It takes a village to babysit a pig

Eva Murray: When pigs fly, and this time no kidding

Mon, 07/30/2018 - 8:45am

    Our little story begins back last fall, a few weeks into the school year, when our one elementary school teacher fell ill. A gang of assorted responders came to his assistance as is likely to happen on Matinicus Island—an RN and a ski patroller along with EMS—but little more should be said of that day by me because I was the EMT, who accompanied him to the mainland in the airplane. In any case, our schoolmaster’s physician evidently suggested that it might be wise for him to remain a bit closer to civilization, and our school board was again in search of a teacher for our one-room school which, at that moment, served two, occasionally three, students.

    Up to the plate stepped summer resident Bob Moynihan. None of us saw that coming. 

    Bob and Janet own a home on the island and have been visiting annually for several decades, but few of us knew what he did for a living, and none of us suspected he’d want to be our island teacher. Bob is one who keeps a patter going with a comic, rapid-fire delivery that’s “all madness and Mickey Bitsko,” but it entertains the bystanders and perhaps helps out when island life gets too weird.

    In any event, before long Bob and Janet were making plans to come back to Matinicus and to stay the winter in their “summer” home, a house which thankfully had once been a year-round place and could be strong-armed into more or less keeping the water going in the freezing weather. 

    The kids quickly became attached to Mr. and Mrs. Moynihan, who soon were almost like “uncle Bob and auntie Janet” to these boys. Around Christmas, once it was settled that the Moynihans were staying all winter, there was one more logistics hurdle to be tackled. Janet was the owner of a pet pig, a large one, back in Maryland and boarding out a pig at the Pig Resort was not something that made sense for the entire school year and besides, Penny (the pig’s name is Penny) is a pet and should be enjoying life at home with her familiar humans.

    How do you get a full-grown pig to Matinicus in the winter, when the vehicle ferry only runs once a month? Don’t say lobster boat. Besides traditional and customary objections, superstitions still held by some, to pigs aboard ship, I highly doubt that Penny could climb the ladder on the wharf. You would fly the pig here in a Cessna 207, of course.

    That is exactly what happened, after the Moynihans made an all-night trip to Maryland to retrieve their four-footed friend, before which I, with my U-Haul, was dispatched to Tractor Supply for an order of fencing, a sturdy livestock gate, and some other items of porcine housekeeping.

    Janet told me a little about how she ended up with a pet pig.

    “[Our daughter] Rosalyn was working at an Asian restaurant while in college at Salisbury University her senior year.  The manager of the restaurant asked Rosalyn if she could take care of a couple of piglets. That was in December of 2014. Then it’s spring break and final exams and Rosalyn asks if we could temporally take Penny. LOL!  I said, ‘Oh? How big will she get?’  ‘Well,’ Rosalyn said, ‘She won’t weigh 300 lbs...’ Bob’s comment was ‘Well, that’s comforting.’ Ha ha ha. Rosalyn graduated, moved to Wyoming, and the rest is history.”

    Janet explained that traveling with Penny is not like traveling with the family dog.

    “I learned quickly that getting a pig in and out of a vehicle is a major task. They do not jump into a vehicle. We had to get a wheelchair ramp and lure her into the car with Oreo cookies. She also has a harness and pink brush.

    “We had to have our vet check on the Maine laws regarding livestock requirements, and the proper paperwork, for Penny to move here from Maryland. The vet gave me a tranquilizer for her, as it is about an 11-hour drive, that, along with the Guinness beer she loves. We decided to leave at 2 a.m. I think it was December 29. It started to snow and Penny did not want to leave her hut. Finally, with the Oreo cookies, she went up the ramp into her crate where we had the tranquilizer in the applesauce....”

    When Penobscot Island Air was contacted for Penny’s reservation on a flight to the island, pilot Roger Robertson remembers asking, “What, you mean a live pig?”

    Robertson later told me, “We fly dead pigs all the time to people hosting a pig roast.”

    Penny arrived at the Matinicus Airstrip at the appointed time, touching down gently on our gravel airstrip with Roger at the helm. Penny rode in her crate because it does matter, in small aircraft, that the pilot know where the weight is centered. When the heavy freight walks around, conditions may be sub-optimal. 

    Unloading the pig in the crate took all of us. The last thing we needed was a panicked pig on the loose at the airport, so she had to remain crated until we got her to her new home. It was rather like moving a large appliance. All of us on this island are well-tried in the carriage of heavy items, however, and she was conveyed to her pickup truck along with her luggage, which included what was left of the six-pack of Guinness.

    Penny likes beer, and she especially likes Guinness Stout. 

    Interestingly for a fishing community, this place has seen quite the little resurgence of backyard agriculture over the last few years. This island supports a couple of poultry operations, including one run by 5-year-old Eli, who is a serious chicken entrepreneur, and we have multiple beekeepers, and several folks have recently raised various critters (including pigs) for meat. There have always been gardeners, but for the past 50 or 60 years until recently, nobody did much with farm animals. Now, we’ve got “one heck of a 4-H club.” 

    Penny, by the way, is not meat.

    So Penny and Janet and Bob lived a perfectly normal Matinicus Island life all winter, along with we three dozen or so others, messing with their water line and teaching school and waiting for the mail and shoveling snow and plodding through mud and eating cookies aboard the Sunbeam and going to “stitch and bitch” and hoping the lights stay on when the wind blows hard, which it does all winter. Penny got to know Millie and Mary and Wanda and Darlene, the four Dexter cows next door. 

    Then, in the spring, just a few short weeks before the end of school, Bob called with an urgency in his voice and explained that Janet would have to leave the island in a hurry because of a health scare, although this time no emergency responders would be required. A substitute teacher was sent for, our occasionally visiting superhero Pat, who is a former Matinicus teacher and smallholder farmer herself. Everybody hurried to give Janet a hug before the mail plane came for the teaching couple. We wished her all strength and healing and the best of care.

    Penny, however, doesn’t pack up her kit and travel on the spur of the moment, so this summer, Penny is in the tender care of the citizenry at large. It takes a village to babysit a pig. She is quite possibly getting spoiled. Certainly she gets more dessert than Mom would ordinarily allow.

    Let it be said that Janet would in no way leave her friend abandoned on some lonely rock without supervision or sustenance. Robin the postmaster (and primary substitute pig-keeper, experienced in both backyard livestock care and veterinary medicine) stops by twice a day before and after work to make sure Penny has fresh water and to try and get her to eat her vegetables and healthy grain.

    “She likes carbs. She likes plain spaghetti. There is a lot she doesn’t like. Somebody dropped off some cauliflower here for her, and she scowled at me like, ‘Seriously? What is this stuff?’”

    Penny is 3 ½ years old, and seems to eat like any other 3 ½ year-old, meaning she isn’t interested in her vegetables if she thinks there is a doughnut or a piece of toast around somewhere. She likes cinnamon rolls. She likes Stella Artois, which is nothing like Guinness. She does not care much for salad without Italian dressing. 

    Janet will be back, and we may have to undertake the Flying Pig Dance again, which we can do if we must because we know how, and Penobscot Island Air has flown stranger things. But the pig is a good neighbor, and islanders enjoy dropping by to bring Penny a treat. She eats, I suppose, like a pig. Actually, she eats pretty much like the rest of us.

     

     

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