Brookhaven, GA, May 19, 2016 – Commentary, by Tom Reilly – “My name’s Nogle,” said the thin, grizzled old man. We shook hands in the woods on that long ago day, his other hand cradling his 22-caliber rifle and his one-eyed Cocker Spaniel beside him, nervously wagging its tail.
Our meeting had been long overdue. For years I had been seeing century old beech trees, many dating back to the Civil War, with passages from Scripture carved into their smooth grey bark, the carver an enduring mystery. Now at last we faced each other, the waters of Silver Lake stretching behind the pine forest, and the scars of the region’s first known forest fire all around us.
The fire had almost caught me—luckily I had been traveling southeast at the time while it raged to the northwest. There would be other meetings at the base of the trees: Stories about the Dakota Territory and the Sioux Indians that still roamed freely through their ancestral lands, and the trap lines that he was still setting for the gray foxes in the forest. He was found dead a year later after a long search, three squirrels he had shot and his faithful dog still at his side. The roads, the houses, and the end of an era were coming.
The gray fox was gone from here too, absent from the middle 1960’s until replaced by the larger red fox in the later years of the twentieth century. The fox has an ancestry going back some three million years. There are five species of fox in North America: Gray, red, kit, swift. and arctic. The red fox is the only species with a white-tipped tail. It weighs no more than fifteen pounds. It is normally active from some two hours before sunset to several hours after sunrise. Its home range is approximately four square miles. Skunk-like scent markings define its territory.
It is the epitome of the creative, opportunistic hunter and scavenger—recently a red fox dove into a group of seven squirrels and three chipmunks in our back yard feeding area—never saw ten animals take off in fifteen directions before!! The breeding season lasts from December through March, with the five to ten pups leaving the den nursery in September and October. It communicates through squalls, screams, howls, and barks. Its life span, like that of most canines in the wild, is between five and ten years—life in the forest is fair but harsh.
Tom’s Tips: When working in the outdoor heat, wear TWO shirts instead of one. The first shirt will wick the perspiration off your skin, the second shirt will further wick away your perspiration until it can actually cool and dry your body. — TR