A gray fox sits in secluded Maine woodlands.

A gray fox sits in secluded Maine woodlands.

I t was another one of those moments when I had to remind myself that I no longer live in a rural woodsy place where the wildlife wandering in and out of my space was a daily occurrence. As close as I am to downtown Saco here, this place has a remarkably rural flavor to it, considering everything I’ve seen in the short time I’ve been here, not the least of which has been the flock of wild turkeys making their quotidian way across what constitutes my front lawn.

This time, though, it wasn’t a flock of turkeys, but a small fox that moved along the edge of the treeline just outside my bedroom window. It seemed to have materialized from the dim dusky light and then been reabsorbed just as mysteriously into the deepening gloom. And if I hadn’t gone to the window at that very moment to close the curtains, I would have missed it.

From where I was standing in my darkened room, it at first appeared to be just a youngster. It was too dusky to instantly determine exactly which species it was. Considering the fact that both red and gray foxes are common in this part of the world, I had to put my thinking cap on to make a definite identification.

From the predominantly gray head and body, the smaller face, and the rounded ears, I believe it was a gray fox, and its small size suggested that it might have been a female. It moved along the wooded edge cautiously, ears up and nose sniffing at the air every few seconds as it pecked at the ground for something that met with its culinary approval. The fox was probably after some bread I’d tossed out there that the birds and squirrels had missed. Or perhaps some smaller hapless creature that figures in its diet had made the mistake of venturing out just as the fox was passing. Also fond of fruit and other types of vegetation, it might also have been foraging for some old berries from the bittersweet vine growing overhead. Once again, it was too dark to see much of what was going on, but it was nonetheless thrilling to witness this little event so close to urbanized civilization.

According to what little I know about foxes, the gray fox is capable of climbing trees, but the red fox is not. They both enjoy the same omniverous diet of whatever they can find, be it rodents, seeds, nuts, berries, leaves or insects. Both are nocturnal creatures, preferring to roam and forage at night and in the very early morning hours.

I will never forget the time when I lived in Lyman and a red fox spent several minutes running back and forth in front of my garage, barking. I went out on the porch to see what the problem was, and it continued on in a more pronounced way. I was a safe distance from it, so I watched it for a while, deducing that it must have been a female that had a litter of newborns nearby that it was protecting. The little guy (or gal) outside my window last week didn’t behave that way. But then again, it had no idea that I was watching. Or maybe it did, and felt safe enough to do its thing secure in the knowledge that I would not disturb it.

At times, it’s as if all the things I’ve seen in my life, the wonders and the gifts, have never let me get too far from their reach. If I didn’t know any better, I’d swear that nature has an ongoing dialogue with all her creatures, admonishing them to seek me out no matter where I roam. Perhaps she does, or perhaps it’s just that I’ve grown attuned to such things through the years, knowing instinctively at just what moment to look outside or raise my eyes from whatever I’m doing.

Whatever it is, it has enabled me to find joy in the most inauspicious places where I would expect the bustle of human activity to keep the wildlife at bay. Or is nature amending her basic laws to accommodate us all, considering how many other wondrous creatures we can safely call neighbors now?

— Rachel Lovejoy, a freelance writer living in Lyman who enjoys exploring the woods of southern Maine, can be reached via email at [email protected]

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