It was a warm summer evening, and the little fox was growing hungry. He lay in the den alongside his siblings, waiting for his mother to return. The den was at the base of the rock wall that ran up the hillside from the field below.

The valley’s creek ran just past the other side of the field. The mother fox had dug her den out of the soil that lay beneath a large rock at the bottom of the wall. The underside of the rock now formed the roof of the den, and the wall itself provided shelter from the storms that blew up the creek valley and even offered security when the little foxes would play just outside. As the little foxes grew bigger, though, the den was becoming decidedly crowded.

The mother fox had decided that it was time to stop the little fox and his siblings from nursing. Then, one evening the mother fox returned to the den a bit earlier than usual, and she had not brought back any dinner. The little fox was curious and grew even more curious when his mother began to nip at his hindquarters and drive him and his siblings out into the open.

When they were all outside, the mother fox turned away from her offspring and ran off into the woods. The little fox and his siblings did not know what to do. They just sat still on the forest floor, their pointed noses and ears facing in the direction their mother had gone. Then she returned, and they all jumped up and bounced around her, but again she nipped at their hind ends, this time driving them into the woods. They were even more confused, but when she turned and bounded off between the trees, they followed her, down the forested hillside.

It was not long before they came to a field, with a house, rabbit hutches, a chicken run and a goat yard. The little foxes followed their mother right up to the goat yard fence and through the gate. There, just before entering the goat house, the mother fox sat down on her haunches. Her progeny followed suit and sat behind her. When she rose to enter the house, they also rose, but she uttered a sharp yip, and they returned to their haunches. Their mother resumed sitting, just inside the goat house door.

Minutes passed, and none of the foxes moved a single muscle, and then the little foxes saw a large rat poke its nose out from under the back wall of the goat house. Their mother sat perfectly still until the rat was in the middle of the goat house floor, and then she sprang up from her haunches, high into the air, and pounced on the rat, grabbing it just behind its neck in her strong sharp-toothed jaws. She shook her head until the rat hung still, and then she turned triumphantly, marching right past her offspring, out of the goat yard, and back up the hillside to the den, where they all enjoyed a wonderful dinner.

The little fox slept well that night and played happily in front of the den all the next day, but when his mother led his siblings off into the forest later that next afternoon, he felt tired, and rather than follow, he curled up and soon fell asleep.

The next morning, he woke up, alone. His mother and siblings had not returned. All that day he paced back and forth in front of the den. That night, hungry and confused, he again fell asleep, alone.

The following morning when he awoke, more hungry than he could imagine, he knew just what to do. He headed down the forested hill and through the gate to the goat yard. He sat on his haunches just inside the door, as he had seen his mother do. In time, he saw a fat rat poke its nose out from under the back wall, and the little fox pounced. The rat ran safely away, back under the wall.

The little fox returned to the goat house door, and again he sat still on his haunches. Again, a rat poked its nose out from under the wall. This time the little fox sat still, until the rat was well out into the dirt-floored room. When the little fox pounced, the rat had nowhere to go but right into the sharp teeth and strong jaw of the little fox.

These days, it seems as though the little fox has developed a steady routine. Every evening he returns to the goat house.

He passes right by the goats, who pay him no mind. He might sit for a while by the pigeon gazebo, watching the white birds as they return to their coop to roost for the night. Even the two big farm dogs seem oblivious to his presence. He is just another creek valley creature, after all.

But the creek valley people are very aware of his presence. They do not let their chickens wander the farm during the day, but rather only let them out for a few hours in the evening, when they can keep a watchful eye on their precious flock. The people smile and shake their heads.

The little fox is beautiful, with his black whiskers, black-tipped pointed ears, sleek copper colored coat and bushy white-tipped tail, and he does seem to do a fair job of keeping the rat population at bay, but he has also made creek valley life just a wee bit more complicated. Perhaps, in due time, he will move on, and the chickens will be able wander freely again. I wonder.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at straightcreekvalleyfarm.com.