Rain, cloud-base just above my head and temperatures in the mid-fifties: thus June arrives in Sussex. The Madone doesn’t go out in such weather, so this afternoon, determined to salvage something from the day, I took my faithful Marin Muirwoods for a spin.
Trundling along a lane through the woods about four miles from home, I caught a glimpse of a russet-coloured animal between the trees. I stopped, turned back and realised I’d seen a fox – I assume it was the vixen – disappearing into a large earth a few yards back from the edge of the road. I waited and watched more in hope than expectation, and was rewarded with an encounter with one of her offspring that made me forget the cold and drizzle completely.
THE SHELTERING EARTH
This is not the town:
Out here, in the damp woods,
Reynard is shy, wild, wary.
I spot her first – clay-red among the bright chestnuts
And washed-out bluebells.
Stop. Turn back. Wait
On the roadside, mouth-breathing.
The cuckoo calls deep in the shaw.
Rain drips from shining leaves,
Drowning the last car.
Out of the earth like a soldier
After the bombardment.
He sits, sniffs, turns his head
And sees me.
One dark-tipped triangular ear flicks
A quizzical, comical,
Semaphore between our species.
He seems to shrug, then scratches a shoulder, shakes,
Takes a few steps, sits again.
A red van passes, fast,
Slams a manhole.
All soft black eyes, big paws and stiff, still-growing fur;
You’d tuck him in your poacher’s pocket
Like a woolly hat or pair of gloves.
My smile feels false.
He will spend what years he’s granted
Stealing, running, hiding from me.
There is every chance
He’ll die by my hand –
My hound, hell-brew, gun, gin –
Or underneath my wheels.
For all our brief communion
We can never be brothers,
Separated as we are
By ten yards of road,
And a thousand years of enmity.
His friends for life
Are his speed
And the sheltering earth;
And though I’m told
I have dominion over him
He’ll never let me
Get so close again.