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.
Do 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.
As 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.