THREE times a week I’m up at seven for a pre-dawn walk. The sun doesn’t rise in the Alpujarras until about 8.05am, and the lanes are quiet in the blue-grey half-darkness. I follow the riverbed, scale a steep track up its western bank, pass through an olive grove, then a copse of eucalyptus, and then another olive grove, before emerging on a long, rocky ridge clad in prickly furze. On the crest of the ridge I sit myself down on a flat boulder to watch the sun climb above the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. Perfect peace . . .
One morning, while following the track along the ridge to my boulder, I spy a fox a few metres ahead of me. I unzip my camera case but the fox is away into the furze before I have the camera in my hands. I feel slightly miffed. All I wanted was an image of this enigmatic beast, el zorro, in his native countryside. Still, there will be other opportunities.
I alter my routine. I follow the riverbed, climb the bank, pass through the olive grove, the eucalyptus copse and the second olive grove. But before I mount the rocky ridge I withdraw my camera and set it for repetitive shooting. I stick religiously to this routine for several days, with no sign of the fox on its furzy hilltop. So the only thing I photograph is the sunrise.
Then one morning this week I follow the riverbed, climb the bank, pass through the first olive grove – and there’s the fox in the eucalyptus copse, standing facing me as bold as brass. This big dog-fox is only four metres away in the middle of the track, its eyes staring into mine – and my camera’s still in its case. Bladdy hell.
I unzip the case but the fox is away. El zorro slips into the shadows with a crackle of eucalyptus leaves before my fingers have touched the camera. I am more than slightly miffed; I feel cheated and outsmarted. This fox isn’t playing by the rules.
I alter my routine a second time. This morning I dispense with the case and ensure the camera is active before I leave the house. I follow the riverbed in the half-darkness, climb the bank – and there’s the fox on the track at the edge of the first olive grove. He’s surprised me again. I click the camera but it refuses to take a picture because there is insufficient light. Bladdy hell and sod. I fumble to activate the flash, but by this time the fox has shown me the backs of his black ears and skipped leisurely into the trees. I think I can hear him laughing.
Defeated, I follow winding paths to the rocky ridge, sit on my boulder among the furze, and take pictures of yet another sunrise. I now have more sunrise pictures than the International Space Station.
This episode has taught me several important lessons: wildlife photography should be left to people who know what they are doing; foxes cannot be trusted with the simplest of routines; the only thing in life on which we can depend is the sun coming up in the morning.
Sixty-one next month and still learning.