Rusty Behind the Scenes!
By way of introduction, my name is Rusty the Red Squirrel, and I am the new Blog Assistant that Jim, the author here, and Little Red Bear have been telling you about. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome you to this, the first in a continuing series of “Behind the Scenes” interviews and feature stories I will be doing for you while Little Red Bear and Jim finish Red’s first collection of adventure stories to be available soon. They’re out in the woods working on a story right now as a matter of fact.
For the first feature, we arranged an interview with one of the Gray Foxes that you may recall from the “Ozarks Ostrich Crisis” story. If you are unfamiliar with the story there is a link to it at the top of the page for you right here on the Blog. So, let’s begin, shall we?
Please allow me to introduce you to “Groovy Gary the Gray Fox”.
RUSTY—Welcome, Mr. Fox, or may I call you “Gary”? We are delighted you could appear here today with us. You are a Gray Fox, is that correct?
MR. FOX—Yeah, man. A Gray Fox. That’s me. And you can call me “Groovy Gary”, because that’s my name—Groovy Gary.
You are the very first interview on our Blog site here. More than a few of our readers of the “Ozarks Ostrich Crisis” stories were very interested in both you and Mrs. Fox and wrote in requesting to know more about you. And, as I understand it, you are signed to appear in at least one if not more of the soon to be released “Adventures of Little Red Bear” stories. So Little Red Bear and Jim thought what better way than to just sit down for a chat and let the readers have a chance to get to know you?
I’m very happy to be here, Rusty! I’m honored to be the first to do this with you. Thank you for inviting us. And- congratulations on your new position here—“Blogging Undercover Reporting Professional”. Sounds impressive, man. You’re probably happier than a squirrel with an acorn, I imagine.
Thank you! I am a squirrel with several acorns stashed away actually, and quite happy about it all, as it were. I was sorry to learn that Mrs. Fox could not be here with us today.
Yeah, well she’s back at the den taking care of all the little kits. Hard to find a good baby sitter on short notice these days. The weasels are always available and looking for odd jobs you know, but not going to trust them to watch our little kits while we’re away. Mrs. Fox wouldn’t have any part of that. The weasels are just not our idea of trustworthy folks if you know what I’m sayin’. Might as well just deliver the kits to a coyote and be done with it. Not gonna happen.
Mrs. Fox was due to deliver at any moment during that Ostrich affair at the beginning of the year. How many babies did she end up having?
Kits, man. “Kits”. Can you dig it? Humans have babies, foxes have kits. And we had four. About an average number.
I think the thing that fascinated our readers the most was that you, as a Gray Fox, have the ability to climb trees. Almost unheard of in members of the canine species, Carnivora Canidae, and a lot of people probably were not aware of that. Would you like to tell us more about it?
Sure, man. The secret is in our strong, hooked claws. Take a look at these, dude! Kind of like your little squirrelly claws, man. But only we Gray Foxes have them in the canine family. Wolves, coyotes, jackals, dogs- nobody else has got ‘em. And no other foxes, neither. Just us Gray Foxes, dude. We grasp and hold onto the tree trunk with our front feet and push up with the back feet. When something’s chasin’ us, like a nasty coyote or big farm dog, we can scurry up a tree like a cat when we want to. I’ve known Gray Foxes that can scale a vertical tree trunk 35 feet high to escape a predator. Mother Nature was kind to us! And we may nibble on some fresh peaches, apples and other fruit while we’re up there in the tree, too. We don’t have to wait til they fall on the ground and get smashed and bruised all over. We can get the fruit fresh up at the top. Some Gray Foxes make their dens right up there in the trees too, with the raccoons, possums, birds and you squirrel folks.
How do you go about getting back down from such a height?
Well, we kind of jump from branch to branch mostly, one at a time, lower and lower. Or, when we can’t do that we just climb down backwards, real slow and careful like, the same way a cat does. Never as fast coming down as we are going up, unless we’re falling of course. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!
As I recall, there is one other canine species that can climb trees, in addition to Gray Foxes.
Red Foxes can’t. I don’t like them very much.
That Is correct. Red Foxes cannot climb trees like you Gray Foxes can.
Red Foxes get all the news coverage and glory, and they’re in all the artists’ paintings because they’re a cute reddish color all over with big fluffy tails. Pictures of them everywhere, in all the museums! And those black markings on their legs that humans think look like fancy stockings or something, man. They’re just a fox of a different color, Jack. And they can’t climb trees!
Truly so. And my name is not “Jack”. It’s Rusty. Actually, the other species I had in mind was the Asian Raccoon Dog. I think I might be able to dig up a picture of one in the files here somewhere for our readers. Just a moment. Of course, they are on the other side of the world in Eastern Asia, but have also been introduced quite successfully in several areas of Europe now. But you Gray Foxes are indeed the only canine capable of climbing trees on this side of the world.
Are you sure your readers really want to see a picture of a critter that lives over on the other side of the world? Whoa! Is that him? That looks like a fox married a raccoon, or something. Raccoon Dog is a good name for them! Well, the Raccoon Dog can stick to their side of the world, we’ll stick to ours and it will all be fine, Bro. That is a different lookin’ cat for sure!
The Asian Raccoon Dog is in the canine family, like you. It’s not a cat.
It’s an expression, man. You know, like “hip cat”, “happenin’ cat”, “swingin’ cat”, “groovy cat”.
You keep using the phrases “man” and “dude”. And now this “cat” term. And– “Bro”? Not the manner of speech I was expecting from a fox, honestly.
What? You lookin’ for a southern twang with some “y’all’s” and “howdy’s” thrown in? “The Fox and the Hound” type chatter? That’s backwoods Disney fairytale stuff, man. Focus your audio. I’m a FOX, Jack! We’re hip and happenin’! You just take a look at Mrs. Fox and tell me she ain’t “foxy”. She’s everything plus, man! Hey Foxy Mama, right on!
Well, you certainly don’t sound backwoods. Where did you pick up your, umm, how shall we say— “speech patterns”?
As soon as the little kits are grown and out on their own in the fall, we get the whole Gray Fox clan together and follow the Mississippi River down to New Orleans every year for the end of summer party festivals along the bayous, man. Before winter sets in and it gets too cold to travel. We go down and get Dixie Fried, if you know what I mean. The blackberries, grapes, peaches and melons are laying around on the ground fermenting, and they carry a kick in late fall. Yeah, man. Hip cats down there, I’ll tell you. Last fall, even Banjo the Bluegrass Bunny was there. That little guy is one magic playin’ fool, dude. They invented the word “superstar” just to describe him.
Is that a fact?
Naw, I don’t know. But they could have because he plays like nobody I ever heard before. And down there, it’s all about the Jazz, Dixieland and swingin’ music just on the outskirts of New Orleans, man. Yippy skippy, doo dah day! Feel the beat, daddy-o! Can ya dig it, squirrelly?
Well, I . . . .
And the Blues, of course. And when Banjo the Bluegrass Bunny takes the “blues” and adds the “grass” and starts rolling out that “Bluegrass” music of his—Wow! The swamp goes wild, Jack.
Again, my name is not “Jack”. It’s Rusty. And I’m not sure whether we’re allowed or supposed to disclose real story names in the interviews yet. Jim and Red weren’t exactly clear on it in our meeting the other day. I’m making a note to get that clarified.
Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t noodle it thru. But wait a minute. You use Little Red Bear’s name and Jim’s name all over the place. And you’re using my name. I’m confused, Clyde.
Well, Jim’s name is no secret. He is the writer and author of all the stories, and it’s his name already at the top of the blog for everyone to see. We are introducing everyone to you here today, so of course we use your name—everyone would want to know it. And well, if you must know, “Little Red Bear” is not Red’s real name.
What? Not his real name? What is it then? How do you know that?
Again, I don’t know if I am at liberty to say what his real name is. It’s all explained in the coming stories. And I know because I am an undercover investigative reporter, as you may recall. It’s in my job title, so it’s my job to find out and know things. It’s also part of my job to help edit Jim’s writing. I am responsible for finding all the missing periods, so I see the story writing ahead of time.
You find the missing periods? So, you’re an obstetrician, too?
What?!? A what?!?
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! Chill out, squirrel. It’s just a joke. Be cool, man. Sounds like you may be suffering from “Bright Disease”. Maybe you know too much! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!
Yes, well . . . . . . .
Sorry. Again. Seem to have gotten carried away there for a minute. Just thinkin’ about that “Mr. B.” fella gets me all excited and jumpin’ and feet tappin’, remembering him wailing on that ol’ banjo of his. Oh yeah, the banjo. Another story detail not to mention, I suppose. Okay. It’s all off the cob, man, kinda corny but we’ll go with it. No names or details. But, squirrelly– that’s somebody you should interview, right there!
We’re trying to schedule it, actually. Many readers have already requested an interview with him, also. He’s just so very busy touring and playing concerts all the time, from one end of the country to the other. It’s proving very difficult to work out the timing, but I’ll keep at it. Getting back to you Mr. Fox, can you tell us a little about yourself?
Sure. Well, let’s see. Mrs. Fox and I are jungled up . . . .
Excuse me for interrupting. “Jungled up?” What does that mean?
Just where we live, man—jungled up. Like in a den, usually in a hollow tree, a stump or some old abandoned burrow in the ground or hillside from a ground hog or somebody. For those moving up in the world, some dens built in the trees may be thirty feet high or more in the air. The penthouse view! Try catching us up there, smelly ol’ coyotes. Ha! Jungled up, like I said, man.
We eat the standard fox type diet, consisting of rabbits, rats and mice. Sometimes birds or insects when we catch them. Sometimes other small mammals—like squirrels. Although Red Squirrels always give me heart-burn for some reason.
Awk! Gak! Gurgle! Choke! Gasp! Wheeze! Wheet!
Whoa, man! Breathe, Rusty! You’re choking and turning blue! Take a breath and chill out, dude. Pick up your clipboard. It’s alright. Don’t worry. Just joking. You’re safe around me. I appreciate the interview and opportunity, man. And I already had breakfast this morning. A couple of quail eggs I snatched on the way over. We’re cool.
Ooooaughoauaauuaaa! Huh! Ugh! Hack!!
Yeah, that’s better Rusty. Cough it up. Just breathe, little dude. The red color is starting to come back to your face now. Spit it out if you need to. You’ll be fine.
Anyway, Gray Foxes eat a lot more fruits and vegetable things than Red Foxes. We may take an occasional farmer’s chicken or other poultry now and then in lean times, when we can’t find anything better, but nothing like the Red Foxes do. They’re a menace to the farmers. Lots of farmers like having us Gray Foxes around because we keep the local rodents more in control.
Okay, I’m better now I believe. Glad to clear that up. Uhm-Hmm! Please, go on while I pick up my notes and get reorganized. Didn’t mean to jump the trolley there, but with you being a predator and all. I do apologize for overreacting. Please, do go on.
Like I said, we’re cool. Mrs. Fox had four little kits, and that’s about the normal number, usually three to five, sometimes as high as seven; born in April, early May or so. They’re born in the springtime, you know, so the kits have time to grow, get healthy and strong while food is plentiful in the summer. By about three months old, say in late July or August thereabouts, they’re out of the den and we’re busy teaching them all about life and such. They have to know their groceries before the next cold winter sets in and they’re out on their own.
“Know their groceries?” You mean what they can and cannot eat? That kind of thing?
Yeah. I could see you were interviewing your brains trying to figure that one out, stretching the ol’ noodle. So yeah, knowing what is good food and what’s not. Just having their claws sharp and knowing their stuff. How to survive in the wild on their own. When they’re six or seven months old in the fall, they’re out and functioning by themselves without any help. And then the Missus and I are off to New Orleans on vacation and starting to plan and get ready for the next batch of kits in the coming spring when we start all over again.
Aha. And Gray Foxes are found where? What regions of the country?
Well, here in Missouri we’re kind of all over the state, but more common in the Ozarks in southern Missouri where we are right now, in the woodlands and forests. But we’re found all over the country too, from southern Canada to the northern parts of South America, and from the east coast to the west coast in the United States. I got foxy relatives all over the place! In areas where we compete with Red Foxes, there’s usually more of us than them. Humans may think they’re fancier but we’re more successful.
Not trying to get too personal here, but a male Gray Fox is usually a little larger than a female in size, and Gray Foxes vary from around 31” to 44” long with a tail up to about 17” I believe. And you weigh anywhere from around 8 to 15 pounds or so. All generally a little bit smaller than your Red Fox cousins. Is that fairly accurate?
Pretty much. Of course, if I’ve just caught and ate a nice rabbit or big wood rat I weigh a bit more. Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha! But seriously, being a little smaller and lighter helps with the whole tree climbing thing.
Yes, I imagine it does. We Red Squirrels are a bit smaller and faster than our Grey Squirrel cousins so I can see your point there. What else would you like our readers to know about you? It seems to me there isn’t all that much difference in appearance between you and your Red Fox cousins and readers may have a hard time telling you apart. You have a good deal of red color on you as well, to be perfectly honest.
Well, folks can tell us from those Red Foxes right away because we have a much more peppery grayish color overall, and don’t have those fancy black leg stockings they do. The Red Foxes are more red all over. Look at the picture of him there. Looks like he’s thinking about stealing a fat chicken right now, don’t it? Sneaky Red Foxes! Oh, and also we have a black stripe running down along the middle of our tail. Humans think our fur is rough, coarse and thin, so they don’t really value our fur much, and that’s a good thing.
That’s one issue those Red Foxes have workin’ against them—some humans love their fur and are always chasing after or trying to trap them to get it. That’s a shame. Having a bunch of barking dogs and men on horses chasing after you all day long ain’t no fun for the fox, I’m here to tell you. And don’t get me started about traps. I may not like Red Foxes, but nobody should have to put up with that, being hounded and hunted all the time for your hide.
Yes, and . . .
Sorry to cut you off there, Maynard. One more thing. If someone gets close enough, they would see that we Gray Foxes are also the only fox that has round, oval pupils in our eyes, like a human’s, instead of slit-like pupils the rest of the foxes do. But, really man, if they’re that close to see the pupils in our eyes that’s too close, if you know what I mean. Foxes may be cute, but we ain’t no pets, man. Keep your distance kids. Even cute little foxes can bite when they feel threatened or scared. So look but keep your distance. Be safe and don’t get bit. Hands off the wildlife. Just sayin’, Jack.
Once again, my name is not Jack. Or Maynard. Or Clyde.
Just an expression, Rusty. Chill out. It’s obvious you’re not a flyin’ squirrel, or you would know how to glide, Clyde. Feel the beat, daddy-o! You’re one uptight squirrel, dude.
Anything else you would like to add before we wrap up the interview?
Just that we’re real excited to be in Little Red Bear’s upcoming stories, man. Real excited. “Can’t wait to get going” type excited! So happy we got the job. We found that great little hillside den over by Little Red Bear’s cabin over on Honey Hill, have settled into the neighborhood, and the family’s started. Things have been working out real nice here. Happier than a fat squirrel with a walnut.
You used that expression already. And I’m not fat. I’m furry. Red Squirrels are furry. It makes us look– “plump” sometimes. I am an American Red Squirrel to be precise.
You’re the “Rusty Little Fairydiddle” I’ve been hearin’ about then?
So it seems.
I don’t like Red Foxes. They get all the publicity and attention. Only we can climb trees.
We already established that you do not care very much for them.
Well, I do like the name “Rusty Fairydiddle” though. Seems to fit you, dude.
Yes, well. Getting back to it then. Have Jim and Little Red Bear worked out your role in the upcoming adventure stories yet?
No, brother man, not quite. We’re still trying to get it all worked out. Red and I have been spending a good deal of time together to discuss it, as often as I can when not busy chasin’ down food for all the kits. Those little guys can really eat, man. And growing like weeds in a pumpkin patch. But mostly when Red and I are out, talking about his adventures comes second to lookin’ for honey. Up and down the mountains, thru the hollers. Crossin’ over and thru creeks and rivers. That bear will wear you out lookin’ for honey, man! Honey on the brain or somethin’. I think he’s obsessed but wouldn’t tell him that. Him bein’ a bear, after all.
And I don’t even like honey that much, myself. Icky, sticky stuff. It takes me an hour or more to lick and clean it off my paws and muzzle. And if that stuff gets in my tail it’s a whole night spent getting it out. Sure it’s sweet and all but so is a ripe raspberry and nobody’s guarding the raspberry patch armed with a bunch of stingers. Those bees get mad when Red reaches in there for that honey, dude! They come out swingin’! Swingin’ and Stingin’! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!
That’s a good one—Swingin’ and Stingin’. I have made a note of that. Maybe Jim and Red will use that in a story. I know what you mean about the bees, having had a few run-ins with them in the trees myself. But, it’s important to remember, they are vital in the overall scheme of things, carrying the pollen from plant to plant as they do. “Pollinators” they are called. No bees, no pollinators, no plants, no food—for us. Critical to our own survival the bees are, sting as they may when irritated. We have an interview scheduled with “Buzz the Honeybee” coming up very soon, actually.
Yeah, they do sting when upset. And I’ll bet ol’ “Buzz” may have somethin’ to say about Red stealing their honey all the time when you talk to him. I don’t want to miss that one. Anyway, it’s best to just leave the bees alone to do their work, I say. Of course, Red uses that stick he carries around with him all the time.
Red’s stick is a story detail, so we can’t talk about it.
Got it. Are we about thru, man? I probably need to go rustle up some food for the kits. It’s been a while and I don’t need the Missus angry with me. You know what I’m sayin’?
Yes I do, actually. That’s really all the questions I had for you. We do want to thank you for taking the time to come and talk with us today. Good luck in the upcoming stories. We’ll being reading about you next in Little Red Bear’s adventures, I suppose.
Yeah, well, thanks again for inviting me, dude. Good luck with the new interviewing and reporting gig. By the way, man, if you don’t mind me asking. You know your new job title—“Blogging Undercover Reporting Professional”? You come up with that title or was it given to you by Jim or Little Red Bear? Just wonderin’.
I came up with it myself. Jim and Red described the position to me in the interviews, and when they offered me the job said they had no particular title in mind and I was free to create my own job title if I wanted one, other than just “Jim’s Blog Assistant”. So I thought about it, and figured I was working on the Blog after all, so “Blogging” should be part of my title in some fashion or other. And a lot of what I will be doing is “Undercover Reporting” thru the forest and region, uncovering stories and such. And I like to think of myself as highly trained and skilled in my journalistic profession, so “Professional” seemed to fit as well. So I just put them all together into “Blogging Undercover Reporting Professional”. Why? Like it? I’m quite proud of it, actually.
Well, “Rusty Little Fairydiddle”—it’s impressive sounding for sure. But I can tell you right now, nobody here is gonna take the time to say all those long words, man. “Rusty the American Red Squirrel, Blogging Undercover Reporting Professional”. Ain’t happening. Nobody’s got the time, dude. It’s just going to be shortened to the initials by folks in the backwoods here—“B.U.R.P.” You’re just gonna be known as “Jim’s BURP”. Might want to think about changin’ it, Jack.”
My name’s not Jack. Thank you. We’re finished here.