The day ahead was mundane, but only until noon. After a morning of laundry, house work, farm chores and email tag I was destined for the archery field. Because of my part time job and the deadline for the mews I had missed weeks of team practice. I was really looking forward to it. Spending an afternoon around people I have known for years, under a warm sun, and doing the sport we all love - is a feeling few people get to experience these days. Today was not only a team practice for my SCA group, but my highest score of all time during Royal Rounds! What the heck is a Royal Round? Well, thanks for asking! A Royal Round is a measure of skill - a series of points based on four targets. The archer gets six arrows and shoots all of them at a 20 yard target, a 30 yard target, and a 40 yard target. When that's done you get a thirty second timed round at twenty yards. I am proud to say that a year into my training I hit 4 out of 6 arrows at 40 yards and can shoot five arrows well in under thirty seconds. I am well on my way to the marksman level of shooting.The marksman level is a score of 40 points on three royal rounds in a twelve-month period. Today I score 35 points, including several bulls eyes. I started with scores around 11 or 12. I think I was glowing out there on the line.
When our team practice was over I was asked to stay afterwards by our Marshal, T'mas. T'mas runs our team and just spent two weeks at the epic Pennsic War (the largest tent city in America, google it) and he wanted to test me for a leadership position as a fellow field Marshal. For an hour he grilled me on rules of safety, equipment inspection, field set up, running a practice, and Society particulars. When we were done he told me he would be contacting his Field Lieutenant to let me know I was a proper recommendation for Marshal. This all sounds very militaryesque because the SCA is not a democracy, it is based on the war practices of the middle ages and my Marshal status would have to travel through the East Kingdom for approval. If the people above us didn't want me, for any reason, I would get declined. That wasn't likely though, seeing our Marshal in Chief was well respected. I was as good as in.
So I drove home from practice downright giddy. My best score of all time and a new leadership role in the team! I had sunshine and a horse waiting for me. My stomach was churning with hunger and I couldn't wait to grill up that grassfed beef and tuck it into some Tupperware with salad greens and sauce for a dinner with a view from the highest point on my mountain. I would celebrate on horseback, the way I wanted to. So when I pulled into my driveway the first thing I did upon my arrival was to grab Merlin from his paddock and bring him out to the hitching post in the front lawn. There I offered him a bucket of fresh water and two flakes of hay and the plan was for him to eat where I saddle him while Gibson and I ran around doing the evening chores. It wasn't until I had delivered Merlin's dinner that I heard that horrible sound behind me….
"Gruuuunt Grunt. Sniff Sniff, grruuuuuunt squeak"
I turned around slow. Horror-movie slow. My worst fear was realized. I was staring at four pigs. They had all escaped. They were snorting at me, covered all over in dirt and mud.
It was an effort of will but I forced myself into a calm. I had learned long ago that panic did nothing to help the re-containment process. If I acted frantic they would scatter. If I called Gibson out, they would scatter. Right now the pigs seemed interested in me and I took that as a good sign. My eyes darted around trying to decipher how long they had been escapees. I had no idea and instead calmly walked over to the buckets I had set aside for evening feeding and filled one with dry cracked corn. My hope was the pigs would see the bucket and happily follow me back to their dinner.
So.... that didn't work.
What is cracked corn compared to a forest!? A forest teaming with grubs and greens, bark and chicken feeders! The foursome of pigs scattered in every direction. Their fifty-pound adolescent bodies completely filled with joy in what a locust tree felt like on their butts, or what a burdock leaf tasted like. My last hope was that routine would be the remedy, so acting like nothing was unusual I walked up to their pen, opened the door, and poured in the feed. I made a big show of sweet talk and bucket rattling and two of the pigs came running right inside the pen to check it out. Miracle of Miracles I said a silent prayer of thanks to the Guardians and quickly shut the gate behind them. They spun around on their cloven feet and squealed like angry teenagers. TRICKED! They stopped eating and paced around the pen, looking for the place they had crawled under the electric wire and lifted the chain fence to escape. I watched them touch the electric wire without so much as a flinch and knew that the fence was weak or down. I cursed under my breath and started gathering heavy rocks and a cut down locust trunk and setting them around the pen to block and non-electric points of escape. By this point I was covered in sweat and had already cut myself open on a wild rose bush. I looked like an extra in a zombie movie, and smelled like one too. I had two pigs still on the lam and two inside their pen angry as hell for having the footballs pulled over their eyes. I had no idea how to get Three and Four inside but I did know I had to make it happen. I had passed the luxury of choice two pigs ago.
I ran back to the house and threw (THREW!) a half dozen eggs from the fridge into a plastic bucket, watching the orange yokes and shells swirl into a pile of goo at the bottom. I ran to the cupboard and grabbed a can of creamed corn and opened it. I poured it into the bucket and even my pitiful human nose could take in the sugar-sweet stench of it. That rich protein and sugar and starch was too much for most omnivores to pass up and I ran back outside to try nothing short of tricking and trapping. By slowly walking up to the two escaped pigs I was able to get one to stick her head into the pail and I grabbed her back feet and lifted her into the air.
Holy Crow, the screams….
That shoat screamed and writhed and if you think it is easy lifting a fifty-pound car alarm around and dumping into a pen you are mistaken. I walked through through a patch of stinging nettle to do it as fast as possible (in a kilt) and started crying as I slowly released Three into the pen. At this point I was beyond anything but action. I ignored the burning thighs and extra cuts from thorns on my chubby arms. I was in the thick of it now. I saw the fourth pig run towards the sound of his three flatmates and instead of tackling him on a rose bush I had the sense to open the gate and pour the egg-creamed corn onto their dry corn. All three pigs inside the pen jumped on it like hungry lions on a limping gazelle and all I had to do for Four was offer him an open gate. He ran inside and I literally prayed out loud in thanks. They were all co-owned, not my pigs alone. If they got lost it would mean telling a lot of friends their pork wasn't coming as planned. I would have to bear the financial burden of replacing any pigs that left for good, something I'm not ready to do. So seeing four pigs back in their pen was a blessing beyond measure. I prayed some more. I'm a pretty religious person, albeit a logical one. I'm not foolish enough to not stop and be grateful for the gift of four returned pigs. It wasn't a gospel chorus though, I had work to do.
I jumped inside to test the wire. It was dead. The electric wiring itself as fine but the old charger was shot. I went into a frenzy of work. I hand dug out all the hay, mud, and poop that was in the way of the wire and chucked it outside the fence. My fingernails made me cringe. The smell was not good. I was hand-shoveling pig crap at sundown, covered in sweat, dry tears on my face and blood clotting over my back. Merlin was still waiting in front of the farm house. I started crying again, this time in pure exhaustion.
It took another half hour but I grabbed an old two-mile plug in charger and set it up to replace the ten-mile charger that was a deadbeat. With the ground cleared around it (note to self, do not bite nails for a few days or you may end up with ringworm) I knew the charge was good. I waited until a pink nose touched it and I heard a squeal of pain that brought nothing but a smile to my face. I ran off to get the pigs their water and poured some of it right on the grounding rod just for spite.
After all this was done I needed that saddle bad. The sun was already gone from the eastern side of the mountain but I knew I could chase it with my black horse. I saddled Merlin and we took off for our trail. When he broke into that first canter I let out a sigh so primal I'm sure Merlin felt it in his spine. We didn't have time for dinner. I had cooked nothing and lost my appetite a new handfuls of pig shit ago. I just needed to ride. We had a short, quick, hard-pumping, hoof-pounding run and I stopped only to take in the view of my valley from the highest point. We shot home and before I took him to his hitch for apples and brushing I trotted him back to the pig pen. He obliged and from horseback I counted the pigs inside the little pen. One, Two, Three, and Four. All were inside. One came up to sniff the wire and shouted when it got a hard jolt. No part of me felt any pity at all. I smiled. If you think that's crule you haven't rewired a charger with the slow burn of nettles on your inner thighs while blood ran down your arms. Peta my ass. The most abused animal on this farm is me, hands down.
I let out another sigh and looked over my kingdom. Six and a half acres of time and story. I was covered in pig shit, blood, dirt, hay chaff, human sweat, horse sweat, and dried tears. I had solved a problem, earned a rank in my archery team, and had ended it all in victory on the back of my anam chara in the forest. I was panting. Merlin was panting. The light was tired and summer was coming to a close. But I knew from that hot seat that I had won a battle that day. I had captured pigs, shot true, earned a leadership position and cried a good cry. I had lost myself on a horse, regained myself in the woods, and was now ready for a very hot shower and a very cold beer.
I walked Merlin back, resting so deep in my saddle no part of Merlin could read it as anything but a saunter. I smelled horrible. I'm sure I looked horrible. Just as I was home from the ride, turning the corner to Merlin's posts, I saw that Brick (my alpha ewe) had jumped the fence and escaped. Gibson was barking up a storm at the felony and I knew my night was just beginning. I let Gibson out to deal with the sheep and I meditated with a curry comb and the damp horse as the sunlight went from whisper to silence. Today was good and it was bad. It was wonderful, exhausting, scary and adventurous. I had spent hours in the sunlight shooting my bow, feeling that tired warmth of Lugh all around me, hugging my bronzed shoulders and telling me that October is just a few more trail rides away. I no longer felt hungry. I was already full. I had fence repairs, hay bales, water buckets, grain, milking, and more ahead of me but this only caused a swell of purpose. I returned Merlin to his paddock and Jasper greeted him with a nip on the shoulder and the two boys ran back to their open pasture gate to graze. I let them relax. I turned back to work.
Happiness is not wanting to trade your life in for anyone else's. I'm there.