He crows in the prickle of stars and the morning. He crows in the willows and the smoke-blown dawn where the cattle have lain and left the marks of their lying in the frost. The smell of his nightsoil hangs in the rushes and he crows.
The sound comes to me like a pang of irretrievable loneliness. Cattle blink, and I watch the weight of my own hot breath departing. Remember when a vixen yelled and we heard her go down to roost with her cubs? That was summer, and this is different because his yells are mannish and dull, and there’s only me to hear them now. He is a dog fox calling. I have to lean or I’ll fall; you can’t ask an empty sack to stand.
Then he lies for the day in some bracken bed beyond the limits of my land. He lies in a curl like some expensive cat with the breeze at his back and his eyes like slits in a mitten. I work at my chores quietly, but I know that he can hear every turn of my spanner; the durly scrawl of my shovel in the sty.
Now and then he’ll stand and flex and round upon himself to lie tighter and small. He’ll yawn, and the day will find his tongue is clean as a beak. It’s no light work to crow and cover ground at this time of year, but he’s duty bound to do the rounds and it’s fair to say that he’s earned a rest. The sun slumps and trails his fur with shadows of rowan boughs and bramble stems. Without moving his head, he lies and watches birds pass over him in silence like motes of dust. His brush lies like a tool-sleeve across his nose.
When all I owe the small day has been paid, he stands and slips down from the bracken like an unslung sylph. It’s almost dark when he crows again and trades me for the empty hill.