I gaze through the train window looking for my fox, but so far, it is nowhere to be seen.
I put down my book, wanting only to soak up the beauty of the English countryside as it zooms past my window, and I marvel that for so many years I longed to feast my eyes upon this green and pleasant land.
But the view goes by too fast. I want it to slow down so that I can catch my breath and find what I am looking for.
And then I glimpse a splash of yellow shot through spring’s verdant green ~
I know if I am patient, if I aim my phone camera just right, I will find my reward ~
And there they are: rolling fields of rapeseed’s bursting yellow, patchwork quilts laid out as buffers against the grey, brooding skies of a May heavy with rainfall.
One day, I see a deer bounding through a field and on another, I smile at a family of bunnies, white tails bobbing up and down like cotton wool puffs caught in the wind. I watch pheasants strut their stuff, their nature-gifted palette of painted feathers shimmering red and blue and green in the morning sunlight. All go by too fast for my camera.
And still, as the train rumbles on from Somerset to London, there is no fox.
Every Tuesday since the middle of April I travel to London to attend a memoir workshop. Six hours travel time for a two-hour course. I am hoping it will help me clarify the process of structure, thematic threads and reflection, the nuts and bolts of the craft of writing memoir.
But I have discovered that it is in the journey, not the destination,
where my answers truly lie.
When I was a girl living in Surrey, before my parents split up, they built a boarding cattery at the end of our garden. One day, we had a surprise border: not a cat, but a fox cub. Entranced by my dad’s stories of a mysterious fox who lived in the woods at the back of our house, but which I had never seen, I could not take my eyes off the young cub.
But although mesmerised by the beauty of its soft, red fur, its cute black boots and bushy, white-tipped tail, it was the fear in its eyes that held me.
For two weeks we kept the fox cub in one of the runs that also held a cosy little shed where it could sleep and keep warm and cosy against the elements. But that fox didn’t sleep: horrified, I could only stand by and watch helplessly as it spent its first few days gnawing at the wire of the run, its gums bleeding, desperate in its bid to escape.
I cried quietly to myself as I watched its suffering, wondering why the people who owned it had left it with us when it was so miserable; so alone; so frightened.
I wanted to help it, but I couldn’t.
My dad was the only one who could handle it. It took time; he had to earn the fox cub’s trust who at first attacked when Dad tried to get near, but one day I watched in awe as with hands protected by thick, gardener’s gloves and after much cajoling through gentle whispers, he managed to pick it up, hold it close to his chest and carefully stroke it.
And then it was my turn. Dad let me stroke its little face and I marvelled at how soft its fox-fur felt beneath my small hands and then I watched as the fear in its amber-gold eyes gradually melted away.
Decades have passed since the day my dad tamed that frightened little fox cub, but somewhere still in the telling of this story lie the remnants of a little girl who once felt helpless not only for the fox, but also for herself. She grew up and found her strength, but it was different for her father; although he saved the fox, he could not save himself.
And today, reflecting on these things while looking through a window on a train, I remember where I was, where I am now, and where I am going.
But you see, somewhere along the way, I had forgotten.
I saw a fox once, from a train window. I wrote about it, almost three and a half years ago.
But another fox found me and it wasn’t in a field.
A few weeks ago after a family gathering, I settled down in the passenger seat for the hour-long drive home, closed my eyes and fell sleep. A little while later, I came to as I heard Hubby say, “Look, a fox!” My eyes flew open but I saw only an empty verge along the deserted road.
“Oh I wish you had seen it,” said Hubby, “He looked right at you!”
I thought he was making it up, the part about looking at me, an embellished story knowing it would make me smile. But he told me that a fox had shot out into the road in front of us, but instead of darting into the hedgerow on the other side and disappearing as they usually do, this one had stopped. With a swish of its tail, it had turned its head and, according to hubby, looked straight at me.
“Are you sure?” I asked. “It was probably looking at the car, or something else…”
“No. It was definitely looking at you…”
But I had missed it. I had my eyes closed and I missed it.
On the train, I switch off from the clamour of every day life and I reacquaint myself with a world waiting to be explored in the view through my window.
There, I meet my uncluttered thoughts and I find what I am looking for in places I did not expect. I find not the end, but the beginning. And I find the delicious escape.
Yet still I search for that fox through my train window. I know it is out there somewhere, prowling through the fields and the woods and the open roads.
“I promise to keep my eyes open…” I whisper through the glass. “This time, I don’t want to miss a thing…”