Fox Earth

On a day out with my daughter and dog.

I, the reluctant one, head full of things to do. We’re leaving town for good soon so it all needs to be done right. The packing, the painting, the ridding ourselves of stuff. It’s a big deal. It could be the best thing that ever happened to us. I can say for sure that already we have changed just through shedding layers of yearsworth of possessions. The word ‘possession’ has a more menacing ring to it right now. Also, the distinction between possessing and owning is more clear. I have many things which are not mine yet I’ve held on to them. Books, films, music, a projector, a drum key, even cutlery; things which ‘turn up’ in the house, their origin forgotten. A good deal of the stuff isn’t even mine. Am I possessed by possessing?

In the crackly silver birch copse we gather moss to add as a carpet to the ‘house’ we build. My daughter, taking time to ensure we work as a team. I’m mourning the death of the moss due to relocation, feeling for its roots, torn roughly from the earth in great, clumpy four year old’s handfuls. I wander off, still not really present with or enjoying the task, eyes on the floor, looking for something.

I see a ¬†bottle, pick it up and it reads ‘Levenshulme’. A rush of excitement travels through me because that is the suburb where I live and this bottle looks old. ‘Dobsons Dairies’ reads the rest. The bottle is completely intact. I’m about 5 miles from Levenshulme, enjoying this little coincidence. Projecting into the future, in a little Italian house, I imagine myself putting a flower in the Levenshulme milk bottle on the kitchen windowsill. The significance is palpable and immediately I’m attracted away by a low mound with some broken, mossy willow trees growing on top. I place the bottle next to a tree and wander over.

Instantly my eye is caught by a heart, hanging on the tree. It is made of steel and gives me the feeling of a post industrial wasteland, and I wonder whether the bones of some former factory lie under my feet, the thin, mossy soil concealing toxic flavours and appearance. I see the branch is colonised by a beautiful lichen, its light grey twiggy tendrils emerging throughout the branch, breathing more life into its system, it feels. This again gives me hope and I fall in love with this scene, the combination of steely, rusty rubbish and plants.

My daughter calls me, bringing me back to my senses and she quickly takes over my lead and we head in through fallen willow limbs with wintry shoots heading skyward. The going gets low as she squeezes herself through small gaps and I crawl after. When I catch up I see her looking into a hole in the ground. An earth. And in use, judging by the trodden looking entrance. I tell her not to get too close and we move further through the trees. I imagined the scene in summer, all overgrown and brambled and impassable. But here we were in winter’s heart, braver than normal in the dead and flattened foliage.

She wanders off again and I follow a different track, finding another and another and yet another fox hole. My feeling is a mixture of elation and fear, fascinated and unsure what might happen if I take a wrong step. I spot the wet leaves around the rim of one hole quickly turning to dry, and comfortable looking leaves further in taking me down the hole into a family of foxes curled up together, one eye open due to a stomping stranger. I feel like the intruder I am and leave the area, fascinated by what was happening there, senses heightened and feeling privileged for having stumbled into the heart of a fox village. The dog is indifferent.

My little one, the expedition leader, tries climbing a massive, fat willow, chunky branches reaching out in all directions, trunk twisted and gnarled from the effort and weight of its limbs. It is a beautiful tree which has to be climbed. We find plenty footholds in its heavily valleyed bark lines. The tree is bleeding. We watch, fascinated as we find drops of bloody sap formed on the bark of the tree in a few places. It is even the same consistency as blood. We talk about the blood and she said we need to pull some of the bark off the tree because it doesn’t hurt and that’s how we can show love to the tree. I’m captivated by this and follow her lead, gently peeling some of the excess bark away.

We climb some more and start to head back towards the water park. She insists she doesn’t want to go but in my need to keep going and do things I convince her that we ‘have to’. I pick up my bottle on the way back and feel like it opened the door to magic for me. The dog is happy to be on the move again. I reflect on the process of connection with the moment and what it takes for me to ‘lose my mind’ and go to a place where I am no longer a person, just an experiencer. It’s almost like an alternative reality, more vivid, more unreal, full of signposts, clues and coded messages.

The next day I’m out running in Levenshulme and coming through Highfield park I hear a rustle in the bushes. I stop and a spot beautiful fox running nervously through the bushes, looking straight ahead, knowing there are eyes on him. Three seconds and he’s gone. This is the first fox I have seen in Highfield, after living there four years, and countless dog walks, runs and tree climbings with my daughter, later. Straight away I am in that feeling again. The wild connection, the mycelium of earthy coincidence which links both place and moments in time; an underground force not understood. Elation followed, and floating with the crows, I follow them, running, watching them bicker on the wing in their little groups, their raw nature cold and apparent. I imagine being in their body with my feelings and a shockwave shakes me when I feel how inhuman they are. Funny.

Migrating feels like a rite of passage. I did it once before when I left home but now I do it with my own family. My little girl’s ‘house building’ and maintenance in the park, the fox dens and the Levenshulme bottle all swirl together in the typhoon of the imagination, waiting for a story to tell them. Just like we all are.

 

 

 

 

 

Fox Earth

A day laid bare

This time of year is very special.

The dog has diarrhoea and we’re cutting down her food so as not to feed the illness. The more we feed her when her stomach’s bad, the more prolific the runs. So she’s hungry when we take her out for a walk and mid winter allows her to forage more then usual.

When you walk the same place most days you notice things. In spring you see the first shoots, blackthorn bud about to pop and the bluebell leaves together push with a gentle, unstoppable force. Everything grows like mad until summer as if all plants were planning a rebellion against gravity, only stopped by their flowering, when they literally ‘give up’ their seed.

After this everything falls again and recedes. Dies and rots. Changes form. Slowly, slowly dropping back towards the earth as if reluctant, and the earth eventually swallows it up, absorbs it, like the venus fly trap does with its prey.

When the growth dies back to nothing, the bare ground is exposed and¬†this is where the diarrhoea’d dog lucks out. Her senses heightened with hunger, she sniffs out any rotting remnant she can get her jaws near and before she knows it she’s being dragged away by the collar and scorned, because for us, this is the last thing she should be doing, in fact this is probably how she got ill in the first place.

I walk the paths most days and see the decline of life. Week by week, narrow, grassy track turns to wider path, which turns to mud, then widens further, pools with water and is eventually avoided altogether. My hunter gatherer eyes, my ‘old eyes’ are drawn to any little piece of green which appears brighter than the rest on that barren, winter land, as it may carry more vital goodness for my body. I am aware that everything is now exposed, and couldn’t be much more so. Gravity feels more heavy.

The mind also recedes. As if in reflection of the world around me, there’s a realisation of the starkness of things and I admit to struggling with normally simply tackled situations. When I think of the vitality I was showing in summer, strong and well in the sunshine, brimming with energy and ideas, I get a little melancholy. In these bare days I cannot hide from how exposed I feel, post festive celebrations, beyond autumn’s fire. The ground is now lumpy, things forgotten about are seen again and the debris, so well hidden in the thick summer grass is once again looking me in the eye. I sometimes walk the muddy path and get stuck, but that was how it was meant to be.

So I decide to talk. I have to share what comes up because otherwise I make an enemy of the world. I proceed to dig out the ‘shit’ which surrounds me and find a better place for it. My landscape becomes frightening as I look at things I’ve buried years ago but I know by doing this I’ll have a better spring and summer and by next winter my idea of the ground will be a little less fear filled than it previously had been. I’m getting better at this as the years go by.

As for the dog, she’ll be looked after just as I am. She doesn’t always know what’s best for her but she trusts.

Connect with other people if you’re feeling low. Let the winter’s natural process work its way through you. Tune into nature and it will help guide you.

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A day laid bare