A Beautiful Friendship: A Wild Fox Imparts Joy and Wisdom
You must start reading Fox & I with more than a little trepidation. The whole premise—solitary woman living in the backcountry of Montana befriends a wild fox—is fraught with heartbreak. Foxes in the wild live an average of three years. Humans live longer. Do the math. This book is not going to have a happily-ever-after ending.
But read on you must, because this is a mesmerizing true story of the natural world and humans’ interaction with it—for good or bad.
Author Catherine Raven, a member of American Mensa, has just finished a Ph.D. in biology from Montana State University and has built herself a small cottage not far from Yellowstone National Park where she leads field classes. She views this as a temporary rest stop as she prepares to move forward in her career.
Emotionally and physically isolated, she realizes she has a regular visitor: a mangy red fox who shows up on her property every afternoon. Eventually, she brings out a camping chair, setting it as close to the fox as she dares, and settles down to begin reading The Little Prince to him. The scene repeats itself the next day, and the next, and the next after that.
Raven is careful not to name the fox or turn him into a pet. If nothing else, her advanced degree in biology has taught her that “the scientific method is the foundation for knowledge and that wild foxes do not have personalities.” But the friendship that develops between the two is undeniable—and remarkable.
“Was I imagining Fox’s personality?” she asks early in the book. “My notion of anthropomorphism kept changing as I spent time with him. At this point, at the beginning of the relationship, I was mostly overcome with curiosity.” She immerses herself in his world of magpies, voles, deer, and juniper. She learns as much as she can about how he spends his days. By the end of the story, there is no question that Fox indeed has an engaging personality.
“The more I watched him, the more I understood him and appreciated his ease of living; insight became empathy,” Raven writes. “And empathy, I am convinced, is the gateway to friendship.”
For his part, Fox remains resolutely curious about Raven and visits regularly, staying for an average of 18 minutes, curled up with nothing but two meters and a plant or two separating the pair of unlikely friends. Raven finishes reading The Little Prince to Fox and starts on Horton Hears a Who!.
As with any friendship, there are ups and downs. Fox disappears, a litter of kits appears, Fox returns, there is a wildfire, he disappears again. Raven takes every opportunity to explain in beautiful detail the natural world, through both her eyes and the fox’s own experience.
You will end this book with tears in your eyes, but the insight shared and the wisdom gained are well worth any emotional toll paid.