Last night was full of surprises. My husband opened the front door and a frog leapt in and jumped onto my foot. It was only after I’d picked it up and popped it back into the pond that I realised that maybe it was trying to disperse, to leave its home and strike out for pastures new. I could imagine its initial befuddlement, followed by a weary sigh as it started the long hop to freedom all over again.
I went back inside. John picked up the recycling to take it to the wheelie bin and then I heard him whispering (very loudly).
What a bold animal he was! We both stood and watched him for a few minutes, as he rooted about and licked up the food. I wondered if he would stay for a photo, and he did. I wondered if I dared risk the flash, and he was completely unconcerned.
At this time of year, young foxes are leaving their mothers and trying to find their own territories. This fox, however, was so confident that I felt sure that he was an adult. There was a hard-bodied, muscley quality to him, a wary intelligence. He was thin but not skinny, and his fur was in good condition. I wondered if I would recognise him again by the darker patches of fur on his back.
There are about ten thousand foxes in London. Where, I wonder, do they all go during the day? Where do they make their dens? How does a creature that is larger than a cat keep such a low profile for most of the time? I just know that, for me, a visit by a fox is still a surprising event, something that gives me a frisson that only a sparrowhawk can match.
Last year, there were a number of stories about foxes biting toddlers and babies. Boris Johnson, Mayor of London said that they were ‘a growing problem’ and urged councils to do more about ‘pest control’. He said he would also be happy if someone wanted to create a ‘London Fox-Hunt’, though we can hope that, on this at least, he was joking. I suspect that, as usual, the ‘fox problem’ is a result of inadequately wrapped food-rubbish (certainly the debris from the Kentucky Fried Chicken at the top of our street keeps a number of crows, pigeons and foxes very happy), and people forgetting that foxes are wild animals. The worst thing we can do to any creature is, unfortunately, to hand-feed it, or to encourage it to come too close.
We yearn for connection with undomesticated creatures. I know how much I want to stroke a fox, to know what his fur feels like, to feel the dome of his head beneath my hand. But even if the animal would tolerate this (and chances are I’d become another ‘fox bite casualty’), I know that this desire is all about me, not about what the animal wants, or needs. It’s one thing to help an animal in distress, or to provide it with food when things get tough. It’s another to impose ourselves upon it. And so, giving silent thanks for the fox’s tolerance of our whispering and flashing, we went back indoors, and watched as he finished feeding and headed back up the side of the house, to jump over an eight-foot fence, and continue his evening patrol.
In the morning, we found that the fox had ripped open a bag of compost and deposited a big scat right in the middle. It’s almost as if he’s reclaiming this territory, making it clear whose garden it is. After all, foxes trotted here before the houses were built, and the way humanity is going, they’ll be making their dens in the rubble of the terraces after we’ve gone.