By Jim Poling Sr.
Despite its wet raw coolness this spring has provided some joyful observation.
Blue jays in their sartorial splendour gorge greedily on seed we have spread on the ground. There are as many as 18 of them throating seeds almost non-stop pausing occasionally to shoo away chipmunks that are racing about crazily trying to get their share.
At a suet cage swinging above this feeding frenzy a remarkable sight: a rosy-breasted grosbeak and its mate peck at the tallow needed to warm and energize them in this prolonged chilly spring.
It has been years since we have seen any type of grosbeak once a common sight at our lake place.
Just as exciting a flock of sunshine yellow finches descends on the Niger seed feeder. They are another touch of beauty that we have not seen in a while.
The jays grosbeaks finches and two red spotted woodpeckers lift spirits dampened by sullen grey skies.
But then a doleful face appears at the clearing’s edge threatening to chase off the colour and cheer. The face looks familiar but it is not until he steps fully into the clearing that I recognize him.
It is Black Sox the wily red fox who visits every spring. At least I think it is him although it could be one of his progeny or even a totally different fox.
I am convinced it is Black Sox however when I see his front legs which are rich black from shoulders to feet. All red foxes have black on their legs but none I have seen has such prominent full black stockings.
Not only is his face doleful his entire appearance is dispirited. He reminds me of a down and out city street person who has lost hope and is ready to give up.
Black Sox obviously has had a rough winter. His coat is thin and matted his tail lacking lustre and bushiness. He is painfully thin and appears weak.
He might be suffering from mange the awful skin disease caused by mites but I see no patches of raw skin in his fur. He also might have an intestinal parasite eating away his insides. Or perhaps he is undernourished from lack of food during a long winter of deep snow worsened by episodes of freezing rain.
Foxes feed mainly on small mammals such as mice and voles during winter because berries and insects are not available. But from my observations mice were scarce last winter because they hit their four-year population peak last year and now are at the low point of a new cycle.
Whatever the reason it is sad to see Black Sox in such a sorry state. Red foxes are beautiful and among the cleverest of forest animals. They are even credited with teaching Indigenous people how to capture ducks for food.
Foxes have been known to go to the edge of a water body where ducks are plentiful and start acting crazy jumping and rolling about for no apparent reason. Ducks are curious birds and will swim close to shore to see why the fox is acting so silly. One quick lunge and the fox has dinner.
Hunters from early tribes copied the trick by tying a fox skin to a stick and wriggling it crazily from behind a bush or in a patch of reeds. When ducks approached to see what the commotion was about the hunter tossed a net over them.
Some people believe that foxes have magical powers. I would like to believe that Black Sox’s magic brought all those colourful birds to brighten our spring. Probably not but it is a pleasant thought.
I also want to believe that Black Sox does have magic that he will use to heal himself. And that the next time I see him his coat is fluffy and vibrant his black socks velvety smooth and his eyes radiating his keen intelligence.
The real magic of Black Sox and foxes in general is that they remind us that life inside and outside the forest can be difficult and at times dangerous. But they also teach us that using our intelligence instead of our emotions will help us to manage whatever life throws at us.