I am in the car, running errands and a couple of blocks from my house. It is mid-afternoon and I have just pulled up to a stop sign. I look to the right for any oncoming vehicles and there he is. The coolest dude in Flossmoor.
He walks past my car, then sits down on the street. Amazed by his chutzpah, I stop the car, put it in neutral and watch him for a minute or two. I am pretty sure he notices that I am watching him. Finally, he stands up and, on the sidewalk, casually starts strolling away from me.
He has reddish coloring – I know it well since it matches the shade of my son Emmett’s hair. He is not very big, maybe three feet long, and very thin.
He is a young fox, one of a handful we have been seeing all spring and summer in our neighborhood.
(At this point, allow me to apologize for assuming that this particular fox, or any that we have seen, is a male. Of course I have no way of knowing if it is a he or a she and am using this gender designation strictly out of convenience.)
I have, in my lifetime, seen a fox in the wild maybe three times. This year, we have spotted foxes in our Heather Hill neighborhood more than 20 times. My wife Patty made the first sighting this spring in our backyard. After that, I started seeing it, moving from east to west in the vegetation-heavy rear of the yard.
A month later we started seeing tiny foxes – kits, they are called – when we took our after-dinner walks. One night we saw two of them together. We stopped to let them cross the street in front of us. But only one crossed and we were between them. The one on the left (that had not made the crossing) ran away from us, then crossed the street and ran down the yard to our right to unite with the other fox. At some point, down the block, we heard a bloodcurdling screech that I can only assume was some kind of warning cry.
We are not the only ones who have seen the foxes. Patty went to a yoga group dinner the other night and heard stories from several people who have seen foxes in Heather Hill and other parts of Flossmoor. Some have seen as many as four foxes together at one time.
Last Monday I was returning home after a Flossmoor Village Board meeting and, in the twilight, saw a fox on the side of the street, and not far from my sighting at the start of this column. I had my camera and backed up the car to see if I could get a picture. But I had trouble with the flash. After a frustrating minute, some people with dogs came down the street and the fox disappeared.
I told Patty that I was determined to get a picture of one of the foxes, and would not leave the house without the camera.
On Wednesday night, we took our walk along the usual route. As we neared Flossmoor Road, a young woman rolled down her car window and told us to be careful – she had just seen two foxes. A block later, Patty saw a fox near the Infant Jesus of Prague rectory, and we ran into another young woman who said she had seen some kits.
A few minutes later, we saw a fox sitting on the lawn of a corner lot. The light was quickly disappearing and I was afraid it was too dark to take pictures. I got about 20 feet away and started shooting. He was extremely accommodating, moving from house to driveway. At one point he sat on the driveway and scratched himself. I used the flash – it worked! – and took pictures for three minutes or so. When we left, the fox was still sitting there.
Here is why I am writing this. I am astonished that these beautiful wild animals are in the middle of our suburban world. I am also afraid for them. There are so many dangers for such small animals. Cars, of course. And us.
I know that foxes are a menace to the henhouse. I would not want small children – or, for that matter, any children – to get too close. The same thing goes for pets. When I was taking the pictures I did my best to determine if the fox felt threatened. Or if I was threatened. That did not seem to be the case, so I shot away.
They will probably only be with us for a little while. It has been remarkable watching them this summer. They appear to be totally free, and oblivious to the hazards of our world. I’d like to think there is a degree of safety during their time in our town. I know that’s not very realistic.
It would be nice to think we can live together. But their wild world and ours, so very domesticated, have little in common other than we are walking the same streets.