The sorrowful fox


SAW a fox this morning. I was out walking before the sun rose above the hills and this wiry, chestnut-backed creature drifted across the track in front of me – bushy tail ramrod straight and perfectly horizontal. Gave me a quick glance with big round eyes before trotting into the scrub . . .

Curious thing was it had an expression on its face, a look of pathos perhaps, or possibly disappointment at being seen. It reminded me very much of one of those weirdly wonderful Michael Sowa paintings featured in the film Amélie. I’ll reproduce one below to illustrate what I mean. I hope he won’t mind.

amelieDo you know what the word for fox is in Spanish? It’s zorro. Tyrone Power fans probably knew this already. All over Spain, various regions have their local names for foxes: Pedro, María García, Alfonso, Andrés, Azel, Azelko, Azeri Arrunta, Bicho, Bravío, Fuina, Gandano, Garcia, Golpe, Golpejos, Golpellos and la Zorra, to name but a few.

Not to mention Renard and Renart, which obviously share a common root with the British nickname Reynard.

My sorrowful fox is one of the 500,000 to one million sorrowful foxes across Spain. During the dry Mediterranean summers, food is scarce on the high ground. My fox was certainly thin, possibly emaciated. I don’t suppose it would have turned down a good meal.

Spain is a strange country and it’s full of strange animals, some of which can be dangerous. There are wolves and bears in the north, up in the Picos and the Pyrenees. Don’t believe these people who insist that wolves have had a bad press, fuelled by misplaced human fear and superstition, and that there are no recorded incidents of wolves killing people. The last death in Spain occurred as recently as 1973, when a wolf killed and devoured a seven-year-old child. Death by bear is extremely rare, but it does happen, one Spanish king being a high-profile victim.

Wild boar roam freely through the forests and scrubland. I’ve been informed – not particularly reliably – that boar won’t attack humans unless cornered. But how can you tell, in the necessary blink of an eye, that a wild boar considers itself cornered when encountered in a thicket? This is something I need to know.

IMG_0005 IMG_0007 IMG_0009As I sit here typing these words a river of ants is transporting all sorts of vegetable debris across a concrete patio beneath the washing line. On the other side of the house an identical river of ants is doing the same. Ant cities are being built beneath our feet. Ant society is thriving. Good job they are not aggressive creatures.

But they do make you think. What else is out there lurking in the dead grass beneath the trees? Anything nasty that might bite or sting if inadvertently stood upon?

Five types of poisonous snake, mostly of the viper family, that’s what; several nasty spiders, one of which – the black widow – is not uncommon in Andalucia; scorpions, especially on high rocky ground; a vicious type of hairy caterpillar; and a very dangerous customer called a tiger centipede because of its black and yellow colouring. Stings can be fatal.

Still, we all face hazards in our daily lives. Road deaths are far more commonplace than death by scorpion, or being eaten by a bear. And to put things in perspective, there was that chap who was mauled by an escaped lion while cycling home in Grimsby. He certainly didn’t have an opportunity to prepare for that encounter. So it’s not necessarily the dangers of which we’re aware that cause us harm.

Perhaps my sorrowful fox knows this. He is familiar with hunger and heat and the tail of the scorpion, and accepts his lot. Then in the blue light of dawn he beholds the pale face of a startled Englishman and is filled with dismay.

If I see him again I’ll try not to look so startled, and perhaps he will not slink away so sorrowfully.


30 thoughts on “The sorrowful fox

  1. Remember I offered to look after the van if you came back to England? I’m not so sure now. Bears and wolves I can deal with because you can hear or see them coming. Tiger-eating caterpillars and scorpions the size of wild boar belong in a Peter Jackson movie. I thought Spain was a benevolent sort of country.

    And that chap in Grimsby . . . did you make that up? I’ll have to check to see if Jake Thackray ever wrote a song about it. ‘Up to his eyes in cycle grease, he never stood a chance when a fearsome beast all grizzled and chizzled with teeth galore, swallowed him whole on Laceby Road.’


    1. The tale of the Grimsby lion came from a chap I used to work with called Matt. He was a reporter from Grimsby, and one of the first stories he covered was the lion knocking a chap off his bike and giving him a bit of a mauling. Apparently it had escaped from a circus. Where else?
      I used to like Jake Thackray. Didn’t know he came from Grimsby. Can you sing that bit of a ditty you wrote? You should record it and put it on YouTube. I’d be really impressed.
      Cheers, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Alen. A walk in the morning must be lovely. Did you bring a bike with you? I find biking is great on warm days.
    I know what you mean with the pathos illustrated by the painting by Michael Sowa. No words need to be spoken 🙂 I have seen that expression on a fox once.

    I came across the Spanish name for fox: Zorro once I had an encounter with a beautiful Danish fox. Did you know that the spirit of the fox can be helpful?
    ” If you follow the fox totem wisdom, you may be called to use or develop quick thinking and adaptability. Responsive, sometimes cunning, this power animal is a great guide when you are facing tricky situations.” *

    There you go. You now have all the answers to your questions about the wildlife in Spain including big and small animals.

    This is how you get a second meeting with Zorro:
    Fox sense of vision is poor, it sees only a rough picture of the environment. The animal has difficulty seeing us when we don’t move. You must be quiet, if you find a fox and want to watch it a little longer. If you are in a headwind, the animal can not smell you. You can actually entice a fox nearer to pipe as a mouse. You can produce the sound by sucking air between the upper lip and lower teeth. If you create the right sound and at the same time stands still, the fox may come closer to you.

    All the best if you are not carried away by the ants 🙂

    Small scorpions are the most dangerous. Remember to empty your shoes before wearing them 🙂


    1. Hanna, you have given me some very useful advice. I will definitely pay heed to the bit about checking my shoes for scorpions before wearing them. I don’t think they are much of a problem on low ground (we are at an altitude of 650m, and that’s low for Spain) but on high ground, boots and thick socks are advised to protect against scorpion stings.I have been walking in the mountains many times over the years, but have not seen one yet.
      I have been practising making sounds like a mouse so next time I see a fox I will try it out. I just hope I don’t get attacked by one of the feral cats around here.
      Thanks for the advice, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Haha, great post, Alen! I can imagine what you mean about the fox. I like the expression on the two faces in the portrait. It’s as if the dog is thinking, “I ate the last biscuit”, and the girl is thinking, “I let him eat the last biscuit.” They both look smitten with guilt! Eeeek, don’t much like the sound of the insect life around you, but I’m guessing you will learn more about it. I will be interested to find out what wildlife you come across on your walks. You’re certainly not missing any summer at this end, at least north of the border, although I believe Yorkshire has had it sunnier.


    1. Hi Jo. Yes, I like Michael Sowa’s paintings. They are really off-beat but he manages to capture some really meaningful expressions.
      There are ibex around here but I didn’t mention them because they are not dangerous, although the males do have rather aggressive-looking antlers. I got quite close to a big male once, and he wasn’t too bothered by my presence. But the females are much more timid and tend to scatter as soon as they see you.
      All the best, Alen

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A great post & I love all the comments too. I can’t add much except my uncle once told me a “true” story about a boy who was eaten by a lion in Lancashire. It must have been in all the newspapers at the time?! I think the boy was called Albert!


  5. That fox was probably very low on energy – I think things tend to look ‘sad’ if they’re tired and hungry – poor thing. I can’t imagine anyone not thinking wild boar are a threat unless you corner them – a ‘pack’ of them will certainly go for you if they feel so inclined. I’m a bit perturbed they’ve introduced them to wander wild in parts of Scotland – including that pass which goes over to Newtonmore from Fort Augustus (can’t remember the name). Scary stuff.

    LOL to a poor guy encountering a lion in Grimsby – no-one will believe him!


    1. Hi Carol. I’m with you on the wild boar thing. I’ve always found them a bit scary. I didn’t know there were plans to reintroduce them to Scotland. There was somebody on about reintroducing wolves at one time, but I haven’t heard anything since.
      Anyway, I saw my first snake this morning, so I’ve other things to worry about. Didn’t have my camera with me unfortunately.
      All the best, Alen


  6. Wild boars tend to just root around and muck things about. They aren’t really hunters – their eyesight is rubbish. However they can wreck a garden and if you’ve dogs in the house, they will go nuts. Since the wall came down wild boar are now an issue in surburban Berlin.


    1. Blimey, that’s interesting Steve. The Iron Curtain must have had quite an impact on wildlife generally. I read somewhere recently that there are more bears in Finland than ever there was because the Red Army guards used to shoot them for target practice. Now that the border is not guarded so thoroughly, the bears are sauntering across willy-nilly.
      We don’t have a dog but we will be getting some chickens eventually.
      Cheers, Alen


  7. Mien Gott (as ma in law says)Don’t mention FOXES. Cameron et al including the Chipping Camden lot (Clarkson J. Brooks R etc) are looking to invade and Boris J with his new (to him) water canon etc (? Now were buying arms from GERMANY,,,,,)some convenient country that will not upset the voters. Flushing the fox out will come to mean that.Watch out Spain !!! As a Latin scholar I can’t remember it’s Latin name but when my son proudly showed me his school badge Civilus Omnibus I could immediately reply,BEHAVE ON THE BUSES ! Now bugger of.(I should never have played double or quits with the Head over the school fees) Pleased you are both in fine fettle.(rolling news……T Dan Smith…still dead…..More soon…..


    1. Thanks for that, Peter. Cameron’s fox hunting antics are only just the beginning. Be prepared for the reintroduction of the stocks and witch dipping. Not to mention work houses, penal colonies and probably the Black Death as a means to further undermine the NHS.
      Shame about T Dan Smith still being dead, but there you go. That’s life.
      All the best, Alen


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