Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Long tale on a gray morning
This morning the fog was so dense that even with my headlamp, I stumbled several times on my early morning walk with Dog. I couldn’t even see my own feet at times, and Dog was just a large brown blur at my side.
On such a morning, I didn’t really expect to see anything interesting. After all, I need to see in order to find something interesting. Even the birds were quiet this morning, though the 50 or so Canada geese that live on the new pond are always fussing about something, no matter what the hour. Because I couldn’t judge my footing, the slightest variation in the dirt road’s surface was enough to put me off balance. Sometimes the road was an inch higher than my foot expected, sometimes lower. So Dog and I moved onto a paved access road where the surface was less variable.
That’s where I saw the tracks, just a series of wet splotches on the pavement. The animal had been standing in the pond, then walked onto the macadam, leaving the wet splotches behind. So, I didn’t have a footprint to investigate, just the splotches. That I saw the splotches at all told me that our walking around the pond had likely startled the animal. Even on a gray morning, wet splotches on pavement dry pretty quickly.
At first I thought the print must have been made by a deer, as I’ve seen them many times standing in the pond to drink. But then I saw more of the track pattern, the distance between the splotches and saw how they were lined up. I realized then these were made by a red fox.
Fox walk so that their hind foot strikes in the same spot just vacated by their front foot. This kind of pattern is pretty typical of most canines and is evident when the animal is walking or trotting, though not when they run. Dog and I followed this fox trail as it exited the pond, wandered down along the edge of the road and then headed back into the grass besides the pond again, only to soon return to the road, trot down it further, turn around once and then leave the road for good. What made the animal do that?
Thinking about the route Dog and I were taking on our morning walk gave me the answer. We’d walked along one side of the pond and then, instead of continuing around it, I headed towards the lodge, where the nighttime lights offered more visibility than my headlamp. We hadn’t gotten very far when the automatic lights turned off for morning, leaving me more in the dark than when I was out in the open. So Dog and I turned around and headed back along the pond.
My guess is that we startled the fox as we walked along the pond, but when we headed towards the lodge, the thirsty fox returned to the pond for another drink, only to be thwarted when Dog and I changed our route back towards the pond. It stopped once to see where we were or notice that we were heading back in its direction once again, and then headed off into the woods, for good this time.
I guess the moral of this little tale is that even on a very foggy morning, where I can’t see much of anything, there’s still something interesting to see and think about.