I tend to remain silent about most subjects, but when nature is mentioned I light up!
Christmas conversations for example, can pass me by, feasting, presents, shopping mayhem, even Santa, but mention reindeer and I’m away.
The Sentimental Naturalist
As we are contributing to the extravaganza that is the Crafty Fox this weekend, I, as a pathological naturalist, hooked onto the foxy bit and it gets very sentimental for me.
I left school at 16 to work in a museum. The museum, Wollaton Hall, was a hub of natural history awareness, education and conservation. Members of the public arrived everyday with things they had found, dead or alive or somewhere in between.
In this melee, I took on an orphaned fox cub to raise and I want to tell you a bit about him very quickly.
My first memory of him is a little dark grey ball of fluff. Foxes are dark grey, almost black when they are born. The red colour comes in later.
The most obvious foxiness about him was the little white tip to his tail. He was nervous but not really afraid. He preferred the security of his carboard box at first but curiosity got the better of him and he crawled out of his to sniff and scout around. So, I called him Scout. He was the cutest thing I think I have ever seen and he looked straight into my eyes with his own lustrous blue bleepers, jeepers creepers.
Occasionally he would give out little muffled barks… “wo,wo, wo, wo, wo, wo, wo”, he only did this for about a week. I think he was calling for his Mum but he was doing it when he was hungry.
My boss was a master of rehabilitation and we fed Scout on baby milk, and puppy food mixed with egg.
Me and my fox
He quickly became as fond of me as I was of him and would wag his white tipped tail to greet me. At first he was friendly with everyone but later would come out of hiding only for me. There was one exception, he loved my dog Scamp and would wag his big bushy tail vigorously. Unfortunately, Scamp never returned the affection and was jealous of him.
He would play with me like a dog, running and chasing and playing tug but would also play on his own like a cat and loved a ball of wool. My Grandmother loved him too and was very tolerant of his obsession with wool balls.
That foxy aroma
At first he lived in the house but became boisterous and started to exude that familiar foxy aroma that, though I love it, I must admit is not an indoor smell. I built him a pen in the garden and he came in less and less frequently, but also had a play area at the museum. In his first 6 months he was happy for me to pick him up but as he matured he preferred things to be on his own terms. He would climb on my lap but move away if I stroked him.
I used to let him out of his pen everyday and, after a play and an explore he would go back in. Gradually, he became more and more reluctant to return to the pen. He got crafty about being herded back in, but showed no interest in running off. I knew he needed freedom but was worried about his road sense and that he would go to people for food, so decided a proper release was best, in a place where he would be safe.
And then he was gone
He pre-empted my plan though by pushing open his pen door and wandering off. I checked the roads every day in fear I would find his body. I put food out for him every night for several weeks. The food disappeared occasionally but he never came, if it was him, when I was watching.
I like to think that Scouts descendants are out there still, being crafty as foxes cannot help but be.
Wild and free
Before Scout I thought that foxes might behave just like dogs and be lead trainable. I thought also that they might be less engaging than dogs, more wild and, seemingly less intelligent. Scout proved me pretty much wrong on almost all counts. Whilst as a cub he was just like a dog, playful, obedient and engaging, but was absolutely disgusted at being put on a lead and did everything he could to get it off.
He was easily as intelligent as any dog I have known but too clever to fall for being taught tricks. He was very much a wild animal in just as defined a way as a dog is a domestic animal. His interest was not humans but the wild and freedom. We all have a fossil of the wild left in us and for me it leaps out and to attention whenever I see or think of a fox.
We’ll be part of the Crafty Fox Online Market this weekend 5th & 6th December. It’s all happening over on their website and on Instagram. It’s a great place to find amazing makers and support small businesses this Christmas.