It’s 8:30 on a summer evening and time to get ready for the show. Pull a chair near the window, place drinking water and a snack nearby, turn off the phone. It’s become routine, and Shadow jumps to a spot that gives him a clear view of the front yard stage.
A few minutes before 9 o’clock a sleek shape appears like magic. Though I was watching, anticipating her entrance, I didn’t see her arrive. She’s simply there, as if she stepped through from another dimension. Built like a delicate canine with a huge brush of tail, moving like a cross between a cat and a squirrel, Fox explores the yard.
A master of camouflage, she’s either moving so fast she’s invisible or holding so still ... she’s invisible. She knows we’re watching, glancing at us now and again to make sure we stay on our side of the glass. She startles every few seconds, but it’s not us she looks at. Shadow is mesmerized, following her every motion with eyes nearly black to soak in the waning light.
A few minutes later Fox’s mate appears, but he soon trots off across the adjoining pasture in search of the mice that make up more than half their diet. The female noses around the front yard, her huge eyes and even bigger ears flickering our way now and again.
Scientists are putting forth learned theories addressing the behavior of everything from armadillos to zebras, but many don’t take into account a factor common in sparsely populated areas. Their humans may not realize it, but most rural homes are owned by dogs. Even if the dog sleeps indoors, its scent deters wildlife.
Gopher Gulch is the only place in the neighborhood that has no dog, which makes it a demilitarized zone, a well-worn path between woods and pasture. In the morning, a young buck with what is becoming an impressive rack of antlers does his pruning. The bushes are beautifully shaped, but there are no blossoms. Chasing him is an exercise in futility very much like chasing waves.
Throughout the day birds, cats and an old woman occupy the territory, disappearing as the sun goes down. That’s when the real show begins. Raccoon? Foxes? Coyote? Skunk? There are no previews, but whatever it is beats the very best TV nature shows.
I do have options. I could get a dog or a motion-sensing light, or I can relax and revel in this increasingly rare opportunity. I’ve loved dogs, but now I’d rather have foxes. I chase bears, throwing things, yelling and trying to assure their safety by generating fear and loathing. But everyone else gets a free pass.
Shadow and I snuggle safe inside and watch the tide of flowing wildlife. The show never gets old because both the players and the play are different every night.
Bats dart through the darkening sky and an owl hoots. It doesn’t get any better than this.