Monday, May 21, 2012

Fox Tale

We were amazed to discover, a few weeks ago, that Jesus has a wife and kids.
            It wasn’t so long ago that we finally figured out that Jesus is a fox. We noticed a huge hole on an embankment in our backyard when we first moved into the house. Lacking knowledge of the habits of any particular wildlife, my husband decided to place a large rock in front of the opening so as to encourage who ever was living there to find another home. The next day, we found the rock moved aside, so my husband replaced it with a much larger rock. Again, we found the rock moved aside. We named the mystery animal Jesus. For a few years, we found evidence of something living in that hole, but never laid eyes on the inhabitant. Since it wasn’t bothering us, we weren’t going to pursue this mysterious creature and we soon forgot about it.
            That is until early this month. I heard some funny little noises coming from that part of the yard and upon further investigation, discovered a den of foxes. How charming to find that Jesus is a fox, not a skunk as I had originally feared. To add to our pleasure, Jesus also had a mate and a half dozen offspring gamboling around the grassy area in front of the hole. I took pictures and video of the little family. They were not afraid of me, though I saw them watching me, and I certainly kept my distance. On the other hand, I wasn’t sure if I was afraid of them, so I did a little research.
            According to the state of Connecticut’s department of wildlife conservation, red foxes (like the ones living in my yard) are making a comeback in our area. They live in all corners of the globe and they are territorial. The females are called vixens and the babies are kits. The males, I guess, are simply called Dad. They are part of the dog family, including coyotes and my beagle. Happily, coyotes and foxes do not like to live in the same territory. I certainly don’t like the idea of a coyote sharing terrain with my timid beagle, so this is fine with me. Foxes eat small rodents, fish, fruits, vegetables, frogs and even garbage. We have seen the mama fox running through the yard with a squirrel in her mouth, returning to the den to feed her babies. As if that weren’t enough, we found evidence of their meal on our deck. Yuck. I am hoping, however, that the fox’s habit of marking his territory will be a deterrent for my arch enemies, the deer.
            Our neighborhood is host to a variety of wildlife and this spring it feels like we are living in a zoo. Along with our fox family and others nearby, there have been many birds looping crazily through the air in what must be some sort of mating ritual. You would think that the local squirrels had gotten into a large cache of coffee grounds as they seem to have lost their minds, zipping up and down trees and acting suicidal at the roadside. Baby deer with spots on their backs placidly follow their mothers and calmly nibble the tender shoots of my lovely garden. They continue chewing as I run at them waving my arms and yelling. Slowly, they amble away, never taking their eyes off me. They probably think I’ve got the human form of spring craziness. At night, even the frogs add their folly to the mix as they peep incessantly. It is a sweet sound and certainly heralds the return of warmer weather and blooming trees.
            In their very early days, the baby foxes looked like puppies rolling around on the still-brown lawn. According to my research, they must have been about five weeks old. Foxes mate in the winter and typically have their litters in early March in these parts. The sightless young stay deep in the den until they are about five weeks old. At that time, they come out with their parents and begin to play. They even found an old soccer ball under the shed and were batting it between them. Jesus and his wife are always watchful and they take turns trotting off into the woods to find food. The stay-at-home parent often chases the babies and breaks up fights between them. You can almost hear them whining, “Mom, she took my squirrel!”
            I like that our foxes are such responsible parents. When I took a closer look at their living quarters, I found a second entrance to their den, higher up on the hill. This is smart thinking. When we were blocking up the lower entrance, they had no problem going out the back door. Once the foliage fills in, you can’t see either hole and they restrict their activities to times when we don’t see them. They are not strictly nocturnal, as some people mistakenly think. And foxes don’t carry rabies any more than any other wild animals. It is just a little disconcerting that they are not spooked by human presence. They watch me with as much interest as I watch them.
            It is fitting that Jesus and his family are looking so healthy and happy as we celebrate the lengthening days and arrival of spring. With all of the talk about going green and being responsible stewards of our planet, we can take comfort and pleasure from the robust springtime rituals of our wild neighbors.  

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Greeting cards

Last week was my mother’s birthday and I was tearing the house apart looking for the card I had bought in January to send to her in April. It was the perfect card and I had waited to send it so that it would arrive on her birthday. Like the socks that regularly disappear from the dryer, I’m sure I’ll find hundreds of unsent cards in a great cosmic box in my attic someday. I was forced to buy another card.

I find this situation doubly frustrating as I am loathe to plunk down $3.99 for a greeting card. If you are really ready to splurge, you can spend more than $6.99 for a card that actually sings to the recipient. Once upon a time, I liked nothing more than to prowl stationery stores and collect cards to send to all manner of friends and family on a regular basis. When the price of a card rose above $1.99, I slowed my sending and eventually joined the rest of the world in communicating via email, and increasingly, by text.

I was waiting for a train the other day and found myself in a book store, (a topic for another day my friends!) flipping through the large selection of cards. Some of them were really funny. Some displayed the perfect sentiment for a friend who has been woefully neglected, even by email. I parted with a $20 bill and vowed to make good use of those cards and indeed, I did.

I used to spend hours on the phone with my college roommate, my cousin in New Jersey, my neighbor next door. Today, I cannot determine how I was able to do this and still manage to get dressed, eat regularly and manage the family’s needs. Today, I don’t really enjoy chatting on the phone and find myself preferring to send an email because I can communicate on my exact schedule. It seems that there is less and less time for really personal communication.

Email is dangerous, I think, because the written word can be taken out of context. There is no voice inflection, softening smile, gesticulation for emphasis. Most of the time, there is also no punctuation or grammar, making it even more difficult to understand precisely what the writer is trying to convey. While I absolutely love emoticons, they are a poor substitute indeed. Sigh. Even articulate people I know come across as scattered and crazy in their email missives. Don’t get me started on texting – I just hate its staccato intrusiveness and downright rudeness in its brevity. No salutation, no sign off with affection, respect or sincerity, no warmth.

The cards I bought the other day have gone to some friends who I have not laid eyes on in years; have not talked to in months; but I think of them nearly every day. They are busy people and I often think that I don’t want to interrupt work, family, whatever they are doing, whenever I think to pick up the phone. These cards are perfect to send as they will carry my feelings and allow their recipients to read them at their leisure. No interruptions required. It is not necessary to use a specified number of characters and I can heap on the adjectives to my heart’s content. One of these is a birthday card that I thought was simply perfect for a particular friend. Her birthday unfortunately falls at the beginning of the school year and is often forgotten until November at which point I’m simply too embarrassed to send along such greetings. I thought to avoid the ripping-the-house-apart scenario by simply sending the darned thing when I thought to do so. She is one of those people who opens her mail regularly and will probably get to reading it by the weekend, if not before. I know she will appreciate birthday greetings anytime of the year.

Mailing things to younger people, especially college students, is a completely different animal. This generation receives and pays its bills online. They communicate with each other, their professors, and everyone else via electronic means. If I want to get my son’s attention, I must send him a text asking him to check his email which will remind him to go to his physical mailbox to retrieve the cheery, tangible card I have mailed to him.

A carefully selected, hand-written, mailed with a stamp and your name penned in cursive on the envelope, is a rare gift. This little package of paper is actually a bit of time, thought and effort to send forth someone has expended on your behalf. Somehow, the increasing use of evites, e-cards and other ways to send greetings via computer, smart phone or tablet device, makes this simple thing so very special. The card you hold represents a serious portion of time where the sender has removed her hands from any of these electronic devices, removed her brain from the constant stream of intrusion these things carry, removed herself from any other pressing task to apply her full attention to something just for you. All that for $3.99 plus postage. Perhaps sending a card via snail mail is something of a bargain after all.


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