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1950_12_30--026_SP how to live through hurricane

THE SATURDAY EVENING POST 15 By late afternoon of the second day, all the shutters were down again and the house was airy. The limbs and debris I'd piled up ran for fifty feet along the drive in a heap higher than my head, but you couldn't see the grass for the leaves, still, and there were acres I hadn't even investigated carefully. Our floors were spick-and-span, the lamps were full for another evening, spoiled food had been buried, because it breeds maggots swiftly in this climate, and I was raking oak leaves out of the lily pond —so their acidity wouldn't kill the fish—when Ricky came bursting from the house. "The light's on!" she shouted. It seemed a great victory. We felt, for once, not the classic American impatience with utilities, but great pride in a company and in the men who could make swift sense out of the copper shambles the power lines had been. We wanted to thank somebody, but there wasn't a phone. Light also meant that our stove would work again and our bath water would heat, our fans would turn and we'd have ice and could store fresh food again. Two days! 'It might have been two weeks. The following morning I trimmed back the beat-up shrubbery and straightened up those bushes, especially hibiscuses, which might reroot and live. I cut down the taro. Ricky put out food for her birds— cardinals and jays, quail and two kinds of doves, woodpeckers, towhees and flickers— which were extra hungry because their natural food had largely blown away. A plague of mosquitoes descended. But the big event that day was the ringing of our phone and the announcement by a technician that it would from then on be pretty constantly usable. We—and 40,000-odd other people— went to the Orange Bowl that evening and watched the University of Miami defeat Boston University. During the first half, it is true, we were all a shade uneasy, owing to another phenomenon common in the hurricane latitudes: a new storm had been discovered in the gulf. It was headed toward us. Perhaps we'd have it all to do, go through and undo again. That had happened to Ricky and me twice before. But during the game the public-address system announced the blow was going to miss Miami — word that got quite a hand. Eventually that storm petered out, doing no damage. A week after the hurricane, most of the streets were clear. Most of the tipped-over trees had been set upright and most of the ruined ones had been chopped up and carted off. Nearly everybody had lights and phones again. The open roofs were nearly all at least temporarily repaired enough to ward off the rains of the rainy season. The glass shortage was over and the stores were getting back their windows. Here and there, scraps of evidence remained: a boat aground, a plane demolished, a leaning tree, a cat's cradle of overhead wires, a missing cupola, a hotel with a wrecked sign. But our poinsettias were already coming up from the roots, the yellow hibiscus was growing anew, and the rapid vegetation of the tropics would soon obscure the wounds. Long before the winter tourists arrived the landscape was normal —normal for a land where orchids bloom on trees. The tourists now look in vain for proof of what hit us in October. Only a few thousand people out of half a million remember the mid-October storm of 1950 as anything particular. The rest blur it with other, lesser or more violent recollections. But always, inland people and people who live up north, curious about our different way of life on the tropical big toe of Florida, will cap their inquiries with the ques- tion: " and what about hurri- canes?" Well HOW SLY IS MR. FOX? (Cont. ed from Page 31) was aided in expansion when a pre- Revolutionary English governor of sporting tendencies imported foxes and turned them loose on Long Island. Introduced in Virginia similarly, Red is often referred to as an immigrant. But his kind were known to be in the North and Northwest before the white man came. As the red fox in America is today smaller than the British, it is probable that the imported fox of colonial days merged with the native stock. Red's home territory seldom measures more than six or seven miles across. Unless driven by winter hunger, dogs or the mating urge, he sticks to his favorite haunts. During ordinary hunts in New England in which dogs are used, Red usually circles a radius of two or three miles—this varies, of course, with the character of the country and the hounds. Red never hunts in packs, as the wolf does. He and his vixen, combining strategies, co-operate as one of the smoothest combat teams of the animal kingdom. And when hunted they often combine resources to outfox their foes. Red once showed me what devotion really is when he came to the rescue of his vixen. One March I was spotting dead chestnut trees for future highway fence posts. My attention was attracted by several dogs tonguing heatedly in the distance and pressing toward me. Curious as to what they were driving, I stood on a ridge overlooking a gully through which I knew a game trail led. As the hounds drew nearer, I caught sight of a red vixen, heavy with young and desperately tired, slinking into the gully. Her tail brush, matted and muddy from weaving through thickets and snow thaws, dragged. She paused to glance fearfully over hershoulders as the hounds gained. Then she stepped into a little brook and avidly lapped water. I was tempted to interfere in the uneven contest when, from the opposite side of the gully, I caught sight of a second fox — a larger one, fresh as a daisy, cocky as a terrier. He trotted up to the vixen as if to say, "Honey, the marines have landed. Your troubles are over! " And, as the pack drew perilously near, the bedraggled little vixen pushed on. Red, however, remained. Cool and confident, he circled widely, then trotted to the crest of the bluff from which he first came and stood there boldly until the hounds bayed into view. The new scent momentarily con- fused the pack—but not for long. Red, yapping derisively, challenged them. He sounded as though he were saying, "C'mon! Have a taste of my dust!" Seconds later, spunky Red was leading the chase in the opposite direction. Although a pair of foxes may have been devoted mates for years, reared families, hunted together and participated in mischief and danger, Red must woo his vixen all over again each mating season. His marriage contract must be renewed from year to year. He must do battle with all contenders to hold his right to companionship, love and family. And that is one of the reasons why Nature has equipped him with the tail, or brush, so lavish in overtones of reddish-brown, sprinkled with black, and white-tipped. When engaged in combat, Red sidles and turns his poised brush toward his adversary. Foxes can lash their tails with the lightning speed of whips. Once I saw a fox put his brush to good advantage when cornered by a big Airedale I owned as a boy — one of the toughest dogs I've known. As Ripper rushed to close his jaws on him, Red, his fangs ready for a last-ditch battle, flicked his brush into his burly attacker's eyes. With Ripper momentarily blinded, agile Red used the splitsecond opportunity to make good his escape. The fox's brush, which is more luxuriant in northern latitudes, is also useful in other ways. An outdoor sleeper, Red curls it around his nose in cold weather. It acts as a muffler for that vital organ—the incapacitation of which would be worse for him than a blinded eye. Faster than the coyote, but slower than the jack rabbit, it has been estimated that the average fox can maintain a speed of twenty-six miles an hour for better than a mile. But some have been clocked in excess of thirty miles an hour. During a Georgia fox hunt thirty mounted men and 100 hounds pursued a red fox continuously for thirteen hours. One of the men rode, in succession, three different horses. Red won the decision when men, horses and hounds finally broke down. The fox stores food in times of plenty, with no illusion as to the inevitability of future want. Foxes seldom waste food or kill wantonly. The only time I've ever known one to do so was when he dug out a garter snake in the dead of winter—a cold dish at any time. Following his trail after he had abandoned the snake, I found that he had caught a rabbit, eaten half of it and buried the rest. Red's food-storage methods are ingenious. Even men have been known to raid his cupboards. Poachers, having discovered Red's cache, steal his game birds. Grouse and pheasant killed by Red and stored in cool beech leaves for several days are rated by these men among the delicacies of the earth. As whelping time draws near, the vixen stores food to nourish her when she is unable to hunt. Rabbits, muskrats and birds are buried close to her retreat. It is during this season of the year that foxes are especially dangerous to domestic poultry. An old woodsman I knew in my boyhood once showed me how a fox stores up eggs for winter. He led me to a place near a swamp where a hen had built a secret nest. Only a few hackles remained around the nest. "Ole Red killed her an' lifted her off thet nest without as much as crackin' an egg," Uncle Hen told me. " C'mon along with me now, young 'un. I'll show you what he did with them eggs." Together, Uncle Hen and I skirted the swamp, crossed a few hundred yards of scrub timber and came to a stream. At a spot where the end of a sand bar dipped under a high embankment, Uncle Hen paused to squint at the yellow grains of sand. Then he bent over and scooped some up. Nearly six inches beneath the surface he uncovered a hen's egg, then another. " Thet's one of Red's cold-storage warehouses," Uncle Hen chuckled. Red dispatches his prey with swift, clean strokes. He drags his victims away alive only when surprised in a raid, or when he brings them to his cubs for an object lesson in scenting, trailing and the coup de grdce. His powerful jaws snap necks and spines of prey with a minimum of bloodshed. The courtship of monogamous Red takes place in winter. The litter, numbering four to nine, arrives fifty days later—in late March or April. To Red's puzzlement, the vixen becomes hostile toward him when the time of birth approaches. He accepts this meekly, standing guard and bringing food close to the doorway of the den until she allows him inside for his first look at his offspring. Settings of fox idyls vary. At times the den is made in logs; at others, in a hollow tree or rocky ledge. Where foxes are unusually numerous, the housing shortage has caused them to compromise with strawstacks and abandoned outbuildings. The most elaborate type of fox den, however, is frequently made by enlarging a woodchuck hole. With a food-storage room added, the nest itself is made in a dry chamber lined with a little grass, about a dozen feet from the main entrance. One Connecticut den that I examined had three entrances. As the fox cubs reach the stage when they look and act like playful dog puppies, they can be observed on the earth pile outside the den. Among them, sometimes, is a silver, black or cross fox. They are joined in their capers by both Red and his vixen. Bringing home a rabbit, one of the parents drops it in their midst and then sits back on its haunches to observe the festivities with affection. Although the young are frequently left alone while their parents hunt, one of the older foxes seems always to be lurking in the vicinity. While watching cubs at play one afternoon I moved to a better vantage point. A second later I heard a warning bark in the woods about 200 yards to my right. Instantly the young foxes dived into the den— and never once reappeared all the while I watched. When the cubs grow older, the parent foxes give them advanced lessons with live prey. A wing-broken bird will be hidden by the old fox in grass or bushes a considerable distance from the den. The cubs, if they want to eat that day, not only have to find it but kill it themselves. One of the cubs at a den that I kept under observation was far ahead of his litter mates in size, boldness and wiles. This mischievous little rascal always found food first. But one day the impertinent cub was put in his place. Bringing home a muskrat —a scrappy little animal in its own right—Big Red dropped it just as the saucy cub came bounding up. Before the cub knew what was happening, the muskrat gave him a painful nip. Flinching, the cub ducked out of range. Then, snarling, he attacked the muskrat again — only to have incisor teeth slash at his shoulder. His five brothers and sisters then joined in the assault, and the muskrat finally became a banquet. The mother fox is passionately devoted to her offspring. She'll risk her life to guard them and will travel many miles in an attempt to rescue them if they fall into enemy hands. Fox dens are often found by men, the young dug out, killed or taken captive. I know of one case in which a vixen entered a farm- (( :011 • ed on Page 1.8)


1950_12_30--026_SP how to live through hurricane
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