The Cat And The Fox

“Common sense is always worth more than cunning.”
    (The moral of “The Fox and the Cat”), Aesop For Children

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Tater's typical perch on a windowsill, guarding her domain.
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When not on guard duty...
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Phone camera photo of the fox outside the kitchen window.
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The fox listening for prey (phone camera photo).

We harbor a cat in our house, and like all cats, she's weird. For most of her first year she ran around feral, and then some kind soul gathered her up and brought her to the local animal shelter, where she lived for another six months or so. At that point her story and ours converged, and Tater (named at the shelter, and we couldn't think of anything better) has been in charge here ever since. She'd led a tough life before the shelter, arriving there pregnant and with most of her teeth missing, via circumstances we'll never know. Whatever the cause, it surely must have been traumatic, and that's possibly the reason she's needy and clinging, much preferring the presence of Pat or me (preferably both) to being alone. She's always under foot, often in silent stealth mode as only a cat can be, and therefore frequently stepped on. She then tries to make up, as if her momentary pain is her fault (well, it IS, after all). She's now (March, 2021) nearly eight years old, and we haven't squashed her. Yet. If one forms a lap, Tater will be in it, often before that lap is fully configured. Fortunately, she's small, has an extremely soft and glossy coat, and purrs at a touch, so having her in your lap isn't an unpleasant experience.

Like most cats she has two states: on, and off. When she's ON, you might think she can fly; she's everywhere at once, tearing across a room, up or down the stairs, bouncing off the walls and scattering cat toys all over the house. It can be fun to watch, but the din is less than endearing at 4:30 am. When she's off, well, I'm pretty sure that's where “cat-atonic” comes from. She becomes inert as a granite boulder (and if you try to move her in that state you might think she weighs as much, but that's simply a cat's ability to control local gravity).

Pat and I have applied some effort and expense to bring birds into our viewshed, with feeders and plantings to attract a wide range of species throughout the year. There is, therefore, one cat-specific rule here: any cat wishing to take ownership of us will be an indoor only cat. Over many years with several cats there have been no exceptions. We won't attract birds to our property and then unleash a relentless and ruthless and too-often successful predictor on them. Naturally, Tater wants very much to be an outdoor cat. That's not happening, and as a result, she spends a lot of her up time sitting on one windowsill or another, watching the birds (and, sometimes, nattering at them, which surely would amuse the birds if birds could be amused) and other critters that frequent our place. That includes deer; the occasional fox, bear, coyote, or skunk, and lots of squirrels and chipmunks.

And that, in 500 words or less, is about all there is to know about our cat.

Sly Fox

Red fox portrait

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) portrait.

As mentioned, we see red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) come through occasionally, usually trotting down the road, sometimes stopping, stalking, and doing that head-first dive into the snow they're known to do, hunting for voles or other small rodents. On a snowy February morning, Tater on guard on the living room windowsill, something grabbed her attention (she doesn't miss much when she's patrolling the windows). She launched from that sill, charged across the house, and leapt, clearing the kitchen countertop, to land on the window facing one of our bird feeders. That sort of activity is a sure sign that something's caught her eye, so I went to have a look.

Outside that window, perhaps 12 feet (3.7 m) away, I saw a fox nosing around the stone blocks that serve as steps up a short bank providing access to a bird feeder. Those blocks are heaven for chipmunks (and sometimes smaller rodents). They tunnel under them, poking their heads up between the blocks, storing seeds in the cubbies they excavate behind the stones. Tater finds them quite annoying. The fox seemed to find them breakfast worthy, sticking her nose into the joints between stones, cocking her head listening for activity, and generally just hanging around. I'd not seen a fox so close to the house, so I pulled out my phone (see 'Phoning it In' for an article about the camera I always have with me) and made a few snaps through the winter-grubby window. Not ideal, but I expected the fox to stick around for no more than a minute or two, not enough time to grab what Pat calls my “real camera.”

After a few minutes of phone photos and watching the fox, when she seemed to be in no hurry to move on, I made the dash to the camera closet. I grabbed my DSLR, already on the tripod and with the 100-400mm zoom lens installed. I knew I'd have to rush, and hand-hold, so I dropped the tripod off and switched on the lens's image stabilization. I ran back to the kitchen for a few shots through the window glass. The fox continued to poke around, so I risked stepping out through a door on the opposite side of the house and then slowly creeping around our deck to the kitchen side. The fox, intent on sniffing out a breakfast morsel, never looked up, and with the camera's shutter on silent mode, didn't seem to notice my presence, only about 20 feet away. Once she looked directly at me, resulting in the photo above. She then returned to her task.

After a few more minutes the fox wandered off around the front of the house, away from me. It made its way around to the opposite side of the house, so I went around the back to where I again had a nice view. I got a few more photos as the fox trotted, as foxes do, down the hill away from me, and eventually into the obscurity of the trees.

And The Resulting Keeper Photos…

Red fox on a snowy day

The fox heads down the hill on her way out of sight.

Tater's an incomplete idiot, but life wouldn't be quite as rich and comfortable and funny without her. And without her alert I'd not have gotten these photos of the fox. A few of those pictures were certainly worth that minimal effort. Even the phone pictures made through window glass are fun to see. I've processed and printed one of the higher-resolution images from the DSLR and was quite pleased with the result.

I'm eager to see what the cat spots next.

March, 2021

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