Unfolding the Map
We arrive in Moscow - not Russia, but Idaho! I haven't even considered doing a Russian book yet...though who knows. And we feel as good as pigs in s*** because we're in a place that was considered Hog Heaven. Check out Moscow on the map, and enjoy a little reflection on pigs.
"I spent the night in Hog Heaven, as early settlers called Moscow, Idaho, after they saw the gustatorial excitement pigs got into snorting up camas roots. Although settlers refused to eat the tubers, they were an Indian staple that helped sustain the Lewis and Clark expedition.
"Citizens later tried to counteract the swinish name by changing it to Paradise, but that was much too unbelievable. In 1877, a transplanted Easterner applied for a postal permit under the present name to honor Moscow, Pennsylvania. That ended the silliness; but, as best I could tell, many residents, unable to agree whether the last vowel is long or short, don't like the toponym Moscow any better than Hog Heaven."
Blue Highways: Part 7, Chapter 1
My wife likes pigs. I'm waiting for it... "That's why she married you, Hess." Okay, fair enough. I should rephrase that. My wife likes piglets. This might not be surprising since she is from Iowa, an agricultural state that has its share of pig farms. But that isn't why she really likes piglets, because she never grew up on a farm. She simply likes them because they are cute. I think it might be related to Piglet from Winnie the Pooh.
Her love for piglets doesn't necessarily extend to their adult versions, when they get big, fat, and sometimes a bit aggressive. But piglets...she's all over that.
Pigs get a bum rap. We insult people by calling them pigs. Pigs are associated with uncleanliness, indolence, gluttony, and other human traits we consider less than desirable. In the Odyssey, the sorceress Circe turns Odysseus' sailors into pigs after they gorge themselves on her drugged food, as she thought it resembled their nature. Judaism, Islam and some Christian groups forbid eating pork, though Islam makes an exception in cases of extreme need. These restrictions are based on the perception of uncleanliness of pigs, and the fact that they tend to scavenge and eat pretty much anything.
But reading this article, I learned that pigs do some amazing things. They are smarter than dogs, and even smarter than a human three year old. They dream. They can solve complex problems. Pigs learn words and they can recall words even after a few years of not hearing them. And this is touching. Mother pigs sing to their piglets while nursing them. That's right. Sows sing to their piglets! Could anything be more touching than that?
I once visited a pig farm in Iowa and held some piglets. Unfortunately, all the dust in the air made my allergies act up so I wasn't able to spend a lot of time in the pig barn, but holding a piglet was extremely fulfilling. The piglet nestled into my arms and just lay there, content that it was being held by someone or something. When I looked over at the mother, she appeared watchful, but not distressed that I was holding her piglet. It was if she gave me permission to hold it. I have also watched a huge specimen of porcine bulk trundle his bulk as quickly as he could in answering his name. His eagerness to come over and see us was actually quite cute, if you could get past the fact that he was huge and not very attractive among the pig set.
On the other hand, pigs have been associated with power and cunning. The intelligence of the pig is not only evident in its domesticated version, but wild hogs, feral pigs and boars are also known to have keen intelligence and can be quite dangerous. The boar has been used as an heraldic insignia for throughout the centuries. Boars were also sacred to the Celtic goddess Arduinna, and in Hindu mythology the third avatar of Vishnu is a boar named Varaha.
In Big Bend National Park, I saw a wild hog called a javelina. They don't see very well, and I was on a road above the arroyo in which the javelina was sniffing about. It heard me, and looked around, but because it didn't see me it continued until it disappeared in the underbrush. I remember it having stripes, and looking nothing like the domesticated pigs I'd seen on farms. In fact, Texas is trying to figure out what to do with these wild pigs whose population has grown. A story some years back on that I heard on NPR mentioned that one of the risks of census takers in rural Texas were wild javelinas.
Modern stories about pigs have also touched us. E.B. White's novel Charlotte's Web was one of the first books to make me cry when I was a young boy, and I got the same kind of feelings when I was older and saw the movie Babe for the first time. Yes, I'm a romantic softie.
To me, there is nothing better than a good piece of pork. I like pigs, and I also like to eat them. Especially a good pulled pork sandwich, or carne adovada which is pork slow-cooked in red chile. I've found myself, when confronted with a choice between chicken, beef or pork, usually choosing the pork dish.
Given all of the great things about pigs, religious texts notwithstanding, I'm surprised that they are so maligned. In my imagination, not unlike LHM, I think that a small city in western Idaho could do a lot worse than be known as Hog Heaven. In fact, give me Hog Heaven over Moscow - no offense to the residents of Moscow. I just think that Hog Heaven has a hook and might make a person think about visiting just to see what a Hog Heaven actually looks like.
Bessie Smith, one of the most powerful chanteuse's ever to sing the blues, did a popular song in the 1930s called Gimme a Pigfoot (and a Bottle of Beer). She was an amazing artist who was taken before her time in a car wreck, but she knew the value of a pig. Turn her up and enjoy!
If you want to know more about Moscow
Next up: Pullman, Washington