26 Dec 2021

Fox Tales

Photo of a fox in the backgarden 
by Maria Thanassa (2021)
Despite new laws to prevent animal cruelty coming into force in June as part of the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Act, a secretly-filmed video emerged online over Christmas showing a 48-year-old man in Essex killing a fox with a garden fork. 
The sickening footage, captured by North London Hunt Saboteurs and passed to ITV News, shows the poor creature emerging from its den and into the jaws of a waiting dog, before then being stabbed repeatedly by the man, who leaves the scene of the crime carrying the dead animal with him.    
Essex Police later arrested the man on suspicion of offences under the Hunting Act 2004, the Animal Welfare Act 2006 and the Wild Mammal Protection Act 1996. Whilst initially held in custody, he has now been released under investigation. 
A government minister, Zac Goldsmith, has described the incident as grotesque and called for further action to be taken. And indeed, let us hope that the man is given the maximum sentence for animal cruelty of five years and the largest possible fine (though, personally, I would like to see a far harsher punishment inflicted).     
Back in January of this year, I had my own encounter with a fox, who was sitting under a bush in the backgarden, just resting peacefully in the winter sun, looking straight at me. I wasn't sure, but I guessed from its size it was a dog-fox in its prime, with a thick handsome coat of golden-red fur and a snow white belly.
For me, it was a magical encounter, as I knew it would be for Maria whom I called to come look - and, indeed, she spoke of nothing else for days afterwards, describing it as her March moment, referencing the queer relationship between fox and woman in D. H. Lawrence's novella 'The Fox' ...*
Admittedly, March intends to shoot the fox that is carrying off the hens reared on the little farm owned by herself and her friend Banford, but he is too clever and too quick to let himself be killed by either woman:
"The fox really exasperated them both. As soon as they had let the fowls out, in the early summer mornings, they had to take their guns and keep guard: and then again, as soon as the evening began to mellow, they must go once more. And he was so sly. He slid along in the deep grass [...] And he seemed to circumvent the girls deliberately. Once or twice March had caught sight of the white tip of his brush, or the ruddy shadow of him in the deep grass, and she had let fire at him. But he made no account of this." [9-10]   

One evening, however, whilst standing with her back to the sunset, her gun under her arm, and her hair pushed under her cap, March has a revelatory encounter with the fox:

"She lowered her eyes, and suddenly saw the fox. He was looking up at her. His chin was pressed down, and his eyes were looking up. They met her eyes. And he knew her. She was spell-bound. She knew he knew her. So he looked into her eyes, and her soul failed her. He knew her, he was not daunted. 
      She struggled, confusedly she came to herself, and saw him making off, with slow leaps leaping over some fallen boughs, slow, impudent jumps. Then he glanced over his shoulder, and ran smoothly away. She saw his brush held smooth like a feather, she saw his white buttocks twinkle. And he was gone, softly, soft as the wind." [10]
Gone - but certainly not forgotten and, after supper, she went out to look for the fox:
"For  he had lifted his eyes upon her, and his knowing look seemed to have entered her brain. She did not so much think of him: she was possessed by him. She saw his dark, shrewd, unabashed eye looking into her, knowing her. She felt him invisibly master her spirit. She knew the way he lowered his chin as he looked up, she knew his muzzle, the golden brown, and the greyish white. And again, she saw him glance over his shoulder at her, half inviting, half contemptuous and cunning." [11] 

It is several days before she mentions anything of all this to Banford: and, several months later, she is still (unconsciously) dominated by thoughts of the fox:

"Whenever she fell into her odd half-muses, when she was half rapt, and half intelligently aware of what passed under her vision, then it was the fox which somehow dominated her unconsciousness, possessed the blank half of her musing. And so it was for weeks, and months. No matter whether she had been climbing the trees for apples, [...] digging out the ditch from the duck-pond, or clearing out the barn, when she had finished, or when she straightened herself, and pushed the wisps of hair away again from her forehead, [...] then was sure to come over her mind the old spell of the fox, as it came when he was looking at her. It was as if she could smell him, at these times. And it always recurred, at unexpected moments, just as she was going to sleep at night, or just as she was pouring the water into the teapot, to make tea - there it was, the fox, it came over her like a spell." [12]  
One day, when a young stranger (Henry Grenfel) appears at her door, March (fatefully) identifies him with the fox (which, poor creature, Henry will later shoot and skin):
"Whether it was the thrusting forward of the head, or the glisten of fine whitish hairs on the ruddy cheek-bones, or the bright, keen eyes, that can never be said: but the boy was to her the fox, and she could not see him otherwise." [14]
On the night of Henry's arrival March has the following vivid dream:
"She dreamed she heard a singing outside, which she could not understand, a singing that roamed round the house, in the fields and in the darkness. It moved her so, that she felt she must weep. She went out, and suddenly she knew it was the fox singing. He was very yellow and bright, like corn. She went nearer to him, but he ran away, and ceased singing. He seemed near, and she wanted to touch him. She stretched out her hand, but suddenly he bit her wrist, and at the same instant, as she drew back, the fox, turning round to bound away, whisked his brush across her face, and it seemed his brush was on fire, for it seared and burned her mouth with great pain. She awoke with the pain of it, and lay trembling as if she were really seared." [20]
Now, you might think that March would take this as a warning against involvement with Henry, the werefox with an invisible smile. But no - reader, she married him! 
Still, that's another story and not really my concern in this post where I simply wanted to make the point that human-animal encounters can be truly inspiring and leave a tremendous impression upon us, if only we allow the spirit of the animal to enter into communion with our own. 
Thus, if you are ever lucky enough to encounter a fox close up, then I suggest that rather than reach for a gun or a garden fork - or even a camera - you just give yourself up to the moment before going your separate way in peace and gratitude.            
* D. H. Lawrence, 'The Fox', in The Fox, The Captain's Doll, The Ladybird, ed. Dieter Mehl, (Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 5-71. All page references given in the text refer to this edition. 

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