The first thing I do when I arrive back at my house in the Czech Republic, even before I unlock the door, is rub the muzzle of the fox door knocker. It is an old farmhouse on a hill called Liski Dira (Fox Hole in Czech) and the house is just like a fox with its haunches buried into the earth. As I lie in bed at night sometimes I can hear a vixen calling in the orchards above. The village dogs respond with frantic barking, but you can hear the fox laughing at them. “You have sold your freedom for a bowl of meat,” she says. “I have the moon and all the dark spaces in the forest.”
When I first bought the house I didn’t see any foxes, perhaps I was too busy restoring the house. I certainly wasn’t writing, although I had bought the house as a writing retreat. One evening as a taxi brought me from the station a fox crossed the road in the headlamp beam. “Liska,” said the driver with a smile. The following day I walked down from the woods with a basket of chanterelle mushrooms, called lisky (foxes) in Czech. It had started raining as I picked them and now it was sheeting down, so my head was bowed. Then I looked up and there standing in the middle of the lane a few yards away was a large fox looking straight at me. It contemplated me for a while and then trotted off across the fields. When we lived in London we were used to the brazen nature of town foxes, and even had a family of them sharing the garden with our cat, but in the countryside foxes are shy of humans. I told my Czech friend about the meetings with the fox. “That’s wonderful,” she said. “Foxes are lucky in this country, just like black cats in England. No wonder the taxi driver was pleased when a fox crossed your path. They are meant to be the familiars of witches, you know.”
After that sighting, the fox started to appear to me all the time and as it did so I began to write again. It seemed the fox was now my familiar and a bringer of words. Then during one stay in the house I didn’t see my fox at all and yet I still managed to write. My husband was visiting from the UK and as we stood in the back bedroom I commented on my fox’s absence. He grinned and said “Zoe turn round and look out of the window.” There, only a few feet away from us, my fox was strolling through the orchard.