We were on a foolish quest for wildlife in Winterthur – a place better known for its heavy iron and railway industry, not the natural world.
Undeterred, Tom and I climbed the woods on the edge of the town to the Eschenberg tower and continued on up the spiral staircase, until 170 steps and seven platforms later, we’d reached the top. Maybe we’d catch sight of deer, a woodpecker or an eagle owl? But no, there was nothing – not even a wood pigeon.
Disappointed we made our way back down the hill. The light was fading out, the charcoaled ash trees closing in as the winter sun sank behind the forest. There was a stillness in the air: of life, no trace.
Then I heard the snap of a twig. Looking around, I saw a young fox emerging from a fox hole. She began to follow us on the path. Then stopped; black-gloved paw comically suspended in mid-air. Our eyes connected. She tilted her head to one side, her snout quivering, holding my gaze all the while. I tried to outstare her – but the vixen wasn’t to be outfoxed. Fox 1: human 0.
I continued down the track, the cub padding behind, her thick tail with its white tip sweeping the ground like a feather duster. I stopped. She stopped, her bright eyes holding mine as if to say, “Human, you ain’t no big deal.”
When I halted again, the fox continued on towards me, all the while eye-balling me. Her black-laced trumpet ears twitched nervously, but still she came. Slowly I moved towards her, speaking quietly in German: “Es ist schon gut, kleine Füchsin. It’s all right.”
“Careful,” Tom called a warning. “This fox is so fearless it could have rabies.”
But the world had become reduced to this young fox and I. I edged closer, the cub unflinching, such curiosity in those eyes. I was so close now I could smell her animal body and see her breath looping the chilled air. I reached out … and she was gone, bounding off the path and into the undergrowth.