…because once we saw a fox, spiriting the furrows at honey-dusk as we biked the railway embankment along the canal du bouc running from Arles to the sea, I always keep an eye out for him if ever we return. The embankment itself (re-purposed now as a cycle path) doubles for a stretch as the retaining wall of the canal, rising above the surrounding countryside and offering a sprawling vastitude – to the west and south, fields of cabbage, vegetable plots, apple orchards, and random grasses awaiting silage, all patchworked by windbrakes of cypress and cedar; to the east and north across the sluggish, lily-punctuated canal waters, pastures dotted with horses and cattle, expanses of rapeseed and rice, the occasional mas (farmhouse) nestled in moats of oak and pine. Depending on the season, almond blossoms or ripened green-velvet fruit, incursions of arching, wind-rustling cane, chicory, and brambles.
I remember him clearly, dusty-russet grey, secure in his armour of a hundred yards’ distance, ears pricked, tail trailing like a forgotten duster. He would stop every now and then and cock his head in our direction as if to say, “What queer creatures you are. Still here. I suppose I shall ignore you now…” and then he was off, resuming an undeviating line through the field stubble, scattering the foraging jackdaws and magpies who, though very much aggrieved by his passage, he ignored completely.
This was maybe a year ago, and we have biked, walked, jogged this route many times since. And whenever we reach this stretch, just after the irrigation pumps and up until the orchards begin, I earnestly scan the tillage and hedgerows for any movement, hoping, expecting to see the bending grasses, random dust plume, or indignant jackdaw to mark his passage. I hold my breath and wait, try to will him out of the drainage ditch, it was there, just over there, this side of the fence line in that fallow stretch that we saw him…but never since that late-afternoon one full solar revolution ago or so have I glimpsed so much as a vulpine shadow.
And it’s ridiculous, really. To expect a wild animal, especially one known for cunning and furtiveness (but any wild animal, really) to appear, not even according to any schedule, but simply because we have shown up and wish it so. And yet we do. Every, every time…maybe we’ll see him.
And that’s the crux with hope. Faith may be too strong a word in this (and many) cases – you enter into faith with the understanding that no proof or rationale will be offered, and in fact the presence of proof negates faith, or the need for it; faith is utter belief in something outside yourself, and it takes work to persist in believing. Hope….well, springs eternal, and it is very much of one’s self. Hope offers no proof either, but only because proof is not required.
This is not to belittle hope. Hope is essential. It gets us through the everyday. It gets us through boredom, and stress, and the pendulum pain of uncertainty. It gets us through lunch.
No proof or rationale is offered in waiting on a fox either, but then again he’s never reappeared.
My wife mentions Saint-Exupéry’s fox – sitting in the wheatfields, dreaming of the boy with wheat-colored hair,
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”~The Little Prince
And as usual she’s right. It doesn’t matter if we ever see our vulpes vulpes again. We will continue to bike this path, I will continue to scan the hedgerows. What is essential is not the outcome, but that you don’t give up hope.
Because once we saw a fox…