Oh but it has been threatening to rain all day, hasn’t it?
There was an odd scratching in the back corner of the garden and when I went to investigate – admittedly with a too-early gin and tonic in hand – I discovered a tiny hole in the ground, a pyramid of pink feathers next to it, and the distinct impression that there were eyes watching me.
When I turned to go back into the house, I heard footsteps behind me. Whatever is in the garden will out itself in due course, no doubt, after an appropriate period of skulking about.
Skulk is a word you’re undoubtedly aware of. It is an intransitive verb meaning to move about stealthily; to lie in hiding as out of cowardice; to lurk and it is a noun meaning a congregation of foxes or thieves; one who lurks or practices evasion.
The word originates from the Middle English, and from that it is of Scandinavian origin, similar to the Norwegian word skulka – to lie in wait, lurk. The British use skulk as a synonym for malinger – someone who shirks their duty or work and most people use skulk in a negative manner. A skulker is usually up to no good.
At first thought, a skulk of foxes might call to mind fluffy, lovely creatures who are cunning but also rather witty (I’m thinking of The Fantastic Mr. Fox). But when one thinks of things from the point of view of 13th century English speakers, a skulk was a passel of vermin; thieves lurking about the hen houses to steal eggs and ruin hard farm labor.
Whatever is skulking in my garden, I can be certain it’s not a congregation of thieves – foxy or otherwise. Nothing is ever that simple here.