I watch the foxes, and they watch me

It is late at night, time to go to bed. I'm too tired to watch another movie on the cable channel. Perhaps I should put the bag of garbage out tonight, in case the truck comes early tomorrow.

There is always a risk in putting the garbage out the night before, because a creature out there finds the bag interesting. When morning comes, garbage may be all over the place.

I decide to wait until morning, because I see a sizable four-footed prowler trotting dutifully across the night grass, a proud prancer, almost smug. It doesn't act like a dog, and it is larger than any cat I've ever seen. Whatever it is, it is probably looking for a garbage bag to tear open.

It wasn't a dog. It wasn't a cat. It was a brown fox.

Beyond the backyard of my Florida house is a dense thicket, large green fists of palmetto, pine trees, oak trees, pepper trees, and tangled vines. The foxes live out there, four of them, as far as I know. They have been living out there for years, and I am glad that part of the wild has been permitted to remain wild.

The thicket had been a junkyard until the environmental people put their collective foot down and ordered the stripped trucks and vans hauled away. The foxes didn't mind if the junked cars were there or not.

Fifteen years ago there was a brush fire, and the foxes left for a while. The thicket looked awful. Tractor tracks were everywhere, along with mangled and broken tree trunks.

Seven years later, the woods had grown back, even more densely than before, because of abundant rainfall. The foxes came back. Now there are four of them instead of two.

In recent months, the foxes have become more courageous, coming out of the forest in the daytime to look around. They have gotten quite used to me by now.

In summer I often sit on a lawn chair in the back, having a cold drink. The foxes come out of the thicket, and I speak to them. They stand there as long as 10 minutes and look at me, pointy-eared, bushy-tailed, their little pink tongues hanging out.

They don't come close. They keep 30 feet between us. Mr. and Mrs. Fox find me an item of curiosity.

I think it is because when I have scraps of beef, chicken, a corncob, or an old frankfurter, I throw them into the forest. They find the tidbits and conclude that I'm not such a bad species.

Sometimes they awaken me at 3 a.m. with the most hideous, raspy growl from the forest.

I walk out onto the back terrace in the darkness and order them to be quiet. Suddenly, they are. The whippoorwills pay no attention and keep cooing, but their calls do not disturb my sleep..

I see Mr. and Mrs. Fox quite regularly.

Once every week or so we have a staring contest. They look at me with intensity. Then they look at each other, decide that I'm quite boring, and trot purposefully back into the forest.

I don't know how much longer the thicket will remain. For now, it affords me privacy and scenic grandeur. Out there is a den of foxes, and I'm not about to challenge the cactus, Spanish bayonet, sand spurs, snakes, and poison ivy to find out where it is.

The foxes and I keep watch on each other, and that is satisfying enough.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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