By Reagan Cherrick
In a forest in Washington State lives a beautiful red fox. Her name is Vixen. Vixen lives in the Cascades National Park. It is getting dark, and sometimes Vixen can catch unwary rabbits who come to drink the water in the river. Suddenly, Vixen hears something. A rabbit is caught by an owl and carried up to the top of a nearby pine. The rabbit’s a bit too big for the young owl, and the owl drops the rabbit, flying away. The rabbit drops to the ground, where it tries to limp away. As the rabbit spies Vixen, it tries to crawl away, but can’t. Vixen trots nearer. She doesn’t even care if the other animals see her, it’s dinner time. With a practiced leap and a snap of the jaws, Vixen’s dinner is made.
Holding the rabbit between her jaws, Vixen heads towards the forest. Thick ferns and pine trees cover the ground, and the ferns are so tall, Vixen is safe from bears and other predators who might want this rabbit. Vixen nears a hill, where her den is. Crawling under a tree root, Vixen tosses her head and squeezes through, dragging the rabbit behind her.
As Vixen comes into her den, she is greeted by yips and growls. She has four fine babies, and she is very proud of them. The oldest, Pine, leaps up to her.
“Hi mother, what do you have for dinner tonight?’” he asks.
Before Vixen can answer, a fat little pup named River comes up. “Mother, what do you have to eat? I’m starved!’
Vixen shakes her head. River was always hungry, and when she wasn’t hungry, she was sleepy. Another pup comes up. She was sleek and plump and looked hungry. Her name was Moxy. Suddenly all the pups were there; the last pup’s name was Foxy. All four pups are now asking what was for dinner. Vixen sighs, and gives them the rabbit, saving herself a leg. As the pups eat, Vixen takes a mental headcount: Pine, River, Foxy and Moxy. Yes, they are all there.
After the pups eat, Vixen grabs the nearest pup, River, with her teeth and shoves him towards the tunnel. Then she runs up the tunnel, calling behind her, “Come on outside!”
Vixen stops at the entrance to the den and sniffs the air. She detects nothing. She comes out cautiously and sniffs some more. Still nothing. Suddenly, in a sudden din of noise come the pups. They all start to explore. Vixen’s nerves can hardly stand it. What if they get eaten by the coyote who lives by the river? She gives a shrill bark. Instantly all pups are there. Vixen breathes a sigh of relief. As the sun sets, Vixen looks at her pups with pride. Pine is dominating the wrestling, but Foxy is fighting back. The pups won’t hurt each other, but they might get sore muscles.
A few weeks later, Vixen teaches the pups how to hunt. They are all willing learners, and Pine even catches his first vole! Vixen lets him eat it, and then they all start hunting again.
The next month Vixen takes the pups to the river to catch fish. Roly-poly River promptly falls on top of the first fish she finds, but succeeds in killing it after she floats downstream for a few feet! After they eat the fish, and a few more pups catch fish, Vixen takes the pups for more vole hunting.
That night Vixen goes out of the den, as she has for many nights, to socialize with her mate, Fennec.
As the pups grow and learn over the next few months, Vixen looks at young, healthy foxes. Sadly, River was killed by the coyote when she went on her first solo hunt. The remaining three pups fight over all the food Vixen brings back, and soon it will be time for them to go. Vixen has taught them how to make a den, hunt, and fend for themselves. Finally, the time has come for the pups to push themselves for the last time out of the den, take a last look at the surrounding forest, and go off on their own. Vixen, watching them go, stretches out in front of the door. She will have many more litters of pups, but she will never have another first. She has succeeded in teaching the young foxes all they needed to know about survival in the woods of the Cascades National Park.