Maryville woman writes book ‘The Fox Diaries’ about foxes living in her yard
By Iva Butler (firstname.lastname@example.org)
“The Fox Diaries” is a nonfiction children’s book that chronicles a magical year in the lives of a West Maryville family when a vixen fox raised her four kits in their yard.
Valarie Budayr, who lives on Southwood Drive in Westwood Subdivison, had what she calls an enchanting, magical relationship with the vixen, whom she named Momma Rennie, and later her kits — Hulda, Osa, Effie and Ring-Ding.
Being Swedish, she gave them all Scandinavian names.
Budayr said at first Momma Rennie “would sit on my hill by my kitchen window and wait for me in the morning. If I came down late, she would get in our garage and yip for me.”
Once she saw the woman with whom she was bonding, Momma Rennie would sit awhile and then go back into the woods.
“The Momma fox and I connected in a very special way,” she recalls.
Then in February 2010 Momma Rennie disappeared.
Six weeks later Budayr was sitting at her desk when she looked out the window in her front yard and saw Momma Rennie had returned, bringing with her four kits.
Budayr grabbed her camera and hid behind the columns of her two-story house and in the bushes, sneaking pictures of the fox family.
In a couple of days, Budayr began sitting in the grass and photographing the family. The foxes kept getting closer and closer to her until the kits would come up to her and nuzzle her.
“They never felt threatened,” she said. “I never touched them or tried to domesticate them. I knew they were wild animals,” she said. “They were the ones that did the touching.”
Over the months she took 4,000 pictures, chronicling the activities and different personalities of the foxes.
How foxes survive
The book teaches readers about the lives of foxes.
Budayr and her children, Zaina, 22, Miriam, 19, and Omar, 12, would “sit on the porch as the sun slowly set, watching the little fox family frolic in the front yard,” she recalls. Momma Rennie had a pattern for teaching her kits hunting skills and how to conceal themselves. “She was very patient with them.”
“She taught them to hunt in pairs, that way they are safer and more successful. Foxes hunt by talking to their partners in high-pitched screams,” according to Budayr.
When hunting squirrels, the foxes often start jumping around and dancing, mesmerizing the squirrels with their antics as they get closer and closer and then pounce on the unsuspecting prey, she said.
Budayr said there is not a squirrel or rabbit in their yard these days.
Foxes, like humans, are omnivores, eating both plants and meat, which did not bode well for the Budayr vegetable garden. They especially enjoy berries, fruits and nuts.
“They prey upon small animals, including voles, mice, squirrels, rabbits, birds, reptiles and insects, but not cats.
“A cat has teeth and claws, and is as limber as a fox. Simply, it is just too much work,” according to Budayr.
Foxes bury food
Foxes hunt even when they aren’t hungry and bury any leftover food for a later meal.
“Our front yard was full of holes. Foxes are marvelous diggers,” she said.
“They also dig huge multiroom mansions under the ground. Each momma fox digs as many as three or four different dens while she is pregnant. This way she can move her family from den to den to ensure they stay safe and protected from predators, which might harm her kits,“ Budayr writes.
Big Red, the dog (male), is a large red fox, being the size of a coyote, she said. The father fox is elusive and not as outgoing as the other members of the family. He lives in a den behind their treehouse near their woods.
The foxes, which are nocturnal, would come out early in the morning and around 6:30 p.m. each evening, she said. They sleep during the day.
The entire Budayr family was enchanted with the foxes.
Once the family, who live on 3¼ acres, pruned their blueberry bushes and placed the brush by the curb for city pickup. The foxes got into the brush and her husband, Mahdi Budayr (a doctor at Blount Memorial Hospital) called the city and asked them not to pick up the brush then because the foxes were enjoying it.
Budayr went on vacation last year and returned to find only one fox, Hulda, was left, along with the elusive Big Red. The kits were then seven months old.
Wildlife officers had trapped and relocated Momma Rennie.
Budayr would update her blog each Thursday with information about the antics of the fox family. She was getting 10,000 hits worldwide on the blog.
The bloggers encouraged her to write a book on the family experience with foxes.
She wrote it but found finding a publisher can be drawn out.
When her mother, Audrey, was dying of cancer she divided her money among her children and told them to “create something you enjoy doing.”
Budayr decided to use the legacy to start AudreyPress in Maryville.
Budayr said she “likes books, has a marketing background and knew I could run a publishing house very easily.”
She established AudreyPress and published her book on foxes, which includes 77 of her photographs. Four more books are slated to be published this year, one by Budayr.
The launch of the book will be from 5-7 p.m. today at Hastings.