The falling light washed the ripening apples even redder as the day came to a late summer close. Dusk was slow to settle. Wood pigeons clattered nervously through the old oaks that rose above the hedgerows, keeping time with the hoarse laughter of the resident green woodpecker.
Beneath a small Jonagold Red tree a young vixen crouched in the dry stalks of the meadow grasses. It wasn’t rabbit or vole that she was chewing on. No, she chose apples! For fifteen minutes or so she trotted around the trees, seeking her delight and returning again to her favoured picnic spot. Under cover, almost, she ate her way through her dessert before meandering across the orchard to disappear through a fox shaped gap in the blackthorns.
Earlier in the summer we’d watched, enchanted, as four cubs cavorted with their mother in the neighbouring stubble field, blissfully unaware as we observed from a bedroom window until the dusk gave way to twilight and then to the time of night creatures.
Back home in our part of Lancashire fox sightings are few and far between and, despite wandering the woods and valleys regularly I consider myself lucky to have one fox encounter a year. Imagine my joy at finding a family resident in my wife’s parents Kentish orchard. My brief meeting with the apple grazing vixen whetted my appetite for more so, the next day, I settled down in the undergrowth an hour before sunset to try my fortune.
Doused in insect repellant, clothed in green and with my longest lens attached I waited to see what I would see and didn’t have to wait long. Minutes later the young vixen appeared and embarked on her apple hunting strategy once more, this time a little closer and lit by even kinder light. Unaware of my silent observation she snapped at flies, yipped at a wood pigeon and generally amused herself, all the while filling her belly with red skinned fruit.
Eventually, tummy full, she again made her way back through the blackthorn tunnel to sleep off her foraging. I wasn’t alone for long before another young fox came by, alert and more on edge than she had been.
This young male fox had a worrying limp and refused to put his front right paw down when he trotted. This made me think of the cruel leg hold traps that still hide in thickets and scrub, ready to close their terrible jaws on ‘verminous’ limbs. Watching this family, I couldn’t understand how anyone could harbour ill feelings towards them. Even my wife and her family who have lost many a beloved chicken to his kind over the years have softened and begun to fall in love with these, our largest carnivores.
Despite his limp this fox was on a mission. Apples were most definitely not on his menu tonight. He had warmer meal options in mind as he clung to the hedgerow, eyes ablaze, hunting for whatever his poorly leg would let him chase. I was so immersed with this young Reynard that I was taken quite by surprise by a third pup who was trotting right towards me at right angles to my gaze. He was perhaps a fifty feet away and closing the gap at a fair old pace forcing me to gingerly move my camera around and, praying he wouldn’t spot my motion I locked on my focus, corrected the exposure settings for the ever changing light and carefully followed him, clicking the shutter button manically as he neared.
After an eternity that was probably fifteen seconds he paused and, scenting the air, stared down my lens. Wanting to fully connect with him I slowly moved to the side of my camera and looked into his amber eyes that burned with the last rays of the now sunless sky. We had a moment of unspoken communion before he raised his snout in question and trotted off to his own landscape leaving me breathless, shaking and with a thumping heart.
The memory of the two precious evenings are held in my images, but the memory of the fox’s stare is etched indelibly into my soul as one of those rare moments that linger and haunt in the dark of the night. For me Fox-wild smells of our land and evokes feelings of freedom, presence, autonomy and mischief. What does an encounter with fox speak to you of?