Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Exit Belial!

Today’s weather was the kind of weather I prefer for taking pictures, so I managed to get to Kephart Prong for a short walk. Naturally, my mind turned to Horace Kephart, and upon returning home I picked up Our Southern Highlanders. The following excerpt isn’t really relevant to today’s photos, but I enjoyed it, anyhow:

The mainstay of every farmer, aside from his cornfield, was his litter or razorback hogs. "Old cornbread and sowbelly" are a menu complete for the mountaineer. The wild pig, roaming foot-loose and free over hill and dale, picks up his own living at all seasons and requires no attention at all. He is the cheapest possible source of meat and yields the quickest return: no other food animal can increase his own weight a hundred and fifty fold in the first eight months of his life." And so he is regarded by his owner with the same affection that Connemara Paddy bestows upon "the gintleman that pays the rint."

In physique and mentality, the razorback differs even more from a domestic hog than a wild goose does from a tame one. Shaped in front like a thin wedge, he can go through laurel thickets like a bear. Armored with tough hide cushioned by bristles, he despises thorns, brambles, and rattlesnakes, alike. His extravagantly long snout can scent like a cat's, and yet burrow, uproot, overturn, as if made of metal. The long legs, thin flanks, pliant hoofs, fit him to run like a deer and climb like a goat. In courage and sagacity he outranks all other beasts. A warrior born, he is also a strategist of the first order. Like man, he lives a communal life, and unites with others of his kind for purposes of defense.

The pig is the only large mammal I know of, besides man, whose eyes will not shine by reflected light-they are too bold and crafty, I wit. The razorback has a mind of his own; not instinct, but mind-whatever psychologists may say. He thinks. Anybody can see that when he is not rooting or sleeping he is studying devilment He shows remarkable understanding of human speech, especially profane speech, and even an uncanny gift - of reading men's thoughts, whenever those thoughts are directed against the peace and dignity of pigship.

He bears grudges, broods over indignities, and plans redresses for the morrow or the week after. If he cannot get even with you, he will lay for your unsuspecting friend. And at the last, when arrested in his crimes and lodged in the pen, he is liable to attacks of mania from sheer helpless rage.

If you camp out in the mountains, nothing will molest you but razorback hogs. Bears will flee and wildcats sneak to their dens, but the moment incense of cooking arises from your camp every pig within two miles will scent it and hasten to call. You may throw your arm out of joint: they will laugh in your face. You may curse in five languages; it is music to their titillating ears.

Throughout summer and autumn I cooked out of doors, on the woodsman's range of forked stakes and a lug-pole spanning parallel beds of rock. When the pigs came, I fed them red- pepper pie. Then all said good-bye to my hospitality save one slab-sided, tusky old boar and he planned a campaign. At the first smell of smoke he would start for my premises. Hiding securely in a nearby thicket, he would spy on the operations until my stew got to simmering gently and I would retire to the cabin and get my fists in the dough.

Then, charging at speed, he would knock down a stake, trip the lug-pole, and send my dinner flying. Every day he would do this. It got so that I had to sit there facing the fire all through my cooking, or that beast of a hog would ruin me. With this I thought he was outgeneraled. Idle dream! He would slip off to my favorite neighbor's, break through the garden fence, and raise Ned instanter--all because he hated me, for that peppery fraud, and knew that Bob and I were cronies.

I dubbed this pig Belial; a name that Bob promptly adapted to his own notion by calling it Be-liar. "That Be-liar," swore he, "would cross hell on a rotten rail to git into my 'tater patch!"

Finally I could stand it no longer, and took down my rifle. It was a nail-driver, and I, rough constant practice in beheading squirrels, was in good form. However, in the mountains it is more heinous to kill another man's pig than to shoot the owner. So I took craft for my guide, and guile for my heart's counsel. I stalked Belial as stealthily as ever hunter crept on an antelope against the wind.

At last I had him dead right: broadside to me and motionless as if in a daydream. I knew that if I drilled his ear, or shot his tail clean off, it would only make him meaner than ever. He sported an commonly fine tail, and was proud to flaunt it. I drew down on that member, purposely a trifle scant, fired, and-away scuttled that boar, with a broken tail that would dangle and cling to him disgracefully through life.

Exit Belial! It was equivalent to a broken heart. He emigrated, or committed suicide, I know not which, but the Smoky Mountains knew him no more.


kanugalihi said...

that creeks full of fish. and wonderful old homesites.

a cherokee friend once jumped on a pig from horseback and cut its throat. at least he tells that story. i would like for it to be true. i have few doubts.

Western North Carolina Writer's Underground said...

That's a great song the Bluegrass band did about "Belial" on "The Mystery of George Masa" CD. Belial's impish descendants are a good reason to go hog hunting (with an Eastern North Carolina pick pickin' after). Unfortunately I've never been. Maybe I'll get the chance one day. Onk, onk!