From the Window: The Fox

Whether you live out in the country or in the heart of the city, you’ve got a pretty good chance of seeing a fox at some point in your life. Vulpes Vulpes is the Latin name for our Red Fox, the largest of the true fox species. Because of this name, when something is fox-like we often say it is vulpine. Fox-like traits traditionally include:

  • Cunning
  • Intelligence
  • Tricking others and mischief
  • Sneakiness

It’s a bit of a shame, really, that these negative connotations are found in stories about foxes all over the world. Foxes are scavengers, which means they eat whatever they can find. This means they are sneaky as they steal, from time to time. They steal food from our bins, and small animals from unprotected hutches, and even hens from some hen houses. But that’s their nature, and mostly, they prefer food that is easy to find, such as animals that have already died or easy to catch protein like insects and small mammals.

Foxes are also amazing family animals. When they breed, which they do once a year, mum-fox (the vixen) can have between one and eleven (yes, eleven!) babies which are called kits. Dad-fox, or the dog, goes out to find food for the family, and they all stick together until the young kits are old enough to fend for themselves. If you think you may have foxes nearby, look out of your window after dark. Even in brightly lit areas, at this time of year (spring to early summer) you may see a male fox wandering the streets looking for food for his family.

If you’re very lucky, you may see the whole family come out to play, especially as the kits get older. This is more likely in very quiet areas. Often the vixen will move into the area first, then her kits will approach, cautiously at first but then with more confidence as they become aware there is no danger. At this point, they will often start to play and pounce as they enjoy the freedom away from their underground den, which is similar to a burrow. Playing foxes are often very funny to watch, especially as they bounce up and down.

From what we know of fox behaviour, we could make a whole new list of associations. Keep the cunning and the intellect- those are often good traits! But add in:

  • Family love
  • Playfulness
  • Making the most of what you have
  • Caution, but never letting that caution stop you

Can you see any of the traits of the fox in yourself?

Myths about the fox range from them being omens of war (China) to being skilled warriors or the mind (Peru). In Irish folklore, the Onchú or waterdog is a supernatural creature that’s part wolf, part eagle, part lion, but with the head of a fox, further enforcing the idea that the fox is all about the mind and intellect.

Probably the most famous European folk-tale about foxes is that of Reynard. Reynard was an anthropomorphic fox, which means he was given the characteristics of a human. Reynard was a wily trickster, and often outwitted a wolf called Ysengrim, highlighting the power of brains over brawn.

Can you find a story about foxes from your own path, tradition or heritage, or linked to a path that you’re interested in?

I think one of the most breath-taking and positive fox myths is from Finland. There’s a story that a fox created the Aurora Borealis, the Northern Lights, by dashing through the snow. As the fox swept its tail through the snow, the cold, white flakes were swept back up into the sky to become the glowing phenomenon. The word given for this is “revontulet”, which translates as “Fox Fires”. How beautiful is that?

Written by Mabh Savage

Image copyright free via Unsplash, by Sunyu.