Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship

Catherine Raven

Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship
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Fox and I: An Uncommon Friendship

Catherine Raven

Catherine Raven left home at 15, fleeing an abusive father and an indifferent mother. Drawn to the natural world, she worked as a ranger in national parks, at times living in her run-down car on abandoned construction sites, or camping on a piece of land in Montana she bought from a colleague. She managed to put herself through college and then graduate school, eventually earning a PhD in biology and building a house on her remote plot. Yet she never felt at home with people. Except when teaching, she spoke to no one.


One day, she realised that a wild fox that had been appearing at her house was coming by every day precisely at 4.15. He became a regular visitor, eventually sitting near her as she read to him from The Little Prince or Dr Seuss. Her scientific training had taught her not to anthropomorphise animals, but as she grew to know him, his personality revealed itself - and he became her friend. But friends cannot always save each other from the uncontained forces of nature.

Though this is a story of survival, it is also a poignant and dramatic tale of living in the wilderness and coping with inevitable loss. This uplifting, fable-like true story about the friendship between a solitary woman and a wild fox not only reveals the power of friendship and our interconnectedness with the natural world, but is an original, imaginative, and beautiful work that introduces a stunning new voice.

Review

Catherine Raven lives on her own in a tiny hand-built house, on acres of land off a dirt track that has never been named, far from towns and civilisation. She likes it that way – the remoteness of her bush block providing respite from the over-stimulating world of science and academia and human beings. Because here’s the thing: Raven is no ordinary recluse: she has a PhD in biology and regularly (somewhat reluctantly) leaves her refuge to teach graduate students at universities.

Raven is a kindred spirit with wild things. Her science training gives her the knowledge of why events occur, but her curiosity opens her up to all the surprising things science can’t explain. Like Fox. Why does Fox, a wild, ‘unboxed’ animal (as opposed to ‘boxed’ animals, such as pets) start turning up at her house every single afternoon at 4.15pm? 4.15 on the dot, every afternoon. She sits and studies him, as he sits and studies her. Then, one day, she starts reading out loud to him from The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Fox stays and listens. Over multiple afternoons, Raven and Fox build a connection. She reads him Moby Dick. Occasionally Dr Seuss. She takes Fox (and us) on a surprising literary journey, mixed in with natural history, animal behaviour, photosynthesis, bushfires, and everything else that catches her eye. This isn’t an earnest book. It’s funny and witty and engaging and insightful and whimsical – in fact, there are so many charming passages that I wanted to refer back to later, that my copy looks appropriately dog-eared (for a book about a fox).

Raven braids the story of Fox and I like strands of ribbons: Fox is tied up with The Little Prince, while Moby Dick twirls in amongst it. Biology is plaited throughout, together with insights into human nature (as told from the perspective of a true outsider). All of it woven together to make a truly beautiful yarn.


Gabrielle Williams is a bookseller at Readings Malvern, is the Grants Officer for the Readings Foundation, and is the Prize Manager for The Readings Prize.

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