Blogging Along the Brandywine: The fable of the fox

A few years ago I was drifting off to sleep when I heard the sound of what seemed to be a miniature poodle with laryngitis. Thinking that rather strange, I looked out the bedroom window and there, about 50 feet away, in the moonlight was a neighbor’s cat and a fox in a face-to-face stand-off.

I quickly Googled “foxes” and found a sight with several sound bites.

The fox was making, “The Territorial Yap”, informing the cat that this section of the woods was his.

In a few minutes the fox took off after the cat — not like a cheetah hunting down a wildebeest, but in a slow lope — like he just wanted to make sure the cat knew the way to the exit.

Within a minute of so after escorting the cat to the lower woods the fox came back. No violence, just a clearer understanding between the two.

Early last Sunday evening I stood at our kitchen window watching another stand off in our snowy woods.

You see, in the coldest days of winter, I have always put cracked corn and peanuts under our birdfeeders to keep the squirrels and deer away from the birdseed. Yes, I have watched deer emptying seed from the bottom of our tubular birdfeeder like it was a box of Cracker Jack.

But this evening, under one birdfeeder was a big red fox, and not 30 feet away under the other feeder was a young deer. The deer didn’t have any visible antler buds, so for the sake of clarity I’ll refer to the deer as “she.”

Now for some reason, Mr. Fox decided that the food might be more plentiful under the other birdfeeder and proceeded to stroll over to the deer’s station.

This was getting interesting.

Whenever the fox got a little too close to the deer she lowered her head to the ground, eyes fixed firmly on the fox, and took a half step forward. The fox backed off. This continued for several minutes as the fox went back and forth between the two feeding stations.

The denouement came when the fox went over within a foot or two of the young deer.

But this time in a rather dramatic gesture she stomped a front foot. She did it two more times and started walking toward the fox, which conveniently decided it was time to leave.

He turned and walked casually over to our neighbor’s woods. Not like he had been intimidated, but as in, “I think I’ll go over and catch some mice under that tool shed.

Once I watched “Big Red” crouching next to one of our old poplars with his eye on a few squirrels that were barely 15 feet away feasting on the peanuts under the bird feeders. With a quick spring and a leap, he was off, with the squirrels scampering up the tree. But the fox just continued loping on past the tree as if to say, “I wasn’t trying to get you; I was just playing.”

I find the interaction between the species fascinating. I’m sure if he were desperate or hungry, the fox could have killed the cat and the squirrels, but he didn’t. It was communication at its most primitive level between different animal species.

So why can’t we be more like that? After all we’re all the same species aren’t we?

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About Sally Denk Hoey

Sally Denk Hoey, is a Gemini - one part music and one part history. She holds a masters degree cum laude from the School of Music at West Chester University. She taught 14 years in both public and private school. Her CD "Bard of the Brandywine" was critically received during her almost 30 years as a folk singer. She currently cantors masses at St Agnes Church in West Chester where she also performs with the select Motet Choir. A recognized historian, Sally serves as a judge-captain for the south-east Pennsylvania regionals of the National History Day Competition. She has served as president of the Brandywine Battlefield Park Associates as well as the Sanderson Museum in Chadds Ford where she now curates the violin collection. Sally re-enacted with the 43rd Regiment of Foot and the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment for 19 years where she interpreted the role of a campfollower at encampments in Valley Forge, Williamsburg, Va., Monmouth, N.J. and Lexington and Concord, Mass. Sally is married to her college classmate, Thomas Hoey, otherwise known as "Mr. Sousa.”

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