Place Where You Live:

Amnicon River, Wisconsin

My window overlooks the floodplain created by a sweeping bend in the Amnicon River as it slides north toward Lake Superior. From the dense tangle of vegetation, a fox emerges. Slim-bodied and elegant, her earth-colored legs seem to flow without effort. A vixen: she and her mate denned under our old sauna house during the darkest days last winter. The sauna — square logs with dove-tail joints — predates both the foxes and us by more than a century. Pronounced “sa-ooona” by the local Finns, it was the social center of this community in the days when a trip to Superior was an adventure. And now it is home to a family: sometime this spring the vixen gave birth to nine jostling kits.

When they first emerged from their den, the kits were dun-colored, their only distinguishing feature the white tip on their scrawny tails. But in two months the little guys have grown
into their foxy nature: muzzles sharpened, legs elongated, coats reddened. Daily wrestling with siblings improved coordination and awareness. Three have met their fate: a dog’s jaws, the talons of a eagle, a midnight swoosh of tires.

In the floodplain, two kits bumble behind their mother. They seem silly, unfocused: one pauses to worry the tip of a fern that jiggles seductively in front of its face. The vixen never looks back. High stepping, she negotiates a tangle of downed ash. She doesn’t see me watching from the window, a pane of glass separating our lives. She is aware of nothing but the trail that leads to the dank hollow where our sump pump empties. With a pounce so assured that it seems choreographed, the vixen emerges from that hollow with a fat mouse clutched in her jaws.

The two kits dance and beg in front of their mother, who surrenders her prey gracefully. The still warm mouse becomes food for the ever hungry, ever growing kits. And as they eat the mother fox vanishes, as ephemeral as the mist that cats inland from the big lake along the corridor of river in the still, moonless dusk of summer.