A story about loss and redemption.
At the beginning of September, I set off on a new adventure: I’m traveling around the country over the coming months, living and volunteering on a variety of small-scale organic farms through WWOOF. This essay is about my most recent stop: a family farm in Bulls Gap, Tennessee. One of the pigs went into labor within the first hour of my arrival at my latest farmstay in Tennessee, which belongs to a married couple (husband J and wife W) with two sons and two daughters between the ages of three and eight. The sow laid on her side, panting, while we watched from outside the fence. A tiny, speckled piglet slipped out and wriggled blindly in the hay, and then another. I squirmed and squealed, just like the pink-eared baby animals. This was delight. This was wonder. This was the blissful naïveté of optimistic glee that infused those days before the presidential election, when it seemed like the whole country was on the cusp of exhilarating newness — nervous, but so very hopeful. The kids were enthused but easily distractible, already familiar with the bloody births (and deaths) of livestock after residing on the farm for a year and a half. They were interested in the process, but more inquisitive than enchanted. Children always seem so blithely curious about these things, as if still too close to their own births and too far from their own deaths to view either margin of life as loaded with formidable magic. They come riddled with pure questions, unweighted by adult anxiety. The birthing process soon took a turn for the worse. We had predicted ten piglets based on the number of the mom’s teats and expected them to arrive about ten minutes apart, but twenty minutes passed after the second piglet, and then thirty, and then forty. As the first two attempted to nurse, the sow growled and snapped at them aggressively, shoving them away. Each time, I leapt, battling the urge to jump the fence, to nuzzle the piglets myself, to interject. “Come on, mama,” we kept pleading from outside. “I don’t understand.” “I don’t understand.” “I don’t understand.” “Why?” asked the kids repeatedly, losing patience. “We don’t know,” replied the adults, at a loss for answers. “No, oh, no!” we all said, over and over, losing hope. We were wrestling for control as it slipped like sand through our fingers. Our…
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