Do you remember my Instagram post from a few weeks back about a fox who visited us and played tricks with our shoes? Yes we had a fox – past tense – now we don’t. I miss seeing him outside our window. He was visiting almost every morning and late night. But I caught him and took him away.
It was after I saw him sprinting out of our house for the second time. Yup, that cheeky fox came inside the house to rummage through my kitchen waste. Apart from making a mess it was a step too far. Since he showed up in our garden I felt that our behaviour was being determined to some extent by his.
Clean up the toys from outside or he will bite them or steal them. Take muddy shoes inside the house. Remember to close the compost. All of these could be considered just good tidy behaviour but now since he had penetrated the line of my threshold, that was a new level of disruption. We live in this lovely place so we can wander in and out freely and the fresh air can blow though our rooms and our heads. I wasn’t going to let Mr Fox force me to keep our doors and windows closed and challenge the very reason for living in this place.
Our two neighbours were also starting to comment on the strange fox behaviour. Apparently foxes usually keep their distance. If he was coming so close, perhaps he was sick? Anyway he had stolen four shoes, and chosen one from each pair for maximum impact. They were so new that I still have receipts for them. A daydream came to me that he stole those shoes to use them as toys or cradles for his fluffy cubs. I imagined a cute baby fox with cuddly fur and big shiny eyes tucked inside one of Tania’s blue Crocs. But reality blew that thought away with the call to clean up greasy chicken bones from the kitchen floor.
One of my neighbours who used to have chickens lent me an old cage trap and showed me how to set it. I put meat leftovers inside, half hoping not to catch him. The next morning I ran to the cage as soon as I awoke – it was closed, empty but with the bait still inside, The trap had moved and there was a dead mouse. What had happened? An unlucky mouse had disturbed the trigger, and been killed by the impact of the jumping cage perhaps. I went for a coffee and to get some gloves to move the dead mouse, and while I was doing that, my friend Mr Fox came and removed the mouse for me! – the irony of Nature.
Next day I set the cage again. This time I arranged it differently to prevent it from being set off by a small animal, but I must have overdone it because it didn’t get triggered by a fox-sized animal either. On the second morning the cage was still open and the bait had become a free meal for my tormentor who gave me an unmistakably smug look of contempt as he passed by my window. Hmmm. Game on, Mr Fox.
So as in every joke and every story, day three was set for the climax. That was the day I picked Nick up from the airport. I was receiving advice and pity from my sniggering neighbours as I set up the cage for the third night. I was as determined as the three farmers in the story about Mr Fox by Roald Dahl. I even went down to the cellar to check if the wine was still there!
This time a whole turkey neck and chicken back bone, wings and other bones lay in my trap. I checked three times that it worked and I went to bed dreading that I would be woken by screaming fox howls at 3am. But we slept through until the dawn awoke me at six. All was quiet – I guessed I must have lost again and I drowsed until eight when our little snugglers came to help us face the new day.
Outside in the fresh morning air, Mr Fox looked up at me from behind prison bars with big sad angry eyes. I felt guilty, but also I had won. So I jumped up with my fist up in the air screaming YES! and I ran back inside. “Guys you won’t believe it – I caught the fox”
The whole family ran out in pyjamas and nighties to look at him and observe how cute he is.
“Mummy he has such sad eyes” – said Zoe
Cute not cute. Sad not sad. I caught him and now, however mixed and confused my feelings are, we need to take him away from here. If I will let him out now I will never catch him again in the same cage and he will do whatever he wants. Was I explaining this to the girls or to myself?
The girls went back to the house. The fox stayed in the cage (not that he had any choice) and I went to the neighbour for advice on how to handle the transportation and release.
Mr Marek, who had lent me the cage, and with decades of experience in protecting his own stock, counselled me to wear thick gloves for the sake of my fingers and to cover the cage in a black bag for the sake of the animal’s nerves. Nick and I would drive to the other side of the lake, to release him in the woods there.
The black bag trick worked once the cage was inside it, but by that time the fox had growled and snarled and peed and defecated. The smell was so terrible you could almost see it in the air. We lined the back of the car with polythene sheeting and opened the windows for the drive.
Even with all the windows open we were gagging and I was holding back on a vomiting reflex every few minutes. It wasn’t easy to drive with half closed eyes as the stench was stinging my eyes. Normally this drive doesn’t feel so long but 10 Km took forever on that trip. At last we crossed the bridge over the narrow point on the river between the two lakes and now we just had to find some forrest with no houses around. A few hundreds metres past a strict “no vehicle” sign, we stopped the car on a beautiful wooded winding track. We gingerly took the cage out, put it on the ground and opened it and the wretched animal didn’t want to come out.
We tried to shake him out of it but he didn’t want to go. The trap was quite difficult to open without risking being bitten but eventually we managed to jam it open with sticks. Now we peeled the black bag right away and Mr Fox came to life and darted out. He ran up the track ahead of the place we were parked about 100 meters, and in true Walt Disney fashion, he stopped and looked over his shoulder at us for a second to two and then disappeared. Then I threw up.
We went back home, cleaned the cage and returned it. The car wasn’t the same for a few days and I felt guilty and a bit down. Nick tried to cheer me up, saying that in England such a fox would be shot as vermin, but I still felt a bit guilty. We chose to live in his wood. He didn’t force us to come there or invade our city.
Two days later, when I looked out to where I had seen Mr Fox so often, two deer were grazing on the grass under the fruit trees just in front of the house. It was such a sweet sight. I seems that getting rid of the fox allowed other animals in.
I miss seeing his cheeky face through the kitchen window while making the girls’ breakfast. I half hope he will be so clever that he will find the way back. We sort of thought that he was back after a few days, when I found animal droppings in the same place where the fox used to leave them, and a neighbour found some holes under his fence – though it turned out to be a badger. Now I’m spending mornings hoping that the deer will come back again to graze on our fresh grass or eat windfall apples to get drunk on them as apparently they did last September after we had left.
I wrote this two weeks ago and left if unfinished. But yesterday when I was driving through the forest, I spotted a fox on “our” road. Was this Mr Fox? – I don’t know yet – but he wasn’t afraid much and he seemed to be giving me a strange look.