I’ve read so many books about animals, and relationships with wildlife, and living alone in the wilderness- and this one seems to stand aside them all, on a different plane. I don’t know what it is- something about the voice, the pacing, the way individual scenes are described like glass panes slightly overlapping at the edges where they change color. It’s a narrative about the author’s time spent in wilderness places- working as a park ranger, or a hiking guide, or a teacher of online field classes- living alone in a small cabin on a hillside near a National Park boundary in Montana- alone because she had always been alone since leaving a home that (from what little is mentioned of it) sounded neglectful and unwelcoming- and because she fit into the wild spaces more comfortably, living alongside the wild creatures until deer stepped boldly through her yard, magpies quarreled over egg yolks she offered them, and a fox made regular visits. She read out loud to the fox. Her descriptions of his closeness- not a needy animal, but one that crossed paths and interacted with her out of- curiosity? or more likely, because he recognized that her activities in the clearing made for productive rodent hunts. The wording in this book, the slant of how it looks at wildlife is unlike most others I’ve encountered. Its has clarity from a different way of looking at things. It’s not just about the fox, deer, and voles- but about eagles, weasels, mice, swans, a badger cub, myriad insects and plant life that each have their own characteristics and ways of going about living in the world.
Raven quotes from The Little Prince, Moby Dick and Frankenstein by turns- which delighted me with recognition, although it’s been a long time so now I want to read them all over again. She relates the incidents in the woods alongside remarks about acquaintances and friends, students and colleagues, all a tad off-kilter as if something’s missing from those interactions. With the animals and plants it makes sense, though. If there were more of her words, for me to see how she saw- a feather in the hand, a certain rock, the way rain arrives in the sky- I would read them. It felt patchwork at times- but there’s an understanding at the end. There’s firefighting and road building and an attempt to rescue a wounded fawn. There’s her palpable worry when she thinks the fox has mange, and other times when she realizes acutely how short the life of a small wild animal can be. She attempts to keep her observations of the fox unemotional, to study him (that’s what her students and the scientific community expect) but finds that it changes their relationship, and she’d rather think of him as a fellow being, a creature alive in his own right, a friend.
There’s even a few segments written as if from the fox’s point of view, which I really liked and they didn’t feel out of place at all. This book is not without sad or even brutal moments, or frank descriptions of gore (she hunts deer, the fox tears apart prey, there’s discussion of foxhunting too) it’s not a sweet story but it’s a vivid private picture of how this wild animal touched her life. I would wish to know a fox, or even any wild animal, in this way.
Borrowed from the public library.