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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Friday, July 13, 2012


For some years we have not seen foxes. They are reputed to have a den in the stony bank on the shore (I never did spot it during quite a few wobbly walks down there) and we used to see them regularly. In fact, they occasionally crossed the edge of the lawn in full view of our gin and tonics. Of course, the fact that we didn't see them doesn't mean they weren't there. I wish I could sit dawn to dusk on the deck and just watch, but other, more responsible activities intrude.

But last week we saw one, presumably the same one, on successive days. It was ambling down the shore, calmly trotting from rock to rock in spite of the murder of crows flying about in great outrage. I wonder what it's like to be pursued (reviled, warned, mocked, booed) wherever one goes. It's tempting to make the analogy to politicians hunting office in the face of the loyal opposition, but the fox is handsome and resourceful and the crows intelligent and social and I'm afraid those adjectives describe neither political party at the moment.

The fox, however, is proving to be a little more important to humans than we once may have thought.

New research suggests their importance to the control of Lyme disease. As coyotes seem to proliferate, foxes seem to depopulate, and although both mammals eat mice and voles, fox do it better. The new balance of power means more rodents (certainly true in and around our house), and rodents may actually be a more important vector of the disease than deer. Ergo, Lyme disease is increasing in incidence and range, and still increasing even as the deer population at last levels off.

It's probably not that simple. An ecosystem, even a political one as portrayed in the media, is a very complex thing. I'm very pleased, however, to see deer get off the hook, at least a bit. (In a political race between them and rodents, it's fairly clear who would win.) A future that includes more of the good guys - deer and fox - and fewer of the bad guys - coyote and mouse and PAC rat- is OK by me and my antibodies.

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