Pewter-colored clouds hung low above a 20 year-old stand of west-leaning loblolly pines in a field in the Florida Panhandle. Numerous hurricanes had bent them generally towards Pensacola. The golden pine straw seemed to whisper for me to take a walk through the woods. Nothing like a Deep South winter walk through a pine straw forest listening to Steve Earle wailing “Guitar Town” on your iTunes. Before my stroll began, however, my old ex-neighbor, Edgar, rolled up in his Gator seemingly able to read my mind. I stop by now and then to admire his flat, featureless land, a leftover part of my memories when we roomed together in college.
“Mike,” he drawled, turning my name into three syllables, “You may want to tote a 12 gauge with buckshot down in them woods. We got 300-400 pound wild hogs roaming around out here now. They can run fast as Johnny Football too.”
I remember as recent as three years ago walking through these woods without packing heat to fend off 400 pounds of bacon doing zero to 12 gauge in 4.3 seconds.
“About two years ago,” he said. “They come up from down towards Orlando in the swamps. They’ll be all the way to Nashville in a year, I bet. Got no natural predators ‘cept a Remington. They’ll walk right through a bow shot too. Tougher than Chuck Norris and lordy, they stinks like a four-legged outhouse.”
“So you can’t eat them?” I asked.
“If you get them young enough,” said Edgar. “But once they get big and nasty, you have to dig a hole the size of a foreign car and sing a porky version of Amazing Grace and send them back to the Good Lord where I’m not really sure they came from.”
“What do they eat?” I said.
“Anything,” he said. “They’ll chow down on my deer food, corn, turkeys, deer, and fight a buzzard for a carcass. They run in smelly packs like fat dogs with tusks and a bad attitude. I had a bunch of ‘em break into my storage house, knock over my snacky cabinet where I keep my jerky and MoonPies and they just cleaned me slam out.”
“They ate your MoonPies?” I said.
“Wrappers and all,” he said with a disgusted grunt, scratching his head and eyeing the timber like a few of them might run up on us while we were gossiping about them.
“Not gonna lie,” he said with a tinge of guilt in his twang. “I feel bad about shooting a cute little pig, but when it grows up to be Cujo Hamboy, I have to just shut down my sympathy and do what’s gotta be done. They’d eat my dogs if one of them slept too long.”
A lonesome looking bird dog sat slumped wearily in the passenger seat of his Gator. He looked nervous and sleep deprived.
“Look at ol’ Slim Jim there,” he said nodding towards the dog. “He ain’t had no sleep in a month. I finally let him sleep in the den last night. He snores so loud I have to keep the TV on ESPN all night just to dull it down. And guess what? Them hogs are attracted to loud snoring. Heck of a thang.”
“Now that you mention it, snoring sounds sort of like a hog rooting,” I said.
“Could be it,” he said. “My wife, Darla, you remember her? Well she ought to be on edge too the way she snores. I’m fully expecting one of them hogs to bust right through the side of the double wide to get a good whiff at the racket. But her reputation for making a mean ham salad has kept them away, I reckon.”
“She still winning prizes for her ham recipes at the county fair?” I asked.
“Competition is tougher, but yeah,” he said. “She’s the Nick Saban of ham salad. Three out of four years.”
He smiled and winked. Sometimes you never know when a Southerner is lying or being honest. Many times there is not a lot of difference between the two. That’s how it is in the South.
Even though Edgar offered to loan me his shotgun, I passed on the walk. He may have been lying about those hogs, but I’ve heard his wife snoring from all the way across the highway back when I rented a house down here during a short lived stint as a fertilizer salesman in the early 1980’s, and I just didn’t want to take a chance on the possibility of him telling the truth about those big angry pigs.
“So Darla’s never made ham salad out of one of those hogs?” I asked, getting into my truck to leave.
“Not gonna lie,” he said. “She has. Got some in the fridge. Let me get you some to take with you.”
Before I could turn him down, he was gone on his Gator and I was left feeling uncomfortable down the road a good distance from his house. The wind picked up and I heard a grunting and snorting on the breeze and all I could hope was that Darla was taking a nap upwind at his house and that wasn’t a torqued up hog headed my way.