by Ali Berlow
The pigs never stray too far from one another. Sometimes, their caretaker goes into the small pasture lot just to sit quietly with them, scratch their sun-warm bellies, and admire their density. Their center of gravity, like sumo wrestlers in mule-footed high heels.
Their pork butts. They lie down on either side of her. Head to toe, toe to head, with her in the middle—a porcine yin yang, and she the space between.
The gilt is a redhead. The hog is shades of brown, much more subtle. Her ears flop over those aqueous eyes. His perk up like a German Shepherd’s. Pigs don’t have great eyesight, so they stick their snouts in the air and sit perfectly still when they hear someone coming. Unless it’s their swineherd. When she’s close by, they come toward her in that low, darting way, stopping short of the electric fence that they learned on, and make urgent, guttural grunts.
She loves her pigs. That skin where legs meet torso is soft and warm, like her old black lab, dead almost fifteen years. He had chocolate brown eyes. The pigs’ eyes, well—what color they are, it’s hard to say. The pair is sleepy under dappled midmorning sunlight. The gilt yawns, the morning’s breakfast filled her heavy. Pigs do purr, the human thinks. She swears they do.
Her friends have heard the story plenty of times. The one about the rabbi who had his Torah bound in pigskin. When asked by his students how he could wrap the sacred text with the flesh of an unclean animal, he answered that all creatures are sacred under G-d. Not just the ones the Torah says that we can eat.
She’ll never forget her own surprise when lunching with her dearest friend at the Art Cliff years ago; she bowed her head over the burgers and fries placed before them by their waitress, a former stripper, and said a most inspired and impromptu prayer. The words were definitely based in the Christian tradition, but flowed into an ad lib that included Buddhist proclivities and even a tangential reference to Charlotte’s Web.
“The synchronicity of life,” marvels Fae now. “It’s there all around us, once we take the time to see it.” She and I sat together in the place where the pigs lived out their good life, so quiet now without their soft, low call-and-response grunts to each other. I always figured that was how the pigs kept in touch with each other as they grazed among the brush.
The earth is still tender, raw and exposed from the pair’s rototilling. Roots, rocks, sand, clay. The Vineyard blueberry and sassafras brush that they’d cleared so well. A winter cover crop of rye will come next, and by the spring, we’ll plant something more. And then we’ll have a pig roast, by and in honor of them, around the time that our family picks out our next two pigs.
Such is the conflict and the beauty of holding these realities in my heart: I love my pigs, and I love their pork. Never shall these two truths be untwined, unsung, or unpraised in the ways that I experience the grace of the in-between.