The Blue Sow C Symbol of Survival
(for Hughs and Cousin Charlie)
Living in the mountains above Mexico City in 1960, I= d wake up at daybreak and look east over the valley of Mexico, the snowcapped volcanos of Popocatepetl and Ixtlaccihuatl pink in the morning sun. When I returned in 1970, not only had the volcanos become invisible, but as I descended into the city, my eyes began to water. Now I wouldn=t go without a gas mask within 100 miles of what I once thought the most beautiful city in the world. Mass urban migration, industry, infarcted traffic, and too many frijoles all contribute to the foul and pestilent congregation of vapors that shrouds Mexico D.F. But the newest abomination in the Mexican air is called fecal dust, pulvo de caca, a euphemistic term for airborne particles of human feces, which in combination with a cornucopia of other pollutants, obscures modern Mexico City in a brown haze.
Although I=ve witnessed for many years the metaphorical equivalent to fecal dust in the academic community (and contributed to it), the real stuff was news to me. The climate of any city, even the A City of Eternal Spring,@ whose mile-high air is celebrated for perpetual blossoms, would be unquestionably compromised if saturated by feces. But that= s what happens when too many people live in too small a space, and Mexico City can serve as the canary in the coal mine for other cities, including our own. The nasty habits of human beings geometrically increases with the density of human beings, and cities are generally nasty creatures, even the Good Life City. As the poisonous floodwater that recently leached through it should have demonstrated, Albany is a veritable lozenge of toxicity. Although stiffly spiked with agricultural chemicals, the water above the Artesian City was benign compared to the deadly stuff that percolated from intercity subsoil, which was so astringent it killed every green thing it touched from the Civic Center to Lake Seminole, corroding Dudley Lipitt= s silver and eating the rifling out of Norman Pritchett= s .30 06. From the sky, the receded rime of dead foliage made the Flint river basin look like it was painted with a pine top and a bucket of Round-Up.
Poisoned landscapes are devastating to the human psyche as well as the environment. Floods are supposed to be followed by renewal. Alluvial fertility was the theme of the earliest civilizations along the Tigris, Euphrates, and Nile. Mythology and religion are awash with flood and rejuvenation archetypes. Our creative powersC our sonatas, sonnets, still lifes and prayersC derive from faith in nature= s power to recover from man= s fierce stewardship that derives from some demented idea of subduing wildnessC the perversion that prefers parking lots to wetlands. It= s this dementia, not his thumb or the size of his brain, that separates homo sapiens from the other animals.
As I see it, the only hope for this doomed, clearcut and polluted planet is the retro-domestication of mankind. Humans need to atrophy thirty-thousand years backwards toward the origin of their species, a reversion to a savage type content to live in some pre-technological epoch before Cadillacs and styrofoam. We should abandon our cities to kudzu and scurry back to the bosom of Mother Nature before we=ve discharged her ability to recover from ecological devastation. To this purpose I argue the selective breeding of a Feral Man, who, like domestic hogs, can return to the wild and revert to type after a generation, subsisting on pig nuts and grub worms, dumping their nitrogen back into the soil.
Now wild hogs, razorbacks, in the flatwoods and wetlands are sleek, rare, and beautiful, but when captured and sequestered in hog lots, even a noble pineywoods rooter starts acting like an allegorical pig. Throw a bunch of them together, and they produce fecal mud and fecal dust, emitting the same rude sounds and symbolic overtones of moral men trapped in immoral society. The wild boar, like urbanized man, is a noble savage alienated from nature and marinating in his own juice and the mud= s mire.
Mulling over the grim future of civilized humankind, Dougherty County Police Chief Bill Kicklighter and I have developed an academic interest in hogs and have been transporting pineywoods rooters from the Jones Creek Community of Ludiwici, Georgia, to the Chief= s farm on the Dougherty/Worth County line in an attempt to study them. The hogs, a gift from Hughs Chapman and Brad Yoemans, are spectacular specimens, vicious, violent, vocal. Bugle-nosed and high-backed as cats, they moil around in the hog pen like schooling shad, buried in a cacophony of oinks, squeals, and grunts. Occasionally an angry hog will bark and charge, lathering at the lips and slashing with his whetters and tusks.
One predawn morning, the Chief and I returned from a hog run with several pineywoods rooters, including a blue sow, which according to Hughs is a prized mixture of crow-black and lard-white parentage. These specimens were intended for Kicklighter= s pig pen to join the half dozen or so that were already there. We were grabbing them by the hind legs and dragging them out of the back of the dog cages converted to hog boxes, trying to transfer them without getting slashed, bitten, kicked or beshitted. It was my first time moving hogs. It felt and sounded like we were trying to pull lawn tractors backwards through a lumber saw. The first thing you do is put cotton in your ears.
In the chaos and bedlam of wrestling the swine from truck to hog pen, the blue sow escaped us and ran to the middle of the ten-acre pasture amid some cows and goats. There she was, glowing blue as powder snow in the moonlight, standing on a rolling hill. During moments such as these, sublime beauty asserts itself, confounding the beholder in a rare moment of transfigurative awe.
A Aw,@ said Chief Kicklighter. A She was the prettiest sow we had.@
A We can get her back,@ I whispered, realizing that we must get her back, that she was the embodied symbol of all our efforts to save mankind.
A I= ll blind her with the flashlight. You can sneak up behind her and grab her by the hocks.@
A The what?@
A The hocks. That= s the ankle part of a ham.@
A She= ll run clean out of the county. It=ll never work.@
A It will if you= re slick. Maybe she=ll think you= re just another one of the hogs.@
A sinister glower flashed from his moonlit eyes, as though he considered pummelling me with his blackjack and charging me with resisting arrest. Then we got down to business.
A Maybe we can catch her before she roots out. If we run her into a corner, the fence ought to hold her,@ he said. Bill is proud of that fence. The posts are railroad cross ties that he has plumbed, lined, leveled, beveled and sunk four feet into red clay. The fence will remain as a monument to Kicklighter=s idiosyncratic compulsion long after my tombstone is dissolved by acid rain.
I tiptoed toward the blue sow while Kicklighter circled, dropping to all fours to stalk, cursing under his breath as he knee-walked through cow flop. He raised his haunches, elevated his knees and continued crawling.
I crept close as I dared, then switched on the six-cell police flashlight. The sow froze, pointing me like a bird dog, pawing the ground with one cloven hoof, bristling and grunting. "Runk, runk, runk."
Kicklighter froze, his hands flat on the ground. His feet walked up to straddle his palms as he paused in a tense squat, awaiting his moment. I realized I was in the presence of legendary stealth, and so did the sow. She hoisted high the trombone of her nose, discerning Kicklighter from the scent of honeysuckle that drifted in layers over the autumn air, winding him. Suddenly Kicklighter made his move, springing into action, diving for the sow= s hind legs, snatching them up like the handles of a wheelbarrow and jerking them off the ground.
A Good work, Chief,@ I said. I felt secure in my citizenship. I knew the Chief was made of the right stuff. If he could snatch the feet out from under a razorback sow, Dougherty County felons didn=t stand a chance.
The sow seemed as surprised as I was. She looked at me, tilted her head, and raised one eyebrow. There was a momentary pause before she erupted, hopping on her front legs and kicking like a jackhammer with her hams. Kicklighter hung on, jowls vibrating, face blurred. They bounced across a grassy knoll, both of them grunting loudly.
It turns out catching a hog is one the easiest things in the world to do. One of the hardest things is turning one a-loose. In an instant of whirlwind violence, the sow and the chief dissolved into a cyclone of fury, as though the feral spirits of man and beast had merged into ideal savagery. They silenced the whip-poor-wills and eclipsed the quarter moon. Kicking up divots of pasture and clouds of fecal dust, the sow spun, trying to bite Kicklighter=s legs, and the Chief started clogging. They waltzed in the pale moonlight, spinning so fast that you could hardly notice Kichlighter=s porcine partner was upside down.
A He= p,@ he yelled. A Open the gate!@
I ran to the hog pen, swinging open the chain-link gate, dropping the flashlight in the hoof-cratered swill. Kicklighter came through, wrestling the sow= s forked legs like a Harley rider at a bog-in. I slammed the gate as he released the blue sow and sprung to the walls of the pig lot where he scrambled up the planks. A boar hog charged, clacking his tushes and whetters, and the blue sow snapped at his ankles. Then the swine began circling counter-clockwise in the hog lot. They swarmed. They swirled like a black suckhole. Kicklighter was braced stiff-armed on the top plank of the hog pen, his shoulders touching his ears. A I TOLD you to chain that gate!@
I looked up to see twelve bristling razorback top the hill, humpbacked as buffaloes and fast as lizards, the blue sow among them, scattering Kicklighter=s goats, geese, and black angus cows. Then as the drift skirted the perimeter of the pasture, Kicklighter yelled, A Run > em in a corner!@
We did, and the blue sow immediately cannonballed through the fence, which twanged like a banjo as the stretched wire parted. We watched her jump a ditch, cross a corn field and disappear into planted pines. The blue streak of my philanthropic dreams had fled, diluted hope lingering and distributed among the eleven other hogs that circled the pasture.
After watching Kicklighter in action, I have hopes for his successful reversion from urbanity. Brad Yeomans, Hughs Chapman, J.K. Jones and Norman Pritchett, the best hog and gator snatchers in Georgia, are also on the right track. For the sake of my progeny, I= m trying to retro-domesticate and desocialize myself, purifying my blood to become a mutated herald of a more bucolic race. To accomplish this, I spend lots of time networking in the pineywoods and wetlands with the men I admire, men who= d rather go to hell than Atlanta.