Saturday, March 1, 2008

Hunter II

I had started walking Thursday morning, a light covering of snow, added to the previous day’s remainder, offering another chance at a peek into the activities of a dark night, unseen by me.
The tracks were, again, there—stepping from the woods, across the field—passing through fences as if they weren’t there, in his course to the hunting grounds of the far woods. I checked them only briefly—it was the small-footed canine, the red or gray fox--and walked on. (pictures 1&2)

My path circled around the empty field, where fallen grasses and goldenrod spikes interrupt the whiteness, making small tracks difficult to distinguish from vole holes and dark icy patches of pooled water on the uneven surface. I hadn’t intended to give his tracks another thought, until I came upon the unusual drag markings crossing the trail where it enters the woods.
Something traveling low to the ground would leave such a depression in the snow, though the footprints were just to one side—indicating, perhaps, one being dragged by another. Whatever had moved through these woods, I had not seen before.
I was barely able to determine the direction from which this strangely moving being had come. Cold morning air and light flakes had quickly filled all but a few toenail marks. Yet, it was the fox again—this time, dragging something from the woods. (picture 6)

I followed, eagerly hoping to find some scene with answers to the questions brewing within. Through the undergrowth, branches stealing my hat with their long, bare fingers, I crept backward to the source, the point where this curious walking had begun.
And found a depressed area in the snow beneath a large tree, just beyond the creek.
Whatever he had taken there, he took swiftly, as there was little commotion and barely a hair, aside from some darkened prints, as a clue. (picture 3)

I wondered how far he had walked with his find, and where he had taken it for safe keeping, as foxes sometimes cache food for later times of need.
I followed again, his unbroken trail--across a small creek (4), through a dense stand of firs (5), through the blackberry brambles (7) and out into the open air of the field surrounding the big pond (8)--wishing I, too, had his small stature with dense fur and tapered face, his agility--protection from the snags and tears of this “edge” habitat foxes love.

Twice, it appeared, he wished to cross the pond and turned back, perhaps deciding the refrozen ice not safe for his weight. Then, finally setting his prize down and pausing beneath the dock—the first break in a continuous trail of over 500 feet. The muskrat had been out walking last night, too—his tail drag, a thin dark line in a trail of similar width. (pictures 9, 10 &11)

Beyond the dock, the fox’s prints are the only trail on the icy surface. (picture 12) His prey, not yet eaten, probably carried higher, now, as he proceeded toward home, through the field beyond the pond, back to the oak woods from where this night’s hunt began. (pictures 13, 14&15)
I followed to the base of a large fallen tree--a dry hollow in the 2-foot diameter, soft within with crumbles of decay, a dark chamber deeply buried.

The thought of having such a beautiful animal walking this small tract of woods, to have given them wild spaces to use as they need and the thrill of knowing without seeing, stopped me there.
I imagine a den of kits, mother nursing them and eating what her mate has brought from his night’s hunt.
Growing strong and wild.
Unseen.

My Spring reward is found here.

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22 comments:

Lynne said...

Nina- I so enjoyed your view into the unseen world of this fox. You are a remarkable story teller.

Lisa at Greenbow said...

I was with you there girl.

kate said...

Your post is so beautiful, following the trail of the fox. It made me realise how upset I've been since going out to walk the dog and seeing a neighbour's pickup truck filled with carelessly tossed frozen foxes and coyotes. I don't know what to do or how to get the image of this scene out of my mind. It was horrific. Your post made for such a contrast - I have to hold on to the images you've given me.

ncmountainwoman said...

What a great mystery. Poetic, entertaining, and educational. How wonderful that you include us on your walks. We appreciate it.

cestoady said...

What a rare and wonderful opportunity to be able to follow the hunting event in the life of "your " fox --- all made possible through your beautiful photo - essay and descriptions.

You have let us see -- through your eyes-- something that few of us will ever experience. An extraordinary,and memorable post.

Cathy said...

After the concert I attended recently, we sprung to our feet after the conclusion of the Mexican National Symphony's rendition of Chavez's Synfonia No 2 and shouted our approval and gratitude.

Well, Nina. That's how this post affected me. Wow. Like the symphony, is was couched in wonder, replete with mystery, excitement and a denouement that gave me goose bumps.
Brava! Oh . . . I love this:
' . . . Through the undergrowth, branches stealing my hat with their long, bare fingers . ."

Thanks for the adventure - to be continued . . .

Cathy said...

Drats, " . . . 'IT' (not 'is') was couched in wonder" :0)

Cathy said...

Double dang. This is getting embarrassing:

We "sprang not sprung" Waaaahhh.

It's this pain medication:0)

mon@rch said...

I always forget that this time of the year our birds can have there little ones around! Thanks for sharing and love the photo on the other post!

Mary said...

Nina, I didn't need to look at your photos. You tell a story so well with such skill and grace.

Your final paragraph is wonderful. Yes, I'm imagining, too, what is unseen. No need for photos here.

vonne said...

Thank you Nina, I enjoyed that very much. I miss the woods and snow and the long walks in winter.

Island Rambles Blog said...

I was drawn into the story...I thought I needed more pictures but realized I was seeing it all, every detail, in my imagination through your writing..I was right there with you and that is a special talent girl. And I loved how you ended it...wonderful you are.

bobbie said...

You are so gifted. Your words tell the whole story, leaving no doubt in my mind, but then the added photographs confirm it all. And they are beautiful photographs!

Blake said...

Wow, who needs the pictures? I'll agree with everybody else and say that you are one gifted writer. Excellent, excellent read!

T.R. said...

I love how the snow is duplicitous in exposing and illuminating the poetic duet you seem to have with that fox. Almost like the natural world is conspiring ways to stave your winter blues. Will spring's muddy complicity offer the same game of hide and seek?

Adele / SittingFox said...

Tracking is one of my favourite things and you've painted a marvellous insight into this fox's activities - fabulous post, really enjoyed it.

I often see the foxes who visit my garden caching surplus food, and it's amazing how difficult it is to find once they're done! I read a scientist's account of a fox in Canada who, after caching in the snow, actually scuffed snow over his own tracks to hide his trail from the magpies! Incredible

Mel said...

Love to follow your steps on every post! Great one (as usual!)

Sandpiper said...

I love how you described your walk and tracking. I was carried along with you. Today I was out for a little while and saw tracks in the snow and something had clearly been dragged along. I immediately thought of you.

Sandpiper said...

Now, don't laugh! I thought of your story... not you being dragged. ;-))

Birding Scott said...

Thanks for the story! I really enjoyed seeing the tracks and trying to piece together what happened in my head. Your words really brought this to life.

RuthieJ said...

What a great story, Nina. I was fascinated. I hope you get the chance to see fox kits this spring...

Jennifer said...

Brilliant. 'nuff said.