Nature Notes

Signifying Nothing: The Boy, the Fox and Macbeth.

Fox Cubs Janet

Pic by kind permission, Janet Taylor.

A few weeks ago, with the hawthorn in full, flowering waterfalls, my youngest daughter and I sat out to watch six, six-week-old fox cubs playing in the old badger sett they were living in. The dog fox and vixen were off lying up elsewhere, or hunting for them; the cubs old enough to be left alone. They sat out on the anthills and on the ramps of the sett entrance ‘porches’, their too-big triangular ears triangulating sound, swivelling like satellite dishes.

They grew bored and bold. One trotted off to the wood to find food himself, the others began playing like puppies; springing upon each other, biting necks and legs, leaping on all fours, pouncing, stalking, rolling. They chased their own glowstick tails, the little white tips like fireflies in the gathering dusk. They leapt like lambs at nothing. They disappeared down one hole and popped up from another to surprise a sibling with a bite on a tail, before being pounced on themselves. It was a grand, fast moving game of ‘whack-a-mole’, where it was we could do not to laugh out loud, and give our position away.


It was a welcome relief from a house under a cloud of GCSE’s. Just five years ago, I was here on the hill with my son in his last days at Primary School, as a fox cub approached us. Sat companionably beside each other, the fox we were waiting for left his earth at an exit above us, and we unwittingly found ourselves sitting on his path. With a bit of careful backwards shuffling, the curious, cautious and leggy –grown cub stalked past us. It was a magical moment. A moment of fledging.

Five years on, and a new fledging. He has almost finished a month of intense exams, where all the goal posts have been moved – as they were for me, when I did mine. Lines from Macbeth still ring through the house, though. None of us can help it. I get out my old margin-marked and doodled copy from 32 years away, and lay it beside his. He compliments me on my drawings and asks who the boy was, whose name is repeated in each Act in elaborate fountain pen. I shrug, nonchalantly. It wasn’t your father, I say, signifying nothing. He smirks. And goes up to his small bedroom to revise Chemistry, Biology, Geography. The night is richly and evocatively scented with the climbing rose and wild honeysuckle; scents that intensify with the onset of night. The first of the year’s blue tits, jackdaws, starlings and sparrows fledge from the house’s airbricks, chimney pots, eaves and the jasmine that curls around the house, planted 14 years ago, when my middle daughter was born.


At the weekend, he plays with his band at the Beer Festival in Froxfield, where the boy, whose name is written in Macbeth, also played, 32 years away. The village green is sandwiched between a hawthorn hedge, cottage gardens and the A4 to Marlborough. They are so good, these young people. Braver than I ever was, talented, tight, together. A little self-conscious. The swifts scream and scythe the sky above them like a carnival.
An evening walk and everything is so beautiful it hurts. All is softly illuminated: elderflower heads float, beheaded in the dark, hogweed umbellifers succeed the cow parsley and the glow from the cowls of cuckoo pint. Always, the chalk tracks are white as moonlight; the flints clinking like broken china reflect any residual light. The scent of burnet, field and dog rose perfumes the air.

And when the midsummer moon comes up, it is breathtaking.


The candles on the horse chestnut have snuffed out and are already forming tiny green conkers. I want to stop it all. Press pause. Hold onto it ‘til the last syllable of recorded time. It is too beautiful and there is not enough time to live it all.

We kick through the farmyard, dust settling on our boots. The dust that has risen and dampened and muddied and dried and risen again since time immemorial. The seasons roll around, feeling each time as fresh and new as they are familiar. Circling us on our trajectory forwards.


A favourite poem by Alan Kent has been nagging at me, so I find it out and read it to my son, who rolls his eyes as I delight in the Shakespearean title ’Signyfing Nothing’. But it is as if I’ve never read it before. The lines take on new meaning:

‘We stupid Celts see symbols in everything.
So I’m told, we sentimentalise the air from 7 seconds ago
And lament the dust shook from a backdoor mat.
Only the nostalgic and romantic fills our minds
There’s a deep longing for the homestead, see.
They say we see things that aren’t there
And always read into things too much.
Each rock, stone, sea, moor, plant, creature
Becomes tale, story, epic, poem, play, chronicle’

Each fox, with its comet tail, I think. He smiles. Pats my shoulder. Leaves.



10 thoughts on “Nature Notes

  1. An utterly sublime piece of writing. ‘Poetic’ sounds like a cliché. I adore poetry but this is even better. Tranportative, bringing to life the things that matter, the small seminal moments of individual.lives. Wonderful.
    I hope you get these comments. The last two or three I posted disappeared somehow!

  2. A heart-flutteringly beautiful piece that must resonate with many parents – and those who were once teenagers, a long time ago but somehow also just a couple of years back! ♡

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