possible in the first place.
That’s why I was not bothered by the appearance of the foxes. In fact they even had a beneficial effect, definitely reducing the number of burrowing moles and garden invading rabbits.
Of course they had to compete for rabbits with the hawks. But they seemed to be doing alright for themselves nonetheless, having digging talents hawks lack.
My next door neighbors who seem to notice everything that goes on, even appeared to adopt the foxes as a kind of special case. They reported to me with their anthropomorphically applied phrasing that they, the foxes, were a pair, a boy and girl fox no less. Whether the Fox couple were raising a litter of kits, I couldn’t say. But I did notice that they had become pretty visible; publicly going about their business through the yards in a manner that seemed almost oblivious to the fact that there were humans about.
One morning a couple of weeks ago, rather late at maybe 8AM or so, I noticed from an upstairs vantage point and through a window, what looked like a knee-high yellowish dog down in the other next door neighbor’s yard. It was snuffling at the base of the cyclone fence which at that point, up near to the houses, marks the boundary of our properties. As I gazed at the animal, I became aware that it wasn’t a dog, but rather a coyote. I’ve killed enough of them to know pretty well what a coyote is.
At the same time a mysterious barking sound, as if half-goose half-dog started up again for about the third time that morning.
What I eventually came to see was that off across the same neighbor’s yard was one of the foxes. It was half hidden behind a large spruce tree that had branches which extended right to the ground. The fox was peering through the lower limbs toward the coyote, and in effect then, toward my house.
To make a pointlessly long story at least somewhat shorter, the coyote finished whatever it was that was occupying it at the base of my fence, and began to trot off away from the houses on a diagonal which would eventually have taken it past, and then away from, the fox’s vantage point as well. After about 60 feet however, the coyote caught scent of the fox.
Loping up to the edge of the spruce where it sweeps the ground with its branches in about a 15-16 foot diameter, the coyote stood there stalk still opposite the fox for a moment. After a few further seconds with both animals poised broadside to me but opposite each other, the coyote began trotting counter clockwise around the tree; casually, and almost nonchalantly one would say, if an animal were capable of such a thing as nonchalance. The fox, failing to be reassured by the coyote’s blase manner, reacted immediately, by simultaneously moving in the same counter clockwise direction, continually keeping 180 degrees of the compass and 15 feet of prickly spruce limbs and needles between itself and the coyote.
I thought it would bolt straight away across open ground, but it didn’t. Maybe it knew something about the speed of coyotes relative to foxes in the open, that I didn’t.
Thus, when the coyote would reverse its circular direction, so too, instantly, would the fox. When they would pause this dance, always on opposite sides of the circular barrier of spruce branches, I could see the fox moving its head up and down, right and left, peering through the branches so as to keep a wary eye on what the coyote was doing on the other side.
The coyote then decided to bring things to a conclusion by making a circumferential dash for the fox: and around and around the tree they went, speeding like furry electrons in a 50 foot orbit, the coyote never quite catching up to the fox, despite the fox’s long trailing tail.
After two or three complete circuits they wound up right where they began, and where I could once again see them clearly and broadside, on opposite sides of the tree with its ground draping, intervening, spruce limbs.
That’s when I whacked the window with the palm of my hand and sent them both off in different directions.
I have not seen the coyote since. But neither have I seen the foxes.
It’s a commonplace that nature takes no sides, and merely renders judgments.
But I take sides based on my judgments.
One animal was not welcome; while the others conditionally were.
Yeah, I take sides, and frankly, there is no good reason why I shouldn’t.
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