[Before she died in 2018, Expressionist painter & writer Barbara Sparhawk encouraged me to edit-for-publication our nearly 750,000-word correspondence. On her web site, The Hawks Perch, I have been posting excerpts twice a week from “In Her Own Words: Conversations with Barbara Sparhawk.” They have been well-received, even posthumously garnering new followers to her WordPress site, and I thought some of my readers here might enjoy a peek into Barbara’s world, too.]
“It was so tragically romantic . . . wild pig all poet. I was training myself to think, ‘Bad wild animal, dangerous wild animal!’ so I wouldn’t care . . . and it turned out he was in love with the plums.”
There are coyote packs out here who howl to each other at late night, moon nights. It’s not scary. There can’t be much other than the occasional mountain lion in the way of predators here – [The Holman Ranch] – 400 acres of a lot of wild land, canyons and hills, beyond the modest cultivated places and few houses and stables and the horse pastures.
Before I had the studio/apartment in the barn on the hill I lived in the peasant housing, the Bunkhouses, a row of about eight on the last stretch of road before the big house. Lousy housing, about 12X12 feet, everything leaked, the walls, half underground in front, seeped, a long communal porch facing west and hills, but oh my God the property was free range and spectacular. The big house had a pool nobody used but me, set off in a mountainside, blue/green tile, condor and hawks overhead, sun-heated.
Opposite the bunkhouses was a little house with the washers and dryers. A fence below that and a big sloping lot of land into a canyon. And Patty and Chris who lived in the one full house next to the laundry. They had a fantastic garden filled with extraordinary plants, flowering vines, fruit trees in flower, a pond, chickens and roosters, cats and a really old cocker spaniel, and they did underwater landscaping for ponds, including for Monterey Aquarium, and pretty much took care of the ranch.
Slow to start, but with increased passion each night one summer, one of the pigs in a wild pack began trying to break through that back fence. Chris, a well-armed Texan, would charge out at 1 or 2 am and fire in the direction of the pig and scare it off. But the insistent pig returned, every night, making more need-to-repair holes in the wood fence, not getting through but upsetting the Holman Ranch balance of nature, our natures anyway.
These things run about 3-400 lbs, and are all muscle, near blind, and aggravate easy. They charge at whatever appears to be a target. And they are dangerous. So there was general worry and specific annoyance and between the crashing wood and Chris firing nobody was sleeping any more.
Except me now up on the hill in the barn. The ruckus woke me around 2 am one morning, a lot more shots fired than usual, and voices shouting and screaming and I threw on clothes and ran down the hill.
Chris (and of course it’s the dead dark of night except for some badly placed electric lights) had heard the wild pig break through the fence and he’d gone out with a rifle and shotgun and handgun. Seven or eight or ten shots fired. As the pig charged him! The flashlights from all the woken tenants honed in on the dead pig’s body, still heaving its end of life, Chris panting not more than five feet away, it had come right at him. It was pretty sad along with a relief that the enemy was stilled, Chris unscathed.
But the story, the real story, lay in the aftermath. Here was this grizzled huge thing, they are enormous, and they do attack, bad eyesight and generally peeved at the world, and it lay dead now on the path, and of course I’m in the wild west and everyone here grew up with doing this so they cooked it later that day.
So all this is going on and I’m trying to adjust to the thinking. I’m in a different country, five years out of Brooklyn, one year out of Virginia (where they cooked and ate everything with great fanfare on complex homemade equipment, and often) and I’m talking to the Texan and his wife about the rampaging wild pig and it turns out that the pig kept breaking into the back yard in order to get at the very full post-blossom fruit-filled plum trees that bordered Chris and Patty’s yard.
My God. The succulent plums. Here was wild pig all poet. He had risked his life for the sweet plums just out of reach and I could not get over it. No other pig before or after him had thought the plum something he would not live without. No other. It was so tragically romantic, too much to stand. It had never occurred to me. I was training myself to think, ‘Bad wild animal, dangerous wild animal!’ so I wouldn’t care about the rest that followed and it turned out he was in love with the plums.
This was some special creature whose heart must have been filled with exceptional poetry and the stuff dreams are made of. All the pig wanted was something beautiful and wonderful with that alluring perfume to it. I tell you, it so affected and crushed me, I cried and cried, and for months, and still. And no I couldn’t bring myself to be part of the feast that followed. And it gave me a new respect for the souls of what is called wild.
Which of course you’ve seen, you’ve known, from among others, your wolves.
🙂 🙂 🙂
[I can post more Barbara excerpts on giblets, should there be an interest.]