Excerpt: ‘Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship’

Catherine Raven’s first book tracks an unlikely relationship—between the author and a fox who begins to visit daily at her cottage in an isolated mountain valley.

fox and i, catherine raven
Spiegel & Grau

MEADOWLARK

Fox had just caught a rabbit but dropped it as soon as he saw me dancing across the pasture in my cactus-crushing Wellies.

I had my eyes uphill, on the hound across the gravel road. Maybe it was on a leash or lazy or mired in quicksand—but that dog never moved from its one spot, a half mile away and an unimpeded line of sound and sight to my front door. I sang over Fox’s head, Elvis’s song about a hound who can’t catch a rabbit. Fox pranced a horseshoe pattern back and forth in front of me. Ignoring Fox, I jumped right into the third iteration of my musical complaint, reminding the hound dog that he hadn’t ever caught a rabbit and would never be a friend of mine.

Fox didn’t like being ignored. He snatched up his rabbit, squeezing it in the middle and leaving it sagging from either side of his jaw. It looked like the toothpaste tube my fist had wrapped around that very morning. Bending down until my face was an arm’s length from his, I placed a hand on each knee. Fox leaned in. “That rascal with the slobbery flews,” I whispered, pulling the skin on either side of my mouth and shaking my head to imitate hound flews. “He’ll never kill a rabbit.”

Fox dropped his rabbit and said, “Qwah.”

Standing up, I crooned about the dog whining all the time. It was a pitiful rabbit specimen, but I couldn’t stop in the middle of the chorus. The sheriff picked up the abandoned dog a few days later.

We were not trophy hunters, Fox and I. But we gathered our share of mementos. The Boone and Crockett Club wasn’t sending judges over to measure the four-by-four mule deer rack hanging above the sofa between photographs of a Grand Teton moose exiting a foggy pond and animal pictographs carved into sandstone. I shot that mule deer in the dawn following a full moon. The night before, I’d tromped four miles along a snow-packed ranch road listening to my footsteps, scouting for hoof prints, watching a bright orange dome fill the horizon in front of me. The entire horizon. Right to left. Nothing but moonrise. I could feel earth’s round ball melded under my mukluks. Of course, a full moon seen along the horizon is the same size as every other moon. (So say physicists.) The size of the moon glowing before me was an illusion—magic! My mind playing a trick on me. Here’s what I learned from that trick: when you are walking alone on the prairie, and unless you are a physicist, how the moon feels, looks, and acts is more important than its approximate size.

I sliced the buck from sternum to pelvis, yanking out the lungs with two bare hands. Pulling the legs, I tilted the 200-pound body. Cavity blood and wiggly, pungent guts spilled onto the snow. I set the heart aside. It had one neat hole—right through the middle. My beautiful rifle, my 06 had done that at two hundred meters offhand with snow covering every scraggly knee-high rabbitbrush on the mesa and a golden eagle passing overhead. I left the buck and headed toward the nearest gravel road. Ranch hands sledding up the mesa saw me and finished the gutting. I spent the night in a wallpapered room with a shag carpet and a chenille bedspread while my buck hung from its hind legs in their outbuilding. I had bacon and black coffee for breakfast. My harvest—the buck and a doe from later in the day—barely fit into my forest-green Volvo sedan. Carrying a buck propped up in the passenger seat and a headless doe in the back, the Volvo sputtered down a gravel road to a mom-and-pop butchery.

Feather-shaped Lombardy poplars, too tall for their width, lined the drive to the house. Of all trees, I most distrust Lombardies. Pop was waiting outside in dark green coveralls. After throwing a padded cloth over the buck’s head to protect the antlers, he hugged it under the front arms. Distracted by the naked and punky-barked trees and searching out an escape route should they succumb to their natural inclination and topple over, I ignored Pop’s mutterings. By the time I got over to the buck, it was on a wheeled cart. Pop had his hand looped around one of the buck’s legs and was tapping the hoof with a finger. He was pissed.

Right away, I realized the problem. My blood drained away. The buck should have had a carcass tag tied around its leg. It didn’t. I pleaded. Pop sucked in his lips, holding up one hand to stop his son from opening the shop door. If he called a game warden, I would lose my hunting privileges and my beautiful .30-06 bolt-action. If he didn’t call, and a warden raided the shop, he’d be out of business and worse.

Pop disappeared while I was tearing the car apart like a border guard stopping a van on the Canadian crossing. My head must have been under the front seat when the boy came out and grabbed the doe from the back. Mom, wearing a dress, came out with a tin, offering me a cookie.

Pop was in a better mood when I returned days later with coolers to pick up the meat. I never found the tag.

That’s enough reason to mount a four-by-four on a suede pedestal and hang it on a wall the color of prairie rose.

When Fox scored his big trophy, I saved only two feathers. The first thing I recall about that day was watching him through my spotting scope. He was at the far edge of the alfalfa field, a good quarter mile away. Low cloud cover kept the sun from his eyes as he ran a beeline to my cottage without stopping to set down, nibble, or adjust his precious cargo. All the while, he was hustling at a speed that kept me from identifying his prize.•

Excerpted from Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship, by Catherine Raven. Copyright © 2021 by the author and reprinted with permission of Spiegel & Grau.

Spiegel & Grau
FOX & I: AN UNCOMMON FRIENDSHIP, BY CATHERINE RAVEN
Spiegel & Grau Bookshop.org
$25.76

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