Five newborn fox kits recently appeared in a den above a creek in a nearby suburban park. The location was uncharacteristically close to human traffic and allowed crowds of passersby to take close-up photos and videos of the kits, fuzzy and wide-eyed, greeting the world.
When my friends told me, I was enchanted. That’s my jam, you know.
I happened to have some time on my hands and began to spend a few morning and evening hours near the several entrances to their den, hoping to see them myself. While waiting, I spoke with neighbors — all from a proper distance, of course — who told me stories and showed me phone videos of the kits playing while watched over by their mom — strong, but clearly emaciated from non-stop feeding. That’s what happens with foxes.
It was never clear to me whether there was a mom and dad or just a mom — both situations exist in the wild — but one morning before sunrise I finally saw the dark silhouette of what I took to be the mom, sliding gracefully down a grassy slope, supremely silence.
The next day I saw what I took to be the dad, strutting down the sidewalk with a squirrel in his mouth. His lush red fur seemed almost neon in the sunlight.
I never saw the kits, and from what I hear, they weren’t seen last week, either. It’s a bit early for them to move on in search of their own territory; maybe the whole family got tired of being rock stars and retreated to a new home.
Fox mothers have a good reputation. They’re both playful and patient as they raise and teach their kits. And they’re very protective, sometimes going head to head with hungry coyotes and badgers, even though those beasts are more ferocious.
They’re less assertive with people. I’ve followed a couple of stories in which wildlife control professionals were called in to move the inhabitants of a newly developed den from underneath a porch or a shed. In both instances, they took the kits, one by one, very gently, and placed them in a safe, accessible container before closing off the den. In the meantime, the mothers paced in the distance.
But after the pros left, the mothers returned and carried the kits, one by one, by the scruff of the neck to new homes.
I don’t blame the moms for being apprehensive; they’re only human.
Foxes have been known to bury their dead kits. One story I followed told of a pair of foxes that did so, and would return from time to time to the burial site. We can’t read foxes’ minds, but I can’t help imagining that they visited out of sorrow, as we might do.
I have a dear friend who is a mother of three. She had to go back to work last week.
Her job, which is considered essential (by her employer), requires her to spend hours in several different grocery stores, handling merchandise in the midst of shoppers. She chose to take a leave of absence during the shutdown order, but felt pressured to return to work to ensure her job security.
Two of my friend’s children have immune systems that are compromised. Her daughter has Down syndrome and a heart defect. To most, she doesn’t seem very communicative, but her mother can read her mind. She interprets her discomfort and desires from small, non-verbal cues.
My friend must now take the risk of being around other people, then returning home, possibly carrying something deadly with her. She goes through a daily come-home protocol that involves thorough bathing, scrubbing everything with Lysol and wearing mask and gloves when with her daughter.
“If it were a matter of another month or two,” she told me, “I might try to hold out longer. But we’re going to be living with this for a year or two and I can’t afford to quit. So I’ve got to adapt. I have to treat it as another unavoidable risk in life.”
“The worst part of it,” she told me, “is the anxiety that hangs over me before I even wake up. The fear that I could bring home something that could take her from me is heavy on me through the day and in my dreams. That and being afraid of cuddling and comforting her.”
My friend and I have discussed options and there don’t seem to be any outside of winning the lottery. All she can do is take the risk and worry.
She’s not the only one, of course.
So when I hear about these goobers who are so certain that the virus isn’t dangerous that they’re willing to bet other people’s lives, I get a little upset.
“We can’t let them normalize the fear,” they say, hips swaying under the weight of their holsters.
All I can do is ask you to do what I’m doing: Please, please, wear a mask. Wash your hands. Lobby your legislators to improve workers’ rights. Encourage others to do so. And join me, next year, in celebrating another Mother’s Day.