Wild in the Woods

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.

 

Wild Boar

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.

Bees in the Eaves

With dawn, the wall begins to wake and I lie listening to the sounds of stirring. Bumble bees have made a nest under the cottage eaves. In the quiet, you can hear them as they start to go about their working day.

These bees are less intrusive than our previous summer guests – a colony of hornets. While  the hornets were placid creatures, we soon learnt to shut the windows when dark fell. The insects were attracted to artificial light, and would parade outside the glass near lit lamps. Similarly, whenever I mowed the lawn, I was aware they might be disturbed by the vibrations, so kept my distance from the site of their nest above our back door. Although the hornets would occasionally emerge to take a look while I was pottering around outdoors, we left each other respectfully alone. All the same, I admit I was relieved when they moved on.

The buildings we live in are home to many more lives than our own, from solitary masonry bees who crawl into cracks between bricks and beetles under the floorboards, to summer’s swifts swooping over the roofs of rural towns. While instinct can incite us to treat some of these cohabitants as ‘pests’, the rewards to be had from controlling our impulses towards them are manifold – from pollinating gardens to caring for the planet.

The buzz of the bumble bees in the wall and the way we react to insects generally inspired me to write the following short piece; I hope you enjoy it:

 

Inside The Wall

 

The woman and the man watch the wall

A-creep with beetles, bees and ants.

When, at last, the returning queen

Docks with the insect grace of an airship,

The woman points and the man nods.

In white suit and alien helmet

He cautiously climbs a ladder,

Puffs poison into cracks

And seals the entrance with dead white:

No hornets here this year.

 

Next summer, she lets a waking queen

Out of an upstairs window,

Then stops to listen.

The bedroom wall humming like a blocked tap.

Outside she spots them circling:

Small bumblebees, black blobs of velvet,

Nesting under the eaves.

Their song is strangely comforting –

As if the stones were alive and

Nothing quite destroyed.

 

(© Sue Belfrage, 2018)

 

In other news, Bull Mill Arts near Warminster,  Wiltshire are hosting an open studio event on 7 to 8 July, where copies of the new paperback edition of my book, Down to the River and Up to the Trees, will be available as part of the event’s celebration of trees and nature.