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COLUMN: Letter and spirit: A pig and the law
New American Gothic

COLUMN: Letter and spirit: A pig and the law

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Tulip Pig was a most extraordinary pig.

After being released to make it on her own by the kind of owner who thinks a baby pig would make a great pet until she finds out it is actually going to be a full-grown pig, Tulip lived off of the land into the fall, when she ate the cattle corn growing in the fields.

A fortuitous chain of events, including her capture by an animal control officer in southern Saratoga County, brought her to live here with us in Hadley.

From the start Tulip would not be confined. She would sleep in the barn, but if her door was not opened in the morning, she would blast through it like a battering ram.

That’s when I would announce, “Pig on the loose!” She did, early on, ramble far and wide. That is until she was captured with the help of a slice of pie and several hours of effort by our neighbors, one mile away, Kenny and Meredith.

When she didn’t return home that evening, the first thing we did was go to see Meredith, who admitted Tulip was in one of her stables.

You never saw a pig climb into a car so fast. She got on my lap in the passenger seat and cemented herself there until we got home. Then she ran directly to her room to sleep off the trauma of the day.

After that if she wanted to ramble, she would go out back to the swamp to wallow, occasionally visit our near neighbors Harry and Adrienne, and spend time at the puddle in front of Marty and Peanut Ox’s stable.

For the most part she would stay near the house, getting fat along with Buddy Beagle, off of her Filipino grandmother’s meals of vegetables, white rice and a clear delicious chicken broth.

She would occasionally have to go on a reducing diet. It was our habit to have a foot race every evening from the tractor to the manure spreader, about 150 feet. If I won, it was time for the reducing diet.

There were three laws Tulip was expected to abide. One was not to come in the house. Two was not to go into the chicken coop. Three was not to go into the garden.

In all three instances Tulip modified these laws, because she believed in following the spirit of the law rather than the letter.

As far as the chicken coop was concerned she felt, if she could reach the chicken feeder by stretching herself through the door while keeping her feet outside the door, it was perfectly legal for her to drag the feeder outside and eat the contents.

She would, in regard to the garden, do much the same thing. In the evening if I had not walked her to her room, she would, within my line of sight, reach into the garden without setting her feet in, and chop down a corn stalk. She knew that would get me moving, and it did. I would say, “OK, let’s go to bed.”

My favorite spirit-of-the-law versus letter-of-the-law interpretation is how she would hang out if all of the action was in the house. She would rest her head on the threshold of the open door watching everything that was going on, but she would not step into or over it. She would just rest her head there and enjoy in that way being with everyone.

So, as you can see, she was an extraordinary pig, as many pigs become if given a chance. And, it seems to me she had a great legal mind, because she figured out how to follow the spirit of the law while enhancing the ability to pursue her right to happiness.

Forrest Hartley lives in Hadley. Leave a message at


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