We Called Her Oink

          Our pig Oink Johnson wasn't even really our pig. It or, rather, she was the neighborhood pet, a long-snouted feral throwback with a soft black and white pelt and an expression that seemed to beg for tolerance and understanding. From the beginning she seemed to know she wasn't with her own kind in her own neighborhood, but it wasn't her fault and there wasn't anything she could do about it.

          Our young son was the first one to run into her down the street on his skateboard. He bumped and rattled proudly over the lumpy asphalt on his new fiberglass wheels. "Dad! Dad! I just saw a pig!"

          "What kind of pig? Where?"

          "Just down the street. A baby."

          "A baby pig? A piglet? Not a dog?"

          "No. It's not a dog. come on."

          I followed to where he said he saw it, but it wasn't there, and that was that. "So, was it pink and fat?"

          "No. It had black fur and a long snout and looked like it could run."

          "Couldn't you tell? Was it running? Sure it wasn't a dog?"

          "I said it wasn't a dog."

          It wasn't a dog, as I found out a week later when it showed up in our back yard, peering over our low rock wall, snuffling around in the dead leaves for something to eat. Sometimes it would stop and hold its nose in the air, catching a waft of something we couldn't smell and looking at us sideways like we'd do her harm if she wasn't alert. Suddenly she wheeled around on her back legs and crashed into the brush and was gone.

          She came back several times after that, and once I managed to get a very good photo of an almost-intimate moment between her and my son. I'd love to know what happened to it. I'd love to have it. Two buddies looking directly into the camera, posing, smiling. I swear, smiling! I called the picture "Oink and Doink".

          Then one day I found a pair of ravaged amaryllis pots that I'd been growing on top of the wall. She'd never shown any interest in them before, so I thought they were safe. She must have known she'd crossed a line because she didn't come back for maybe months. Enough time for me to forget the amaryllis.

          The next time we saw her she was still not full-grown, but she was getting there. I think that's when Oink Johnson became her "official" name. We never called her the pig again. And the next time we saw Oink she had grown tusks and was there. Really big and really there. Oink in full.

          By then she'd carved a skinny trail diagonally across the steepest part of our steep back yard. The delicacy of her trail told us she was nimble as a goat. Gradually we realized that she'd cross every afternoon at about five and head for one of our makai neighbors' back yard for dinner. They too had given her a name, Petunia or Alice, I think.

          To us she was always Oink, and even though we never fed her we felt that she was at least as much our pig as theirs. We'd seen her first, and we allowed her to cross our property. Sometimes when we had guests we'd move the party to the back yard just before five so everybody could watch. At first she didn't quite trust it. She'd sit on a small knot of ground at the side of the yard, nose up, snuffing the air. Then she'd gather herself and race quickly across.

          "Oh, isn't she cute!"

          "She's so handsome!"

          "I knew pigs were supposed to be smart, but I didn't know they could be graceful."

          After a while she seemed to understand that she was being admired, not threatened, and she liked it. Now there'd be only a momentary pause until she knew she had everyone's attention, then trot nimbly down her path to dinner.

          "She's almost like she knows we like to watch her. Is she that smart?"

          "She could be a lot smarter than that."



          "How do you know?"

          "I just feel it. The way she looks sometimes. Her expression. Trust me, she's very smart."

          "Yeah, I guess maybe so." But they didn't really think so. Smart, maybe, but not that smart.

          But I thought so and should have known better than to do what I did next. At some point I decided to make my hillside fruitful and productive, so I bought two citrus trees and an avocado tree and planted them spaced evenly in well-mulched holes. They were all near Oink's path but did not interfere with it and would never encroach.

          They'd been in place for about two weeks and doing well. I watered them with a hose every afternoon and checked up on them several times a day, beginning first thing in the morning. I think it was a Saturday afternoon that I stood there giving my new babies a good soaking when I heard the unmistakable sound of Oink breaking through underbrush before suddenly appearing at the edge of our yard. Seeing me, she ambled confidently past, showing me her now bristly, mud-covered coat. It was probably good protection against flies and mosquitoes, but it was no longer beautiful.

          Was I offended by her inelegant appearance? Just because she was a pig didn't mean she had to look like one? Maybe? Whatever I was thinking, I aimed the hose full-force at her receding back and hindquarters. She grunted, lurched forward, and was quickly gone. I'll admit to some feeling of accomplishment, having aimed at and hit a moving target, a wild beast, a prey.

          I stayed there stupidly watering my precious young trees when I noticed an unfamiliar thudding sound that seemed to come from the flattened area of abandoned quarry roadbed directly above and behind us. Heavily grown over by shady haole koa, it was where she apparently spent most of her time. In one place she'd dug herself a swale that collected and held cooling moisture. Thus her muddy hide.

          But I'd never heard the galloping sounds I was hearing up there now, and I'd never heard galloping sounds that seemed to turn and come from the direction Oink Johnson traveled daily, and I'd never seen Oink Johnson bearing down on my from that direction, nose and tusks like the cowcatcher on a steam locomotive aiming right at me then past before I could make a move in any direction.

          What I felt then captured the most literal meaning of the word "thrilling". I was shocked and stunned and numb and scared. And I was thrilled, thrilled to still be in one piece, thrilled to still be alive. She'd actually brushed my knees as she blasted by, just a delicate little brushing, a very small taste of the dinner she could have served me, my tusk-skewered butt on a platter. Thrilling.

          If anyone doubts that a pig can have not only intelligence but a sense of injured pride, a deep sense of moral injustice, please read on.

          As I turned off the water and coiled the hose, I pondered the lesson this pig had taught me. She could have done serious harm, and there was no doubt that she knew it. As I gave each of my healthy new trees a last solicitous look, I marveled at her restraint. She'd held all the cards. Why didn't she just take me out? "Because she's a gentleman," I faint-heartedly chuckled to myself. Indeed, my faint heart was still working overtime, and I was suddenly sweating like a . . . well, like a pig. That evening I showered before dinner.

          The next morning, I took my customary saunter into the back yard. And stopped short. My beautiful trees, my beautiful, beautiful young saplings, were each snapped off at the trunk, from which they still dangled by threads of mutilated bark. Ravaged. Savaged.

          I liked to play games did I? How's this for a game, Mr. Big Hose Man? Your move next, Boss, if you want to keep playing. Maybe you'd like to find replacements for your babies and start all over again? Not? I thought not. See you later, Bigshot.

          And talk about smart. Consider this: Not only did she snap the trunks, she made sure she snapped them in the right place, below the graft, almost at ground level. Even if they somehow managed to survive, they'd never bear edible fruit. I call that no accident. I call that on purpose, and I call it really smart.

          After that we rarely glimpsed her. She'd stopped going through our yard and went the back way to be fed as Petunia or whatever. We were no longer worthy. She'd probably always wondered about the Oink Johnson bit. Wasn't that a bit too cute, don't you think?

          Another neighbor, near the one who fed her, was clearing heavy brush from a good-sized lot, preparing to build a house. He'd hired some strong young men with machetes for the job, men who'd spent their boyhood in the jungles of Southeast Asia. They noticed pig signs, they said. Were there pigs here?

          Only one pig, they were told, and it was the neighborhood pet. Pet? It didn't seem like much of a pet to the young men. Who keeps a feral pig for a pet?

          One very hot weekday afternoon in July when the brush clearing was over, our sleepy neighborhood was brought alert by a heavy thrashing of brush, an indignant then terrified squealing, then a loud, prolonged scream, followed by summer silence. People came out of their tidy white houses tentatively, dazed, half-sickened. We were all looking toward the thick brush behind our houses, the spot where the . . . atrocity had taken place. The men carrying the heavy carcass on a pole were so deft and quiet that they appeared unexpectedly far down the street from where everyone was watching and where quickly the waiting pickup was gone.

          Somebody called the police, but they said they couldn't do anything unless somebody wanted to file a lawsuit. Did anybody? No. Nobody. And that was pretty much that.

          The nice family who fed her gathered personal anecdotes from neighbors, including mine, and took up Oink's cause with the SPCA, but of course nothing happened. What could anyone do? Nothing. Best just forget about it.

          I'd just about forgotten about it a couple years later when the nice family moved out of the neighborhood and returned my photo of Oink and Doink. There they were, smiling buddies, Oink the pig I befriended and betrayed, and Doink, a name we never really used to describe a son who has grown well beyond skateboards and piglets. I'd really like to see that photo. I'm sure it's around here somewhere.

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  1. joven russell says:

    good story we raied a couple of pigs when my dad shot the mom hunting they r great pets 2 have

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