Vixen

I am not sure that I can even write this post. Where do I begin? Not because I am being told from every quarter that I am ‘wrong’ but actually because it has been very hard for me to re-live what happened last night until now; that slick little body being dragged from the middle of a field and thrown into the river.

I must make this clear right from the start that I realise I probably shouldn’t have been encouraging foxes to come into the garden at all. I bought a trail cam and I have been filming them. One vixen had been coming every single night and has been eating everything I offered her; peanuts, raisins, dog food, an egg, a bone, rice and pasta. Mostly she would carry the food off in a very diligent way, so I had a suspicion she was feeding cubs. Some people would stop me right there and say I should not be feeding foxes (and cats and pine martens) but I wanted to help her to feed her babies with a view to perhaps some time in the future, seeing them in the garden too.

I was entering dangerous territory. There are chickens in the village – lots of chickens – so I decided that I should not be introducing the vixen to the taste of chicken’s eggs. So I no longer put them out for her but I continued to put other things out and she continued to come.

Two nights ago, at around 10p.m. we heard a gun shot and looked out of the window to see my neighbour crouching in the field and then making his way back towards the river. I had a long conversation with my husband about it, deciding that no, he could not possibly be out shooting foxes, he’s a sensitive guy, loves animals, I used to keep bees with him and he was even worried about what effect mobile phone and EMF pollution was having on the hives. Perhaps he needed to go and test out his gun every once in a while, not that we have ever heard him shooting out of the hunting season before in all the time we have lived here.

I tried to put it to the back of my mind, worried more that the fox cubs would be suffering in the heat wave we are currently having. I carried on as normal but was unable to put the trail cam out that evening to check that the vixen was still around. I told myself I would definitely put it out the next evening, which was last night. After a glorious walk, watching cows and sheep and moths, picking wild strawberries and garlic, I came home to put a little patty of raw meat out onto the lawn and set the camera up. It was 9.45pm. Another gun shot. This time I rushed to the field and caught my neighbour stooping over something and then coming quickly back towards the river, as he had done the night before.

“What is it?” I shouted over. “What have you got? Oh no, no!”

A baby fox; small, matted, being dragged by her tail across the stubble. I was in tears. I could do nothing but repeat the same words over and over again, “She’s just a baby, no, no, she’s just a baby.” My neighbour could say nothing back but they are a nuisance.

I turned and ran. I could do nothing else at that moment but turn away from the mangled body and escape. I had no more words.

Those cubs I had been feeding through their mother for the last six weeks, perhaps just coming out of the den into the wide world for the first time, sniffing the cool evening air, pouncing on beetles in the stubble, watching moths flit across their path, not knowing that this man was lying behind a woodpile with a barrel of a gun trained onto their flanks, not knowing what had hit them when the gun went off.

Back at home and I was getting a reality check from my husband.

“Can you see things from his point of view? He has lived here all his life, he has shot foxes every year of his life since he was young; we are newcomers here, city folk, foreigners. Do you think that he will stop for one moment and consider your protest? What were you thinking encouraging foxes into the village anyway? There are chickens here and your pet rabbits are running free in the garden. He has been sitting and watching that fox every night, coming along the same path, skirting around the houses, creeping through the shadows, what else do you think was going through his mind other than it is a nuisance? There is so much violence going on in the world and you get upset about a dead fox?”

Yes, I am wrong to be upset, I was wrong to encourage foxes into the garden, I should be worrying about what is happening in Syria instead. I know that now but all I could think about was her little collapsed body being thrown into the river by the tail. All I can think about is that if we don’t know how to treat a fox in our own neighbourhood, how on earth can we ever deal with a war in a far-flung country? If we were hunter-gatherers and living in a place with creatures we respected and honoured, foxes would never be seen as pests; they would be revered as tricksters – cunning and wily, here to create a little havoc in our lives, to teach us to be more ingenious, more resilient. There would be no such thing as random shooting and throwing a body into a river. Yes I am wrong to be upset but I cannot stop worrying about this disrespect shown towards another animal so close to my home, one that I was selfishly hoping to catch a glimpse of in innocent play one summer evening soon. And I know that this kind of disrespect, which starts off so quietly at home and is ignored, must as a matter of course, find its way eventually into the treatment of people in world wars and is also ignored.

And my husband thinks I should go and talk to my neighbour but I don’t think it will make a jot of difference. To start with I am a foreigner in this place and secondly I am a woman. When a man feels that he needs to control his environment by shooting wild things, there is no woman in the world who is going to make him see sense. I walk the fields regularly and see men cutting down the meadow grass, spraying weeds with pesticides, felling trees and taming rivers into a course of their making, I see them crating veal calves, chaining dogs and killing foxes. Yes, I know it allows me to live in a beautiful rural place like this and I have learnt to know my place in it, so there’s no point trying to raise any complaint. I am obviously having my cake and eating it. What have I got to complain about? And after all, who am I anyway? Just a pale, domesticated, insipid shadow of that vixen out there somewhere in the wood, standing sniffing the air, just like every vixen before her has done for the past fifty years, waiting for her cubs to return; canny, cunning, wise trickster that she is; how pathetic I am in comparison. Suffering in silence, unable to march out into the world and rock the boat, unable to speak out for animals and people who are less privileged than me. Caught and tamed, unable to unleash a fighting spirit that no man can ultimately control.

Underneath it all however, although the trail cam has been packed away and the dog food promised to someone else, I hope there is a small whisper of Vixen in me that is capable of showing her true spirit to the world, especially as, at around 9.45pm tonight, I plan to be standing in the middle of that field, facing the woodpile.

Farewell

A week ago this morning we lost our beloved dog Juno. I think it is going to take me a while yet to get over her death. I haven’t been able to write about it before now except in my journal. It was just too hard. She was only five years old, which makes it all the harder to lose her but we know that we had a wonderful five years with her and she was the best family pet with could have wanted. The feeling of not having her around is still so painful. I see her waiting for me when I come downstairs in the morning, sitting beside me when I am outside watching the birds. She is with me when I go on all our favourite walks and I feel the weight of her on my feet when I sit down to relax in the evenings. I dream that she is still alive and that she has just gone on a long journey and I know that one day I will come across her in the street getting on with her life. She filled the house with a kind of energy that I do not think will ever be replaced, even though I am thinking that I am going to start to work with dogs for a living in some capacity (and as therapy for my two girls who are devastated at her loss) it will never be quite the same here again.

I have not been able to stay indoors for very long this past week. Everything feels better outside. I cannot cry for long when I am sitting under a tree or I am out on the hill looking down at the village from above. I guess this is what Richard Mabey calls the Nature Cure. I have planned some long walks and some other activities to keep me busy. I have given up writing for now. I do not want to carry on with it as I am struggling to sit at the computer for any length of time and words seem to have evaded me for the moment. I have been totally engrossed in wildlife and I have been spending my days when I can, making bird boxes, filling the bird feeders, watching birds, tracking animals and sitting in the woods. When pain and sadness come, I am automatically drawn towards these things.

I do not know how to continue. I feel overwhelmingly drawn to fight for the future of the planet; to do something positive for the environment. I must formulate a plan to keep myself busy, to stop myself from collapsing into a mire of depression but Juno seems to be showing me the way forward and for that I will be forever grateful to her. It is very hard to explain but she has become like a lifeline into the wild; into my own wildness and into the right way to live with nature. For now however, I just have to concentrate on getting through day-by-day until I feel less pain.

Wolf

I was out very late last night walking the dog. She was nervous and touchy and very interested in something up on the steep hill going into the forest before us. I wouldn’t let her off the lead; it was dark and I didn’t fancy standing out in the rain waiting for her to return after an extended foray chasing deer up in the woods. I got the distinct impression that whatever was up there was not deer, however. She does not paw the ground and whine like that when she catches the scent of deer. It felt like there was something very different looking down on us from the woods; something that was sending the dog into a circle of frenzy, alert and desperate to follow. Later on – at around ten o’clock – a single gunshot echoed across the valley. I was left wondering what on earth a hunter could be shooting at; the month of March being well outside the hunting season and men from the village very rarely shoot at foxes or badgers late into the night. Could he have been shooting at the one thing we have been hearing more and more about recently in these parts? If so, then it is quite possible that today, there is one less wolf roaming around these mountains and one more mate waiting for his safe return. Hunters feel they have every right to shoot at wolves round here – I hear reports of at least 200 sheep being killed since they came over into France from Italy ten years ago but still, I do not think it is right; this place has become more magical because of them and I have become wilder. The balance seems to be closer to tipping back into a true alignment since they came and I have been nourished by their presence, however strange it may feel to have unseen eyes looking down at me from the hillside at night whilst I am out walking the dog.