On their shaggy, overgrown 165 acres, they cut their own firewood, hayed the fields, and raised not only pigs but draft horses, rabbits, ducks, chickens, goats, sheep, and children. But the pigs, I suspect, were Georges favorites. And they were mine, too.
We visited them every spring. We didnt get to see George and Mary oftenour schedules and lives were so differentbut the baby pigs ensured we never lost touch. The last time wed visited was the previous March, at the close of sugaring season, when George was out boiling sap from their sugar maples. March in New Hampshire is the dawn of mud season, and the place looked particularly disheveled. Rusting farm machinery sat stalled, in various states of repair and disrepair, among the mud and wire fencing and melting snow. Colorful, fraying laundry was strung across the front porch like Tibetan prayer flags. Inside the house, an old cottage in desperate need of paint, the floors were coming up and the ceilings were coming down. Late that morning, in a kitchen steamy from the kettle boiling on the woodstove, we found a seemingly uncountable number of small children in flannel pajamastheir three kids plus a number of cousins and visiting friendssprawled across plates of unfinished pancakes or crawling stickily across the floor. The sink was piled with dirty dishes. As Mary reached for a mug from the pile, she mentioned everyone was just getting over the flu. Would we like a cup of tea?
No thanks, Howard and I answered hastilybut we would like to see the pigs again.
The barn was not Norman Rockwell. It was more like Norman Rockwell meets Edward Hopper. The siding was ancient, the sills rotting, the interior cavernous and furry with cobwebs. We loved it. We would peer over the tall stall doors, our eyes adjusting to the gloom, and find the stalls with piglets in residence. Once we had located a family, we would climb in and play with them.
On some farms, this would be a dangerous proposition. Sows can weigh over five hundred pounds and can snap if they feel their piglets are threatened. The massive jaws can effortlessly crush a peach pitor a kneecap. The razor-sharp canines strop each other. And for good reason: In the wild, pigs need to be strong and brave. In his hunting days in Brazil, President Theodore Roosevelt once saw a jaguar dismembered by South American native pigs. Although pigs are generally good-natured, more people are killed each year by pigs than by sharks. (Which should be no surprisehow often do you get to see a shark?) Pigs raised on crowded factory farms, tortured into insanity, have been known to eat anything that falls into the pigpen, including the occasional child whose parents are foolish enough to let their kid wander into such a place unsupervised. Feral pigs (of which there are more than four million running around in the United States alone) can kill adult humans if they are threatened. That pigs occasionally eat people has always struck me as only fair, considering the far vaster number of pigs eaten by humans.
But Georges sows were all sweethearts. When we entered a stall, the sow, lying on her side to facilitate nursing, would usually raise her giant, 150-pound head, cast us a benign glance from one intelligent, lash-fringed eye, flex her wondrous and wet nose disk to capture our scent, and utter a grunt of greeting. The piglets were adorable miniatures of their behemoth parentssome pink, some black, some red, some spotted, and some with handsome racing stripes, like baby wild boars, looking like very large chipmunks. At first the piglets seemed unsure whether they should try to eat us or run away. They would rush at us in a herd, squealing, then race back on tiny, high-heeled hooves to their giant, supine mother for another tug on her milky teats. And then they would charge forth again, growing bold enough to chew on shoes or untie laces. Many of the folks who bought a pig from George would later make a point of telling him what a great pig it was. Even though the babies were almost all destined for the freezer, the folks who bought them seldom mentioned what these pigs tasted like as hams or chops or sausage. No, the people would always comment that Georges were particularly nice pigs.
Excerpted from The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery Copyright © 2006 by Sy Montgomery. Excerpted by permission of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
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