This book was a nice respite. It didn’t tackle a contentious political or social issue, nor did it build a fictional world fraught with challenges and interpersonal drama. Instead, it was a quiet meditation, shared by a purposefully solitary individual. The drama that did make it onto the pages was that of the natural world—ebbing, flowing, occasionally bloody, though not in a “man’s inhumanity to man” kind of way—and of metaphysical ruminations on the relationship between humans and nature, science and intuition.
Author Catherine Raven doesn’t share an in-depth backstory, but offers enough details that we know she’s been on her own for years. She left an unhappy home at fifteen, started college at sixteen, spent years as a backcountry ranger for the National Park Service, and eventually earned a PhD in biology. At the start of Fox & I she is living in a cottage on a small plot of land in Montana, miles from civilization.
Although Raven has some interaction with people—she teaches online classes and the occasional in-person field class—their presence is peripheral. The central characters of her narrative are the living things she shares space with—Gin and Tonic, two nearby juniper trees; Tennis Ball and Torn Tail, the two magpies she can distinguish from the rest; the voles inhabiting her pasture; and, most significantly, a fox (whom she calls Fox) that comes visiting every day at 4:15.
At first Raven, trained as a scientist, feels self-conscious about her relationship with Fox. She worries about anthropomorphizing him, and feels professional pressure to turn him into a research subject capable of yielding data points. As time passes, though, she becomes more comfortable with their companionable coexistence, which she acknowledges as friendship.
One of my favorite things about this book is Raven’s frequent invocation of world-weary Ishmael, narrator of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, and Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince (the book she reads aloud to Fox during his visits). By linking her own introspection about the nature of existence to theirs, she connects herself to a literary tradition in which plot is a convenient excuse to wrestle with the bigger, existential questions of life. If this is the sort of narrative you need right now, you’ll appreciate Fox & I.
Raven, Catherine. Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2021.