After a mid-afternoon meal of tortilla, consumé and hunks of the deeply textured heavily crusted bread that I have never eaten any place on earth except in the region of Galicia on the northwest coast of Spain, we sat on the bench in the narrow cobblestone street outside the house to talk. Later, my wife joined me for a leisurely stroll. We headed up the steep hill on the narrow sidewalk past the concrete row homes with the old wooden Dutch doors to the Capilla da Magdalena, the small chapel from which that section of the village takes its name.
At the very top of the rise the houses fall away, leaving only a narrow stretch of macadam road that winds back down to intersect the carretera where the ancient eucalyptus tree stands at the edge of town.
Across the way you could see the tiny houses along the road as it ran through Cuiña, Senra and San Claudio to Mera. The railroad tracks crossed this section of the estuary and ran past the old stone mill that operated with the rise and fall of the tides, the only such mill in the entire region.
As we descended the narrow road past the grassy fields hemmed in by thick brush and blackberry bushes, we saw two massive horses grazing, each lifting its head periodically to look at us. I noticed something moving in the tall grass by their haunches—a furry animal built low to the ground, brownish grey with a long bushy tail.
“Look!” I said. “Un zorro!”
“Are you sure?” my wife asked, straining on tiptoes to have a better look. “Yes, it certainly does look like a fox, doesn’t it?”
We watched as the fox moved back and forth through the grass, approaching the horses, which seemed to pay it no mind. At one point the fox stopped and lifted its head to look at us. Surprisingly, it didn’t run away; but held its ground, seemingly unafraid.
It was the first time I had seen a wild fox in the campos of northwestern Spain.
Back at the house my mother-in-law told us that there had been several sightings of fox in the area. “One used to come out of the pines and walk down to the ria at low tide to hunt for something to eat on the mud flats,” she told us. “It never seemed to be afraid of me when I saw it.”
I thought of Saint Exupéry’s fox in the Little Prince, and how he begged the little prince to tame him to make him his friend.
“If you tame me, it will be as if the sun came to shine on my life. I shall know the sound of a step that will be different from all the others. Other steps send me hurrying back underneath the ground. Yours will call me, like music, out of my burrow. And then look: you see the grain-fields down yonder? I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…”
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time.
“Please—tame me!” he said.
So the little prince tamed the fox. And when the hour of his departure drew near–
“Ah,” said the fox, “I shall cry.”
“It is your own fault,” said the little prince. “I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you…”
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“But now you are going to cry!” said the little prince.
“Yes, that is so,” said the fox.
“Then it has done you no good at all!”
“It has done me good,” said the fox, “because of the color of the wheat fields.”
Two days later I arose early while it was still night to take leave of my wife’s family and return stateside. My nephew drove my son and me to the airport. There was a light rain falling.
As we left the town, following the winding road along the edge of the ria, a waning gibbous moon broke through the misty clouds above the mountains that slept in the distance.
Later, the mountains would turn a deep rich green in the afternoon sun; and I would remember the fox playing in the field among the horses, unafraid.