Friday, July 5, 2019

Foxes and Day Lilies


         The red fox is a strange animal, maybe a good example of a real slow evolution… not in any physical way, but in habits.  When I was growing up, farm families hated red foxes because they were both bold and cunning when it came to making off with a barnyard chicken.  They would sometimes strike in broad daylight; especially during that time they were raising and feeding their young.

         But that was a time when rabbits were plentiful and so were barnyard chickens. Red fox pelts were also valuable at that time.  What I don’t remember ever seeing back then, or reading about, were red foxes denning and raising young beneath sheds, old buildings or barns.  It is beginning to happen quite often now.  Neighbor Mike Jarman, who lives several miles to my west, was amazed to see a vixen red fox and a brood of three young ones beneath one of his outbuildings on his farm only a few yards from his back door a couple of years back. They were likely born in March and about this time of year, due to all the attention they were getting, she moved them into the nearby woods.

         Mike didn’t have any chickens… but 40 or 50 years ago she and her brood would have likely had their hides tacked to the wall of the shed, at the insistence of a farmer’s wife who depended on chickens for eggs and poults for Sunday dinner.

         This week I drove through a little community in the Ozarks where several old boarded up buildings which appeared to have been built close to a hundred years ago, were set along the highway.  A red fox crossed in front of me, in no particular hurry, heading for one of those old buildings with a half dozen holes beneath the porch. A few miles away I saw the same thing, young foxes appearing from beneath a barn a hundred yards from a modern home.

A lady who once worked for my magazine, living a few miles north of Mansfield Missouri, had a family of foxes born underneath an old house less than 30 yards from her mother’s front door, and they returned to den there again a year later.

         Here in the Midwest, red and grey foxes are perhaps as plentiful as they have ever been, although seeing them at high levels in population doesn’t go well with the long-held idea that healthy coyote populations means that foxes will not be doing well.  Coyotes seem to hate foxes and will kill any they can catch.

         Foxes also are very susceptible to mange and flea problems and even distemper. They are neither canine nor feline in nature, and though they love to steal chickens, they also love fruit of any kind. Once I saw one feeding on a dead fish along the river as I floated by. I hear, on occasion, some would-be naturalist or outdoor writer talk about how easily grey foxes can climb trees, yet they believe the red fox cannot.  That is nonsense.  Sure, the red fox can get up into fruit trees rather easily but I saw one go up a straight oak to a limb fifteen feet above the ground, and walk out on a narrow limb very easily, where he jumped to a rock outcropping and was gone.  Red foxes may not want to climb as readily as a grey fox, but when they want to, they can.

         Grey foxes are very very wild and secluded and nocturnal, but red foxes are becoming, it seems to me, less afraid of people and while I am sure they do most of their hunting and feeding at night, it is not at all unusual to see a red fox in the summer roaming about in mid-day.  And if you drive in the Ozarks this month, you will sometimes see two or three half-grown littermates out together, and often peeking out from under a shed or barn not far from someone’s home.

The edible buds of day lilies… poor man’s asparagus

         While I mention this every summer, I will say again that the most plentiful flower in the Ozarks this time of year is the orange day-lily. They grow in ditches and fields and in lawns where folks sometimes have a hard time getting rid of them. The buds of that flower, before they bloom has been called ‘poor man’s asparagus’… very good to eat.  They can be prepared just like asparagus spears, even canned for winter use.  It is said they are very high in certain vitamins and nutrients.  I eat them every summer, but I think those buds are best when fried like you would prepare spring morels.  Try them if you don’t believe it, and get a surprise.
         We have a hundred or so of our two summer magazines left over from our distributors.  One is an outdoor magazine, and the other is an Ozark old-time history and people magazine.  We’ll send one to you if you will pay the postage.  Call us at 417 777 5227 to get one.
We also need writers who can contribute good articles to either magazine. E-mail articles to me at or via mail to Box 22, Bolivar, Mo. 65613

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