(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ann, a city dweller, and her fiancé, Ken, are visiting the home of Ken’s parents in the outer reaches of a new suburban development. Ken reports that one of the two large tractors owned by McKay, the contractor who is clearing away trees and bushes for the expansion of the development, has been sabotaged. Ann, incredulous, cannot believe that anyone would deliberately tamper with clearing or construction equipment, but describes the preparation of marginal farming and grazing land for houses as ruthless. Ken takes pride in his business acumen and entrepreneurship: He is helping to provide people with suburban-style houses and enabling hardscrabble farm owners to realize some income from their land. As Ann acknowledges, he is more perceptive than he chooses to reveal. Ann, however, cannot imagine herself living in a development that has been carved from the bush (the Australian term for the undisturbed countryside).

Ken indicates that he and his friends know who has interfered with the tractors, and also allowed faucets on farm drinking-troughs to run continuously; they are prepared to set fire to the bush in order to flush out the hermit, who has several favorite living-spots in the region. At this, Ann realizes that she can never become one of Ken’s group; she has quite different values with regard to both the environment and the homeless, the eccentrics of society, those who commune with nature rather than destroy it in the name of progress.

The summer heat becomes oppressive, and the police cannot find the hermit, who knows every feature of the bush. Ken describes the hermit as a madman, because of his total identification with nature and rejection of conventional domesticity. Although one of his camps is...

(The entire section is 710 words.)