I am not sure that I can even write this. 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. It was only because I bought a trail cam and I wanted to film the nightly visitors. One vixen had been coming every single night and had been eating everything I offered her; 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 feed her babies and maybe welcome them into the garden at some point in the future.
Two nights ago, at around 10 pm, we heard a gun shot and looked out of the window to see my neighbour first 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 and 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.
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 skitting across the meadow, 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 young fox; small and 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.” The only thing my neighbour could say to me was they are a nuisance. I turned and ran. I could do nothing else at that moment but escape from the man with the mangled body. I had no more words.
Those cubs I had been feeding through their mother for the last six weeks, perhaps these last tow evenings, having just come 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 not 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 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 probably been sitting and watching that mother 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 held up by the tail and thrown into the river. And besides, if we don’t know how to treat a fox in our own neighbourhood, how on earth can we ever deal with 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 crimes; shootings and discardings. 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 is it not true that this kind of disrespect, which starts off so quietly at home and is conveniently ignored, must – as a matter of course – find its way eventually into wider society?
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 directly. 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.