Earth Journal

Vol. 9, No. 3
Jan. 18-24, 2001
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by Audrey Y. Scharmen

In winter, the crows own this creekshore where I live. They patrol from dawn to dusk looking for interlopers, wild things that are different from them - creatures that have no right to be in their midst as far as they are concerned. They quarrel constantly, rise early and stay up late so as not to miss anything, and often at dawn their raucous cries summon me from my bed to find yet another surprise outside my window.

Sometimes it is an eagle they have discovered in the tip of a tree across the creek, and they will not rest until they rout him from his perch. In exasperation, he usually leaves the tree and flies about with the crows in a blasé sort of way, as if to placate them so they will let him be.

On a recent morning it was a fox, walking unconcernedly along the bulkhead as they harassed him. An old paulownia tree on the bank - so lovely in other seasons, so naked and vulnerable now in winter - was black with crows loudly cussing and discussing, and the fox paused several times to gaze up in wonder.

He was small and elegant, his pale coat rose in the first rays of sunlight that painted the creek and transformed him briefly into a fantasy, his pink bushy tail a changeling prince's plume. He was the very first fox I had ever seen in my yard.

During the cold weeks that followed, he came sporadically, along the same route with the contingent of crows, at last turning suddenly to dash up a hill, into the woods and out of sight. One morning he came before dawn, in graceful black silhouette. The crows awaited and sounded an alarm.

He seemed healthy and energetic. Yet, when I impulsively told a friend about the sightings, he suggested we call animal control. The fox is obviously ill, said he, or he would not be here among humans.

But where else could he be? We are everywhere, I replied. His attitude saddened me. His is the logic of crows, I muttered.

A Guide To Nature In Winter by Donald Stokes assured me that foxes often live near humans. So it was, a few days later when a light snow had fallen during the night, I found tracks along the bulkhead and walked beside them until they disappeared amid the reeds of a marsh.

On my way home, a line of mute swans passed overhead, and I paused to watch them fade from sight. At this very moment, I mused, an environmental "task force" is deciding their fate. There is nothing left to say in defense of the swans. No matter how beautiful, there simply are too many. So say those who know about such things.

So I must not become too emotionally involved with this fascinating fox. Nor with bluebirds and eagles whose numbers have increased, just as the swans have, in the 20 years I have lived here on this shore. How long before they too are declared a nuisance and acquire their very own "task force"?

We humans are as crows: shadowy bellwethers standing guard over Nature's "excesses" while oblivious to our own.

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly