Ever had fantasies of being the hero in a real life emergency? Wait till you come face to face with a fox, and you realize you’re the first to make a run for it.
A few days ago, my Knight in Shining Shorts, Adi and I were vacationing in the San Juan Islands, WA, enjoying the solitude, the nature and ‘so few humans’. On the last day, we decided to go to the lighthouse near American camp, where you could sight baby seals and sometimes, whales. The rocks were steep but we managed to climb down to the gray, rocky beach 20 ft below. We caught a glimpse of a sea otter running across, and then, a fox ran across, carrying food in its mouth. His beautiful fluffy red coat made him look quite big, the size of a German Shepherd.
We trekked to a nice view point and sat down, only to see that the fox was behind some logs, just visible in the distance (picture is on max zoom). He alternated between peeking up at us and chomping his food. “So cute!”, “He’s so cuddly!”, “What will he say?” we joked and left him alone to eat his food in peace.
He then finished his food and became very curious.
He walked across the logs and made his way closer to us. We ignored him until at about 40 ft away, we decided to stand up and look bigger, while sending him “We’re not here to harm you” vibes. He looked straight at us, not threatening, not docile, just looking intently, inching his way toward us. We wondered if people had been feeding wildlife. Was he just curious, or hungry?
All the same, we decided this was enough, and clapped. Startled, he scampered up the slope. We started walking back the way we came, but he came back down the slope overlooking our path, at a good vantage point.
We were nervous to cross when the fox was right up there. We decided to wait it out, maybe he left his food back there, since he kept looking back nervously to some logs near our entry point. But he patiently, confidently, inched closer, looking us straight in the eyes. What does the fox say? Nothing. He just stares, not snarling, not moving, and slowly breaks you with his cool confidence. It was a game of nerves, and he was slowly winning. We were in his territory, and he was blocking our only way out. When he stood on the path before us about 15 ft away, I buckled (and messed up a potentially uber-cool picture). This was the final stand-off. After this he would be establishing alpha, and despite our experience with urban wildlife and wild herbivores, we didn’t know anything about foxes except that they can be ferocious if they are protecting their kits. He (She?) now fed on my scared vibes and was now almost ready to come closer and…what? I frantically went through my memories of all my dog bites, some violent, some not, but couldn’t come up with a game plan in case she attacked. We were bigger and much more heavier, but she was wilder, and had sharp teeth and claws. We could easily push her away but she could still inflict serious damage if she wanted to.
The rest happened very fast. Adi spotted a rather steep but climbable gravelly slope and asked me to make a run for it, he’d hold down fort. I made a dash for it, and saw the fox dash too. Now panicking that the fox was chasing us, I sprinted up that 75-degree slope in 5 seconds flat! Forget a hero, fear made a mountain goat out of me!
Turns out panic had made me delirious. Adi saw the fox darting backward and toward something it was protecting, it never chased us. Still, we continued to jog, huffing and puffing through the knee-deep grass, until we saw some hikers. I’ve never been happier to see humans! We immediately composed ourselves, acted all cool, talked about the weather, and ‘calmly’ warned them, off-hand, about a fox that was ‘quite bold’ and to skip the beach, and walked on till we found the road. I’ve never been happier to see a tar road. Civilization! I felt like a sailor spotting land after years of being lost at sea.
Looking back, it was a thrilling and brag-worthy experience with a rather comical end, but we know that it could have easily gone either way. We read later that foxes do have their kits around this time, so if that fox was a mom, there was no way she’d have let us cross so close to her den. Maybe we over reacted, many tourists have encountered begging foxes on Cattle Point Road or maybe she was just protecting her food. But I am certain this one wasn’t begging for food or show us tricks.
It is humbling to realize your place in the world. Looking into a hunter’s eyes make you understand the meaning of ‘survival of the fittest’. And you realize how maddeningly defenseless you are against the wild. You develop a different kind of respect for nature.
From now on, we are carrying our trekking poles and a whistle on our hikes. We are also going to leave our whereabouts with a friend so if the unforeseen happens, someone misses us. And lastly, I’m getting a DSLR so I can capture these photos better next time.
On the bright side, I did lose my irrational fear of caterpillars that has plagued me for decades. Look at this one, it looks like a baby fox’s tail!