Yesterday, I pulled open my bedroom curtains, and out fell a butterfly onto the floor, a large, beautiful red and black butterfly. It sat on the floor, fluttered its wings open twice, and then, with an air of finality, closed them. I didn’t get the chance to identify its markings. I thought it must be dying.
This summer, I found a lot of butterflies in my home, and I managed to liberate every single one of them. They flew erratically, energetically, from room to room like vibrant points of light, and indeed, they left their light behind them, imprinted brightly in my mind.
But this one was still. If it was dying, I wanted to set it free. But doing so this time didn’t feel right; it was so cold, and aren’t butterflies summer creatures? I took it outside and laid it on the ground, willing it to open its glorious wings and fly. It didn’t. I was the last person to witness its radiance.
This morning, its wings have been dusted white with frost. The whole world was white, glistening silver under a bright blue sky, shimmering with the jewel-like glow which only comes on the morning after a hard frost.
My robin came right up to the house, feasting on the left over ‘magic reindeer food’ that my son Malachy scattered for Rudolph and friends on Christmas Eve. He’s never come so close before, driven by need, grateful for this unexpected bounty on a frozen morning, made brave or perhaps careless, by such easy pickings. I’ll scatter more for him later.
In Irish mythology, it’s said to be very bad luck to kill a robin, and that anything evil done to him will happen to the perpetrator. For a robin to stay close to the house indicates a harsh winter ahead. And as with the Battle of the Oak and Holly Kings at midwinter solstice, there is also an Irish myth which claims the Wren as the King of the waning year, which is killed by the Robin, the new King of the waxing year.
And then, the strangest thing of all. As I was making lunch, I glanced out of the kitchen window to be rewarded by a sight I have longed for since we moved here seven years ago; a fox in my garden. He strolled purposefully up the hill, taking his time, his coat a fiery beacon against all that white. He slipped under the fence into the next field, then ducked back into our garden and trotted along the fence behind the house.
And then he was gone, and I could breathe again.
I knew there were foxes here, although all this time, I had never seen one. There are two hunts which begin outside my front door every year, horse boxes and horse dung deposited all along the perimeter of my garden. Lost riders, injured horses, over-excited bloodhounds, and a tangible feeling of anticipation in the air.
To hunt for one’s food is a primeval urge deep within which most of us stifle. I get that. To hunt for sport and cruelty is not something I can condone.
There are rabbits and hares in abundance on my hill, all which make use of my garden; the rabbits particularly love to play the game ‘lets torment the stupid slow mutt who lives in that garden’. And where rabbits play, foxes are never too far away. Sadly, many a fox has met its end on my local roads, leaving its earthly remains behind for me to grieve over.
But never to my knowledge has a fox entered my garden, and certainly not in broad daylight. Aren’t they creatures of nocturnal habit?
In Irish mythology, as elsewhere, the fox was respected for its cunning and stealth, and was thought to be a shape-shifter. It’s possible that in ancient times, he could have been hunted for his pelt, and that this could have held ritual significance. It’s interesting that the 2000 year old bog body known as Lindow Man, in the UK, was found wearing a fox fur amulet.
I feel fortunate that these creatures have allowed me a glimpse into their world, but I am perturbed that they are acting out of character. I can’t shake the feeling that these experiences indicate something unusual is afoot.
Of course, it could just be my over-active writer’s imagination going into warp speed…