Life Lessons From A Red Fox

Today we awoke to our second snowfall, the first that actually lasted beyond the sun breaking through the clouds for more than an hour. There’s probably still an inch on the ground, but it is melting in the bright sunshine. I really do love winter. As soon as there is snow on the ground, the whole world changes color because the light is so different. Everything looks crisp and defined in this light. The world becomes all hard lines and blinding lightness. It is the same world I strolled through in summer, but somehow it’s also totally different.

As I look at our outdoor thermometer, I see that in the sunshine at midday it is reading 28°F and the winds are due to pick up, potentially bringing some more snow tonight. It’s cold. And while I have a warm house and plenty of wool to keep me warm, I can’t help but think about a special someone…


I shared an image of this Red Fox at the beginning of October and I think it’s time I share his story.

I’d spotted this fox around the neighborhood a handful of times during the past year — once loping across the street, once chasing a rabbit in an open lot — you know, doing what foxes are supposed to do. In early October when it slinked into our yard, though, it was almost certainly suffering from sarcoptic mange. Nearly blinded by its swollen eyes and clearly starving, it was resorting to stealing sunflower seeds from our ground feeder.


Its posture and body language were all wrong.


It was clear that it was desperate — with eyes almost completely swollen shut, we assumed hunting was difficult if not impossible. With winter coming, things were not looking good for its survival.

Mr. Knitting Sarah shared a photo on his social media and had feedback from some biologist friends for courses of treatment that might help. He dug further and researched treatment plans and then set about getting the inexpensive medicine available at our local farm store.  We set up a dosing calendar based on helpful instructions from a red fox rehab center. Since we wanted to remain hands-off (I’m not interested in wrangling sick wild animals) for our safety as well as the animal’s, we opted to inject food with meds for treatment. We set-up trail cameras on our feeding stations to be able to monitor them, making sure the fox actually was getting the meds. We’d talked about getting trail cams for a while to see what kinds of animals were coming through our yard at night and this was just a good reason to finally do it.

Because treatment needs to happen over a 3-6 week period to effectively treat mange, the key is that you have to get the fox to return regularly. I don’t think this one had an iPhone on which I could set an alarm, so per instructions we set out his favorite foods daily — a mix of wet & dry cat food and a couple cut up hot dogs. The hot dogs were key as they were his favorite. In the early days, I’d refill the stations if I knew he’d been through to make sure there was always food available.

When dosing day rolled around, I would be in the kitchen carefully hollowing hot dogs, injecting them with the appropriate dose of medicine, and then placing a couple pieces of dry cat food inside to soak up the meds in case the piece of hot dog should happen to fall over. Then I’d set the medicated “fox dogs” around the yard and wait, hoping that he’d take them and hoping I’d be able to get a glimpse of him to observe his appearance and body language for comparison.

Sure enough, he came back. And like a good patient, he took his meds every time.

Over the course of the next month, we watched carefully and we set food out and we dosed on schedule. At first, the images taken at night would catch eye shine in just the one eye and he’d return multiple times each night with that same insecure posture.


We were ecstatic with each successful dose and I read vehemently about the progression of the healing process for this disease. I promise you that at this point, I know way more details about sarcoptic mange and treatment for it than I ever thought I would. Within a couple weeks, we started to see him spacing out his visits a bit and the eye shine of the second eye started to show up, first a little slit and then…


Both eyes wide open!

His slink became more like prancing punctuated with the occasional leap and pounce. We started to get images that indicated the fox was pushing the feral cat that stopped by sometimes off the food station instead of skittishly ducking away from it. I even watched it once scare off a bunch of deer!

One evening, our red fox friend popped by just before dusk and we were astonished — our scraggly friend had transformed into this much healthier looking canine!


Still  a little skinny maybe and his tail was taking its time growing back in, but his posture and body language was so much better.


His winter coat was coming in nicely…


It looked like an mostly healthy fox! He pranced around looking in all his familiar spots for his fox dogs just long enough to for Mr. KS to catch these photos. He was on his way, leaping and bouncing like he was walking on air until he was out of sight.

The last evening we caught a picture of him was October 30th. I’m wondering if the hub-bub of trick or treating on the 31st paired with the feral cats who were occasionally dropping by to take advantage of the feeding stations made it competitive enough that with his improved health he finally had the incentive to move back out into wilder terrain. We’re right on the edge of town, so it would make sense as he has a lot of fertile hunting grounds just a little farther afield. Of course it could be that the mange came roaring back. It could be that some other predator or the cold proved too much. We might never know.

I do know, however, that when you have a very big heart and you’re a little bit of a control freak, this kind of investment can be taxing. I started out very resistant to the whole endeavor, afraid to be hurt or disappointed or to fail, and only got involved because Mr. KS pushed me. I’m glad that he did. As time went by and I saw the fox’s health improve though, I realized that it wasn’t about making sure this animal survived  the winter (although that was and is the hope). Each easy meal and each successful dose of meds gave this animal an extra day; a day that was better than his last, a day he likely would not have had otherwise. And that was… meaningful.

It is easy to go through life and in the hustle and bustle forget just how precious each day is. It’s easy when we aren’t struggling, to forget what it means to struggle. It’s easy to take good fortune and good health for granted. And it’s easy to not recognize just what an impact you can have on another’s life with just a small investment of time. These are the life lessons I learned from our Red Fox and that is… meaningful.

I hope that our Red Fox friend is healthy and pouncing and prancing and leaping in a place that makes him happy. I hope his belly is full and his coat is warm. I hope that maybe someday I’ll see him again. But most of all, I’m thankful for the days we had each other because for as much as he needed us, I think there is part of me that needed him.


Baskets, Bobbins, and Piles Of Things Not Yet Finished

Sitting on my desk is this basket…


Still full of Tour de Fleece handspun yarns that I haven’t shared with you. What can I say? I just haven’t quite gotten there yet. There’s a shawl the back of my chair that’s in the same boat, too.

Sitting next to my spinning wheel are these bobbins…


Plied and ready to be skeined and finished, these are my spindle spun singles from the Tour de Fleece.

On my wheel, a true spinning WIP…


This is the latest Top of the Month Club fiber from Three Waters Farm. I think I’m in love.

Across the room, my yarn and fiber stash…


Freshly sorted, cataloged, and rearranged. Note my mannequin has been binocularized. I know what ladies do to earn bead necklaces at Mardi Gras in New Orleans, so I’m kind of afraid to know what my mannequin in Central Wisconsin did to earn her own binoculars.

And in my knitting bag is this start of a shawl…


This will be a shawl for my mother in-law. She really liked it and bought all the components, but hit some roadblocks in the pattern-writing, so she asked and I agreed to take it on for her. Now that I’ve got the pattern memorized, I’m cruising an enjoying it

Sitting next to my desk is this humongous pile…


School books and school supplies, just waiting to be organized and distributed to various shelves throughout the house. I’ve got the preliminary schedule set, books are purchased (obviously), and I am working on getting whatever components exist online set-up. It’s also prime time for me to familiarize myself with where we are starting and how the new programs we’re trying will work. Starting school? That will be a piece of cake, the weeks of preparation are the busiest time for me!

Feeling school and a busy September bearing down on us and all that comes with the fast-approaching end of summer, we took a couple nights this weekend to spend time at the family cabin up in the Northwoods. There is no running water, let alone cell service or wifi, and we’ve come to really appreciate spending time there. We love being in a spot where we get to set down our smart phones & be unreachable for a while. A place where we get to make the kids step away from their screens without the usual resentment toward us for forcing the issue. We play board & card games, read, hike, and — introverts that we all are — generally enjoy the quiet. Inspired to check it out after attending an author event for Michael Perry at our local library, I read 2/3 of one of his latest books, Danger Man Working.


It’s a collection of essays he’s written over the years and it’s a great way to get a feel for his writing, I think, as he touches on a wide variety of topics.

Before homeschooling, I read a lot. Since homeschooling full time, it’s been very hard to find time to read for my own pleasure because I’m constantly side-tracked and in the middle of any number of other topics and stories. I’m also generally drained at the end of the day sometimes. These essays are just the right length for me to be able to sit and read and actually finish a story line before being derailed. I wish this book wouldn’t end. I laugh out loud, I cringe, I identify with people, I have vicarious low-level panic attacks, I tear-up — it’s good stuff. A great way to spend a quiet weekend. I did a little sock knitting while I read, but that project is still buried, waiting to be unpacked so I’ve got no updated picture for you today.

We did find a new hiking spot. I mean, of course we found a new hiking spot…


Mr. Knitting Sarah loves trails that are more game trail than human trail. I… well, I am learning to dislike them less. My main beef is that the poor footing wears out my faulty hip a lot faster than the more groomed variety, so I get frustrated when pain starts to seep in sooner than I’m ready for it.  But these thick woods…


They are beautiful and generally worth the effort. Any frustration melts away when I stop to take in the scenery…


Because there are so many little wonders all around.

We did not see any bears or wolves or other large carnivores and while Mr. Knitting Sarah is always a little disappointed in that, we did see more than our share of deer and fawns and I was lucky enough to see an ermine lope across the road in front of us. Oh, how I love those guys!

From this beautiful spot we watched at least 15-20 Cedar Waxwings catch flies…38513908_10155339465112000_8363549941024423936_o

And a Red-eyed Vireo darted down from the tree tops to see what we were all about.

As the day marched on toward lunch and our stomachs started to grumble we turned back to the car, to a picturesque picnic spot that Moose loved…


And ultimately back toward the baskets, bobbins, and piles of things not yet finished. Believe it or not, they are all right where I left them and ready to be picked back up again.


Lessons from Saddle Pass

After dinner on our first night in the Badlands my in-laws offered to watch the dog while my fearless foursome went off on a hike. Since we usually travel with the dog and the dog isn’t allowed on trails in the National Park, this is something we’ve actually never been able to do all together. We didn’t have a ton of time and I am quite limited on how far I can walk, so we picked the very popular Saddle Pass trail. I was very wary as the poor condition of my hip isn’t exactly amenable to this type of trail, but I wanted to to this with my family — sometimes you just have to go for it.

saddle passListed in the visitor guide as a ‘strenuous’ hike, this .25mile trail is steep. It boasts poor footing, occasional drop-offs, and wonderful views at the top. The kids, like little bighorn sheep, just scampered up like it was nobody’s business.

saddle pass 3Except for one time — after being warned during a particularly steep & slippery spot to stop talking and focus on her feet our girl did a complete face-plant. It was cartoon-style feet sliding out from under her and she just barely caught herself with her hands and bumped her chin.


There were some tears and a little blood, but mostly it was her pride that was wounded.

I was a little less than thrilled with the poor footing as this type of trail is particularly rough on my bum hip. It made me a little cranky, but I wanted to do this with my family so badly so I did my best to put on a brave face and to keep my complaints to myself. We all pushed on carefully and eventually managed to reach the top of the pass.

20140731-112038-40838996.jpgI found a little cairn that had been knocked down by the constant prairie winds. I rebuilt it. I always rebuild cairns when I find them toppled.

20140731-112145-40905828.jpgThe views were pretty amazing…

20140731-112144-40904132.jpgThe views at the top of things always are, aren’t they?

And on the other side of the pass…

20140731-112147-40907132.jpgThe endless prairie.

20140731-112040-40840339.jpgAfter playing & admiring at the top for a while, we began our descent. As always, the going down was more treacherous than the going up.

20140717_190822My new trekking pole/cane was put through its paces. I put off investing in a walking cane for a long time. It felt like admitting defeat to me in a lot of ways — that my hip was in some sort of final depressing decline. It turns out that really it just makes it possible for me to do things like this once and a while. I have tried regular hiking sticks, but I must say this one is by far the best I’ve tried. It has a speedlock height adjustment so it collapses down to be quite compact so it’s really easy to travel with, a rubber or carbide tip (the rubber tip comes on and off as you need it) and — most importantly for me — the cane grip lets me bear weight more easily than on a straight stick. It was irreplaceable during this hike and now that I’ve gotten over my own stigma for being a 34year-old who uses a cane, I use it any time I’m walking more than a couple blocks. It’s a lifesaver and even though it was hard to accept I needed this tool to help me, well, like I said before — there comes a time sometimes when you just have to go for it.

Of course, there were times when the footing was bad enough that I used my glissading skills…

me saddle passI feel like I have a lot of practice with the glissade for some reason.

When we made it back down, the long shadows and pink light of sunset were upon us.

saddle pass 2And we’d all made it, more or less no worse for the wear even considering I had an incredibly ungraceful slip in the last 20yards of the hike that required a 3-point landing. It was super classy, a fall with real flair – arms and legs flying and twisting in the air as I avoided landing on my bad hip (it’s a reflex from childhood that stays with me to this day). Ah, sometimes you just have to go for it — even when you are falling.

I walked away from the trail head and back to the car sore from my various slips and with the discomfort that comes with any real amount of walking these days. But I walked away with more than just aches and pains. I walked away thankful that I’d taken a chance and made the effort to do this hike — to be there when my daughter face-planted and for my kids to get a good laugh at my glissading and epic fall at the end. I was glad that I spent the time & money to research and order a good tool that made this effort easier. I was proud that I bit off just a little more than I could chew and I did ok. I was reminded that sometimes in life, and it’s just as true in my knitting and spinning, it’s good to push yourself outside of your comfort zone, to invest in the tools that enable you to get where you want to go, and sometimes to fall down spectacularly, with flair to spare. Sometimes you just have to go for it.