By VERLYN KLINKENBORG (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 30/04/06):
I often try to explain why my wife and I live where we do. In the country, in nature, where we can raise pigs and chickens — those are the phrases I end up using. But it really comes down to living as close to wildness as we can. I realize that now. What makes it easier is that so many wild creatures don't mind living near us — so near that we hardly think of them as wild any more. The grace of wildness changes somehow when it becomes familiar, when you know it as well as we know the wild turkeys and the downy woodpeckers.
The other morning, I looked out the south window to see if the flag had dropped on our rural mailbox. I saw a fox just beyond it, standing in the downfall of last year's goldenrod. The fox paused long enough for me to get the binoculars, and then it moved off the flat to the base of a rock outcrop, part of the orbit she uses to approach our poultry. Something else moved with her. Three, perhaps four young kits were following her.
She turned and led them back to the lip of the den, where they crowded around her. She bent down and licked one of them. They were only a few pounds each, thick with soft, mottled brown fur. In another week the grass will be tall enough to hide them. A week earlier, and they would have been too young to leave the den. The vixen slipped up the hill again, and her young did not reappear.
The den is only as far from the mailbox as our house is, dug into the sunken foundation of a long-vanished outbuilding. I am only a few steps away from those kits whenever I gather the mail. A few weeks ago I walked over to that old foundation to see if there were any fox signs, but it is far easier to trace the vixen by her cries in the night — circling around our pasture — than by footprints during the day. I wasn't even sure the den was really there. Now I know. I won't go back again until midsummer, but I cannot stop watching.
When I say the grace of wildness, what I mean is its autonomy, its self-possession, the fact that it has nothing to do with us. The grace is in the separation, the distance, the sense of a self-sustaining way of life. That vixen may rely on us for a duck or a chicken now and then, and to keep the woodland from closing in. How she chose to den so close to us is beyond me. The answer is probably as simple as an available hole. But our only choice is to leave her alone, to give her enough room to raise the next generation.