Journeying further into Dark Mountain’s new anthology, TERRA, I reach Sara Hudston’s wonderful, powerful parable, Wild Apples. “Francis hated animals.” It’s not just animals. Francis — named ironically for that Assisi guy, of course — hates all evidence of the non-human, natural world. An ex-countryside refugee — “He’d escaped as soon as he could to the city where women liked to be looked at and men could talk intelligently of important matters” — he’s forced back into rural exile, singled out for unidentified duties by an unnamed bureaucracy with no apparent purpose.
We can, just, sympathise with his culture shock: nature shock. “It was raining when he arrived … to be expected in the countryside,” and his accommodation — damp, uncomfortable, “needlessly stark, old stones mothy and chill” in the middle of nowhere — reeks of mouldy apples. His discomfort is compounded by all that bloody nature, which just will not shut up. The birds wake him at dawn and he’s forced outside, into a restless arena of growing, mating, barking wildlife. Wildlife that inexplicably insists on feeding him, offering company and simple, subsistence things to do. And then, unexpectedly, another human arrives…
As I type, it’s raining outside. The grey woods insist I visit.