One week into the new year, this little Gray fox spent a few mornings on my deck.

It climbed the stairs, walked over to the corner, curled up, and went to sleep. It looked tired, presumably from a night of hunting, and slept there all morning, protected from the wind. The longer it slept, the warmer the sun, the more it uncurled. A neighborhood cat came up the stairs, but I waved at him from a place the fox couldn’t see, and the cat took off before causing any mischief.

The fox was difficult to see, having chosen a spot out of sight of most windows. Why was it surprising to me that it should understand sightlines, and how to hide? So I went about my day, peeking infrequently, and when the sun got high, the fox was gone.

I see foxes occasionally, crossing roads and yards. They poop in driveways, but have no owners following them with plastic bags, so their scat tends to stick around. And I hear them at night. Or rather, I hear the squeals of a rodent fighting for it’s life, and I think a fox has found a meal. Without putting out an infrared trailcam, it’s hard to know for sure, but for now I prefer listening and wondering. Over time, I might piece together episodes into a coherent pattern.

Two days later, the fox returned and slept the morning away. This time, I saw it leave, and I noticed how stiffly it walked. Perhaps what I had taken to be exhaustion from hunting was actually infirmity. It’s fur looked patchy and it’s gait was far from smooth. I think this fox was not well.

Many of my neighbors have expressed a vehement desire to avoid end-of-life facilities. Let a bear get me, or a mountain lion, or simply do not follow when I walk past the end of the trail. I don’t know any that have made this choice, but we all are less afraid of dying in the wilderness than alone in a hospital. One neighbor had a spot picked out, high up in the mountains, but as he aged, he lost his balance, and he couldn’t hike there anymore. So he continued on, down the accepted path, and seemed quite cheerful about it. It was enough to have dreamed the alternative.

I sat quietly and watched until the fox descended the stairs. I never saw it again.