Friday, May 14, 2010

Fox Eyes

I think there is a children’s picture book by that name, and now I see why. (Ah yes, dear old Margaret Wise Brown, Knopf, 1977, illustrated by my favorite illustrator, Garth Williams and yes, he really captured the intensity!) On my morning ramble a few days ago, approaching the dike of our upper pond, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a fox curled up resting at the base of a young Scotch pine. I say resting, because from the constant motion of his ears, he was clearly not asleep. I say he because I believe this is the male of the pair that I have seen a number of times. I had suspected they might be denning in the old slash pile in the grove of young maples that our daughter Fern long ago named, The Woodland of the Twilight Elves. I’m thinking that his mate might have a litter already and be holed up with them.

In any case, it was overcast with a strong wind from the east, and even though I had just coughed and then called Georgie-year-old-heyena-Jack-Russell pup, the fox was unaware of my presence. I sat down less than fifty feet away and studied him through my binoculars, imagining painting the many shades of red, buff and gray fur ruffled by the moving air, and the many texures of his coat. The black ears swiveled, keeping watch. Presently, Georgie came close without discovering him. Instantly his head came up and he fastened a gaze so intense on her that it took my breath away. Fox eyes! Gleaming jewels. Penetrating, intense, measuring. At last, Georgie discovered fox, and there was a merry chase down through the pasture to the Woodland, but he was safely gone, brush and all. Perhaps the den is entirely elsewhere and this was a ruse to lead her away.
The website says, “Foxes are nocturnal animals whose nighttime vision is especially acute. Behind the light-sensitive cells in a fox's eye lies another layer of cells called the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light back through the eye, increasing the sharpness of its vision and better allowing it to spot prey. The fox's sensitive hearing also enables it to locate prey easily. It can pick up low-frequency sounds, such as a mouse rustling in the grass or earthworms moving on the surface of the soil.” The website also said that their eyes reflect green at night and they have whiskers on their legs as well as their faces! And a careful observer can distinguish individual foxes by coloring, so I will have to try to observe more carefully. I’d like to know my shy, russet colored neighbors a little better.

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