Secret

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This high pressure’s enough to make your eyes pop. The wind’s in the North and the sky’s come over crisp and bare as a baby’s iris.

In twenty years of watching and waiting, I’ve managed to glean a single piece of wisdom, and it’s dear to me because I learned it for myself. Whisper it, because I’m not a natural gloater – but I’ve found a weakness in the cunning fox; I know something he doesn’t want me to tell you. The barometer tilts me to a smug and knowing smile.

High pressure and a North wind makes a fine day for a fox, each one newly bloomed into a luscious winter coat. There’s nothing to be had underground on a brilliant sunlit day, so a fox will lie above it and cadge the shelter of myrtle and rowans. Far out on the hanging hill, I lie in the heather and spy upon him with my binoculars. And watching him in the cold November sun, I finally fell upon a wrinkle; a glitch; a habit which allows me to predict his next move.

On days like these, certain places will call up a fox like the smell of old blood. I can think of a dozen spots where you’d be guaranteed to find him when the day’s bright and the wind is cold; they’re little nooks and corners where he’s always bound to go. At first it seemed like there was no thread of continuity between them, but now I see they’re all the same. Every fox will profit from lying in precisely the same way, and it helps to put myself in their position:

  • I want to be in the sun and out of the cold North wind. So lie just below the brow of a south-facing slope.
  • I want to see what’s coming, so I pick a spot with a good view and I curl up so I can look down upon everything below me. And the wind comes from behind me – if I can’t see it, you can bet I’ll smell or hear it.
  • And I want to be sure that I can leave when I choose. I know every exit and I roll the options over in my mind. There are always half a dozen ways to make myself scarce.

Match those three requirements together, and you’ll find a fox – sure as eggs is eggs. I know a few places where they converge, so I wait for the weather to bring me a certainty.

And there are always more places to find. I look for them with as much enthusiasm as I’d look for the fox himself. It helps to walk the high ground on other days; it’s time spent in reconnaissance. I move through long grass and find new places where he might lie in a North wind. If I find a promising site, I’ll often lie down in it myself, trying to imagine how the view would look if I stood eight inches tall. Perhaps the heather is too thick after all – maybe it’s perfect.

I don’t think I’m being daft in this – a fox will never lie in anything but the perfect spot. And when you press your belly to the ground, you realise the genius of good shelter. I stand at six feet tall and a cold wind stings me. But lie down in the right place and I’m as comfortable as I would be indoors.

Sometimes I find a good new spot and I’m rewarded to find my prediction is accurate. It’s a fine glow to foretell the movements of a fox you’ve never seen before. Some older places are so well used that if you cannot see a fox lying out in a North wind, it’s only because he saw you first.

And having found my fox, I begin to think of stalking in with a rifle; new ways to confound the security of some far-flung perch. Sometimes there’s no way to get within half a mile. You have to lie out and wait and hope that he’ll get up and mooch away from safety into some piece of ground where the odds lie in your favour. I know two places where the approach is straightforward, and foxes are easily winkled out time and again. But kill the incumbent, give it a month and there’ll be another fox lying there, having felt the same, instinctive pull on a sunlit day.

Turn the weather into the east and foxes will move again like musical chairs. There will be another list of places to check and examine. Wet weather will shift the balance further. I daresay that if you lived for long enough and spent sufficient time in observation, you might finally crack the pattern for every weather. You could wake up in the morning, gaze out of the window and know where to go.

I only have one piece of the puzzle. I know where a fox will be on a cold, bright day with the wind in the North. But a fox gives nothing easily, and I wear my puny wisdom like a medal.

 

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