Friday, December 12, 2008
Last night, in the wee hours, while a hoot owl intoned his bass mating song in one of the big trees near the house, it snowed.
This morning, far too early, Alf was raring to get outside and run around. On the snowy mornings of childhood, my parents, after the stove-stoking, breakfast making and animal feeding, almost always took me for a walk around the farm, to see how pretty the snow was. I think that of painters, only Peter Brueghal, the Elder, captured the feel of Winter for people like farmers who live close to the land, exposed to the elements, kept and hindered by the weather.
For my Dad, the snow was also an opportunity to look for tracks, and the best sightings of all, from his point of view, were the tracks of his beloved foxes, not often seen, even back in those days when there were more wild things about. This was one of the thoughts that I was rolling over in my mind as I walked, interspersed with bits of work on You'll Always Come Back - what, for instance, to make of the bloodbath at the end of Das Nibenlungenlied, sited near my remote ancestors home in the Rhineland so long ago? A snippet of rhyme that my Dad sometimes recited, printed on the frontispiece of "The Chase" magazine, (never was a magazine read with more relish) apocalyptically warning that if the foxhunt should ever dissappear, then; "Goodbye to the Anglo-Saxon race; farewell to the Norman blood." I never did know quite what to make of that. He was even bemused at his own extinction.
The thought had barely formed that fox tracks here in Dandyland are a thing of the past, the sly and beautiful foxes long gone, their green castles uprooted for subdivision abominations, when there, on a log right in front of me, were the tracks.
It was one of the things, useless perhaps, but so dear to me, that my Dad taught me ~ how to tell fox from other canine tracks. The front two pads of the foxes foot begin side by side and ahead of the central pad, unlike the radial fan of a dog's foot. And the fox, unlike dogs or wolves or coyotes, places its feet one after the other, the back foot falling on the front track, so that the tracks are not staggered, but in a straight line.
The tracks were very fresh, made just ahead of our own, or just a bit in the past, depending on how you look at it. We followed them for a short way, but of course, being fox tracks, we soon lost the trail.