How This Little Piggy Finally Found Its Way Home

This lovely morning is cool at Friendship Back River after a light shower that dampened the thwarts but didn't wet anything. In the quiet air a chain saw over Goose River way lacks the usual snarl, and we presume some neighbor is limbing-out before the day warms. Maine has had a hot summer with no significant rain. The cucumbers and tomatoes have been reluctant, and the energetic summer resident has foregone his activities to idle on the verandah and watch the soap reruns on cable.

Les Eubley says it's been a perfect summer to plan both ahead and behind. Nancy Penniman says she is relieved to be rid of her pig. If you stand on my front step when the wind is south-southeast up river, and yell so your hat bounces high, there is a small chance that Nancy, on her back steps, will hear you. That's about average neighbor distance at Back River. We do live pleasantly aloof.

So one morning of late, Nancy and Arthur stepped from their biscuit heaven, or kitchen, onto their back steps to place birdseed in readiness for the colorful feathered songsters of the area, and Nancy said, ''Arthur, did you get a pig?''

Arthur said he had not.

And Nancy said, ''Well, we've got a pig!''

Sure enough! There was a pig on the back steps, looking up at Nancy and Arthur in unstinting expectation and showing great affection for anybody fetching food. Arthur said, ''From this side, it does look like a pig.''

Once upon a long time ago, the Penniman place was a commonplace Maine salt-water farm. The potato patch had a path to the clam flats, and the ospreys perched on the clothesline pole. The back pasture nurtured blueberries and the family cow. But not now. In recent years, a moose will wander out of the Goose River swamp and walk through the dooryard, but never linger enough to become domesticated. Years ago a couple of milking goats got lost in the woods and came by to ask directions. But no pigs.

A hundred years ago, a pig was never a problem. All New England kept a minor town official known as a hog reeve. It was his duty to round up wandering pigs and impound them until the owner came forward to pay the fees and retrieve his animals. And in those days, every family kept a pig or four that could prove quickly that a fence was not ''hog tight.'' All that is gone. Families do not keep pigs, and we have no hog reeves. Nancy and Arthur faced the consequences; what does one do when one has a wandering pig?

For that matter, who belongs to this pig?

Nancy and Arthur noticed at once that this was not the usual pig that will grunt and snort and take umbrage and jump and run. It was friendly and seemed eager to cuddle. It was less piggy than it once was, but although hefty was not yet a hog. It wanted something to eat, but it also seemed to want its ears rubbed. The pig was clearly a pet.

Nancy telephoned and found some kind of an animal rescue officer who said he'd arrive at once, and did. He had a collapsible cage, but Nancy said he lacked the knowledge that is inculcated by the ''Pig Project'' offered by the 4-H organization and was clumsy about getting the pig into the cage. When he succeeded, he found he couldn't lift the cage and had to drive off to find somebody to help him.

Just recently, a new family had moved into the old Kay Thompson place, about a half-mile from the Penniman home, and this was their pet pig. It had wandered, and being strange to the new surroundings had lingered on the Penniman stoop. After some searching, this was established and little Piggy was all the way home again.

This detailed report is meant to show folks at a distance how our time is taken up back here beyond civilization and the niceties of gracious living. Nancy, by no means a specialist, is competent in all directions. She has been our town librarian and always bakes the yeast rolls for the lodge suppers. You could not want your pet pig to be in abler hands. I asked her if it is true that the lost pig was wearing a pink ribbon, and she said, ''Certainly not!'' attesting that she is a reliable observer and would make a competent journalist.

But I should add that it isn't every day here at Back River that we have incidents of exactly this kind. Some days we do sit down at suppertime with nothing so outstanding to remember.

Nancy tells me the library has a book that quotes a clown who once had a pig act with the Ringling circus. He needed a small pig every so often to replace the one that had grown too big. Which means that periodically he started all over again to train a pig. He said, according to Nancy, that a pig is much easier to train than any other animal he knew about. They are relatively intelligent, yield comfortably to the routine of training, and are clean to a degree not accorded them.

And they are cuddly and respond warmly to affectionate treatment. Whatever I remember from my own farmyard days affirms this.

One year, long ago now, we had a pair of pigs that were close to 300 pounds apiece. With Christmas coming up, I made a photograph of them in the barn as our Christmas card. There was my wife and me in prosperous posture with Frankie and Johnny looking up at us with approval. It was a most successful greeting card because nearly every recipient wrote to ask who was who.

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