On unexpected encounters

On Saturday something happened to me that has never happened before.

I braved the cold to put out some bird food, and as I did so, immersed in my thoughts, I looked up to realise that standing about 3 yards away, partly obscured by a wooden arch, was a fox. I recognised him at once, as he has been a regular visitor to the garden and, having not been able to put his foot down a few weeks ago, still has a slight limp. I suspect he was in a fight as he had missing fur which is now growing back.

I expected him to immediately run away, having observed he is quite nervous. So I spoke softly to him, dropped some nuts, and backed away.

To my surprise, rather than jumping the fence to escape, once I had retreated he crept round the arch and came to eat the nuts, looking at me regularly and rather warily. I continued speaking softly to him, holding his gaze and irrationally, as I don’t speak fox, assuring him I would not harm him.

I watched him for a while, then scattered some sultanas for him to have later. To my surprise, he then made his way to stand within a couple of feet from me. I have never been that close to a wild animal before out in the open. After a while I felt I should leave him in peace, and so I very quietly backed away.

Going inside, I sat by the patio doors to watch. He munched his way through the sultanas and I waited for him to lope off via his usual route at the top of the garden. But he didn’t. He came to a section of border about 4 feet from where I was sitting inside, somewhere he does not usually come. He sat down, and looked directly at me for some time. It was almost as if he was saying thank you. Then he wandered off.

Relating it to my husband later, as he had been out, he remarked on how it had impacted me and how emotional I was. It was true. I’ve spent the intervening days reflecting why. I’m not sure I have fully worked it out, but here are my initial thoughts.

Following an upbringing in Cornwall, I have always felt a deep connection to nature. It is one of the ways I best connect with God. Like – I suspect – many of us, I have found this recent lockdown much harder. I am saddened by its impact, particularly on the children. The grey winter skies and bitter cold have made time in the garden impossible, and daily walks around neighbouring streets do not nourish my soul in the way that a walk by the sea or birdwatching in the woods do. This poignant encounter evoked memories of happier times and the hope of better ones to come.

I think there was more, however. I am a do-er. I find inactivity difficult. Although in ‘freelance’ (my word for retirement, which is being mainly spent in writing, some college teaching and caring for our grandchildren) I actually occasionally wish I was less busy, my go-to place is being occupied. I can track some reasons, but actually at this point of my life I accept it is now part of how I am wired. If I am blessed with old(er) age when my activity may need to slow this aspect of my personality may lead to frustration, but for now I will let it be. My fox encounter reminds me that in stillness there are sometimes beautiful things which cannot be experienced in the rush. Simply sitting still in God’s presence is perhaps the best gift I can give both Him and myself.

And then there is trust. For whatever reason, our usually skittish fox trusted me enough to come very close. Just moments later, after I had gone inside, he was startled by the wind, but both he and I were able to be still together in that moving moments of connectedness. There is a challenge for me there. Can I trust God enough that in the stillness he will meet me, that if I stop anything that emerges from my inner world He will be able to hold?

And above all, can I remember even in these difficult times there can be what the Bible calls the ‘treasures of darkness’ surprising joys in the most unexpected of ways.

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