Yesterday the field contained 58 rolled bales of hay and one bottle of Italian lager, unopened. This morning, nothing. The farmer has taken it all away. It’s a shock, climbing over the style, coming into the field and finding it empty. Standing there, paying attention to its emptiness, and wondering whether this will be what I write about today, I notice that the field is not empty. There’s a fox. A cub, I think. Too far away to tell. A beautiful foxy-story-book red.
Whenever I see a fox, I’m reminded of Birthday Letters, the Ted Hughes collection. It includes the poem, Epiphany, in which the poet, who is a new father ‘slightly light-headed with the lack of sleep and the novelty’, describes a meeting on Chalk Farm Bridge with a ‘young fellow’ who has a fox cub inside his jacket. The fellow’s plan is to sell the cub for a pound to whoever wants it. The poet declines the offer – and who wouldn’t? – and gets on the Tube. Then he regrets it. “If I had paid that pound and turned back/ To you, with that armful of fox – /If I had grasped that whatever comes with a fox/ Is what tests a marriage and proves it a marriage –/ I would not have failed the test.”
I don’t know why this poem in particular comes to mind when I see a fox. I must have read other poems that involve foxes. But taking the collection off the shelf now – a lovely hardback – I remember that it was the first book of poetry anyone had bought me as a gift. It would have been a birthday present – ah, Birthday Letters! – and was from my wife. She’d signed it, and added three kisses. Looking at the date, it must have been my thirtieth birthday. Which means when I first met that fox I too was a light-headed, first time dad, giddy and a little overwhelmed by the novelty; my eldest would have been just six months old. I’ve surprised myself with this discovered connection. All because I paid some attention to an empty field. Astonishing.
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