HAVE YOU SEEN AN ARCTIC FOX YET? The brochure asked me in big, bold letters that leapt off the yellow paper.
No, I hadn’t, but I jumped at the possibility. Foxes are my favorite animals, but beyond a few glimpses of the red foxes slinking through my backyard, I never got the chance to be up close and personal with any.
The municipality of Sudavik is approximately a ten minute drive East of Isafjordur, the largest town in the Westfjords. Sudavik itself is a small village with a population of 200, and is home of the Arctic Fox Centre, an historic-building-turned-museum dedicated to Iceland’s only native land mammal.
Each room of the small, two-story house is dedicated to a different theme: biology and ecology, research, history, and hunting. A young volunteer from Boston gave me a brief tour to hit to the highlights of each room, then left me to my own devices but beseeched me to simply ask any of the volunteers if I had any questions.
I was treated to a wealth of information about the role the Arctic fox has played in the history and ecology of Iceland. I spent quite a while perusing the rooms, reading about the controversy between sheep farmers and foxes; the behaviour of a fox in the wild; the unique coloring of the foxes in Iceland; and the patterns of the population on the Hornstrandir Nature Reserve, home to nearly eighty percent of Iceland’s wild foxes.
The highlight of my visit, though, was going around the back of the building to the small enclosure that housed two young foxes, Ingi and Mori, a pair that had been orphaned the previous year and were unfit or otherwise unable to be released. A musky, skunk-like odor hung heavily in the air, the scent of fox present long before the sight of one. I was not familiar enough with the pair to be able to tell them apart, but one of the foxes was curled up, asleep in the middle of the enclosure, but the other was right up against the chain link fence, frolicking and playing with the visitors.
I could have spent all day crouched by the fence, letting the curious vulpes gnaw on my hands and hair ties, laughing along with the mischief in his bright yellow eyes, digging my fingers into his thick, plush, blue-gray fur. I snapped as many pictures as I could, then noticed other patrons of the museum glancing my way with envy. I loathed leaving the playful animal, but I was getting cold in the light drizzling rain, and accepted it was only fair to let others have their turn playing with the fox.
I returned to the museum to buy a waffle and coffee from the cafe, and warmed up over the delicious snack whilst chatting with a couple of the volunteers and curators. We discussed social media, and tourism, and general small talk, and I found out there was a volunteer program that offered food and lodging for a handful of weeks in exchange for volunteering at the museum.
It was time for me to leave much too soon, but I purchased a magnet with the museum’s logo – my only souvenir from my extended stay in Iceland – before I left.