Two baby foxes arrived recently at WildCare, the Marin wildlife rehab center, in a humane trap. A well-meaning homeowner, suspecting an animal had taken up residence beneath the home, set out a trap –inadvertently separating the kits from their parents. Fortunately, these dewy youngsters were in perfect health and were re-united with mom and dad. Once again it’s baby season… and, tucked just out of sight, small families all around us are rustling.
A precious memory came flooding back… Two decades ago in a two-story San Francisco Edwardian where I lived, it had become clear that critters were living in the basement. Not knowing any better, I fastened a wire mesh grid over an opening on the street side of the house that, at eye-level, gave visual access to the utility meter readings. Situated between the garage door and the concrete wall of the front stairs leading up to the front door, the opening was also beneath my bedroom window on the top floor. The next morning before sunrise I was awakened by a loud rattling.
Running down two flights to the basement, I discovered that a mother possum was trying to pry the grid off –and inside were seven or eight very distressed babies squeaking and running around on a high workbench from where they could see their mom. Since the grid was fastened from the outside, I thought it best to as quickly as possible take the babies out to her. I couldn’t simply open the garage door for fear the racket would scare mama off. I put on gloves to not get my scent on the kids. The first two were easy to gently pluck from the bench. I ran up one flight of inside stairs to the front door and down a flight to the sidewalk. She freaked when she saw me, backing up against a wall, hissing and splayed out to look as menacing as she could, but I immediately put the babies down on the ground and they ran up and climbed onto their mom.
Back into the house I went, trying to calm the pounding of my heart. Got another baby, went back outside, same as before, except that mama was calmer. Flew back inside, got another, but this time when I opened the front door mama was already there waiting at the top of the stairs. I put the baby down and softly closed the door. Two or three more times I repeated this –she patiently waiting– then went back down to look around in case there was anyone I might have missed. No one else was in sight. Peering carefully into crannies I spotted one more little guy. He had moved into a precarious position closer to the opening where he had last seen his mom. Old construction had been left unfinished there, and when he saw me he retreated into a narrow space between walls where I would not be able to reach him if he chose to go further. Panic clutched my chest at the thought that this frightened baby could be left behind. Everything depended on this little one allowing himself to be caught.
I backed away from him, went up to sit at the top of the stairs and began slow mindful breathing to bring myself to neutral. When calm I slowly approached him; he was now in the open. Through some miracle he remained still. Enfolding him gently in my hand I ran upstairs, opened the front door, set him down where mama was still waiting. In the same instant that he reached her and climbed aboard, she whirled out the iron gate, jumped up onto the stairs’ masonry wall and clambered up through the thick woody vines of the bougainvillea that reached all the way to the roof and vanished.
I was left stunned and jubilant and vibrating with awe by the mom’s tenaciousness and loyalty and care –not budging until she had every last one of her babies. Also humbled by the miracle of her knowing exactly how many constituted all of her babies. Even this many years later the memory brings fresh tears, bathing me once again in the miracle of her profound and desperate mother love, that for the sake of keeping together her entire little family she chose to risk everything to trust me.
That mom taught me a huge lesson that day… to pay attention to the seasons… to make no changes whatsoever that might disrupt the small families making their start in our midst.