MAINE LINES – Guest blog from SOPHIE SNOW
I’m walking down an unpaved road in rural Maine, trying to grunt like a pig. One pocket is full of acorns and one hand is clutching the apple I just pulled in half. This is something I’m kind of proud of. I’ve never even considered attempting to rip an apple in half before, on the assumption that such an attempt would be a laughable failure. Both halves are pushed together right now, back into the shape of the apple, but the juice is running down my hands and I can smell its sweetness mingled with the autumn smells of leaves and earth. The reason I am making pig-like grunts is that the two pigs my husband and I bought about four months ago got out of their pen this morning and into the woods. Don’t misunderstand me here – I’m not really convinced that my quiet snorts will actually summon the pigs out of the trees and into my company, but when pretty much everywhere in your “neighborhood” is covered in forest and you have no idea in which direction your Christmas ham might have taken off among the many acres of trees, it’s nice to feel like you’re somehow being useful.
To be honest, I’ve no idea what I’ll do if I find them; at this point they have the appearance of two muscular, disconcertingly naked guys, both stronger and heavier than me, and if they don’t want to do what I want them to then there’ll be nothing I can do about it – so I’m hoping they’re hungry for the acorns and apple halves because otherwise I’m screwed. Actually, I’m hoping that my husband, who took off in the other direction through the trees, finds them before I do. He’s a lot handier in this kind of scenario than I am. He is, in fact, the reason I am in this scenario, and I don’t just mean because he knew they were capable of escaping their pen and did nothing to fix the weakness in the fence, or because he’s the one who, tongue-in-cheek, suggested the snorting tactic – although both of those things are true – but I mean all of it; the unpaved “neighborhood”, the hog-farming lifestyle, even the fact that we live in the USA at all – that’s all him. If I had not, as a wide-eyed nineteen-year-old on a gap year, traveling the world and slumming it in the privileged kind of way that wide-eyed nineteen-year-olds slum it on their gap years, ended up living in that tent on that Hawaiian lettuce farm and hooked up with that very bearded guy who ran the seed nursery, I would still live where the majority of my friends and all of my family do, in Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city. I certainly would never have thought of spending the confounding amount of time and money, not to mention doing all the paperwork that it takes to immigrate to this country so that I could marry him, nor would I have had the motivation to buy a house an hour’s drive from where he grew up so that we could begin to live more sustainably, away from the hustle and bustle of the city. That was all about him.
But that apple I ripped in half with my bare hands? – That was all me, baby.
Cities; I like them. I get them. Having to take public transport or walk everywhere because the streets are all gridlocked? Yup. (Okay, full disclosure, I never even learned to drive. Sorry, I know that freaks you guys out.) Meeting your friends in galleries or shops or bars to catch up? Working retail or restaurant jobs to fund the time you spend in stores and restaurants? Yup, all of that. I’m pretty much as city as they come; private education, offspring of artists and performers, academically bright – I was definitely going to go to university after that gap year because the idea of foregoing further education, getting married, and living the life of a housewife? Never entered my mind. I’m a cliché that literally doesn’t exist any more where I come from. Actually, where I come from, I’m probably more like a cautionary tale – “Well, Cecelia, you can go and volunteer at that orangutan sanctuary/build houses for the impoverished/teach English to unfortunate foreign people, if you really must feel some sort of self-satisfaction – but don’t forget the risks! You might end up an uneducated housewife!”
“Oh no Mummy, not that! I’ll start applying myself to my studies right away!”
If, when I was still living in Edinburgh, people had been talking about someone else making the choice I did, I’d have thought that girl was making a mistake.
Nothing prepared me for the life I ended up choosing. The only kind of thinking I have any sort of training in is methodical, intellectual, and useless in practical situations where you need to be quick and instinctive. On which note, back to the pig story; I’m at the bottom of the road now and I’m pretty sure the pigs didn’t make it this far, so I turn around. More than likely they never even came this direction – my husband may even have handled the whole situation by now. He seems to deal with practical problems effortlessly; I’ll be scratching my head, possibly compiling some sort of list to try and figure out what needs to be done, and then I look around and he’s taken care of everything. And his whole family are like that. Of course, there are things my whole family can do pretty effortlessly as well – things like singing show tunes, or guessing the clues for newspaper crossword puzzles. But this rural farming thing is his life – the life he thought he’d have. In the excitement and confusion of our early relationship we missed one noteworthy detail: he was at that lettuce farm because farming is his passion – and he thought I was there for the same reason; I was at that lettuce farm because nothing in my (undoubtedly academic) career would ever have the same immediacy in terms of labor creating results, and I wanted to experience that way of life for a few months before coming back to reality – and I thought he was there for the same reason.
So I’m not really even looking for the pigs any more as I near the driveway, he probably has it covered – but no! I see them – they’ve walked a few acres through the trees and are now going up our neighbor’s driveway towards their house! I say something redundant like, “Hey… pigs,” and for their part, they seem pleased to see me – they even start coming over without my having to do anything! But, oh, I see, they’re probably smelling the apple – I throw one of the halves out, and to my surprise only one of them sniffs at it – and he’s not even interested. Maybe he hasn’t realized how cool it was when I ripped it in half with my hands. It doesn’t matter because they’re following me anyway! This is great. I start dropping acorns every few steps, walking backwards towards the drive, aware that, even though it seemed so close a moment ago, now the distance to the house seems horribly daunting. How will I keep them going where I want them for the whole length of our winding drive? At least for now they seem content to follow; the way they’re sniffing at my feet suggests they want to eat my boots (I have these super snazzy yellow and white rubber boots with pictures of birds and flowers on them – they leak in multiple places and are generally cold and impractical – but when we used to live in the city I totally got complimented on them all the time), anyway their appreciation of my taste in footwear, whether or not for culinary reasons, is a rather pleasant surprise – anything just as long as they keep following me!
Getting them back into the pen doesn’t go entirely smoothly (imagine trying to herd two muscular naked guys), but after about twenty minutes of my husband and I both running around in our field, half crouching to hold giant logs like barriers at their eye-level because the visual seems to do more than our presence alone, we finally corral them in. We rest the canoe that we recently borrowed from his parents against their fence, for now reinforcing the place where they broke out, and I realize I’m feeling a small amount of pride, because today, I helped.
Am I proud that my having helped should be at all remarkable…? Not really. In another marriage, a marriage between an older, more experienced couple, a couple who both lived in the same country and had time to get to know each other without the pressure of a long distance inter-continental relationship where, after a certain amount of time, the choice is either break up or get married – our dynamic might be more of a problem. But us? We were lucky. We had loads of people tell us our marriage would be hard. Or at least, the polite ones told us it would be hard, and the rest used expletives. So we listened to those people, and then we got married anyway. And I think because of that we’re probably able to cut each other a little more slack. If my husband wants to live rurally and raise animals? I’ll support that in any way I can. If my mental health begins to deteriorate because every damn situation I am ever in over here is new and overwhelming, and the only way I can deal with it is hours spent closed away and writing? He’ll give me space to do that. Unless the pigs have escaped. Then he’ll come and ask for my help, and I’ll give it to him, even if I’m sure I’ll be worse than useless. He’s the reason I can sometimes be found outside at 5.30am with leaky (but snazzy) rubber boots over my pajamas, feeding the chickens and the pigs. I’m the reason he has a more-than passing acquaintance with British comedy and a house full of books. And yes, our marriage is hard work sometimes, absolutely it is – but most of the time, it’s a pleasant surprise. Most of the time we can figure things out, and when we can’t, it seems to work out anyway. Who knows, maybe he just really likes those snazzy rubber boots.