On the afternoon of Veterans Day I startled a red fox in the woods near the back gate. Handsome fellow, large, great big bushy tail. This is the first time I have ever seen a fox on my property. I hope he has moved in down there and is not just passing through. My little three acres of woodlands is now one of the wilder areas near Sawyerville. (And no, this is not he. Wouldn't hold still to have his beauty struck.)
It was not always so wild. When my sister and I were children, our parents realized how much we liked going down in the woods, and they decided something should be done to make it safer. First solution: a couple of sheep to keep the undergrowth nibbled down. Later they moved into goats, which were a lot more fun. We had a billy and some nannies and of course a number of baby goats from time to time.
A billy goat wants to wander. A fence is something to go over, through, beyond. And in the process, he was wont to get his horns hung up in the wire fence. Always a great nuisance. The last time my father purchased goats, the spring of 1987, he made sure they were all females. (Actually they managed to get out the day after they were moved in, but that is another story.)
The goats did do a great job keeping underbrush down and new trees from growing. Over time the area did start to resemble a meadow more than it did woodlands. I liked it. The clean, open spaces. But I was sorry that no new trees were getting started to replace the older ones that were beginning to decline.
That was then. This is now. Well, just a few years back. That leaning pine, hanging out over the county road, leaned some more, and finally I decided it would be wise to have it taken down. Schoolbuses and churchgoers and the simple daily traffic including the rural mail carrier would be inconvenienced (and possibly injured) by an untimely fall.
The goats really liked that westernmost niche that overlooked the county road. Goats have great curiosity, and I think they liked to be close to where the action was. Also on nippy days it was a good place to get the afternoon sun. That fence, which makes an eastward turn just behind the goats, turns south again before it gets to the leaning pine.
The goats really kept the undergrowth down. What is that green they have missed? I think it is buckeye, which they didn't eat. I believe it is poisonous. But everything else including privet and Virginia creeper and even poison ivy they ate with relish.
Now that area looks more like this: privet everwhere and clematis decorating it with its lovely white blooms. Azaleas are starting to spread out through the fence and down into the woods, and that can be lovely in the spring.
No longer the more glade-like look of earlier years.
Looking north you can no longer see the house or the highway beyond or the roofline of the Sawyerville Convenience Store. Heck, you can't even see those trees!
But I misspoke. Actually, if you look up you can see the tops of trees.
I fear they probably overgrazed. It was a good thing that we supplemented their diet with a bit of cracked corn every afternoon (which we did primarily to keep them relatively tame).
But things have changed dramatically. In fact, Tom and I were both astounded at how quickly things changed down there once there were no more goats to keep it under control.
After Buttercup, the last goat survivor, died in 2001, I decided not to replace them. They did require effort, and my efforts needed to be focused on Tom and his increased needs. Plus a few of my own, for that matter. Not to mention a couple of elderly aunts requiring more attention.
So far I haven't seen deer down there, although there may be some. I know they come onto the property across the county road to the west. There are opossoms and armadillos, of course. Hawks nest down there, I believe, and I do hear and occasionally see an owl. The wrens that nest in my garage always take their offspring down there once they are ready to leave the nest (always exciting to watch).
I do hope the red fox has taken a good look at the place and decided to buy into it. It would be great to have him as a neighbor, as a fellow companion on my small domain. I think he could be happy and content.