Gray fox in tree


By Andrew Furman

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On the elusive Florida gray fox and the equally elusive tween daughter.

The thing about seeing a fox is that a fox doesn’t want to be seen. It took me a long time to see a fox in my asphalt-frosted region of South Florida. I knew that a small number of foxes eked out a living along some of the scruffier acres of my county, because signage at my local parks warn against feeding foxes and other wildlife, and because the sea turtle scientists and volunteers whom I chat up at the beach time to time have bemoaned the presence of foxes, who prize sea turtle eggs, and because, yeah, I finally managed to catch a precious glimpse of ginger fur and bottlebrush tail one evening at Yamato Scrub, a 217-acre natural center at the north end of my city. The sun was melting in the west while the fox melted into the shrubbery. This was a long time ago. So I’ve known that foxes were, in a general sense, here. Yet I never imagined that foxes might be seen in my neighborhood subdivision until my wife burst in the front door one recent evening, our daughter and our dog trailing behind, and shouted, “Guess what we saw?”

I guessed owl. Screech owls are the wild creatures in our neighborhood that typically excite Wendy when they make their appearances.

“Fox!” she corrected me, unclipping Storm’s leash from his collar. “We saw a fox.”

“No way.”

“Way,” Eva replied, unsarcastically. Our eleven-year-old daughter, the youngest of our three children, seemed interested by their sighting, if not quite as excited as my wife.

Gray fox. Urocyon cinereoargenteus. A Florida native weighing only between seven and 13 pounds. Found throughout the state, though more abundant in the north. Nocturnal. Relishes small prey in the Rodentia family—rats, mice, moles, voles, gophers—though will eat pretty much anything from which they can extract calories: nuts, berries, fish, frogs, lizards, insects, birds, trash. One of the few members of the canid (dog) family to climb trees, so watch out lizards, insects, and birds! Gray foxes mate in January, February, and March. Both male (dog) and female (vixen) feed and care for their pups—also called kits or cubs—usually between three and five pups per litter.

It qualified as a big deal that Eva had seen the fox, as getting our daughter to join one or both of us on our twice-daily dog walks, or even to leave her room, had been something of a trial of late. We were still in the early throes of the Covid-19 pandemic and the local schools had all shifted to remote-learning formats for the remainder of the academic year. Eva’s recreational swim league had canceled the rest of its season, and pretty much all public facilities had closed, indefinitely. When Eva wasn’t grousing through one of her online school sessions at the kitchen bar, she was holed away in her upstairs bedroom for what seemed like an unhealthy amount of time, playing Roblox or scrolling through TikTok, and rarely reading. We floated any number of enticements to lure her out of her lair. A swim in the backyard pool. A jigsaw puzzle. A dog walk. Dessert. Eva greeted each one of these overtures with a disarmingly sunny no thank you from behind her closed bedroom door. No thank you! Given our strange and frightening current circumstances, it was difficult to determine whether, or to what extent, her withdrawal betrayed her possible anomie that ought to be addressed, or whether, or to what extent, it was just the normal business of adolescence, Eva forging her own identity independent of her parents. That sort of thing. She’s our third child, and much younger than her siblings, by which I mean to say that we were pretty tired, parenting-wise, and probably let too much go. Did I mention TikTok? Sometimes, we forced her during the first spring and summer of the pandemic to join us downstairs or outside; mostly, we took the path of least resistance, left her to herself, honored her no thank yous.

No thank you! . . . No thank you! . . . No thank you!

But she’d gone on that nighttime walk with Wendy. They’d seen a fox. We hoped that such a spectacular vision might encourage her to get out of her room and off her electronics more often to explore with us once again the immediate outdoors, the real-world wonders close at hand. Fox!

A family of foxes is called a skulk, a leash, or an earth, though Catherine Raven in Fox & I, her winning memoir on the relationship she forges with a fox in the Montana backcountry, refers to a group of foxes as a “cozy,” which I like best of all.

It’s not easy being a dog or vixen to a cozy of kits. Foxes, while fierce hunters themselves, are preyed upon—particularly while still kits—by dogs, coyotes, bobcats, owls, and hawks. Dangers are everywhere, Adele Brand writes in The Hidden World of the Fox, “She [the vixen] may move them [the kits] if disturbed, or bluff-charge predators, even dangerous ones…. By early summer, the vixen looks bedraggled. The exhaustion of motherhood results in a tattered coat and battered brush, and householders dismiss her as scruffy. As a human who has fostered ten fox cubs, I have a lot of respect for wild vixens.”

The prospect of fox-spotting, as we had hoped, worked in our favor for a time to lure Eva out of her room.

The prospect of fox-spotting, as we had hoped, worked in our favor for a time to lure Eva out of her room. “Evaaa!” I’d call upstairs from the landing, “time to find our fox!” (I already thought of the creature as our fox.) I’d hear the latch to her door clicking open, then I’d retreat to the kitchen for fear of spooking Eva with my physical presence bottom of the stairs. Wendy and Eva led us each time to the very spot they’d seen the fox, only a few blocks from our house, not too far from the narrow one-way street bordering a thicket of tall grasses, cacti, and large non-native trees with spherical leaves the size of dinner plates. A soupy drainage canal just beyond the thicket separates our subdivision from the next one to the north. It made sense that our fox would hunt dusk till dawn hereabouts, then hunker down during the day maybe within the thicket’s dense cover. But a week of unsuccessful scouts turned into two weeks, then three weeks. No fox. Eva’s enthusiasm waned. The odds were low, she realized, that we’d ever see our fox again. She mostly took to her room.

“What do you say, Eva?” I’d call up the stairs, the tenor of my voice tinged already with defeat. “Help us find our fox?”

“No thank you!”


“No thank you!”

“Eva, please come out of your room!”

“No thank you!”

Please come out of your den! I silently pleaded with our fox each time I set out on one of my fruitless searches throughout the neighborhood that whole year. Discouraged, I began to query the neighbors I’d see out and about taking in their own exercise, while keeping a safe social distance (Florida rules: one full-size alligator between us, tail to snout). Our neighborhood was trending the way of most suburban neighborhoods in the country, even before the plague, which is to say that few people spent much time outside their climate-controlled homes and few neighbors truly knew one another. Yet owning a dog that demands walks has put us into contact with a fairly wide number of our neighbors, mostly neighbors who also own dogs. Nonetheless, I wasn’t getting any great intel, fox-wise. No one else had seen the fox, though a few suspected that it was foxes toppling over their garbage bins. I found this unlikely, given the small size of foxes, the gargantuan proportions of the covered trash receptacles distributed by the city.

What’s more likely, it occurred to me, though it ought to have occurred to me earlier, was that our neighborhood fox or foxes were the ones digging up the snapper carcasses from my frequent saltwater fishing jaunts, carcasses I bury in various locales about my front and back yards after stripping them of their fillets. I’d assumed all this time that it was raccoons sniffing out the burial sites. Raccoons are jake by me, but I felt better about the stinking carcasses and fish scale strewn across my yard some mornings knowing that they might be nourishing our neighborhood foxes instead of, or maybe in addition to, the raccoons.

The way Wendy and Eva described the fox they saw, smallish with a lot of red on it, bushy tail, crossed the street right in front of them and skittered into someone’s backyard without looking their way, made me certain that our fox was a red fox. But it took only a bit of research to figure out that it was probably a gray fox they glimpsed. Gray foxes are often confused with red foxes, because gray foxes can have a good bit of red on them too, while red foxes—distributed throughout Florida, though not native—often advertise patches of gray or grayish white, especially at the throat, chin, and belly. Gray foxes tend to be a bit smaller, their heads rounder with shorter snouts, but, yeah, it’s confusing. The tail-tips are the true tell between species. Red foxes sport white tail-tips while gray foxes have black-tipped tails. I asked Wendy after figuring all this out if she and Eva had noticed the color at the tip of the fox’s tail—was it black or white?—watched my wife’s placid expression tilt toward one of benign consternation, a look I’ve sort of grown used to seeing over the past 30 years, before she finally uttered, “The tail-tip? Are you nuts?”  

Brand marvels over the evolutionary processes that over millenniums have resulted in the physical creature we know as fox, which live on every continent except Antarctica. “In a very real way,” she writes, “foxes are built around mice.” She proceeds to describe those preposterously large tails that help them keep their balance, their light bones, their ultra-sensitive hearing, the layer of tissue behind their retinas, tapetum lucidum, that enables them to see at night (vertical pupils also help), their suspected use of the magnetic field together with auditory cues to gauge the angle and distance of their predatory leaps.

That foxes have a yen for rodents must be one reason they live in, or at least pass through, my neighborhood. In addition to the few other wild animals I see out and about at the crepuscular times I walk Storm to evade the Florida heat—raccoons, opossums, owls, bats, iguanas, nighthawks—I see plenty of plump rats crawling across telephone wires, creeping up sabal palm trunks into the dense cover of their shaggy crowns, and skittering across live oak branches, animal sightings I tend not to share with my wife. The presence of foxes on the ground, perhaps, is why the rats travel up high across the wires and trees in the first place. Mice, moles, and voles, too, evidenced by the castings of our owls I sometimes find and my embattled vegetable garden every winter, also carry on their prodigious life business in my neighborhood. The “mousing” prowess of Raven’s fox friend in Fox & I constitutes one of the more enchanting episodes in her memoir. The small stomach of Fox, as she calls him, can’t possibly keep up with his kills, so he buries caches of his mutilated, sometimes half-devoured, prey all about Raven’s property, including the area where she likes to read The Little Prince to the attentive Fox from her camp chair. This compels Raven to build a cobblestone wall to mark a mouse-free zone, or MFZ, which she hopes Fox will abide. The effort pretty much fails.

I wondered some more about the digging proclivities of foxes, specifically the prospect of our mystery fox digging up my fish carcasses, shearing raw flesh from frame with its sharp carnassial pairs—an upper premolar and lower first molar—to glean the precious proteins left behind after I’d taken my fillets. I wondered about their ostensible digging-up of sea turtle nests. While I was doing all this wondering, I spotted one of the sea turtle volunteers I didn’t know at the beach, digging up on hands and knees one of the post-hatch turtle nests to survey how successful the nest seems to have been, depositing shards of spent eggshell into a white bucket. He was a hale fellow in his 60s, a cloud of gray hair parted loosely over his forehead, rosy and wet from his efforts. He seemed pleased that I’d approached him, interrupting his labors on a hot summer day. I asked him if foxes were still digging up turtle nests along the beach and he replied from his knees, “All the time,” arching his back, resting his hands now on his thighs. “They’re pretty good at sniffing them out,” he continued. As he talked, a pair of migrating willets flitted southward over the nearshore water, flashing their big black-and-white wings. He pointed toward a disturbed nest nearby. “See how that nest’s all dug out?” I nodded. “Raccoons don’t make such a mess when they raid a nest. But the foxes dig up the whole thing. They’re smart, too. They wait until the turtles are nearly hatched to snap them up.” This last detail made me cringe. I knew about nature red in tooth and claw and all, but it sounded rather macabre, foxes waiting about for baby turtles in their shells to grow large enough to make a tasty meal, a turtle nest buried in the hot Florida sand their microwave oven, for all intents and purposes. He must have recognized the squeamish look on my face, because he told me that the sea turtles had enjoyed a remarkably successful nesting season this year, despite the foxes and other predators, that what I really ought to worry about is global warming. The sex of sea turtles and several other reptiles, he explained, was determined by temperature. The hotter the temperature during incubation, the greater the likelihood of hatchlings turning out female. “Hot chicks and cool dudes,” he said. “It’s been so darn hot this year that most all the hatchlings this season have been females, hot chicks.”   

Here was one of those times as a parent when you’re called upon to remain calm. The damage, after all, had already been done.

To call a pretty woman a fox used to be a thing, too, and might still be a thing, which is odd, as foxes, technically, are dogs. Yet foxes share various qualities with cats. Gray foxes can retract their claws, like cats. They use the whiskers on their faces and legs to navigate, like cats. The light way they amble on the balls of their feet is also quite cat-like. Though seldom heard, foxes issue up to 40 varieties of more doglike yaps, yelps, and howls, including a guttural chattering called gekkering.

The yelp that jolted me awake in the predawn darkness, I was fairly certain, came from Wendy, though in our many years together I’d never heard this utterance from her throat. I bolted toward the sound in my underwear to discover in Eva’s bathroom that our daughter had located a pair of scissors on Wendy’s work-desk and cut off practically all her hair, her beautiful auburn shock of tight, shoulder-length curls shorn now above her small ears. She stood there with Wendy before the mirror, an inscrutable look on her face, one that I’d identify as awe if I were hard pressed to tag an emotion to the blank stare.

Here was one of those times as a parent when you’re called upon to remain calm. The damage, after all, had already been done. Yet it was impossible for me, being me, to remain calm. I didn’t yell. Not exactly. But I fired a dizzying series of questions and comments toward Eva. Why did you do this to yourself? If you want to cut your hair you have to ask us. Are you trying to tell us something? Did you see this on TikTok? Did one of your friends put you up to this? Do you not like being a girl? Speak!     

Eva couldn’t possibly process the barrage.

“Andy,” my wife said, silencing me. Wendy, per usual, performed calm with much greater expertise. She stroked Eva’s back, spoke to her in soothing sentences. We weren’t angry, she assured our daughter. Only concerned. We only wanted to understand why she did this, what she was feeling. Eva claimed not to know why she chopped off all her hair. It wasn’t something she planned on doing or even thought about. She just did it. Her eyes seemed full, though she wasn’t crying. I couldn’t tell whether she was upset by what she’d impulsively done, the dramatic results she could see in the mirror—stray ribbons of unevenly shorn curls flying every which way—or only upset by the interrogation, all the unwanted attention raining down on her now from her parents, attention she’d grown so good at avoiding behind her closed bedroom door. No thank you!

Our daughter didn’t understand why we were making such a big deal out of it. I knew enough not to rile Eva further. Maybe it wasn’t such a big deal. I didn’t wish to argue. Yet, it was hard for me at the time not to see her predawn act as a self-inflicted violence.

Sarcoptes scabiei. A microscopic parasite that infects foxes and other wild mammals with mange. Mange is a devastating affliction that causes intense skin irritation, patchy, and sometimes complete, hair loss. A fox will do nearly anything to relieve itself of the itching. A fox will bite off its own tail. A mange-afflicted fox, without treatment, will surely die, typically from starvation or hypothermia. The federal government, to protect the interests of ranchers, intentionally inflicted mange upon the foxes, wolves, and coyotes in Western states up through the mid-1900s. “Land managers,” Raven writes, “collected sheep and cattle carcasses and infected them with mange-carrying mites—Sarcoptes scabiei. They left the infected carcasses near dens. Foxes, wolves, and coyotes fed on the infected carcasses. Mites jumped off the carcasses and onto the living animals. Wrapping their six dirty legs around as many hairs on as many wolves, foxes, and coyotes as they could reach, mites injected Sarcoptes bacteria into the predators’ bloodstreams.”   

Foxes have been around for millions of years, the fossil record suggests, since the late Miocene in North America and the Old World. They’ve only had to deal with us for a fraction of this time. Our early years together weren’t so bad. Some 16,000 years ago, a fox was laid carefully in a grave beside a Paleolithic woman in what is now Jordan. Scholars speculate that foxes might have been partly domesticated by these ancient peoples. Our forebears might have appreciated that foxes killed and ate rodents. It might have been nice to have them around the cave, nice enough to feed them tastier scraps from the larger animals we hunted. Foxes play important roles in Aesop’s tales, Old English literature, and the oral tales of indigenous peoples from North America to Japan.

Still, the more recent track record of our human relations with foxes hasn’t been so hot. Our rapacious agricultural and ranching pursuits across the globe the past 10,000 years or so have put us at odds with the various species of fox. One would suppose that a culture with a longstanding adage about foxes and henhouses isn’t likely to be a culture that treats foxes very well. In the U.S. and U.K. alone, they have been shot, poisoned, trapped, and bludgeoned to death as nuisances, bred and slaughtered for their fur, and hunted for “sport.” The traditional British foxhunt involving horses, hounds, and men in fancy black and red apparel is probably the type of foxhunting most familiar to readers. During these hunts over the past 300 years, foxes are often ripped to shreds by the hounds, disemboweled while still alive, doomed to experience a most brutal, cruel death. While the Hunting Act of 2004 banned the chasing and killing of wild animals by packs of dogs in England, various exemptions exist, and illegal foxhunting continues, as well. In the U.S., “penning” is the even crueler practice of setting dogs against foxes or coyotes in enclosures from which they can’t escape and deriving pleasure (I suppose) from watching the dogs maul their victims to death. While animal welfare organizations work to pass legislation outlawing the practice, there are still 19 states in which “penning” is legal.  

Small wonder that the foxes in my neighborhood, and elsewhere, don’t much like to be seen by us.

I pretty much gave up on seeing a fox in my neighborhood. Then I ran into a neighbor roughly my age, Dale, at the side of his house. He was just getting back from walking his golden retriever. I know Dale. He’s a nice guy, an arborist who’s given me some tips on how I might prune my live oaks to help the hurricane-force winds pass through them. He lives close to where Wendy and Eva claimed to have seen the fox months ago. I’m not sure why I hadn’t asked him earlier about foxes in our neighborhood, but I asked him now if he’d ever seen foxes here.   

“Oh yeah, sure,” he said, our impatient dogs bucking against their leashes. “They have a nest or den or whatever in the Millers’ backyard behind ours, under their wooden deck.”

“Wait, what?” I asked, flabbergasted by the matter-of-factness of Dale’s report.

“They raise a new litter every season,” he continued. He told me that he’d seen one of the adults darting across the street at night any number of times. Pretty small, he said. Pretty scruffy looking. He thought, as I’d suspected, too, that they probably hunted for frogs and rats and whatnot in the drainage canal just a half-block away from where we were standing. The Millers’ house fronts the one-way street, the thicket of tall grasses, cacti, and non-native trees and the canal, I realized, gazing behind Dale’s backyard into the general vicinity of what must be the Millers’ backyard.  

We talked for a while longer about the foxes. Dale agreed that it was pretty cool that foxes lived here. He liked seeing them when he saw them. Some neighbors, however, worried about their cats, he said. Some neighbors worried about rabies. Some neighbors worried about their young children. Some neighbors, he said, don’t like the fact that wild foxes lived in our midst.

Fox silhouette in forest clearing

Foxes are about the same size as cats and don’t prey upon them. It’s coyotes cat-owners should worry about. (Cats shouldn’t be let outdoors, anyway, given the ravages they inflict upon wild birds.) It’s true that foxes occasionally succumb to rabies, but they account for only about seven percent of cases reported to the CDC. Of the 23 rabies-related pet deaths reported between 2009 and 2018, none were attributed to foxes, while eight were attributed to dogs. Rabid foxes will, on very rare occasions, attack unsuspecting humans, as a quick search on YouTube reveals. In April of 2022, occasioning perhaps the worst recent bit of PR for foxes, authorities were forced to euthanize a rabid red fox and her kits in Washington, D.C. after she bit nine people around Capitol Hill and exhibited generally aggressive and odd behavior toward countless other tourists and politicos. 

All the same, the more I talked with people about foxes and read about foxes—from recent memoirs to classic children’s books (e.g., Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, Colin Dann’s multi-book series, The Animals of Farthing Wood)—the more I shamelessly scrolled through post after post on fox-themed Instagram and other social media platforms, the clearer it became that we mostly marvel over the presence of these wild creatures across the bruised and battered environments we occupy in the Anthropocene. The wild animals native to Florida—from manatees to seaside sparrows—have had a particularly rough go of it, thanks largely to our encroachment, the manifold deleterious ways in which we’ve altered the landscapes and waterscapes up and down the peninsula. How wondrous that gray foxes still make a go of it here. They evoke for us the wildness near at hand that we still hope to retain. A color photo of a wild gray fox bounding across the wild grasses of Yamato Scrub just a few miles from my home graces the Palm Beach County Natural Areas home page.

What’s more, three rescued gray wolf orphans were recently released at the Okeeheelee Nature Center in the western part of my county, a small patch of green surrounded by strip-malls and stucco developments. The goal, a news article in the Sun-Sentinel reveals, was for the foxes to reestablish a small population in the pine flatwoods here, joining the small population of bobcats and other small mammals. “[T]here’s no reason to think these guys won’t do well,” the manager of the Okeeheelee Nature Center tells the reporter. Most of us are clearly rooting for the foxes, in my county and elsewhere.

Wendy and I were rooting for Eva, of course, as all parents root for their children. It just wasn’t so easy to know how best to extend our love toward her. Clearly, she was going through a confusing time. Like many tween girls today, she was launched into puberty at an age that seemed to me impossibly young, impossibly cruel. We discussed privately whether gender confusion and/or body dysmorphia accounted for her rash act with the scissors in the predawn darkness. Comically, at least in retrospect, we brainstormed the manifold things we ought to say and do, and the things we ought not to say or do—hip progressive parents that we were—to support our youngest child in her (or his, or their) journey of self-exploration and self-actualization.

Was Eva a hot chick or a cool dude?

As Eva only expressed her feelings verbally to us under great duress, we floated to her the idea of seeing a therapist. “Just to have someone you can talk to besides us,” Wendy exhorted. “Ugh,” Eva replied. She didn’t want to see a therapist. She was fine, she insisted. And, well, she might have been fine, it occurred to us as the months passed, as she decided to let her curly hair grow. “You sure you don’t want to keep your hair short?” I asked. “No,” she said. “Because if you want to keep your hair short, it’s totally up to you,” I said, because that’s the sort of father I wanted to be. “Cool,” Eva replied. “Mom can take you to Curls Rock,” I continued. “It’s your hair,” I said, “your decision.” “Cool,” she replied again. She’d started to say “cool” an awful lot, suddenly, which I never knew quite how to interpret. There was something dismissive in it. Something, maybe, not-cool.

Life marched on. Eva turned 12. She started a new year at a new public middle school, in-person. She wouldn’t wear skirts to school, or even shorts, but she developed a fondness for eyeliner and lip-gloss and ludicrously expensive facial moisturizers. Her swim league started back up and she surprised us by joining without resistance. She seemed to enjoy her practices and meets and, mostly, seeing her old swim friends again. She asked us to take her ice skating at a local rink, so we took her ice skating, which she liked enough that we signed her up for lessons. She seemed reasonably happy. She didn’t excel at school, but she did okay. Okay, we decided, was okay. For now.

I continued, though half-assedly, to look for our neighborhood foxes. I began burying my snapper carcasses a bit shallower, making it easier on them to make their nighttime raids. It was no big deal, really, to re-bury their leavings the next morning. Curiously enough, Eva about this time developed the rather infuriating foxlike habit of raiding our food-stores and leaving the evidence sloppily strewn about, too—empty Hershey bar wrappers, lava cake boxes, and ice cream cartons left behind in the freezer rather than thrown in the trash the sure mark of her midnight mischief. In any case, I ought to have installed a night-vision camera in the yard to check out the goings on, fox-wise, while we slept. I ought to have headed over to the Millers to ask them all about their foxes, see if they’d mind if I poked around a bit for foxes in their backyard. But I didn’t do either of these things, partly because I didn’t know the Millers, partly out of laziness, partly because parenting and worrying over Eva, plus my university job, plus the business of my other children and my aging parents—all of which is to say, life—left me fully occupied.

I did manage to pick up the phone and speak with Dirck Aumiller, the Palm Beach County Parks district manager headquartered at Okeeheelee, as he happens to be an old friend of mine. I was curious as to whether the effort from a few years ago to rewild Okeeheelee with gray foxes, according to the report in the Sun-Sentinel, had been successful. “Oh, yeah, they’re definitely here now,” Dirck told me. He’d only seen one once, trotting across one of the service roads at the park early in the morning. But one of his coworkers, who walked for exercise at Okeeheelee in the predawn darkness to beat the heat, saw them pretty much every day. Other coworkers, he said, also saw them on occasion, usually at dusk or dawn. Such sightings, while common, were special enough to merit mention in the snack room or out and about on the park grounds. “They’re pretty cool animals,” Dirck said.

I finally saw one of our neighborhood foxes early one morning while I was walking alone with Storm. The day’s first light was just starting to bleed into the sky. He, or she, appeared for only an instant, trotting onto the asphalt road from an easement of overgrown shrubbery and a couple nice slash pines on the left side of the road some 20 yards ahead of Storm and me. Just as quickly, the creature disappeared into an easement on the right side of the road, heading in the general direction of the Millers’ backyard, it occurred to me. I’d like to say that this wild animal and I exchanged a meaningful glance, something like the gaze exchanged between Raven and Fox in Fox & I, which sears Fox’s face into Raven’s memory, or something at least like the shorter gaze Annie Dillard shares with a weasel in one of her most famous essays. But the wild creature in my neighborhood didn’t seem to notice me at all, or glance even to the left or right to check for traffic as it trotted quickly onto and across the asphalt street. Neither did Storm seem to notice the fox. All I really noticed about it was the red-tinged gray of its fur, the outrageously thick tail, and the way its back hardly seemed to undulate as it moved. It’s hard to describe, but something about its ambulation seemed undoglike and, yes, wild.  

Foxes, to Thoreau, epitomized wildness. He sought them out throughout his short lifetime, traced their tracks in the snow to glean what they had to teach. Foxes dig their own burrows, he notes in an early journal entry, which offers him further encouragement to build his own house beside Walden Pond. He laments the senseless brutality of a fox hunt in the “Winter Animals” chapter of his most famous book, which documents his two-year residence on the pond’s shore. Prior to his habitation at the pond, while on a two-week boating excursion with his elder brother on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, an encounter with a fox reaffirms his longing to establish a more harmonious, reciprocal relationship with these wild creatures, as he recounts in his journal: “While I write here, I hear the foxes trotting about me over the dead leaves, and now gently over the grass, as if not to disturb the dew which is falling. Why should we not cultivate neighborly relations with the foxes? As if to improve upon our seeming advances, comes one to greet us nosewise under our tent-curtain. Nor do we rudely repulse him. Is man powder and the fox flint and steel? Has not the time come when men and foxes shall lie down together?”

I found the 12-year-old Eva more mysterious than our neighborhood foxes by far, and endlessly fascinating.

Flash forward to the present and Raven in the backwoods of Montana, a place wilder than both present-day Palm Beach County, Florida, and mid-19th-century Concord, Massachusetts. Raven, like Thoreau, wonders why we don’t cultivate more neighborly relations with wild (what she calls “unboxed”) animals. “Maybe,” she speculates, “we like pretending that they are not very human. Or that we are not very wild.” I love this passage from Fox & I, which crystallizes the sentiment that seems to propel her narrative into being. Throughout, Raven implores us to reconsider the impermeable boundaries we’ve invested so much energy in upholding between the human and animal realms. I’m probably Raven’s perfect audience, as I seek constant contact with what wildness I might access near at hand.

Even so, my decidedly more constructed environs, the embattled lives that foxes (and other “unboxed” animals) bravely pursue on my coastal ridge crammed with people, compels me to wonder, too, whether the problem between foxes and us isn’t so much the impermeable barrier we’ve upheld between the wild and human realms, but that no barrier exists now at all. City and suburban foxes, anyway, have had too much of us. “We are redesigning the fox,” Brand observes. She alludes here mostly to their behaviors—their diet, territories, lifespan, and social interactions—but recent research suggests that we may be changing their very anatomy. The snouts of city foxes in London, specifically, seem to have been selected to be broader and shorter than the snouts of rural foxes, presumably on account of the advantage such snouts offer for rooting through trash bins. Just as we unintentionally cultivate weeds through our gardening, as Michael Pollan has suggested, we may be in the process of cultivating Vulpes domesticus. I find this terrifying. Sure, I’ve read Bill McKibben’s classic, The End of Nature. I know that from a zero-sum perspective there is no “wild,” anymore, no parcel of land or drop of sea or carbon-based organism that has eluded our human touch. Something there is, however, that wants what was once-wild to remain as wild as possible. At the end of Mary Oliver’s poem “October,” the poet sees a fox, who doesn’t see her, and she relishes rather than laments this moment of non-contact. Here’s the final stanza: “so this is the world. / I’m not in it. / It is beautiful.” How wild is a fox that digs its burrow beneath the wooden deck in a Boca Raton backyard, a fox that digs up snapper carcasses I’ve buried in my front yard? As wild as we can let it be.  

I didn’t see our wild or semi-wild neighborhood fox again over the following weeks, and months, though I was plenty busy observing the feral creature living under my own roof. Eva, that whole first year of middle school, still stayed in her room and on her electronics more than we preferred, but when it wasn’t too hot, she could be coaxed into the occasional walk around the neighborhood. Sometimes on these walks we enjoyed what might be called an actual conversation. She’d decided that she didn’t like the heat of Florida and probably wouldn’t live here when she grew up. She’d decided that she didn’t like Chipotle anymore (thank heavens!), but tacos were still her favorite food. She’d decided (largely on account of her hair) that she might be biracial and subjected her mother and me, repeatedly, to complicated genealogical queries. She’d decided to wear oversize, non-prescription eyeglasses each day to school. I found the 12-year-old Eva more mysterious than our neighborhood foxes by far, and endlessly fascinating. Often, while I was driving her to her bus stop in the morning, while she listened through earbuds to the playlist she’d carefully curated on her smartphone, she’d catch me glancing her way for just a second or two too long.

“What?” she’d say, turning to face me, staring me down through the clear lenses of her clunky eyeglasses. “Nothing,” I’d say, returning my eyes to the road. I’d lift a fist between us, inviting a fist-bump to wish her a good day at school. She’d rebuff the gesture, push my fist away, but usually with a wry expression on her face.   

I was finally fortunate enough to run into Mrs. Miller—or, Diane, as she introduced herself—while I was walking Storm one evening, while my neighbor was retrieving her mail. She was a white woman in her 60s or maybe her early 70s with short, frosted blonde hair. I introduced myself and we talked on her driveway for a while about foxes under the shade of her pretty live oak. Oh, yes, she told me, gripping the stack of mail in her hand, I’d heard correctly from Dale. The foxes nested under her backyard deck pretty much every season, though she hadn’t seen them in a few months. “Lots of red on them,” she said. “Really skittish,” she said. She and her husband offered them a wide berth, hardly ventured into the backyard at all the months they set up housekeeping. They liked to observe them from the kitchen window, but even from inside the house they had to be very careful. The foxes sometimes bolted upon sensing their slightest movement. She marveled over the sharpness of their vision. Our conversation veered toward Storm, whom she’d been petting all the while we talked, a rescue from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I told her. Diane and her husband loved dogs, had always raised basset hounds, but their last one died, recently. I said I was sorry. I said that she and her husband might consider adopting a beagle, because beagles were hounds too, and because the news had just broken that some 4,000 beagles rescued from a research laboratory in Virginia needed homes. But I ought not to have mentioned the beagles, or the research laboratory, as it prompted Diane to vent about the horrible experiments they must have been conducting on those poor beagles, “Dr. Fauci stuff,” she said, shivering as if from the nonexistent cold, alluding to any number of conspiracy theories about Dr. Fauci and the Covid-19 research conducted by the NIAID and the CDC. For a split-second, I considered whether I should ask her to clarify her remark, then just as quickly reconsidered. I couldn’t imagine any conversation between us on the topic of Dr. Fauci going to any good place and, truthfully, I didn’t have the stomach for it. I thanked my neighbor for talking to me about her foxes and for looking out for the foxes and I headed with Storm on our way. Oh, hell! I thought as I continued down the one-way street, sniffing at the ripe odors of the nearby drainage canal. Why couldn’t this just have been a nice neighborly moment. Why did things always have to be so complicated?   

She’s a complicated creature, Eva. A special snowflake, Wendy and I like to call her. She’s in seventh grade, as I write these lines, and seems to be in a pretty good place these days, mood-wise. I don’t kid myself into thinking that we’re out of the woods with her just yet. Still, it’s not so bad to be in the woods with our younger daughter. Why is it, anyway, that we’re always trying to get out of the woods? The woods are a good place to be, I say. She’s developed a fierce passion for anime, or maybe it’s manga. I’m not sure whether there’s a difference. I ask her one morning while I drive her to the bus stop whether it’s manga or anime she likes, whether there’s a difference. She pulls out her earbuds, vaguely annoyed, asks me to repeat the question, which I do. Then she surprises me by explaining the difference between manga and anime in three or four actual sentences. It may be our finest moment together in weeks, I realize as we reach her bus stop at the corner. “Fist-bump,” I say after I park, raising my fist, which she pushes, playfully, away. I watch as she swings open her door, straps on her ridiculously large backpack.  

“Look both ways!” I can’t keep myself from shouting out my open window for Eva and all her schoolmates to hear, which prompts both a groan and a glare from her quarter. I’ve embarrassed her, spoiled our moment, yet she never, never looks past her regrown curtain of curly hair to check for cars before she crosses the street. Like our gray fox I’ve still glimpsed only that once, she just dashes straight ahead and hopes for the best, and hell if I’ll hold my tongue. Because that’s the whole deal, maybe, raising kids or kits. I’ve figured this much out, anyway. At the end of the day, you just want them to look both ways before they cross the street. You just want them to be okay.



Andrew FurmanAndrew Furman is a professor of English at Florida Atlantic University and teaches in its MFA program in Creative Writing. Recent stories and essays have appeared in such publications as Prairie SchoonerSanta Monica Reviewand Willow Springs. His books include the novels Jewfish (Little Curlew Press, 2020) and Goldens are Here (Green Writers Press, 2018), and the memoir, Bitten: My Unexpected Love Affair with Florida (University Press of Florida, 2014), which was named a finalist for the ASLE Environmental Book Award. 

Read more by Andrew Furman appearing in “Slashed” and “The Problem with Pretty Birds” (nonfiction) and “Florida, 1961: On the Grove” and “What I Remember About Captain Horace Holtkamp” (fiction).

Header photo of gray fox by Geoffrey Kuchera and inset image of fox silhouette by Annari, courtesy Shutterstock. is the world’s first online journal of place, publishing a rich mix of literature, art, commentary, and design since 1998.