September has come, bringing fall with it, and year after year we are not the only ones who turn over a page in the calendar. We have not seen or heard Blue Jays in any number since last May when we ran out of sunflower seed and took down the feeders, but come September suddenly the trees and bushes are filled with Blue Jays getting down to storing away any food they can carry to hide against a long winter, and this year in a single day they seem to have cleared the small oak tree in the back dooryard of all its acorns, while the mourning doves, who aren’t interested in storage, search the ground for whatever they can pick up. And just the other day my wife spotted the mountain ash beside the well, decked out in a profusion of berry clusters shining red through the still-green leaves, suddenly become a battleground of robins, Blue Jays, cedar waxwings, and a few others, squabbling over the fruit.
In the garden the last little while my wife has been cleaning up the usual invasion of wild plants looking for a congenial place to spread themselves, and the remainders of crops already harvested, and scattering buckwheat with a liberal hand as a cover crop to till in later - if the mourning doves don’t gobble it up first. Years ago we used our pigs to do the ground-clearing, by the simple expedient of putting their pen on the ground we wanted cleared. Looking at the tomato plants still standing in the midst of the cleared ground the other day reminded me of the day long ago when our porcine roto-tillers disappeared.
Gone but not forgotten
It all began when we discovered the water-filled tepees we had put up around selected tomatoes and peppers were all lying flat and (of course) empty.
We had gone up to the garden to feed the pigs and admire what a few days of good hot weather would do for the mood in the corn patch. The flattened tepees stopped us, though. Granted there is always a breeze up here on this hillside. Granted, too, that the breeze is sometimes known to assume enthusiastic proportions. Surely we hadn't had enough wind...?
Then we noticed the footprints. Quite a lot of footprints - small, and cloven. And yes, the pigs' happy home was strangely quiet and there was a hole in the fence, nicely pig-sized, just by their house.
Of course we had been in town all day, so the last time we had a chat with them was at the morning feeding when they had been bright and shiny, as always, and full of enthusiasm. No word had been said, at that time, about plans to tour the countryside. No doubt the water-filled tepees were a real treat, giving them not only water but a chance for a little entertainment besides.
Well there was no sight or sound of the happy wanderers. It is amazing, really, how big a small farm can get when you have misplaced a couple of young pigs. We shouted and banged their trough and looked about for signs. Aside from the revels in the garden there were no signs. Yes, I have read The Last of the Mohicans but I didn't really feature getting down on hands and knees and tracking the two of them through the long grass.
My wife went off to collect the young dog whose enthusiasm for barking at anything that moves she felt might be detrimental during delicate negotiations, and I went off to the phone to survey the neighbours. When I returned none the wiser not only were the pigs still conspicuous by their absence but I had apparently lost my wife and dog as well. A profound silence wrapped me round - a feeling of gloom, and loss.
All things pass away, silence and feelings of gloom, and loss, among them. A volley of hysterical barking from the woods told me that one at least of the missing was no longer missing. A moment later a shout told me that my wife was somehow mixed up in whatever was going on in the woods and I waited to see which of pigs, wife, or dog would be the first to appear. Something momentous was clearly in the works.
It was Baggins, our hysterical mutt, attached, as it turned out, to what was purchased as a "training leash," who first appeared, followed closely by my wife on the other end of the leash. Baggins was fine. My wife, encouraging him to "find the pigs" had been gratified when he had seemed indeed to get the scent. She had followed him (naturally she was wearing shorts), through the middle of a bramble patch, into the woods.
He did indeed find a pig, but not one of the ones we were looking for. The porcupine, unimpressed, took refuge in a tree, sparing Baggins a painful lesson. My wife, somewhat the worse for wear, persuaded Baggins to leave the woods by a less demanding route. Scratch the “Great Tracking Dog Finds Lost Pigs” headline.
The pigs were gone - vanished. Perhaps pig-napped? Eaten by coyotes? We adjourned to the kitchen to consider our next move. We might just as well have spared ourselves the trouble. Something - a grunt, perhaps? - made me look out the door. Two young pigs, quite pleased with themselves, had come to see why we had not brought them their dinner.
They seem to have spent the day reclining in the chicken house, judging by the evidence. No doubt they found the hue and cry a touching sign of our concern - but they didn't feel called to respond.
A few moments later and all - except for my wife's shins - had returned to what passes for normal on this hillside.
4 July 1989