I'm a fancy pig, and a charmed one; my tusks will tell you that. They've curled around twice over, and while they're brown at the roots where they burrow into my whiskers, I've kept them sharp and ferocious looking at the business end. That's easy to do: rooting for yams and tubers works up a sweat and mounds of honest mud in this gummy weather, but it does wonders for your grooming where it counts—even better, I'd say, than rubbing them crudely like the young rogues do against the boles of knobby trees to foster an image of consequence. We might cultivate unkemptness in our bristly behinds, the better to preserve them, but for the boar of integrity and good taste, a neat and well-turned pair of ivories up front is what it's all about. And nothing will gain you those but years, a great many years, and that means, but naturally, experience: having the nose and the wits and the legs to keep out of harm's way, particularly on and around the footpaths and the riverbanks.
That's trickier than you might think; the forest isn't what it used to be since the clearings started, and I often wish that it were simply a matter of perspective or nostalgia, but the forest does seem smaller, beyond considerations of circumference or area: the trees are squatter, and almost every boar's skinnier than his grandfather, even granting the exaggerations of memory. I'm fairly large myself, and proud of it, and apprehensive for it, as I'll explain shortly. I've sired so many runts—but you should have seen me in my prime—that I've lost track of who and how many they are, those pale and lean reminders of my happy age, whose future in these groves can only be as stunted, I think, as their cuspids. The clearings define that future.
I've seen the clearings grow, gouged out of our familial lairs by huge and mournful creatures equipped with the keenest tusks I'd ever seen, entire arrays of them, chewing trees and boulders off the earth, and then—and this I found most curious, the first few times—falling perfectly still, as though asleep after a meal, and I mean perfectly (as I dared to sniff the closest of them all, one evening), without breathing in the slightest. By now it's no longer news; I've heard the same story told of other forests by a traveling band of refugee wild-life—we let a few of them in on compassionate grounds but had to refuse the rest, unpleasantly—and it's never failed to annoy someone in the company when I suggest how silly I had been in my initial impressions of people and [End Page 33] machines. I've been accused of bluster, but I'll say it again: that's just the way it goes; the clearings are here to stay, and we'll have to live with them, around them, off them. Clearings bring farmers; farmers bring yam and corn in easy, tended rows; and then it's a chase, and the nimble eat. The odd thing is, I've seen the men chase other men, a few times, around the cornfields; the hapless ones get bloodied, all over, and get dragged home by their legs, crushed and torpid, beyond all squealing. I've asked myself what they do this for. For females, perhaps, or food? Eight or nine years ago we had a sow who devoured her young in a bizarre frenzy, but before we could render judgment on her case, the hunters came and slit her up, right on the river. Which reminds me of a friend.
Last month, Ngarok—whose tusks were even more formidable than mine and with whom I had spent countless hours over the years sunning on the smooth flat rocks, trading forest gossip and sow talk along with a tip or two on the freshest yam plots in the clearings—bumbled, they say, into the simplest trap close by the river: a noose laid out by boys...