Tag Archives: fox

The Fox Beneath The Window

There was a fox beneath my window. It came silently in the night, and may have left long before I knew it had been there. I woke from sleep to the unmistakable, bitter musky smell of fox pee coming in through the window. It’s the second time recently that this has happened.

Behind the flat there’s an area of grass, with trees and a large stream. I’ve seen kingfishers and herons out there. I’ve heard foxes and badgers at other times. Otters pass through sometimes, although I’ve never seen one from the bedroom window. It’s busy out there after dark.

My only communication with the fox was the scent of pee. It’s not a charming smell, more the sort of thing to catch in your throat and leave a person feeling a bit queasy. But it is also the smell of fox presence, so I find it both horrible and comforting all at the same time. Twice now, I’ve lain there in the dark before the dawn, breathing in the unpleasant smell of the fox and feeling glad for the knowledge that a fox has passed beneath my window, and paused nearby for a stinky wee.

I also like that this isn’t a romantic story. It’s not an airbrushed take on nature, full of how lovely nature is. Sometimes, nature stinks, and it’s important that we engage with those aspects and don’t demand something safe and inoffensive.

Encounters with wild things

I’ve had two wonderful encounters with wild things in recent days. With all due reference to my recent post about getting closer to nature, I want to be clear that both times I was somewhere it would be reasonable to expect a person to be, and I did no more than stop and look.

The first encounter was at twilight and I was on a cycle path. Various songbirds were alarm calling, so I stopped to see what had upset them. There was an owl in amongst the trees and the smaller birds were doing their best to see it off. Owls will take chicks as well as rodents. The owl called several times before heading towards the fields. We’ve had owls here all the time I’ve lived in this flat, they hunt in nearby fields and raise chicks in the trees on the edge of the cycle path.

My second encounter was in daylight. I was on a pavement, passing by some semi-wild land. I suspect some part of my brain registered that I was being watched. There was a fox cub sat at the edge of a bramble patch, catching some sun. The fox cub stayed there while I pointed it out to Tom, and then trotted back into the undergrowth. The cub watched us the whole time and seemed relaxed – we were some distance away and on the other side of a wall, which probably helped.

I didn’t get photos in either instance – both were brief encounters and unexpected, so no one had a camera out. I’m conscious with foxes that posting pictures of them in identifiable locations can bring them trouble anyway, so it may be best not to make clear public declarations about where they are.

Fox Tales

I’ve been seeing a lot of foxes lately. It might be tempting to read something spiritual into this, but I don’t think that’s the size of it. My energy levels have improved so I’m up later, and walking back from things later which increases the chances of an encounter. I’ve also built up, over the last few years, an awareness of where foxes tend to be, which helps.

Stroud bus station is not an overtly promising wildlife site. It’s not even a proper bus station – just some bays along the sides of a rather busy bit of road. Nonetheless, it’s a good place to see foxes, and I’ve spotted them around there repeatedly. On one occasion I called out ‘look, a fox!’ to alert the rest of my party, and the fox stopped at this and looked at us. We also had an otter encounter in the bus station on one occasion.

Recently, on one of those late night wanders home, we ran into a fox, and then realised said fox had cubs, and the cubs were trying to cross the road. There was a lot of traffic, and several heart stopping near misses. Now, when it comes to wildlife my default is to leave it to do its thing. I won’t rescue anything from anything else. However, that rule doesn’t apply to cars or any other human way of accidentally or deliberately killing creatures. We were a party of four, dressed darkly, with no kit, and we could not leave the fox cubs to play with the traffic.

It would be fair to say that foxes are not the easiest creatures to herd, because they are clever and inherently uncooperative. It would also be fair to say that a fox idea of road safety is a whole other thing. Mamma fox had picked the least visible spot on the road from which to jump out – through a fence and down a drop of several feet into the oncoming g traffic. I appreciate that the element of surprise often works for foxes, but not on this occasion. So, we put ourselves in the way, and we kept the fox family off the road until the traffic calmed down, then we left them to it. We were gifted with some close encounters, and a cranky mamma fox trying to outwit us to move her cubs.

It was in many ways a humbling experience. I have no magical fox talking gifts that allow me to explain to a wild creature why it might want to work with me for a few minutes. I had no way of telling mamma fox that I was not the threat to her cubs. I had no way of telling the curious cubs that I was not to be taken as a model for human interactions – we got close a few times as we kept them out of the traffic. I had no way of magically protecting them. It comes to something when you’re stood on the side of a road at ten o’clock at night looking a grumpy fox mother in the eye and saying ‘please, just stay there a minute, we aren’t trying to hurt you, we’re trying to keep you alive’ and then she makes a longer loop to run round you and try again. I worried about how tired she was getting. I worried we were making the wrong call, and not helping at all just playing out our arrogance. Just because you think you’re a Druid doesn’t mean you can step in and save the day.

One of our party bravely went back the next day to see if there were any corpses. I thought about it, and worried, and could not bring myself to go and look. But, there were no squashed fox cubs. As close to a validation as I will get.

Fox rituals

I don’t know how long the fox had been watching us, but he had stopped in the middle of the footpath to observe our approach. We’d been mostly looking up into the trees on the off-chance of owlets, and it took me a while to register the scrutiny, and longer again to spot him in the gloom. We stopped, and he stayed put, a length of fox across the middle of the path, eyeing us up. We said hi. We managed to hold that position for more seconds, and then the fox took off into the trees.

We saw him twice on the way home – each time he emerged from the undergrowth some yards ahead of us, trotted briskly down the path and then disappeared into the gloom. It was clearly the same fox – he’s pretty distinctive. A large male, skinny but clearly in good shape, with some distinctive white markings. We see him regularly – he saunters past our flat some nights, and we see him in the fields a well. Like us, he’s a creature of the borders between town and country. I guess he’s seen, or smelled us about, too.

It struck me, walking home, what a difference there is between saying ‘hail spirits of this place’ in a ritual and ‘hello Mr Fox’ in an encounter. We also stopped to say hi to a rabbit, who also watched us but did not run away. My feeling of being present, of being part of life on the path rather than just an observer or something passing through, was intense. I felt the connection I’d tried to make in ritual. I wonder about the way ritual helps us to engage with what’s going on, but is also a barrier simply because it is an elaborate human construct designed to move at its own pace.

In a Pagan ritual, often what we’re trying to do is connect with the season, and with the natural world. I’ve been walking the same path intermittently for years now – more evenings in the summer, earlier in the winter, the odd night excursion. I know who to expect where and when, broadly speaking. We’ve become creatures who use the path, along with the deer and numerous birds. We stop for them, and they carry on – last night two robins engaged in a strange song and dance routine that seemed very intimate. When they hopped into the leaf litter, their plumage and the gloom conspired to make them into uncanny, magical patterns of movement.

The fox no doubt has his own nightly rituals.

In defence of the fox

The British government wants to rethink fox hunting. To ‘control this pest’ they want to take the modern and efficient means of getting a lot of people to dress up in brightly coloured jackets and ride horses across the countryside, to facilitate a pack of dogs in catching the fox and tearing it to shreds. Although officially the dogs will be to flush out the fox so it can be shot, dogs trained to tear a fox apart aren’t going to stop doing that. Either they use the same dogs, and get the same results, or all fox hounds will need putting down so that a new generation not trained to destroy foxes, can replace them.

It’s odd, but when rats are a nuisance, you tend to get one modestly uniformed person with rat traps and poison, and no pageantry at all. But then there’s apparently no romance in rat hunting and people with money have never considered it much of a sport. I’m sure it’s just a coincidence that fox hunting is a social activity for the hunters and what the government are really interested in is the tidy efficiency of the method.

I would like to defend the fox on the basis that it has a right to exist, and that the right of the fox to exist should not be about human utility. This is pointless, because the people who want to hunt foxes will not see a fox as anything other than a mix of annoyance, and source of entertainment. That the fox exists to serve them is a given, and as it can’t be eaten, it can provide the entertainment of a chase and the thrill of blood letting.

I want to attack this system that sets usefulness to humans as the only real measure of anything, and that exploits based on usefulness, amusement and profit, and because it can. I want to question the idea that we are entitled to use and destroy purely for our own gain or amusement. I might as well shout into the wind, because for people who believe in this human-centric way of getting things done, it’s evident that humans are the most important creatures in the mix by a very large margin. But not all humans. Not the poor, the sick or the disabled, and not the sort of humans who would stick up for foxes. Money and power are what entitles a human to use and abuse other humans, environments, creatures. For me, fox hunting is a clear manifestation of this, but by no means the worst.

The only way to argue with those who believe in using, is to argue on their own terms. So, the fox is a pest to control in the countryside? Foxes mostly eat rodents, and will eat rabbits. In terms of agriculture, rabbits and rodents are an issue, and unchecked populations can unbalance eco systems and farming alike. Real foxes are not like Fantastic Mr Fox and are far more trouble to people quietly keeping a few chickens than they are to anyone farming. Real conflicts between foxes and humans happen in urban areas, but there’s no talk of getting the jackets and horses and hounds into the middle of London to tackle urban fox problems. Because that, obviously, would be silly.

It’s a curious thing that fox hunting is traditionally a sport for the rich. Poor people follow along behind on foot. Fox hunting is not the only traditional blood sport in the UK. Dog fighting, cock fighting, and badger baiting have all been considered sports, and were not about feeding your family. (I consider hunting for the pot to be a whole other issue). Oddly, there is no talk of making legal again the kinds of animal cruelty that poor people traditionally find amusing. There’s constant talk of clamping down on dangerous dogs, and institutional disapproval of dog fighting, but of course getting one dog to tear another apart bears absolutely no resemblance to getting a bunch of dogs to tear a fox apart, so that’s obviously fine.

And while the government gets together to deploy valuable parliamentary time talking about whether to let their friends shred foxes for fun, wars continue, the refugee crisis from Syria grows, and on the domestic front, food bank use increases, but that clearly isn’t as important as whether you can wear a loud jacket and watch a wild animal die.