I froze, being alone at the time in a secluded place without a torch, before my rational mind kicked in and told me that two big men trespassing or intent on trouble would be at pains to conceal their movements.
My rational mind also told me it was an absolutely enormous badger. Gigantic. A woolly mammoth of a badger. In wellies.
The prickling at the nape of my neck however was accompanied by the word BOAR. And it was insistent.
Much later, with my then lover who lives in France, we frequently saw wild boar in the ancient oakwoods, and would go out to listen and spot them in his meadow at dusk. They sound like a huge wind in the canopy as they stream down the hillside through the forest.
As I was telling myself, this time, that we didn't get wild boar in Devon, I remembered that of course we do, in fact. Some friends who own a café in Tavistock, the other side of the moor from here, saw one early one morning wandering past the café, up the hill.
And after said lover and I had split up (the relationship didn't ever work, though our friendship was, and is, good), back here in Devon, in fact on the little Bere peninsula in 2007, I frequently saw the tusk-tearings of the earth and their hoofprints in the fields near my cottage (I kept quiet about it as wild boar was turning up too often on pub menus for my liking; and in fact 'mine' disappeared).
That year there was a great deal of fuss in the local paper about boar spotted on Yelverton Common, 3 or 4 miles from where I saw their tracks. ('Someone might sprain their ankle running away from one; we need to shoot them,' opined one well-known journalist who should have known better.)
In my newest collection, All the Missing Names of Love, I have this poem about them:
Then I remembered seeing a little group at a pool on Dartmoor. So it may be that we have them here, too.
(I remember also seeing them a number of times from the Paddington to Penzance train beside the tracks near Reading.)
It seems that boar became extinct in the UK in around the 13th century, though later attempts were made, usually unsuccessfully, to reintroduce them.
They may, just may, be recolonising – I hope. Some of the Devon ones were let loose deliberately from a wild boar farm, I gather. Let the wild endure, I say. (I also say that until we know how to relate skilfully to the inner wild we won't be able to relate healthily to the outer. Unless we make this relationship conscious and engaged, its shadow will be fear and violence, to put it crudely and simplistically.)
And in thinking about all this, I remember my Pictish studies at university, and how fascinated I became with the symbols carved on Pictish stones, of which the boar, as above – totemic guardian of valour and courage and ferocity – was one. I also remember that the people of Orkney (where some of the Pictish sites are) were the People of the Boar.
|I don't know who took this photo. I found it on the British Wild Boar site – if anyone knows, tell me and I'll credit them.|