Joshua's Farm
Pig Returned Home (Dec 2013)

An eight-week old heirloom cross, he came home barely alive after 12 days on the lam and a miraculous escape from the jaws of a coyote to a place he had hardly known.

He didn't have a name when Scott MacKenzie adroitly hefted him and three of his siblings by their hind legs Nov 30 from his barn in New Marlboro. Still sucking on a giant homely sow from whom he inherited his black body circled by a white stripe, they shared space with hereford steers and cows. They were placed in a dog crate in the back of a small Toyota. A $50 fee for each closed the deal and they were on their way back to Sandisfield, a brief trip along Route 57 with the air conditioner blower on to keep from being overwhelmed by pig fumes.

The arrival and slithery removal from car to barn didn't go as well as the departure. Carried upside down like chickens to subdue them, piglets are strong and determined to be free- or at least back to mama. Like big flopping fish with feet, I discovered they are best moved by allowing their front feet to propel them forward in wheelbarrow fashion, at least to contain the ear splitting squeal that accompanies aerial manuvears and allow them to believe they are escaping.

One got free in the process of removing another. The only male in the group succeeded in forcing the thin metal bars apart.

Across the pasture he ran in a wobbly trot on short legs, ears flapping, into the neighbor's yard, and back again. At each turn his search for- was it home to New Marlboro?- widened. He had not yet known the barn where his siblings were given food and a warm bed of hay, and thus had no location to return to except where he had come from. It was easy to imagine his sad demise that night after a fruitless search by flashlight. The temperature fell to nine degrees in predator infested woods.

A neighbor called the next morning. "You're pig is loose," Don said somewhat impatiently. "He's in my driveway." Two days later he was back again, with a posse of eight Christmas party guests giving chase as if on cue as scheduled farm entertainment. A brief standoff in a garage and the 35 pound pig was off to the races again, slipping through every hand.

Two days later the gun season for deer opened in Massachusetts. Pig had made the 7,000 acre Sandisfield State Forest his new playground and seemed to be doing just fine.

I was in a tree stand at dusk, a third of mile from the farm, when a rustling in the leave brought my shotgun up. A flash of white and the pig, grunting like a deer, appeared head to the ground as if following a scent. By the time the thought crossed my mind to give up the deer and give chase, he was halfway to York Lake.

He visited other hunters too. I wonder if he didn't visit every one of them. Word got out by text and voice message sent by Connie at the Silverbrook Cafe as stories mounted. Several bewildered hunters clicked off their safety levers, only to rub their eyes. The pig was questioned at the Mill River Store, where Scott's brother in law heard the story and made the connection.

Scott kindly replaced the missing errant pig with another at half price, even though he'd had no part in the escape.

With a dearth of deer, the pig was fast becoming a legend among otherwise bored hunters who smiled. One stopped to offer crackers, which pig accepted. The little pig, he said as breathlessly as if he had just spotted a 10-point buck, had been rooting around for acorns.

The phone lit up with sightings, but no capture.

A week into his disappearance, the New Marlboro Animal Control Officer rang me up. Prudence left a message. I wondered whether to return the call. It might have meant getting in proverbial line behind Arlo (Guthrie, of nearby Stockbridge fame) for being responsible for an errant pig's damage to a state forest instead of Thanksgiving garbage. I imagined myself on the group W bench, arguing my way out of hatching a plot to launch a feral pig population. Impossible, I would argue. He was snipped.

Prudence, nevertheless a government agent, convinced me to regard her as a helpful aunt, suggesting that I call the radio station in Great Barrington. I did.

Sandisfield highwayman David McCuin called Monday, Dec. 9 to say pig had been rooting for acorns under an oak tree along the Forest Road. I went looking for him at dawn on Tuesday not far from the New Marlboro town line, but found only tracks. One set had drops of blood in them, heading back in the direction of the farm. Pig had had enough of his adventure and somehow figured out where it began more than a mile away along a road he had only been down once before it snowed- or maybe not at all.

Don called. "I have your pig." He had trapped it in his dog pen.

Pig was in bad shape. A coyote had latched its jaws around his head and neck, causing deep puncture wounds.He was lethargic and bleeding. He looked up at me with eyes that seemed to submit to whatever came next.

Dave helped get him into the barn, where he was happy to press in tight with his siblings. He wasn't eating and was half the size of the others. I gave him doses of penicillin, treated the wounds and drenched him with a calf drencher to fill him with vitamins. His demise still seemed imminent for two more days even in a deep bed of hay with his pals as temperatures dipped close to zero.

He drank a sip of milk on the third day, and followed his sisters to lay close to one another in the hay.

I like pigs a lot more than I used to. One especially.