Tuesday, July 6, 2021

Q&A with Catherine Raven



Photo by Henry Randel Chin


Catherine Raven is the author of the new book Fox & I: An Uncommon Friendship. It focuses on her relationship with a fox that appeared on her property. A former National Park Ranger, her work has appeared in a variety of publications, including American Scientist.


Q: What impact did your interactions with the fox have on you, and at what point did you decide to write this book? 


A: When I met Fox, I was staring down skunk-tail question marks in every direction. What was I going to do with my Ph.D.? Where was I going to live? Did I have the guts to leave the country and move to a city? My inability to decide was paralyzing me. You can’t move forward if you don’t know where you’re going. 


What grew out of my interactions with Fox was the understanding that I needed to put all those questions aside and figure out my purpose in life. Then I could chase down a profession that wouldn’t get in the way.


I understand now that purpose should always come before profession. The manifestation of this is that instead of defining myself as a noun, (doctor, professor, researcher) I defined myself with verbs (writing, teaching, helping students and animals, tending land, telling stories).


On a moonlit night, Fox brought his four kits down to my cottage. While they ran down the dry slough like it was a luge run, he went to sleep and entrusted me to keep an eye on them.

Sharing his kits and bestowing this trust (there was a weasel in the draw after all) was the impetus I needed to toss my nascent textbook in the trash and commit myself to telling his story. 


Q: What do you think the book says about friendship? 


A: Everyone needs one friend. No one needs a social circle. Like everything else worth having, friendship has a price, it’s not freely given. And finally, your friends are your legacy, and you are theirs. 


Q: During this pandemic, what do you hope readers take away from the book about nature? 


A: Nature is a community. I teach my university students this. The community is comprised of all the naturally occurring living things—not just people—and not just animals—that are interacting in a given area.


If you know someone who is feeling lonely, remind them that Nature is always going to welcome them. It’s the community they were born into.  


Q: What are some of your favorite books?  


A: In my memoir, I write about my favorite narrator, Herman Melville’s Ishmael, and one of my favorite protagonists, Victor Frankenstein. And of course, Wind, Sand, and Stars will never leave my bed table. 


Favorite books that are not mentioned in Fox and I include all the books in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy and All the Light we Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. 


Ishmael Beah’s A Long Way Gone is my favorite modern memoir. 


The Elegance of the Hedgehog is one novel I continue to re-read (and I keep hoping the ending will change). 


Q: What are you working on now? 


A: I’m writing a romance-murder mystery, The Owls of Sibyl Springs. It takes place during an exciting time in the Pacific Northwest: 1988-89. 


Q: Anything else we should know? 


A: The book was written for Fox. But it’s also for all the outsiders and misfits, especially those folks who find themselves naturally empathetic to animals and who think in pictures.


I want to tell them that “normal” is just a mathematical construct to identify one’s location relative to the bell-shaped curve. St. Exupery’s little prince says that “Those of us who understand life, couldn’t care less about numbers!” And I agree. 


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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