Wednesday, June 17, 2009


You no longer exist, Wild Man of the Woods. But every time I go into the forest I expect you and am startled by your absence. How can it be only me here – me and my kind, in recycled rubber shoes, padding across the forest floor where nothing runs, hides and seeks but a few grey squirrels?

There are deer also, they venture out at night and get killed on the road. But what would you do here? The forest is not as large or wild as it once was and you too might wander onto the road, get caught in the headlights, your face for a brief moment illuminated, before the crunch. We read signs that tell us to go slow, there are deer and sheep. Another sign might say Caution: Wild Men of the Woods.

You have made yourself a garment out of bracken, deerskin and black bin-liners, something to protect you from the cold, perhaps. Around your neck there is a bone attached to a piece of string, bird feathers in your matted hair. Where is the mother that raised you – or were you suckled by the wolves? We do not see those either, and their absence is as loud as yours.

Alone in the deepest part of the forest where even the forest rangers seldom go, you squat on the thickest branch of an oak and open your mouth. From your throat comes the call of a woodpecker, and sometimes the long howl of a wolf.

One day some children find you – a brother and sister out with their parents for a Sunday walk, an autumn adventure with flasks of apple juice, peanut butter and marmite sandwiches. The parents are a little way behind and do not see what the children see: a wild and hairy man squatting on a branch, his genitals exposed, grey feathers stuck into hair the colour of rusted leaves, eyes like the big round letter O in their alphabet book, and inside the two Os it is black and shiny with staring. They stop and look, you stop and look.
Mum! Dad! shouts the boy.
You’re a funny man, says the girl. Are you a troll?
Dad! says the boy, Dad!

And then your nostrils flare, you growl and you are gone, disappeared.
He was here, say the children when the parents arrive. He wasn’t wearing proper clothes, I saw his willy, says the girl. The father pretends to have a look: well now, I wonder where he could have got to. The mother lays down a blanket for a picnic.
I’m not pretending - he was real, says the boy, and he will keep saying it, even when he grows up. There will be the story of a wild man in the forest. His parents are pleased he has a vivid imagination.

When they have gone, you come back and sniff the ground where they were sitting, pick up a half-eaten sandwich, put it into your mouth and spit it out. You go to your secret place under the Yew where there is a stash of berries.

Later you will kill and pluck a bird.


Zhoen said...

Sad life for obsolete gods. But he may yet have another day.

Nicola said...

Another believer! I saw wild man of the forest in my small wood about ten years ago. In a long coat of grey and brown hue, a tangle of grey hair. He rushed by so fast - I heard the swish of leaves only as he passed - no time to utter. Other than that there was no sound but the singing of birds - it was just after dawn. And not a peep from my dog who would have known any four-legged creature. I mentioned, warily, to two people. I didn't imagine him!
Lovely post and picture.

Reading the Signs said...

Zhoen, the wodwos (woodwoses) really used to exist and were considered potentially dangerous. By the Gawain poet, at any rate.

Nicola, it sounds as though you had an "actual" sighting. Mine purely imaginary. But imaginary people are real too.* So in that sense I am a believer.

* please don't anyone ask me to defend this position.

Nicola said...

No, no I think yours was real, mine possibly imaginary - who's to say? x

Reading the Signs said...

"They didn't nourish it with food, but only with the possibility of being..." (Rilke)

Nicola said...

Ah Rilke, ah Signs...exactly so!

trousers said...

The word ver = goreth - which sounds like the name of such a wild man, or at least one known well to him.

Reading the Signs said...

- and what I say is, Nicola, someone has to do the job. And we're doing it.

Trousers, that would be his Welsh cousin I think.

小小彬 said...


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