Way-Seeking Mind

Pigs in Winter

By Quincy Gray McMichael

SNOW IS WATER and water conducts electricity, but the electric fence will not fire as usual, buried three feet deep. Instead, the pigs will run, free and high-footed—and wilder than ever, unencumbered by the threat of shock, enlivened by the novelty of white drifts as far as they can see.

But they can’t see far, not really, because pigs are short. And their eyes—beady and clear—lack focal precision. They miss the beauty of each solitary snowflake, but the landscape, to them, still appears transformed. And it is. These deep drifts remind old-timers of how snow-thick Winter in West Virginia always used to be. But my pigs are youngsters, and—still—so am I. We have never seen snow like this. Not here.

As I stood, waiting, at the feed store, the day before, I heard grizzled men remark on the heavy snow that would be coming, and on their remembered youth.

They lean and jaw, bellies tight inside their coveralls, recalling uphill walks and frozen herds of cattle. I am almost lost in their stories, my ear hitchhiking from one yarn to the next, not looking up to see which man is spinning what. If they notice me at all, they think: that girl must really like to read as I stare at the pithy corkboard by the door, papered with bent-corner business cards and scribbled flyers: tractors, free kittens, hay rakes for sale.

The young, sharp-faced shopkeeper indicates both my turn and the door with a ready grunt and an upward nod. And then we are outside, shuffling through the dirty-white parking lot to load my truck with sparkling bales of straw.

Among the pigs, Rosa is the eldest: born just North of here, on a farm stocked with yaks. She is in porcine middle age, not yet one-sixth of my own thirty-something years, but she has done it all: her heavy belly has hung low; she has borne dozens of live, suckling piglets—and stillborn babies, too. She has eaten with gusto, faced off boars twice her size, flopped down in many mud holes to halve the Summer heat. Rosa’s neck-hair has prickled with the scent of danger; she has built her own strong home from grasses and sticks; she has held her ground and carried more than her share of the weight.

Yet, the snow is new to her, and to Garcia, who now comes charging through powder, his goofy heart full with the joy of it all. I cannot deny them this pleasure, this morning, as they burrow, furry ears peeking out of the snow.

The first deep-snow day is always the best, the freshest. As a child, I remember waking to the whoosh of snow from the roof, peering past patterned ice painted on glass to wonder at the height of the drifts. I would stand, waiting, glued to the glass face of the television, for the good word to come. And then tearing, whooping, to the mudroom for coats, hats, boots. My mother, calling: first, eat your breakfast!

But these pigs live outside. Sure, they can duck under cover, curling and piling and wrestling to stay dry, warm, in the middle. Yet they must feel each degree drop, every whiff of wind, all night long. If they open their eyes, packed three-deep under farts and snorts and kicking feet, they can see the snow squall.

And here comes Garcia again, his nose turned up as if catching stray flakes. Rosa shuffles fast behind him, her head low, with Pigment nosing her tail. A few of the larger piglets, too, sensing the magic of this snow day, tuck their heads and burst through the thin bank between paddock and freedom, finding nothing where the spike of a shock used to be. Now, a whole train of piglets—trucking through the fallen-in tunnel made by the first, feeling the running thump of fresh-packed snow under their still-soft hooves—follows the path trod by their brethren, chasing, hot, for parts unknown.

And to think: I woke up this morning feeling empty. In my quiet, snow-tucked house, I heard nothing of the rumbling bliss up here on the hill.

Even if I could, somehow, clear miles of fence line, scoop tons of frozen, crystalline water from their paddocks, I would not quell this porcine joy.

Quincy Gray Mc Michael

When not at her writing desk, Quincy Gray McMichael stewards her farm, Vernal Vibe Rise, on Moneton ancestral land in the mountains of West Virginia. Her writing—both creative nonfiction and poetry—has been published in Yes! MagazineOpen: A Journal of Arts and LettersGreenbrier Valley Quarterly, and is forthcoming from Appalachian Review, among other publications. In May of 2022, Quincy achieved an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the Naslund-Mann Graduate School of Writing at Spalding University. She is completing a hybrid memoir that explores obsession and overwork through a blend of poetry and prose.

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