Letter to a Fox

6 Jul

A letter to a fox by John Fitzgerald, Callan, County Kilkenny. Published in the Sunday Independent, 25th June 2017

Dear Fox,

The letter I wish I’d sent? I’d certainly like to have sent one to you, though I know you’d never have understood my language, there being an eternal barrier between your species and mine.

I remember when I first saw you. Or heard you rather. What was that noise, I wondered? I pulled the curtain across, wary of a intruder. Instead I saw you foraging in the bin. In the semi darkness I didn’t recognise you as a fox. My first impression was of a large cat. When I opened the door you quickly disappeared.

I left out a bowl of water and scraps from the Sunday dinner and switched on the outside light. It gladdened my heart to see you return a few minutes later to enjoy a snack; to see you in all your russet furred glory, with that white underbelly, those triangular ears, that distinctive snout and your bushy tail.

I had only once before seen a fox in real life and that was far off from a bus window. I did some reading and was fascinated by your cleverness. I discovered that you really are intelligent creatures.

For the next four nights you re-reappeared, at almost exactly the same time, for those few bits and pieces. I didn’t venture outside, because I know you’re wild and suspicious of humans. I understand. Humans are suspicious of humans too.

When you didn’t turn up the following night I was disappointed, but respected your decision to go elsewhere. I was just a little offended. Foolishly, as I’m sure you had your own reasons for trying your luck in someone else’s garden or front lawn.

It was on that final visit that I noticed that one of your ears was missing its upper end, as if something had sliced it off. It had a peculiar square shape. The wound seemed to have healed though, so I presumed it wasn’t bothering you too much.

I found it jarring, because otherwise you were perfectly formed. I was struck by those luminous brown eyes when you glanced up at the window. I hope I didn’t frighten you if you happened to see me, and that this wasn’t what prompted your abandonment of that friendly space on the lawn.

What a contrast.between that furtive nocturnal vista and our next encounter, seven weeks later.

I’ll not forget that morning. It was a scene straight out of an old fashioned Christmas card. The snow capped village houses stood in weak but radiant sunlight. Trees heaved under the weight of the white carpets that were dissolving slowly and sprinkling the heavily foot-printed streets underneath.

There wasn’t much traffic on the narrow road so the sound of a beeper in the distance surprised me. That was until it increased in volume and I recognized the shrill undulating cadence of a hunting horn. In a field parallel to the narrow country road a cavalcade of human, horse and dog flesh materialized.

The hounds arrived first, charging past me with tails up and noses sniffing furiously. I watched over a snow ornamented ditch as the riders raced by on their steaming mounts, some blowing bugles, others emitting indistinct cries of triumph.

I gave it no further thought. At that time of year the hunt was a familiar feature of the landscape, almost as common as a robin redbreast bobbing along in a garden, Christmas decorations, or festive carol singing.

If only I hadn’t opted for a longer walk that day. But on I trudged, until I saw what I took to be a discarded sack of rubbish sprawled across the road. I cursed the recklessness of fly tippers. They’d do anything to avoid paying for disposal.

But then, drawing nearer, it became evident to me that this wasn’t an instance of illegal dumping. It was a fox, its lovely russet coat all ripped and pock marked. Thin streaks of vapour, fanned by a breeze, rose into the chill winter air from a tangle of bloody entrails that were streaming unto the road.

A feeling of sadness came over me. While I accepted that nature was red in tooth and claw, as the saying goes, this creature’s pitiful end unnerved me. Determined not to let the gory spectacle ruin my day, I steeled myself to resume my daily walk.

But as I nimbly set about sidestepping the animal I caught sight of something that froze me to the spot: The upper part of the fox’s left ear was neatly spliced. It was you.

If only you could understand me, my language, my species, I would apologize on behalf of the many humans who do not inflict suffering on you for pleasure. And I would try to explain why politicians refuse to enact a law to protect you from the humans who do enjoy hunting you to death.

You see, they forget that you; like them, experience pain and terror; that you are sentient beings as they are. Because you can’t vote, you don’t count. No politician depends on a number one or a second preference from a fox. So that makes you irrelevant.

But you’re not irrelevant to some of us. Because of you, I joined a campaign to ban fox hunting. I’ll never stop campaigning until you receive the protection you deserve. Some day; what happened to you will become a crime in Ireland.

I don’t know if there’s a heaven for foxes. If there is, I hope you’re sipping water and munching away up there like you did on my lawn for those four nights in a row. And I like to think, or fantasize, that when our national parliament passes a law in your favour, you’ll somehow get to hear about it, and rejoice.



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