Photo by Getty Images/taviphoto
Foxes in the City
Rebecca Martin’s editorial “A Wild Life” (September/October 2019) brought back one of my favorite wildlife memories — one that left quite an impression on me, as well as on my young son.
We sat completely still as a litter of fox kits cavorted inches from us. Mama Fox, returning from the hunt, barked a warning signal to her babies. They looked at us — the reason for her warning — to question her alarm, but remained fearless.
With frequent exposure to people, baby foxes have no fear of humans. We discovered this during the years that two generations of a fox family lived under the porch of our house in Alexandria, Virginia. Mama Fox hunted at night, and we’d lie quietly on the porch watching her kits each morning until she returned. We were part of their natural scenery. The following January, we rejoiced to find that some digging had produced an enlarged fox burrow. By February, a new mama had given birth to five kits, and the daddy went out hunting for food. He was so comfortable around us that we believe he was one of our original kits from the year before. He’d trot right past us, holding dinner in his mouth, and then disappear into the burrow to feed his growing family.
That April, he brought his kits out to play in our flower garden in front of the house late each evening. We watched from the picture window as the babies rolled and pounced on each other, bouncing on our bean plants, while their parents kept a lookout for danger. As the kits grew, their parents began leaving them alone when they went out to hunt. By May, the kits came out every evening to attack each other playfully, and roll down the hill outside our son’s bedroom window. One evening, they worked together to stalk a pair of wild ducks that were nesting in our hosta plants. Daddy Duck let them get within a few feet, and then he attacked with his wings outspread. Five very startled, cowering kits ran for their burrow, squealing. We doubled over with laughter.
Now that we live in a rural area, with chickens and guinea fowl, we look more askance at foxes on our property, but we’re happy to let them roam the wooded areas. And we remember our fox family fondly for all the joy they brought us. They transformed our lives, as they transformed their habitat to adapt to city life. It’s not uncommon to see the outward expansion of cities encroaching on the wooded and rural areas, pressing the red foxes to make their dwellings in parks and tree-lined neighborhoods.
Photo by Sheryl Campbell
On the Prowl in Marin County
I read Rebecca Martin’s editorial in the September/October 2019 issue (“A Wild Life”) about exploding wildlife populations, and it struck a chord with me. In the past two years, I’ve seen more encroaching wildlife than ever before. I operate an urban chicken farm in Marin County, across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. Most of our customers live in the Silicon Valley area, where they work in the technology industry, and many spend a considerable amount of resources on their chickens. So, it’s devastating when they lose their poultry to murderous wildlife.
I’ve operated my business for nine years, and we’ve never had a problem before. Now, we have daily invasions of raccoons, opossums, skunks, and burrowing rats. The raccoons have managed to break into our subbasement twice now, ripping out all our insulation and heating ducts, which makes for costly repairs. The first time we replaced them happened soon after moving in; the entire heating system had to be ripped out when a skunk got in and sprayed our heating ducts. Our video cameras capture skunks and coyotes coming down the driveway all the time. Our deer population has decreased, and we think it’s because of the coyotes. We’ve always had rats, but in the last couple of years, they’ve started burrowing underground, threatening the eggs of our chickens. Recently, in a single month, I spent $5,000 to build a new chicken run because bobcats were climbing over the 14-foot fence during the day to get the chickens. This is happening throughout the Bay Area, and now I have a busy side business of retrofitting chicken coops.
I’ve been hearing about a family of foxes that moved into our neighborhood, and I hope they don’t come to my property. Our yard is fully fenced in, but they can also burrow. Recently, an American bald eagle showed up! He comes and goes. We also deal with red-tailed hawks. They’re always a problem in the winter months, when the foliage disappears from the trees and the yard is more exposed. We’ve lost many chickens to hawks, but we’ve learned to watch for our crow friends. The crows do their best to keep the hawks away, and I’ve also realized that when the crows come around, they’re alerting us to bobcats in the area.
The bobcats arrive on nights when the half-moon shines. That’s when the crows swoop down in our yard and really caw. I know it sounds crazy, but they’re alerting us to an approaching bobcat. During the last half-moon, they were crowing, so I locked the chickens up. I had to leave, so I told my daughter to watch for the bobcat, and a few hours later she called to tell me she’d chased the bobcat out of the yard. It’s frustrating that the chickens know he’s coming but they can’t hide.
Most recently, I heard a report that two mountain lions now live in San Francisco. I honestly feel that the changing climate is affecting the migration of animals, and that they know something we just don’t understand.
Mill Valley, California
Hawaiian Whole Hog
I read with bemusement Jason Herbert’s article “Going Whole Hog” (September/October 2019), about how to cook a whole pig in the ground. We Hawaiians know this cooking method well, and we’ve utilized it for millennia. Hawaiians call this method pit cooking, or kalua, and the so-called underground oven is called an imu. In times of famine, a village would pool food resources and cook available provisions in a single imu, saving time and manpower. We believe that about a thousand years before Columbus arrived in America, Polynesians brought sweet potatoes to Polynesia from South America. The sweet potatoes were placed in the imus as well, and the feast would abound.
Photo by Adobe Stock/JeffWhyte
Today, we still cook whole pigs and other meats and vegetables in imus, but people reserve their spaces in community imus to cook their turkeys, potatoes, and other Thanksgiving fixings. We sometimes cook the starchy root of the ki plant, which looks and tastes like caramel. We wrap the food and line the imu with ki and banana leaves to create the special flavors and tenderness we Hawaiians love. Hawaiian salt is the only spice needed. The methodology of preparing the imu and vegetables is similar to the methods mentioned in Herbert’s article. We even use aluminum foil on occasion.
We wouldn’t use lighter fluid on the imu coals, however. A cleaner, more natural method requires building a fire in the imu, often using a hard, slow-burning wood, such as kiawe, which gives the meat a mesquite-like flavor, only sweeter. After lining the pit with banana and ki, we layer the coals on top, and then place lava rocks on the fire, then allow the rocks to properly heat for several hours. It always amazes me how people of such diverse cultures share such similar traditions. This tradition is just expected here in Hawaii. I enjoy your magazine for this reason. Mahalo nui (thank you very much) for your good work.
‘Ivan’ the Delicious
I’ve enjoyed Grit for many years, and gleaned lots of good things out of each issue. I read the article titled “The ‘Ivan’ Tomato Rescue Project” in the July/August 2018 issue, and suspected this Missouri discovery might be a keeper. I ordered the seeds to plant here in Oklahoma, where the weather is much like Missouri’s; this past spring we had flooding rains and extreme heat, as well as chilly days and nights. The ‘Ivan’ seeds all sprouted, the plants flourished, and what a wonderful taste the tomatoes had!
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