Michael Karlesky

A cabinet of wonders. Minus the cabinet. And possibly the wonders.

“This Little Piggy”

Another draft installment in my side project I’ve been calling simply Origins.

(Previous pieces here and here.)

Phillip was a hog. He lived on a farm with a tractor and a big barn and many other animals.

Each day Phillip lounged around and ate as much as he wanted. When it was especially hot outside he would roll around in his mud waller to cool off.

Other animals on the farm worked. Some went out with the farmer each day to pull carts. The cows were always busy with their milking. The hens laid eggs and the dogs guarded the henhouse. But not Phillip.

Phillip had barely a care in the world. He ate and rolled in his mud and kept on getting bigger. Life was altogether easy for Phillip the hog.

One day Phillip was having a roll in the mud when he overheard some of the working animals talking. Phillip heard all the right words to know they were talking about food. He loved food. So he waddled over to the other animals to hear more of what they were saying.

When Phillip finally got near the other animals he was slightly out of breath but managed to butt into their conversation. The other animals became awkwardly quiet. Finally a wise old horse looked at Phillip with a certain pity and said, “I suppose you don’t know why they call you a hog. Hogs are fed to get fat. So they can be slaughtered and eaten by people.”

Phillip’s eyes grew wide, and he started breathing even harder than he already was.

He tried to calm down by taking a roll in his mud. His mind was racing, and Phillip wished he could just disappear. Then an idea came to him. Maybe he could disappear!

The next morning Phillip woke up early, covered himself with splotches of mud from his waller, and tried hard to walk like a very short dairy cow out in one of the fields. Phillip was quite pleased with himself until one of the farm dogs passed by, nodded, and said “Good morning, Phillip. What are you doing way out here?”

Phillip panicked. He ran. Of course he did not run far. Phillip had been fattened up for slaughter and had not so much as even imagined running before then. Wheezing and exhausted, Phillip was inspired by his short sprint. He realized that if he had been fattened up to be slaughtered then he could not be eaten if he was no longer fattened up!

And so Phillip stopped eating as much as he wanted and began exercising. Now certainly hog push-ups and hog sit-ups and hog jogging look entirely silly. But when Phillip finally started pig paddling laps in the pond that was when the other animals called the whole thing hogwash. Phillip paid them no attention. He was becoming thinner and felt stronger.

Had he been following his plan for a good long while it just might have worked. But then Phillip learned that slaughtering time would come only months away in the spring. A strange quiet came over him and there was a peculiar look in his eye. In that difficult moment Phillip changed.

Now pigs are natural diggers. They root in search of food or dig out a shallow cool place in which to lie down. But what Phillip did next was far beyond that of an average pig. Phillip dug and dug and just kept on digging. He dug right down until the hole was big enough to hold all of him. And Phillip was nowhere near done with his digging.

In the coming weeks, he hollowed out an entire underground burrow and tunnels to hide in. And the more Phillip dug, the more he shrank from all the hard work. His pinkish skin and hair became stained with the brown of the dirt. He even began sleeping underground instead of always in his pen.

Phillip grew to like living below ground. It was no longer a hiding place. It was becoming his new home. In fact, he spent nearly the entire winter sleeping peacefully underground. He still made visits to his feeding trough so as to not raise suspicion. He made sure to be seen just often enough. As the weeks wore on, he ate less of his slop, mostly dumping it in the farm’s compost heap to hide his new diet.

With the coming end of winter, the snowbanks began to waste away much like Phillip himself. In one of his strategic appearances above ground, Phillip happened across the wise old horse of the farm. The old horse stopped him. He looked Phillip over and again with a certain pity said to him, “Tell me, Phillip. How much better than being taken to slaughter is hiding forever?” The question left Phillip stunned. Though he had never left the farm, he began to dream of living far outside its fences. One way or another, spring would be the end of Phillip’s life on the farm.

A nighttime escape was out of the question. Because wolves and foxes would prey on the farm animals after the sun went down, guard dogs would keep watch over the farm. The scent of a pig moving toward a fence in the dark of night would surely foil any of Phillip’s plans. His only chance was early on an overcast day.

By the time the snows stopped, spending so much time underground had caused Phillip’s eyes to become quite sensitive to light. Each morning he took to popping his head out of his burrow, squinting, and looking for his moment to run for it. But each morning he saw only his shadow. The sunlight was simply too bright for him, and it would surely expose him as he tried to escape. When he saw his shadow, Phillip would duck back underground and wait for another chance.

Finally the morning came when the snow had all melted and because clouds filled the sky Phillip saw his opportunity. He emerged from his burrow utterly transformed. He was so much trimmer and smaller and stronger than before. He took a deep breath and dashed as fast as he could. He scurried through the field and past the pond and by his old waller. The big barn shrank on the horizon behind him.

Finally Phillip came upon the outer fence surrounding the farm. Being so much smaller than he once was, he ran underneath it! Just like that, Phillip left the farm and the slaughter behind him to live in the wild, to live under ground.

Phillip could no longer be called a hog exactly. There was no more farm or slaughter and Phillip had taken to living in a burrow. And that's how Phillip came to be known as a groundhog.

Phillip’s legend spread. His story was told and retold, and it changed some along the way. He even became known by different names in different parts of the world. He might just be most famous in Pennsylvania. He has quite the reputation in town of Punxsutawney where the townsfolk have become rather chummy with his story. There they simply call him Phil.

Each year the calendar remembers Phillip and his Groundhog's Day. Most think it is simply a celebration of spring. But in reality Groundhog’s Day is not so much about the new life that comes with a change in seasons but the courage to find new life.