Wassail, traveler, and welcome to The Gable Grey -- a place of retreat, of renewal, and of resistance: a tree-shaded refuge in Dark Times. Now pass the threshold, and rest from journeys! For a cold wind is blowing; and here, if you wish, you may hear tidings of the world without...

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Sacred Foxes

I've had some fox trouble.  Lost 8 chickens in one early morning raid on the coop.  A red fox found a weak link in the fence, managed to jump and climb over, and entered the coop, which I had got into the habit of leaving open at night.  Lost 5 Polish and 2 of my 3 original Dominicker hens, plus Lionel, the Barred Rock roo, only recently come to adulthood.  I last saw the red fox headed towards the woods along our creek, mouth full of Polish hen.

I mended the fence as best I could, strengthening it, making sure it was "taut" all along its length, so that it would not bow under the fox's weight and allow him to fall inside the paddock.  I believed that was enough.

It was not.  I had begun closing the coop door at night again after the initial slaughter, and had continued to do so after I strengthened the fence.  One night, however, I was late coming home from work, and when I made it out to the coop at around 10, I found that yet another Polish had gone missing.  I found the body near the back of the poultry yard; the fox had heard me coming, and had not had time to make off over the fence with his winnings.  I was not certain it was a fox that had done it, thinking perhaps a hawk or owl had done it earlier, and was unable to carry the chicken out.  I left the body where it lay, figuring that if the culprit were a fox, it would come back later in the night for the chicken.  Sure enough, next morning the body was gone.  The fox had managed to get over a 5' high fence.  Impressive!

All this has been a valuable learning experience for me, underestimating as I did the cleverness of foxes (the stereotype is well-earned).  I learned something about my wife as well, who is an unashamed animal lover.  At this point she is very angry at the fox(es), and has stated bluntly that a gun might be warranted here.  (Doubly shocking to me, as she has no love for guns.) 

It has been a great story to tell to all and sundry in my circle, to be sure.  Suggestions for fox control (and there have been many, mostly by city folk who probably can't remember the last time they actually saw a wild fox) range from live trapping (from my mother, who has a spare trap that still smells of skunk) to concocting a poison made from butter and fly killer (from a local poultry breeder who accidentally lost a puppy to said brew).  Nobody -- nobody, mind -- has suggested the alternative:  learning to live with the foxes.

I stated, almost without thinking, in an online discussion with a wonderful woman who lives in Alabama that I consider foxes sacred.  We had been discussing the depredations of predators, among other things, on Guy McPherson's site.  She said, in so many words, that she wasn't sure what that even meant -- that word:  sacred.  This brought me up short, enough that I dwelled on it for days after, and have since pretty much gone off the Deep End. 

It's true, you know.  I do consider foxes sacred, always have.  I was never sure why.  True, my understanding of it came into sharper focus a few years ago, in my studies of early fantasy fiction.  I believe it was Lord Dunsany who spoke of foxes as one of only two creatures that regularly cross the nebulous boundary between our world and Faerie (the other being the unicorn).  This is why the fox has such an elusive, and almost magical, quality about it; an afterglow of the Perilous Realm we sense as the fox wends its way along forest edges at dusk and dawn.

Yet these are not phantoms, of course, but living, breathing manifestations of the natural world, of which we are inseparably part.  I discovered their den in the lot next door, deep in a grove of bamboo, beneath the X formed by two trees downed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  There is more than one entrance, I found.

Spiritual concerns aside, there are some practical considerations for not removing the foxes, which I found myself presenting in response to all the suggestions I garnered:  they keep local rodent populations under control, including rats, mice, rabbits, and squirrels (the latter a serious concern, as we live among mature pine trees); and if they were removed, some other predator would soon fill the vacuum, such as skunks, possums, and raccoons, as well as stray cats.  Possums and raccoons, especially, would be more difficult to keep out of the poultry yard, due to their ability to climb.

And yet, and yet... there was still this whole business of the sacred nature of foxes, which in all honesty was more of the issue for me than any other.

I dwelled on it, and dwelled on it, and am still dwelling on it.  In fact I will go so far as to say that I have become obsessed with it, and have probably (as I said) gone off the Deep End.  I am still not comfortable talking about my private revelations publicly, so I will not go into it any further here, not yet.  But I feel as if I have turned a corner in my life, so to speak, and have found myself consciously on a path that I have heretofore been treading almost unconsciously my whole life.  For that, I must thank the fox, the clever traveller between worlds.

(Mean time, the fence around the poultry paddock is now over seven feet high... but I still latch the coop door at night.)

Wassail, friends.
Whiles carried o'er the iron road,
We hurry by some fair abode;
The garden bright amidst the hay,
The yellow wain upon the way,
The dining men, the wind that sweeps
Light locks from off the sun-sweet heaps --
The gable grey, the hoary roof,
Here now -- and now so far aloof.
How sorely then we long to stay
And midst its sweetness wear the day,
And 'neath its changing shadows sit,
And feel ourselves a part of it.
Such rest, such stay, I strove to win
With these same leaves that lie herein.

-- William Morris, from
"The Roots of the Mountains"