A few weeks ago, I house sat for a friend. My friend – I’ll call her Dahlia to protect her identity – needed time away from the farm. And I was always ready to go to the country. So I packed up my dog and my laptop and headed for her place.
All went well – Dahlia’s dogs and my dog got along famously, and I fed poultry and gathered eggs and took care of the four Tamworth pigs that were fenced in the summer garden area to root and till the soil for next year. They respected the electric fence and happily munched their way through the old stems and stalks, and slept piled into a giant, snorting pile of bristly red bodies. Each one weighed over 200 pounds, and I could almost see them grow fatter each day.
The last night I was there, a rainstorm whipped through the area. I woke up in the middle of the night, thinking about the electric fence. I hoped that nothing was near enough to blow onto it, grounding out the electricity. But, I thought, it was too dark to check. It was what it was.
At first light, I started a pot of coffee, pulled on chore boots and headed for the garden.
I scanned the horizon. No hunchbacked forms climbing the hill behind the pen. No happy grunts coming from the nearby chicken house. The pigs had made a run for it. In an instant, my schedule for the day changed.
Now pigs don’t do anything they don’t want to do. Pig owners know that the only way to coax a pig back into its pen is with really good treats. I ran back to the house to collect the best of the best – apples, bread, whole corn, and peanut butter. I threw everything into a bucket and headed up to the nearest woods line, shaking the bucket and calling, “pig, pig, PIG!” every few steps.
After an hour or so (or less, but when you are searching for missing pigs it always seems like hours) I trekked back down to the scene of the crime. Then, I saw the trail. A line of rooted-up grass right along the house fence, leading straight down to the road.
A pickup stopped in front of me as I trudged to the pavement. “You looking for pigs?” the driver called. “I almost hit one back there.” I waved a thank you and headed in the direction of his pointing finger, and he gave me a smile and drove off.
The pigs were in the neighbors’ yard, digging up flower bulbs from newly mulched beds. The neighbor came out with his dog, and the dog set off barking after the pigs. They promptly chased the now-very-nervous Cocker Spaniel around the yard. “I’m sorry,” I muttered to the neighbor. “It’s okay,” he answered. “I would help, but I’m off to work!” He waved gaily at me and left in a cloud of dust. He was no fool. Whatever he had in store at work was heaven compared to chasing pigs.
I shook my bucket of treats and called out to the pigs, and they briefly stuck their flat snotty noses up into the air and sniffed, determining if my bucket was worth their time. But, they decided there were places to go, people to see. They wandered up and down the fields, sniffing and tasting. A man came out of his house with a big black dog – both annoyed. The dog growled and barked and nipped, and the man held a shovel like a semiphore flag, and both the dog and the man only served to annoy the pigs. I followed behind them like a lost little sister, swinging my bucket. The best I could do was try to keep them out of the flower beds and off the back porch. I slapped them on their round flanks, grabbed their ears and yanked, and clicked and clucked at them. I had called for reinforcements, and I knew my friend Molly (also a pseudonym) would be there as soon as she could. But I also knew, that in this case, two heads were still no match for four pig-heads. It was a waiting game.
Then, the pigs found heaven. For pigs, that is. They wandered down to the edge of the road, and just before stepping onto asphalt, the lead pig stopped and swung her head toward the thin line of trees that marked the edge of Dahlia’s property.
Now, for you readers not familiar with porcine likes and dislikes, nuts are high on the list of favorite things. Hickory nuts are especially favored – kind of like Godiva chocolate for the discriminating pig.
My bucket of goodies meant nothing. “Pig, pig, PIG!” I called. The four Tamworths ran as fast as their little hooves could take them to the trees, and just before they got there they lowered their wedge-shaped heads and plowed into the thick blanket of leaves.
The bliss! Eyes closed to tiny slits, smiles on rubbery pink lips, the pigs had found Nirvana. They ate and ate, throwing leaves into the air and gulping mouthfuls of hickory nuts – they had to stop between banquets to catch little pig naps in the soft undergrowth.
All I could do was hold my bucket, and watch,and think about the coffee that was waiting for me back in the kitchen.
To be continued……