losing pigs
...Thoreau's Journal: 08-Aug-1856

When I came forth, thinking to empty my boat and go a-meditating along the river,—for the full ditches and drenched grass forbade other routes except the highway,—and this is one advantage of a boat,—I learned to my chagrin that Father's pig was gone. He had leaped out of the pen sometime since his breakfast, but his dinner was untouched. Here was an ugly duty not to be shirked,—a wild shoat that weighed but ninety to be tracked, caught, and penned,—an afternoon's work, at least (if I were lucky enough to accomplish it so soon), prepared for me, quite different from what I had anticipated. I felt chagrined, it is true, but I could not ignore the fact nor shirk the duty that lay so near to me. Do the duty that lies nearest to thee. I proposed to father to sell the pig as he was running (somewhere) to a neighbor who had talked of buying him, making a considerable reduction. But my suggestion was not acted on, and the responsibilities of the case all devolved on me, for I could run faster than Father. Father looked to me, and I ceased to look at the river. Well, let us see if we can track him. Yes, this is the corner where he got out, making a step of his trough. Thanks to the rain, his tracks are quite distinct. Here he went along the edge of the garden over the water and muskmelons, then through the beans and potatoes, and even along the front-yard walk I detect the hint of his divided hoof (ungular). It's a wonder we did not see him. And here he passed under the gate, across the road—how naked he must have felt!—into a grassy ditch, and whither next? Is it of any use to go hunting him up unless you have devised some mode of catching him when you have found? Of what avail to know where he has been, even where he is? He was so shy the little while we had him, of course he will never come back; he cannot be tempted by a swill-pail. Who knows how many miles off he is! Perhaps he has taken the back track and gone to Brighton, or Ohio! At most, probably, we shall only have the satisfaction of glimpsing the nimble beast at a distance, from time to time, as he trots swiftly through the green fields and corn meadows. But, now I speak, what is that I see pacing deliberately up the middle of the street forty rods off? It is he. As if to tantalize, to tempt us to waste our afternoon without further hesitation, he thus offers himself. He roots a foot or two and then lies down on his belly in the middle of the street. But think not to catch him a-napping. He has his eyes about, and his ears too. He has already been chased. He gives that wagon a wide birth, and now, seeing me, he turns and trots back down the street. He turns into a front yard. Now if I can only close that gate upon him ninety-nine hundreths of the work is done, but ah! he hears me coming afar off, he foresees the danger, and, with swinish cunning and speed, he scampers out. My neighbor in the street tries to head him; he jumps to this side the road, then to that, before him; but the third time the pig was there first and went by. "Whose is it?" he shouts. "It's ours." He bolts into the neighbor's yard and so across his premises. He has been twice there before it seems; he knows the road; see what work he has made in his flower-garden! He must be fond of bulbs. Our neighbor picks up one tall flower with its bulb attached, holds it out at arms length. He is excited about the pig; it is a subject he is interested in. But where is [he] gone now? The last glimpse I had of him was as he went through the cow yard; here are his tracks again in the cornfield, but they are lost in the grass. We lose him; we beat the bushes in vain; he may be far away. But hark! I hear a grunt. Nevertheless for half an hour I do not see him that grunted. At last I find fresh tracks along the river, and again lose them. Each neighbor whose garden I traverse tells me some anecdote of losing pigs, or the attempt to drive them, by which I am not encouraged. Once more he crosses our first neighbor's garden and is said to be on the road. But I am not there yet; it is a good way off. At length my eyes rest on him again, after three-quarters of an hour's separation. There he trots with the whole road to himself, and now again drops on his belly in a puddle. Now he starts again, seeing me twenty rods off, deliberates, considers which way I want him to go, and goes the other. There was some chance of driving him along the sidewalk, or letting him go rather, till he slipped under our gate again, but of what avail would that be? How corner and catch him who keeps twenty rods off? He never lets the open side of the triangle be less than half a dozen rods wide. There was one place where a narrower street turned off at right angles with the main one, just this side our yard, but I could not drive him past that. Then he ran up the narrow street, for he knew I did not wish it, but though the main street was broad and open and no traveler in sight, when I tried to drive him past this opening he invariably turned his piggish head toward me, dodged from side to side, and finally ran up the narrow street or down the main one, as if there were a high barrier erected before him. But really he is no more obstinate than I. I cannot but respect his tactics and his independence. He will be he, and I may be I. He is not unreasonable because he thwarts me, but only the more reasonable. He has a strong will. He stands upon his idea. There is a wall across the path not where a man bars the way, but where he is resolved not to travel. Is he not superior to man therein? Once more he glides down the narrow street, deliberates at a corner, chooses wisely for him, and disappears through an open fence eastward. He has gone to fresh gardens and pastures anew. Other neighbors stand in the doorways but half sympathizing, only observing, "Ugly thing to catch", "You have a job on your hands." I lose sight of him but hear that he is far ahead in a large field. And there we try to let him alone a while, giving him a large berth.

At this stage an Irishman was engaged to assist. "I can catch him", says he, with Buonapartean confidence. He thinks him a family Irish pig. His wife is with him, bareheaded, and his little flibbertigibbet of a boy, seven years old. "Here, Johnny, do you run right off there" (At the broadest possible angle with his own course). "Oh, but he can't do anything." "Oh, but I only want him to tell me where he is, - to keep sight of him." Michael soon discovers that he is not an Irish pig, and his wife's and Johnny's occupation are soon gone. Ten minutes afterward I am patiently tracking him step by step through a corn-field, a near-sighted man helping me, and then into garden after garden far eastward, and finally into the highway, at the graveyard—but hear and see nothing. One suggests a dog to track him. Father is meanwhile selling him to the blacksmith, who is also trying to get sight of him. After fifteen minutes since he disappeared eastward, I hear that he has been to the river twice far on the north, through the first neighbor's premises. I wend that way. He crosses the street far ahead, Michael behind; he dodges up an avenue. I stand in the gap there, Michael at the other end, and now he tries to corner him. But it is a vain hope to corner him in a yard. I see a carriage-manufactory door open. "Let him go in there, Flannery." For once the pig and I are of one mind: he bolts in and the door is closed. It is a large barn, crowded with carriages. The rope is at length obtained; the windows are barred with carriages lest he bolt through. He is resting quietly, on his belly in the further corner, thinking unutterable things.

Now the course recommences within the narrower limits. Bump, bump, bump, he goes, against wheels and shafts. We get no hold yet. He is all ear and eye. Small boys are sent under the carriages to drive him out. He froths at the mouth and deters them. At length he is stuck for an instant between the spoke of a wheel, and I am securely attached to his hind leg. He squeals deafeningly, and is silent. The rope is attached to a hind leg. The door is opened, and the driving commences. Roll an egg as well. You may drag him, but you cannot drive him. But he is in the road, and now another thunder shower greets us. I leave Michael with a rope in one hand and a switch in the other and go home. He seems to be gaining a little westward. But after a long delay, I look out, and find that he makes but doubtful progress. A boy is made to face him with a stick, and it is only when the pig springs at him savagely that progress is made homeward. He will be killed before he is driven home. I get a wheelbarrow and go to the rescue. Michael is alarmed. The pig is rabid, snaps at him. We drag him across the barrow, hold him down, and so, at last, get him home.

If a wild shoat like this gets loose, first track him if you can, or otherwise discover where he is. Do not scare him more than you can help. Think of some yard or building or other inclosure that will hold him and, by showing your forces—yet as if uninterested parties—fifteen or twenty rods off, let him of his own accord enter it. Then slightly shut the gate. Now corner and tie him and put him into a cart of barrow.

All progress in driving at last was made by facing and endeavoring to switch him from home. He rushed upon you and made a new feet in the desired direction. When I approached with the barrow he advanced to meet it with determination.

So I get home at dark, wet through and supperless, covered with mud and wheel-grease, without any rare flowers.


dorian said...

I read this on Monday and haven't been able to stop thinking about it. The writing is particularly fine; you can close your eyes and imagine him running around Concord chasing after that pig.

son rivers said...

I know what you mean. I felt the same way when I first read it. A fine look at another more light-hearted side of Thoreau.

michael jameson said...

i am forever amazed at how the mind can come up with pictures of what we read!,i know that is the idea, yet we can watch an entire movie when we read a book!,with our imaginations the effects and feelings are limitless and become our own,we become the spy the investigator, or a man chasing an animal down the street, michael jameson oldantiqueguy@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

see my poem on this Journal entry at