Two geese had disappeared and many eggs as well. Foul play was suspected and affirmed when remnants of the beloved birds were found in the same spot. A fox- hunting by night and eluding us farm folk by day. Well Farmer Boss wasn’t havin’ none of that. “What are you doing, Nick?”, we asked one day as he walked by the earth dome the interns were busily rendering. “Hunting fox,” he replied.
Later that evening, as we were having supper, Farmer Boss was still out stalking the fox in to the night. Suddenly he radio-ed in on the walkie-talkie that the hunt was successful. An hour later, as I walked around the corner with my clean laundry in hand, there it was- a fully grown male fox, laying on his side, still but seemingly not lifeless. Though it was motionless, I could somehow sense the movements the fox was capable of; the leaps and bounds, the crouching, darting and pouncing his nimble legs and sly body has performed for a lifetime was still somehow expressed in that scene under the dim light of the wool shed. A few of us admired the catch as we listened to the hunters’ story of searching, waiting, honing in on the behavior of prey and seizing opportunity to go in for the kill.
I was indeed moved by the whole thing. Can I justify the death of this fox? Was this fox the perpetrator of the missing geese? How will the environment be effected by the absence of the predatory creature? Do I feel sad, happy, indifferent? What is it like to stalk and kill such a beautiful and (to me) this spiritually significant creature? What will happen to the body, bury or compost? And… what of that gorgeous fur?
I have heard stories of a previous Milkwood intern who had taught herself to tan pelts and had flipped through a book in the wool shed library pertaining to the topic. Never been interested in using animals for parts. In fact I had been slightly traumatized before by a calf slaughter demonstration and since have avoided such things. But this was very different- I was propelled by the compulsion to not waste an opportunity. As I looked at the helpless fox, a story of a beautiful wild life played out in the face and fur of the animal. Every meal that generated the growth of the coat, every rainstorm the fur protected him from, the musky smell that accompanied his prowess and defined his territory was all there still expressed in the outer layer of an endless orchestra of a life that has come to a resting place right before me. It’s almost like I had the responsibility to honor the fox by preserving what my eyes beheld as most beautiful- that fur.
Sleep was lost as the kitties and I researched how to skin and tan a fox pelt. The next morning I arose to find to my great relief Olivier in the wool shed drinking his mate and playing with his iPhone. “I’m keen to skin the fox if you are!”… I knew I could count on Olive to give me a hand. The first incision was a touch awkward for me, but the rest was easy peelin’. Then it was just a matter of scratching off as much meat and tissue from the skin as possible, grinding some rock salt and layering it on thick. The pelt now rests on a wooden plank beneath the wool shed, conveniently on an old sheep run angled just enough for any juices and condensation to run off. In a few days I’ll make a soaking solution of alum, soda, salt and water to soften and preserve the pelt.
As for the rest of the fox, lets just say the compost heap is cookin hot! No meat is left on the bones after just a few days of decomposing in the middle of lasagna layered straw, grass, ash and compost. The biology and chemistry and HEAT that happens in a compost heap is something else! Have a look at what Madame Claire has to say. Thanks and much profound respect to the fox, the geese, Mrs. and Mr. Farmer Boss, my fellow interns and Chef Rose, Milkwood and to the universe at large for this opportunity to learn and grow. The cycle doth continue.