Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cruel Spring

On the way to a farm on Sunday, I passed a small yellow-coated vixen that had been struck on the highway and killed within the last 30 minutes, its body not yet locked in rigor mortis.

I thought about tailing the carcass, but I have no need for a fox tail, and so I merely pulled it off the road and onto the shoulder, a bit sad at the waste and also for the young fox kits that were probably starving in a nearby den.

Because I have hunted the hedges along this stretch of highway before I had some idea of where the young fox pups might be located, but even if I found them over the next few hours, what was I to do? I cannot raise up a litter of young fox, even if it were legal to do so. And if I did find a den filled with fox pups, how could I be sure they belonged to this particular vixen? Perhaps this young vixen is a satellite vixen helping its mother raise up this year's litter. It happens all the time.

In the end, there was nothing to be done but to drive on and let nature take its course.

This is the story Animal Planet and the anthropomorphic romantics never mention -- the number of young animals that die every Spring for one reason or another.

We are supposed to thrill at all the procreation going on in forest and field, but the realist within me knows that both the fox and the the fawn are, as likely as not, going to be dead within three months of being born -- such is the natural mortality of most wildlife.

Tennyson noted that "nature is red in tooth and claw," but in truth he was an optimist. A great deal of wildlife never lives long enough to see a predator.

More often than not young wildlife simply dies alone, sick and shattered in the hedge, tree den or burrow, the victim of starvation or vehicle impact, disease or parasite, poor parenting or exposure to the elements.

Rudyard Kipling got it about right when he noted that in the modern world the most common Blood Sport is not the ancient art of the chase, but haphazard driving by people almost totally unaware of what they have done. As he notes in that great poem, "The Fox Meditates":

When men grew shy of hunting stag, for fear the Law might try 'em,
The Car put up an average bag of twenty dead per diem.
Then every road was made a rink for coroners to sit on;
And so began, in skid and stink, the real blood-sport of Britain!

Three days after driving past a road kill vixen I am still thinking about those fox kits starving in a burrow, their slate-gray fur just turning to russet. Spring is always a cruel season.


Steve Bodio said...

Uhh Patrick: sorry to be pedantic, but I think you'll find that poem was written by Kipling in 1933, long after Stevenson's death.

Kipling called devotees of Jane Austen "Janeites". I am a hard- core "Kiplingite".

PBurns said...

You are, of course, 100 percent correct. Oddly, not only did I know this, I have posted the entire poem before (I added a link for those who want to read the entire poem, which is a miniature UK history lesson ).


Kevin C. Paulson said...

Regardless of who wrote the poem, This was an amazing post and made me truly think about the only time that I have ever shot an animal that I did not eat. It was a fox and I will post the story on my blog.