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  • karenleehall

Philosophy Lessons From the Pig Pen

I’ll wager you can’t truly imagine what it is to clean a pig pen. Likely you’ve never even thought about it. It’s sensory. Buzzing, sweeping / splashing, pig snouts curiously nudging your legs. The scent, of course.

When we first got the wee pigs, they kind of freaked me out. Not dogs, or cats, or like any pets I’ve ever met, they stare, not blinking. They tend to look at you sideways, intensely. So alien they were I was glad Harry took on the task of pig care — initially. When we first got pigs all we had to go on were a few instructions from our man Toño which basically amounted to: keep them in the pen all day and wash it (and them) every time they eat. Feed them at 6 and 6 and that’s it. As I said, Harry started out manning that task. Brave Harry.

Eventually though, as with all things around here, the day came when I had to do it (maybe Harry was away, maybe he was sick, maybe something else, I don’t remember). He wasn’t there to explain anything, so I kind of tackled it. I was pretty lame at the strategic throwing of buckets of water such that it washes everything perfectly into the drain pipe (you need to watch Toño do this, it’s a marvel), so I did what made most sense to get that god awful place clean. I didn’t want to go in there with them, but all I was doing was moving shit from one corner to the other. So in I got. Damn things came right up to me, pushing, sniffing, nipping. Looking all sideways at me. Was it menacing? Slightly. My heart raced, slightly. I made involuntary squeaking sounds. The smell, was, unbelievable.

Months later, I figured out they should be outside and had a fence built around a lovely pasture and created an outdoor space for them to spend their days. Immediately the job of cleaning the pen became much more reasonable. Caring for these animals, really caring for them gives me a deep pleasure I’ve rarely known. Pigs are fascinating creatures. I wish I could actually hang out with them, like we do the dogs. (I try a bit, but they really don’t care about me other than when I have food.)

Harry once relayed something about pigs – that Toño says they have feelings the same as dogs do – about life, about us, but they don’t have any of the same clues and cues to indicate this. We just don’t know how to ‘read’ them.

Of course I always think of my friends and family in Canada, and what they might be doing while I’m splashing out the palace. As comparisons come to mind, I always smile. I imagine my friends back home, in the city of Toronto, all rushing about, busy, important, active. Getting things done, going places. Achievements, kudos, awards, recognition, plenty to share on Facebook. Slogging it out. Celebrating. I think of art exhibits, the cinema, patio dining and dinner parties. I think of travel. There’s busy busy busy, rush rush rush, important; vip; trying to be number one vs. methodically splashing and sweeping somewhere full of shit and piss until it isn’t anymore. Yet I don’t feel like a janitor. I want to clean up for these creatures. I want them to have a clean place to come back to after a day of cavorting and munching and snoozing and snout digging. I love them. They can’t do it for themselves. It’s easily achievable and it’s always satisfying. You know, it doesn’t have to be hospital room clean, just better than a pig sty. They’ll soil it ten minutes after arrival, so clean-er is the perfectly satisfying goal.

They say comparisons are odious, but who doesn’t compare their lives — from time to time — with the lives of others? If you don’t, give me a call and explain how you don’t do that.

My favourite realization about the daily clean up of the pig pen is the feeling that what I’m doing is no lesser a task than anything else. That there’s no such thing as being ‘above’ such a job; this job is honourable. It’s reasonable. It’s all part of being able to claim we have the happiest pigs in Copal and that’s something I’m proud of.

(was there actually a philosophy lesson in all that? hmmmm, you be the judge.)

Originally published July 7, 2013

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