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Page 2

THE GOOD GOOD PIG
The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood
by Sy Montgomery
Ballantine, 240 pp., $21.95


The Good Good Pig

I

nterspecies romance can be dicey. The duck following a dog is humorous but also a case of bad imprinting. We all know people who inappropriately treat their pets like children; perhaps we are one of those people ourselves. In the wild, the ethical response is to keep your distance. Don't feed the bears. Don't adopt a baby monkey or take that snake home. Falling in love with the Other -- be it ferret, cat, or goat -- requires the negotiation of considerable differences: in life span, in eating habits, and in grooming, to name only a few.

The Good Good Pig: The Extraordinary Life of Christopher Hogwood is a love story. Female author meets piglet. Piglet gets wormed and starts to grow, eventually weighing 750 pounds. Woman and pig (and woman's husband and dog) live together for 14 years. Pig dies a natural death and is buried with tears, tenderness, and a small plaque.

In her previous books, the nature writer Sy Montgomery focused on the exotic: the pink dolphins of the Amazon River or man-eating tigers in India. She fills this account with odd and interesting information about pigs. On farms, pig communities are called drifts, and they move with seeming randomness, "like a cloud of pigdom over the landscape." Groups of wild pigs, extended families of mothers and children, are known as sounders, and may include 20 to as many as 100 animals. The Hindu god Vishnu took the form of a boar to lift up the earth from a threatening flood. In Papua New Guinea, women still suckle orphaned pigs.

But The Good Good Pig is also a memoir, and its strength lies in Montgomery's understanding of how her relationship with a common domestic pig enhanced her relationships with human beings. As a self-proclaimed shy and awkward animal lover, "a not-quite-human creature living among people [who are] far more comfortable in their own skins," the author was forced by the needs of her unusual pet to be more sociable. Her pig required petting, brushing, long warm baths, hoof trimming, detusking, supervision, and occasional rescue. People in her small New Hampshire community naturally helped. Her pig attracted visitors, particularly children, some of whom became part of Montgomery's extended family. Above all, her pig ate a lot of food, and gathering slops from various friends, businesses, and restaurants became a daily chore -- albeit a welcome one -- in the author's newly gregarious life.

Montgomery's descriptions of animal behavior are touching and authoritative, and the book is full of a pleasant, sly humor. While Christopher Hogwood is being fed freezer-burned Häagen-Dazs ice cream, he waits, "trotters draped casually over the gate, for another spoonful, ropes of frothy drool flowing down his jowls."

"Now," begins the next paragraph, "this was my idea of a good time."

Occasionally Montgomery seems a bit too eager to impress -- with her many travels, or with her adventurous spirit, or with her unique affinity to animals. In her words, "While other people are thinking about a new kitchen or a Caribbean cruise, or whether their child will win the soccer match, or what to wear to a party, I am thinking about how a possum's tail feels as it grips a branch or whether the snapping turtle who tried to lay eggs in our yard last year will come back this fall."

This reader wanted to tell the author: Hey, I care about possum tails too.

One morning, the pig owner discovers that her beloved pet has died in his sleep. Montgomery writes, "I threw myself upon his great prone body, as I had done with so many other sorrows before." Bereft, she cries out, "I love you!"

Other people had also loved Christopher Hogwood, and the letters and e-mails pour in. Wondering why, Montgomery comes up with some good answers.

People loved this great fat pig because he was gentle, he was comical, and he was greedy. They loved him because he broke all the rules, having enjoyed a natural and blessed life quite unlike that of America's 60 million pigs raised for slaughter. This pig got to eat ice cream and pastry, pumpkins and strawberries and artichoke dip, all mixed together. He was the rare domesticated animal "whose every wish, beyond his wildest dreams, had been utterly and completely satisfied." In truth, Christopher Hogwood wasn't so much a good pig as a happy pig, a role he played expertly in a requited love affair that ended as well as humanly and porcinely possible.
-- Sharman Apt Russell


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The North Pole Was Here
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It's fair to say that environmental reporter Andrew Revkin of the New York Times does the world a service, explaining the eminently complex science of climate change to the more than one million readers who turn to the "paper of record" as part of their daily ritual and ongoing edification. Now imagine you're 11, reading Revkin's new book for kids about the trials and travails of the world's great scientific adventurers. You might ask yourself this: How cool would it be to get paid to fly to the North Pole with a bunch of your friends in an airplane stocked with peanut-butter sandwiches, only to land on a giant sheet of floating ice that might very well crack open when you touch down? And then, after you stay up watching DVDs in a tent, you and your buddies snooze for a bit before climbing out of your sleeping bags and packing up your guns (in case of polar bear attacks), ice picks, binoculars, and other gadgets and hike off to unlock secrets trapped in ice that will help you to save the world? In The North Pole Was Here: Puzzles and Perils at the Top of the World, Revkin explains to young readers the work and life of arctic climate scientists and the study of global warming. In an age when fewer students are turning to science, a fact that has caused President Bush to express dismay, Revkin makes being a climate scientist sound pretty nifty. The book is written for kids ages 10 and up, but both the story and the writing are entertaining enough to keep older folks engaged too.






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OnEarth. Summer 2006
Copyright 2006 by the Natural Resources Defense Council