Wow, it’s been over a year since the last – that’s disturbing, because I have odd memories, like, a lot; I’ll leave it to you to determine if this lapse is deplorable or welcome. This one goes way back, to before I left New York, and before I had a decent camera. And it falls right around this time of year, so it’s, hmmm, 31-33 years old? We can call this its anniversary, just between us, and no one will be the wiser.
Not too far away from our house back then were two glacial drumlins, longitudinal hills running parallel to Cayuga Lake nearby, which had been great fun to drive over when we first moved there in the 70s, but soon after they excavated and dynamited a flatter path through them, spoiling all the fun but creating four hills instead of two, and one was forested and a nice place close by to explore. One morning, I was venturing within along the wildlife paths and saw a fox scamper off for cover, a very rare sighting for me. I paused to see where it had gone and if it had stopped not far away, but saw nothing. Turning back to where I’d first spotted it, I saw a hint of movement and looked carefully.
It took me a moment to realize that I was seeing a fox kit; in fact, four of them. They were very small, deep brown and snub-nosed, and it seemed that I might have stumbled across them on their first day out of the den. They were unsteady on their feet and peering around without recognition of anything. Without venturing any closer (wary of momma’s return,) I quietly sat down, then stretched out on my back, propped on my elbows to watch their behavior. Like puppies, they were determined and curious, but lacking any dexterity at all; one decided to chew on a nearby weed in case it turned out to be meat, following it along its length until the kit tumbled over on its side, off-balance, while I stifled a chuckle.
After a short period of time, a couple of them started wondering where mamma had gotten off to, looking around with that air of growing concern that you see in newborns sometimes. The mother might well have been not far off, watching me carefully, and I was planning to leave them be in a minute or so. Then the woodchuck happened along.
The area was laden with them, fat, waddling blobs with barely any legs at all, but massing as much as a medium-sized dog, in the vicinity of 10 kilos, give or take. I saw it approaching along a trail that almost intersected the den and the exploring kits, initially thinking it was the mother but soon being corrected in that regard, and it was ambling along purposefully, intent on its own thoughts. A few meters from the kits it stopped dead, staring at these unexpected and clumsy oafs. It massed many times what they did of course, even all four together, and possessed the teeth and jaw power to render any threat from them nonexistent, but not according to its own behavior. It stared, frozen, at them for a few moments while they carried on oblivious to its presence, then decided on discretion and departed the path almost directly away from the den.
This, however, carried it on a direct line towards me, lying supine in the leaf little about ten meters away. Not that it noticed at all, and the woodchuck had doubled its pace to leave the dastardly little foxes behind, though I surmise it was thinking more of dealing with an angry parent. I watched in delight mixed with some trepidation as the woodchuck approached, not quite directly towards my feet. Woodchucks typically choose flight, but they can be scrappy fighters when provoked, and more than capable of doing some serious damage.
Less than three meters from my feet it realized there was another interloper in its quiet little forest and stopped dead, staring at me with no expression (of course,) but what I imagine to be shock and distrust. For my part, I didn’t move a millimeter, wondering what it might do, already the intrepid (or something) wildlife observer. After a couple of seconds, the woodchuck vented out a low, guttural growl, like someone clearing their throat for attention. I still did not move, though I was considering just what my options were if it charged, lying back in a poor position to leap up and dodge away. The woodchuck growled again, a little louder, still unsure if I was mobile, and I watched in fascination.
Finally, with a distinct air of, “fuck all this,” the woodchuck turned again and hurtled away at high speed, obviously very displeased with what its happy little forest had become. I took that as my clue to vacate myself, allowing the mother to return. But I went back a few days later, this time with camera in hand, to attempt some photos of the kits, and still have those negatives – one of the few sets from New York that I retained. Not that it matters a lot.
What I had at the time was the old Wittnauer Challenger, a 35mm rangefinder with a fixed 50mm lens – not the kind of camera to shoot wildlife (or indeed anything) with. What you’re looking for is the dark blob in the light spot, just left of center. Oh, hell, we can go in closer for, you know, that detail…
Yeah, this is full resolution and as good as it’s gonna get. Remember: rangefinder, with its shitty focus mechanism, 50mm lens, and old negative film. But proof of the fox kits, as much as of the Loch Ness Monster, so there!