By Charlotte Degen
“I never met a pig I didn’t like. All pigs are intelligent, emotional, and sensitive souls. They all love company. They all crave contact and comfort. Pigs have a delightful sense of mischief; most of them seem to enjoy a good joke and appreciate music. And that is something you would certainly never suspect from your relationship with a pork chop.”
If George leaves the smell of himself in the trailer, Mr. Harvey, my horse, may take a dislike to it. How do pigs think? And just how big is George? These and other questions collided in my mind as I sorted through cascading worries. My friend Suzie’s telephone call to ask if I would be willing to use my horse trailer to transport a pig to her farm, threw me into mental anguish. Peter immediately answered positively. He delighted in the idea of doing something novel, something he had never done and knew very little about. But complications were indeed ahead of us all as we took on this task.
As that chilly, grey March day dawned, we activated our plan. The roads were still covered with a thick layer of compressed snow. The exposed sections had mounds of mud and pot holes, all remnants of the recent severe winter (one of the worst according to longtime residents). First, Mr. Harvey had to be transported to Suzie’s barn. Then we planned to travel to Harwich and pick up George, a short 5-mile drive. We would drop him off at his new house at Suzie’s farm and be ready to join Peter’s men’s basketball game in Harwich by 11:30 a.m. Since the initial call, I found out some information about George: he was along in years, had been a pet with his owner since he was a tea cup-size piglet, now weighed about 100 pounds and was the size of a coffee table. He was apparently built like a large block of lead. And probably most importantly, George was the object of his owner Maurie’s loving kindness and devotion. She shared his St. Patrick’s Day party picture with me to help me better judge his size for the trailer. Since the pickup day was just after St. Pat’s day, I thought it not so extraordinary that she had a fun picture in the ready.
Mr. Harvey was his usual interested traveler self. The steep hill down to Suzie’s barn (and George’s new shed) was slick with a sheet of pressed ice and slushy textured snow. Harvey walked down the hill with only a few slips, Suzie on one side and me on the other. Now it was off to Harwich to get George, driving behind Suzie and Maurie in the lead car.
Our arrival stirred several large, barking, leaping mastiff-looking dogs who Ken, a ruddy wire-strong man, unsuccessfully tried to call off, then herded into the house. We were instructed to park the trailer on the downward incline of the driveway, a curious directive since the trailer has a large functioning ramp for easy access. But we were informed that we may have to carry and shove, yes, shove, the pig onto the trailer. Maurie was already leading the now harnessed George patiently, step by step, toward the open trailer. She had enticed him out of his inactive state by shaking a bucket of peanuts, which he munched after each step forward.
In the flesh, up close, George may be the most appalling animal I have ever encountered, or worse, worked with. He has bristle, not hair. His eyes are so small, at a casual glance, they are entirely hidden in his head. He has a huge mouth with tusks growing from the sides, lined with plentiful white foam at what I guessed to be the corners. He smells like a combination of forest floor loam and rancid corn mash. His dirty clove feet have nails that grow at least three inches beyond the tissue and that curl upwards. Sometimes he walks on his feet and sometimes on his knees, which are black with thickened layers of callous. One cannot tell reliably what part of his body he walks on because so much of it is on the front end. George’s head and mouth are enormous, and the foaming lips and tusks, distracting. Still, every few minutes, George would take one more step. But his slow rate would likely prevent us from achieving our morning schedule plan. Soon, Ken reappeared with a pillow case in hand and said he would move this process along. I began to imagine the pillow case draped over George’s eyes, which would step up his pace towards the trailer. How wrong these thoughts were. Such wild imaginings I had.
Ken issued us all one warning about the screams of a “stuck pig”, shoved George’s head into the pillow case and pushed his body towards the trailer ramp. The noise was deafening. Quiet plodding George transformed into a squealing terror, emitting death squeals from the seventh level of hell. George was doing as much as he could to scare us off. Then, the screaming and squealing stopped abruptly when Ken yelled, turned redder, fell back against the trailer side and announced he had pulled out his back. This added to the worries of the day. Would Ken need medical intervention? Would he be able to continue to coach us in our task? Since George was tantalizingly close to the ramp, Peter, Suzie and I stepped up and cajoled George to take 10 more steps. Suzie cooed to him, spinning her magic song, signaling to all of us, including George, that things were just fine. He was in.
Ah, now, how do you tie a pig inside a trailer? Maurie promptly suggested she ride in the trailer with George to help him feel safe, which, she said, would eliminate the need to tie him. We all immediately agreed—not a one of us save Maurie wanted any contact with George. We helped Maurie climb into the trailer—she chose to go in on hands and knees. We closed all the doors.
Mid- point during the trip back to Suzie’s, Peter checked on Maurie and the pig. Maurie had moved onto the floor of the trailer, nestling herself in the clean shavings. George decided to lie down so close to her that some of his extra flesh lay across her. Maurie and her pig were weathering the trip just fine. Maybe George understood that his human friend was taking him to a better place. Our trip to move George was almost complete. But how could we get him out of the trailer down the ice covered hill?
Because it was so late now, we tried to off load George on to a sled and slide him down the hill. George did not like sleigh rides. He started to get very agitated and we all decided to let him amble at his own pace with Maurie softly encouraging each step. She must have been exhausted by the end of that long icy trek down the hill. I did not witness his final arrival into his new shed.
What I did see later that day was a surprise. The last part of this odyssey was really not expected. Two children at the farm were gleefully chatting with George. George was standing at his fence line, wagging (sort of a twirling motion) his thick spaghetti-shaped tail at them. Later still, several other folks came by to chat with George. And I have to admit that I was at his pen as well. While caring for Mr. Harvey, I kept glancing towards George to assure myself of his welfare. He was no less ugly then when I first saw him although he was no longer foaming from his mouth. He was not more engaging, save the twirling tail, yet George was somehow drawing us in and invoking joy. Conversations at his pen were full of interest and cheer. Each of us was trying to discover his preferred snack list. The spirit around George and Maurie was remarkable. This puzzling attention being paid to George was undeniably heartfelt. As I drove home that night, I thought about Maurie’s devotion to George, and Suzie’s kind support. I thought about George, the least likely creature to cultivate community but cultivate it he did. Our great pig transportation adventure brought new life to us here at the Cape.
George’s sty is a few steps from my path to my horse Mr. Harvey. George continues to draw me and others to him even though most of the time he resembles a giant glob of over-cooked marshmallows. But then, I happen to like overcooked marshmallows.
Charlotte Degen and her husband Peter Haviland have recently moved to the Cape from their house and maple sugar farm in Stamford, VT.