July 19, 2014

Vulpes vulpes (redux)

Dark deeds call for dark times, and there was no better time than last night, as a storm gathered, to go and chop the head off a dead fox.

No, I haven't been won over to Wicca; all that's happened is that the memory of my first cold-water maceration has worn off enough to tempt me to try the same process again. As mothers apparently forget the pains of childbirth, I've forgotten how hideously the rat smelled in his lidded bucket in the yard, remembering only the lovely haul of little bones that resulted – and now I'm willing to go there again.

I found the fox a few days ago, on Tooting Common – well, my dog did. I spotted Scout just at the moment she dropped one shoulder and prepared to roll in it, and I shouted her name vehemently enough to stop her in her tracks – which was just as well: fox scat is bad enough (you have to coat the dog's fur in ketchup and then wash it several times) but dead fox really would be a bridge too far. Having said that, the young cub was very dessicated by the recent hot weather, and when I approached and saw what it was I couldn't detect a smell.

The first time I tried to collect a dead fox I was thwarted: returning with the right implements (aka 'going equipped'), I discovered that someone or something had got there first. So as my husband and I set out I was a little anxious that it would be a wasted trip: several days had passed since I had found it, and after a blazingly hot afternoon the Common was busy with drinkers and evening picnickers. But it appears that none of them had any use for half-rotten dead animal – which seems strange to me, but I suppose there's nowt so queer as folk.

The air was close and heavy, the clouds gathering ominously above. My husband told the dog to sit and wait, we snapped on our surgical gloves and got the folding saw and gaffer tape out of the rucksack.

The young fox was in a state of advanced decay and so there wasn't much flesh left. A couple of beetles scuttled away as I gently moved the little head, detaching the vertebra easily, and there was still no smell, but the hide was tough and required work with a penknife. We laid the head gently in a takeaway container, taped up the lid and wrapped it in a plastic bag, then bagged up the tools and used gloves and left the area.

At home I put the head in a bucket half-filled with water and weighed the lid down with large stones. In a couple of months I hope to have a complete fox skull; or if it dearticulates, as the rat's did, at least those beautiful, sharp, milk-white canines.