The Forest of Dean is one of the few surviving ancient woodlands in England, a place of winding mossy paths and dreaming ponds. Since the turn of the millennium, it has also been home to a thriving population of wild boar after a number of the animals escaped from a nearby farm.
When my husband and I were walking in the forest, we could see signs of wild boar all around us – uprooted plants and areas of soil ploughed with strong snouts. Our little dog knew they were there too, sniffing the ground with his tail in the air, keen to run up steep banks and off into the trees. We kept him close. Boar have been known to kill dogs if they feel threatened.
It was disconcerting yet somehow thrilling to know that boar were there, so close and perhaps even watching us – yet we couldn’t see them. There was something magical about too; folk magic always has an element of wonder and fear. At night, as we lay in bed in our rented cabin on the edge of the woods, we wondered if we would hear them, tiptoeing under the windows, snuffling, bringing with them the wild from the heart of the woods.
Later, at home in Somerset, I wrote the following poem.
We heard wild boar had been sighted again
Deep in the heart of the forest,
Where mists drift over lily-specked ponds
And the ground is moist and black.
Of course, we showered them with curses:
Martha’s pigheadedness and glutton Thomas
And precisely why Morgan’s curtains are drawn…
Then we forgot all about them,
Left them to rootle, tusking up moss,
Cleaving the soil with their dainty toes,
Hoof prints sharp and pointed,
Approaching on the soft-turned mud.
Till we glimpsed the sun rise on the ridge of their backs;
Their moon-cradled bellies and skipping tails
Dancing too close;
Furrowing the turf by the back door,
Sending the dogs wild with rage –
You know that scent – ancient as roots.
At night, we hear wild boar outside,
Below the bedroom windows,
Trampling down marigolds, ripping up daisies,
Waking the dead in the churchyard;
Snuffling and squealing, carrying with them
A legion of sorrows, the sweet sins of the Earth.