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Silent as a Fox

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The Bay Area supports a great variety of urban wildlife, and Ellen Greenblatt’s recent encounter with a less common neighborhood resident has her thinking about why such sightings are so compelling.

As I was driving up a narrow street in my neighborhood, I saw a cat dart into the road. But almost immediately I realized it wasn’t a cat—it was a fox. The full tail was unmistakable.

Why, in the midst of a neighborhood where deer have descended from the hills searching for food and water, joining raccoons and opossums and skunks and lord knows what else that screeches in the night — has the appearance of a fox and, magically, fox cubs, been so enthralling?

A few days later, the fox reappeared. This time, he was relaxing in the last patch of sunshine on my deck, dozing with his eyes half open, stretched out his full length, showing off his magnificent tail. I took a photo of him through the window, but I wanted a clearer image and a heart-to-heart talk. As I opened the deck door, though, he slid silently past me, flaunting his tail as he rounded the corner and disappeared. I haven’t seen him since.

And that’s what’s enthralling. Wild animals we encounter by chance — not the mountain lions or rattlesnakes or bears that could hurt us — but the hummingbirds and the foxes, and even the pesky deer with their speckled fawns, just won’t tell us what they are up to. They appear unpredictably and disappear just as fast. They are elusive and won’t come when called. We can’t ask them anything in a way they could understand, and they can’t tell or maybe even see the purpose of telling. So we, or at least people like me, anthropomorphize: We give them human characteristics and then wonder what they are “thinking," whatever that means to them.


Wordsworth writes about someone whose heart leaps up when he beholds a rainbow in the sky. My heart leaps when a turkey or even an oh-so-unattractive opossum waddles past. I’m sure I won’t change at this point, even in the face of chuckles from friends. I’m just hoping the fox returns soon for another snooze.

This time, I won’t try to interrupt him with conversation.

With a Perspective, I’m Ellen Greenblatt.

Ellen Greenblatt is a Bay Area educator.

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