Thoreau had been in the woods long enough — and had lived gently enough — that animals trusted him:
“They [titmice, a small gray and white songbird] were so familiar that at length one alighted on an armful of wood which I was carrying in, and pecked at the sticks without fear. I once had a sparrow alight upon my shoulder for a moment while I was hoeing in a village garden, and I felt that I was more distinguished by that circumstance than I should have been by any epaulet I could have worn. The squirrels also grew at last to be quite familiar, and occasionally stepped upon my shoe, when that was the nearest way.”
But shortly after this he tells of seeing fox hunts in the area, and narrates stories he’s heard. For example, a hunter saw a fox who had outrun the hunter’s dogs but had the bad luck to stumble upon the hunter himself:
“For a moment compassion restrained the latter’s arm; but that was a short-lived mood, and as quick as thought can follow thought his piece was levelled, and whang!—the fox, rolling over the rock, lay dead on the ground. The hunter still kept his place and listened to the hounds. Still on they came, and now the near woods resounded through all their aisles with their demoniac cry. At length the old hound burst into view with muzzle to the ground, and snapping the air as if possessed, and ran directly to the rock; but, spying the dead fox, she suddenly ceased her hounding as if struck dumb with amazement, and walked round and round him in silence; and one by one her pups arrived, and, like their mother, were sobered into silence by the mystery.”
Thoreau narrates the events dispassionately and non-judgmentally — though I don’t think it’s an accident that he juxtaposes the animals that trusted him with these darker tales of frightened foxes. In this chapter he is cataloging winter animals, and this, too, he seems to be saying, is part of the environment, and in this environment is predation. He has already made his feelings known about hunting (discussed in this post); here he simply tells stories and moves on.
(End of chapter, “Winter Animals”)
(About “A Year in Walden”)