March 5th, 2010. After the dawn prayer, I’m out. At 6.15 it’s already light. Just above the south-eastern horizon a few slivers of crimson cloud, like bright slashes in the side of the day, herald the not-yet-risen sun. Otherwise, the sky is pristine silver-blue, rimmed all around by the sharp black latticework of winter trees. There has been a hard frost overnight, and shallow pools in the fields and ruts are once again frozen over. The ground crackles underfoot. Blackbirds, song thrush and great tits add some final embellishments to the dawn chorus, then all fall silent, waiting for the first rays. An extraordinary serenity descends over the land. I have to stop and savour the moment. Then a big red sun emerges, molten and brilliant, but without glare, so that I can look right into it. As it pulls away from the horizon it distorts and flattens into an ovoid, before becoming the familiar round ball of dazzling yellow fire. I decide to quit the beaten tracks and lanes and paths, and make out across the big fields that lie between Histon, Oakington and Cottenham. But it’s not easy to move freely through this part of the world – I am frustrated by unjumpable ditches, barbed wire, and thorny hedges and often have to double back. A pair of mallard are sitting on an iced-over slick in a piece of scrubland. They are reluctant to fly but when I get too close they take off silently, the duck first, then the drake, flying low. They are beautiful. I edge round a large field of arable, fringed with trees. I notice something up ahead, moving in the same direction. It has a strange loping gait. It’s a fox. Through the binoculars he looks small and unkempt, with a hangdog air about him, trotting slowly and diffidently along the rough field edge, stopping now and again to sniff the ground. He is about 200 yards in front of me, and is oblivious to my presence. I follow and gain ground – 80 yards. The white tip to his brush is not very distinct but the sun sets fire to his rich red coat. I cannot believe he hasn’t seen me, or heard me, or smelt me. He does look round once, but I am still, and then, incredibly, he settles down in the long dry grass and thistles, looking out over the field, taking in the sun. I crouch and creep forward. Through the binoculars I can see his slender fox-face clearly, close up, in profile, as if I could just reach forward and stroke him under his white chin. I am barely 20 yards away, to his right. If he turns this way, he’d be looking straight at me. He is relaxed in the warmth, untroubled, sleepy even. There is even some desultory grooming. I have to get closer. Inevitably, I am not quiet enough, he turns and sees me and in a split second he is transformed into a taut, fearful, wild creature, electrified, and in one movement turns and vanishes into the scrub behind, as if into thin air. Foxes are not uncommon of course, and have even become commonplace in some urban environments, and I have heard foxes bark at night round here, and glimpsed them in headlights, crossing a road, but I have never been able to observe a wild fox, up close, for some minutes, in broad daylight, simply being fox. It promises to be a great day.

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Filed under writing / rambles / landscape / nature

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