Gopher Gulch: Tuning in Fox, without turning on the TV set

Inez Castor

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.

Reach Inez Castor, a longtime Triplicate columnist, at

lockhartisfree@yahoo.com .

13996084
The Del Norte Triplicate
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