Moar fockses

January 6, 2013 • 5:49 am

Forgive me, Ceiling Cat, for I have discovered that I like foxes.

In honor of Dylan Thomas’s wonderful poem, “Fern Hill” (go read the whole thing), from which I give an excerpt below, I present two picture of wild foxes taken and sent to me by readers.

Photo of red fox (Vulpes vulpes) by Andrew Berry (click photos to enlarge). The story is below:

 Katie and I were doing a day hike in the Sawatch Range of the Rockies (around Independence Pass between Aspen and Leadville), a long ridge traverse between two 13,500+’ peaks, Petroleum and Anderson.  Coming off the first top, Petroleum, we were surprised to meet this fox right up on the ridge crest.  Presumably it was hunting pikas, the diminutive rabbit relatives that are the major small mammal inhabitants of these high alpine environments.  The curious thing about the fox was that it seemed to be as interested in us as we were in it.  It would sit and wait for us.  We would approach to within about 5 yds and it would skip off another 25 yds ahead of us, and then pause, sitting down, and wait for us to catch up again.  It did this six or seven times, sticking with us for some 20 minutes.  Katie was convinced that it was trying to lead us somewhere…  Was it hoping that it could scrounge some food off us (some mountain animals, marmots in particular, on tops and other places where people often stop to eat can be quite aggressive in their attempts to participate in the meal)?  Unlikely, because this area sees virtually no human visitors: the summit registers on the two peaks indicate that these mountains are climbed by just a handful of people every month, even in season, so it seems improbable that the fox is any way human-habituated.  It’s impossible not to anthropomorphize a little: the fox was lonely and bored.  Pikas are the only company to be had up there at around 13,000′ and, as prey items, they tend to be neither especially companionable nor socially forthcoming.  Here, suddenly, were two strange, apparently non-threatening, large mammals.  What a thrilling and entertaining diversion from the norm of pikas, rock, and wind.

fox 1


A stanza of Thomas (can you name another poem of his that mentions foxes?):

And as I was green and carefree, famous among the barns
About the happy yard and singing as the farm was home,
In the sun that is young once only,
Time let me play and be
Golden in the mercy of his means,
And green and golden I was huntsman and herdsman, the calves
Sang to my horn, the foxes on the hills barked clear and cold,
And the sabbath rang slowly
In the pebbles of the holy streams.

“Fern Hill” (1945) is one of the most beautiful evocations of childhood freedom I’ve read.

This photo of a gray fox (Urocyon cinereoargenteus) is by reader “cremnomaniac” (I’ve cropped it a bit), who adds this:

This little fellow might have been ill. We came upon him/her bedded down and in the semi-open under some brush. We were exploring an overgrown road from the early days of mining at New Almaden mine (now a park). It was just above the road at eye level.
It didn’t move while four of us passed just below him.
I should note that I went by here the next day and he/she was gone.

Gray Fox - Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Oh hell, I’ll just embed a YouTube clip of Thomas reading “Fern Hill” (his readings were always a bit too monotonic for me, but hey, it’s Dylan Thomas):

55 thoughts on “Moar fockses

      1. The gray fox is nocturnal, it was likely just snoozing. It is also one of the rare canids that can climb trees, very cool!

  1. How about, “To Follow the Fox”?

    I too hope things worked out well for the gray fox. They’re beautiful animals that I see all too infrequently.

    1. Yes?:
      “To follow the fox at the hounds’ tails

      And this way leads to good and bad,
      Where more than snails are friends.”
      I admit that I googled it, but my memory sure is full of the ” broken bones of words” !

    1. That’s lyric poetry. You hear it also in his recitation of “And Death Shall Have No Dominion”. He was Welsh, but a course of elocution lessons helped to produce the mellifluous tones that you hear in his several recordings.

  2. Fockses are a gateway animal… know what is coming next. You will become a d*g lover!! Do not fight this – give in. Much more happiness, truth, beauty and wisdom will come to you that way.

    1. I saw one once in my back yard / entry to the hollow below, so they’re not far away. They have such dainty (feline) feet, which may be the attraction here.

  3. I used to like Ted Hughes including The Thought Fox and other animal poems where he showed evidence of having watched some behaviour, but could never make any sense of Dylan Thomas. In his reading, the sing-song distracts me completely from the words, but I infer he was a student of Anglo-Saxon alliterative verse who was being terribly modern by ignoring the intervening centuries.

    1. No, nothing to do with Anglo-saxon: Thomas was Welsh (an excellent thing to be), and his recitation, particularly of this poem, is a kind of singing. Yeats also chanted, mage-like, and you can hear the chant on the page in poems like ‘Sailing to Byzantium’. It is a more Celtic than English quality, though Gielgud sings. The actor Micheal MacLiammoir, who became Irish and also ‘sings’, made a wonderful recording of Spenser’s ‘Epithalamion’. Or listen to Somhairle MacGill-Eain (Sorley Maclean) recite (in Gaelic), ‘Hallaig’, which is one of the greatest shorter poems written in the British Isles in the last century.

  4. You and your readers might enjoy seeing one of the nicest paintings of red foxes I’ve ever run across. It’s by a respected artist, Bob Kuhn (deceased) and it is painted in a the blocky style he was so well known for. What is appealing about this painting is the shaft of light that highlights the fox and the little butterfly in the lower right. This is a well-planned painting, forcing your eyes to flow in the direction that the artist intends.

    I think it compliments the fox in that it shows him in full coat, looking forward with typical fox curiosity, arched neck, etc. This is a very appealing painting for many reasons.

    1. I remember a beautiful painting of a red fox jumping/hunting stiff-legged in deep snow, the same behavior as the foxes in the trampoline video. I can’t remember the artist, but maybe it was also Kuhn. Or maybe George McLean or Bruno Liljefors.

          1. If you ever have a chance to go to an exhibition of his originals, I highly recommend it. I went to a Bateman exhibit at MoBot in the late 1980s. It is amazing to see dozens by one artist all in one place. Such things occur rarely, and you might have to travel to see it, but it’s worth it.

      1. Oh and there are two more excellent fox paintings I just cannot pass up mentioning on this thread.

        One of them is another Bateman red fox painting, “At the Granary”, which shows an interesting old rural building propped up by those mushroom-shaped stones which are supposed to keep mice out. The painting shows the beauty of the fox in a simple moment. The painting is large, and the best repro online I could find is this one, but it’s still no comparison for the original acrylic (which I got to see years ago).

        Then there is the absolutely brilliant red fox painting by the inimitable Rien Poortvliet. It shows a woodland road winding away from the viewer, with a red fox squatting in the middle of the road in the distance, caught in a, shall I say, undignified moment. I could not find a pic on the web; it’s from his huge, expensive art book, “Noah’s Ark”. Topic nothwistanding, that book is chock full of insightful paintings and drawings of animals and people.

        1. Thanks for those references. I looked for “my” jumping fox in the snow on the internet, but couldn’t find it. I can see it in my mind’s eye though. It is jumping right-to-left and takes up much of the canvas. I must have it in one of my books, but they are all packed away in boxes.

            1. Glad you liked his work. I was a wildlife artist once, and learned a lot from his stuff. His level of abstraction seems just about right. Did you see his Golden Eagle attacking a hare? That is one of his most impressive pieces:


              I see he has made other eagle-hare paintings too, but artistically this one really shines. Biologically, though, it seems impossible, as the hare runs perpendicular to the eagle’s path and the eagle is not making a course correction. But he has probably seen more eagles attacking hares than I have….

          1. “The Peerless Eye”, a coffee table book on Liljefors, appears to have become quite valuable, so if you have that packed away, make sure it’s on the top shelf somewhere!

            The eagle/hare painting you mentioned is excellent.

  5. We had the good fortune of having a fox den in our backyard in 2005, 2007, and 2008. I was able photograph the babies on a number of occasions. This page: has a number of links to the images.

    My wife and I used to watch them every morning before going to work and every evening when we returned. They are fascinating and beautiful creatures!

  6. I grant they are handsome creatures, but as a chicken owner, sometimes visited by a marauding fox, I could live without them as could my hens.

    1. Agreed. I must have lost close to a hundred chickens, goslings, guinea fowl and ducks to foxes over the past 20 years, mostly in daring daytime raids. I can take the occasional snatch and run loss of a chicken, but unfortunately they have a tendency to behave like sugar-addicted kids let loose in a candy store if they get inside the coop, uselessly killing dozens animals at one time before escaping with just one. Still, magnificent animals, and always a treat to see one from up close.

    2. I had chickens, I loved watching them sunning themselves in the back garden and the eggs were awesome. But Melbourne is home to world’s largest population of suburban foxes and a couple got in and ate some and killed the rest. Animals kill for sport just like we do. Also foxes are a serious feral pest problem down here, so while I think they’re beautiful too I have more mixed feelings about foxes than those who live in the north of the planet. This pics and videos are cool though.

      1. A friend of mine told me a weasel got into their chicken coop in Wisconsin and did the same thing as you describe–it beheaded all her young chickens in the few seconds it took my friend to run from the kitchen window to the henhouse!

        I am not sure your description of the fox killing so many of your chickens at one time should be labeled as sport, tho. I think (I could be wrong) that “sport” is a fairly anthropomorphic term.

        I think what happens with a fox in a henhouse is more like a biological/behavioral/predatory reaction to having so many prey at hand in one spot–prey that are all in a confined space–they just cannot help themselves. The animal gets into killing mode and just keeps going. This density/quantity of prey, which cannot escape, is not a natural situation…so that is why I think it’s not sport inasmuch as it’s an involuntary behavior. In a natural setting, a fox might stalk a flock, but then after pouncing, the remainder of birds would fly away and the fox’s hormones would start dissipating as it began to eat.

        I know this sounds a little analytic, but I was just wishing to explain that it’s probably not pre-planned sport on the part of the fox like it is with humans; it’s just over-stimulation, or lack of shutdown, of the fox’s hormones.

        I’m not a scientist so I can’t give you anything more specific than this, tho. I bet there are animal behaviorists with more info on this.

        And it does not solve your problem of losing your chickens, which I agree are really beautiful animals. I hope to have some someday.

    3. My dad grew up on a farm and, 70 years later, still hates foxes after seeing the hen house after a fox got in and slaughtered them all.

  7. I’ve heard rumors that there are wild foxes living right here in the urban metropolitan Phoenix area, in my general neighborhood. I’ve yet to see any evidence of such, personally….


  8. Foxes are the missing link between cats and dogs.



    Fine. I’ll just stick to physics, which I understand even worser.

  9. I experienced similar behavior from a Kit Fox (Vulpes macrotis) in the Mojave Desert of southern Nevada. I was out at night and wearing a headlamp. The fox followed me persistently for about a half hour, sometimes getting within maybe 10 meters, but usually staying farther away. I could see its eyes reflecting in my headllamp’s beam. The Kit Fox is really spectacular with its big ears and stiltlike legs.

  10. Here’s a cool mnemonic. If you have to determine whether a fox skull is from a red fox or a gray fox you should look at the shape of the temporal line. If it is curved in a u-shape then it’s a gray fox (U for Urocyon) and if it’s in a sharper v-shape then it’s a red fox (V for Vulpes).

  11. Leaping somewhat sideways, a year or so ago I was dragged along to a presentation of Dylan Thomas’ “Under Milk Wood” in which a colleague was performing. Very highly recommended – that performance restored the balance between “nice” and “uninteresting” theatrical experiences for me.
    I’d have to admit the Richard Burton did a better job than the AmDrams. But they still did well.

    1. If you can, get the original recording of the ensemble, with Dylan Thomas himself, on Caedmon records. It’s absolutely fantastic.

      1. I think that I heard that one time too … and preferred the Richard Burton version. But horses for courses.
        ISTR hearing something on the radio about the “War of the Worlds” concept album being re-done. Now, I’m not normally a supporter of remakes for remakes sake, but that one did press my “interesting; remember” button.

      2. I think that I heard that one time too … and preferred the Richard Burton version. But horses for courses.
        ISTR hearing something on the radio about the “War of the Worlds” concept album being re-done. Now, I’m not normally a supporter of remakes for remakes sake, but that one did press my “interesting; remember” button.

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