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A Cape Cod Notebook can be heard every Tuesday morning at 8:45am and afternoon at 5:45pm.It's commentary on the unique people, wildlife, and environment of our coastal region.A Cape Cod Notebook commentators include:Robert Finch, a nature writer living in Wellfleet who created, 'A Cape Cod Notebook.' It won the 2006 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.

Missing Mother Fox Raises Questions About A Surviving Kit

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Bob MacInnes / flickr
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CC BY 2.0

Last week I described how a mother fox had given birth to four fox kits under the shed next to our house. For several days we watched the kits playing on a patch of open ground just outside the shed. But, sensing our presence, or so we assumed, the mother fox, or vixen, had apparently removed them to a new location. 

  

This story is part 1 of a 2-part essay. Hear part 1 here.

But then, after several days’ absence, the kits and the mother showed up again. Not only did the foxes come back, but they came back in a way that destroyed our previous narrative of them. The day after their return we saw the vixen out in the open, lying on our boules court, nursing three of the kits in plain sight.

Then the next day – this is early May now – I saw a single kit at the shed entrance. We took this at first to signal that the entire family was back in the den under the shed. But as the day went on we saw only that one kit – none of the others or the mother – and though it remained outside the den even when we stood in plain view of it on the deck, it began to look to us increasingly, well not “sad’ exactly, but “confused,” or perhaps “abandoned.” Even as dusk darkened into night the lone kit remained outside, looking about, but making no sound.

What did this mean? We had witnessed, at one point, all four kits being led, in pairs, by the vixen, to what we had assumed was a new den. Why did this one kit now appear to have returned, or been left here? Had it been pushed out of the new den for lack of room, or lack of milk (after all, we had only seen three of the kits nursing)? Do foxes do that? And what should our role be now if the lone kit had in fact been abandoned? If this obscure drama had been played out in the woods, I think I could have let it go and left the lone kit’s fate to “nature’s tender mercies.” But it seemed to have been abandoned under our shed, which altered things, though I wasn’t sure exactly how. 

The next morning I set a saucer of milk just outside the den entrance. At mid-morning I went out to find that the milk had been half-drunk, which made me feel good. After lunch I went back to check it again and found that the saucer was gone! Had the kit dragged it under the shed, as they had apparently done with our dog Sam’s toys earlier? If so, what for?  Or had the mother returned and removed it for some other reason?

As I’ve said before, human beings love to create narratives. We like things to have a beginning, a middle, and an end. It’s a way of giving shape, and therefore meaning, to life. But nature doesn’t lend itself to neat human story lines.

It is now the second week of May and there have been no sign of the foxes the past few days – but then we really haven’t been looking. However fascinating this fox saga had been, we eventually had other stories to follow, and left the foxes to their own. I realize that the older I get, the more I’m willing to observe wildlife without imposing some neat narrative upon their behavior. Let them create their own narratives, and just give me the privilege of listening to them tell it in their high, harsh, nocturnal voices of fox-language. 

This story is part 1 of a 2-part essay. Hear part 1 here.