Author Sy Montgomery, finalist for a 2015 National Book Award with her latest release, The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness, shared the stage on February 25, 2016, with a fellow finalist, poet Ross Gay, for the final installment of the Rollins College Winter with the Writers series.
Montgomery is a naturalist, documentary scriptwriter, and author of twenty nonfiction books for adults and children and has such reverence for all life in the world of nature. Her many book topics, released and upcoming, include man-eating tigers, birds, bears, pink dolphins, great apes, eels, great white sharks, spotted hyenas, wildebeests, and my personal favorite, one special pig—Christopher Hogwood.
Gobsmacked, meaning utterly astonished, astounded and not even found in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, was a word freely tossed about during Montgomery’s talk. It is her approach to life. “Every book I’ve ever written has been a falling in love,” Montgomery said. She talked about how “the ordinary is full of wonder for writers” and encouraged us all to view the world with a “beginner’s mind.”
I became aware of Sy Montgomery years ago when I found her book called Christopher Hogwood: The Good, Good Pig. I love pigs. If you know me, you know that about me. As an adult, I adored a pig I named Tootsie. My boyfriend at the time, who lived on a farm, and I brought her home in a burlap sack with a hole in it. When I put my finger through the hole, Tootsie began sucking on it, and I fell in love with her. Each time I went out to her pen, Tootsie rolled over on her back, so I could scratch her belly. I made Tootsie a pet amid many warnings about that not being her destiny. You can probably figure out the rest of the story. Needless to say, that relationship did not last.
Montgomery talked a good bit about Christopher Hogwood, the runt of the runts, and said how much he taught her about being with people. By nature, she says she is a shy person, but her pig “could work a party” like no other. He was known and loved throughout her rural New Hampshire hometown, and people regularly came for what she called dinner and a show.
Dinner included scraps of food, donuts, day-old French bread, apples, overgrown zucchini, overripe bananas, and sometimes a beer to wash it all down that people brought for Christopher. The show involved watching what Christopher did with the food. She writes, “When it came to eating, Christopher was a performance artist…Grunting, slurping, and snorting with delight, Christopher ate with the enthusiasm of a gourmand and the natural grace of an athlete.” This runt grew to 750 pounds and lived a life of
appreciation, warm soapy baths by the little girls who lived next door, and tasty leftovers.
After her talk, I told Montgomery about my pig, and she signed my book, “To Patricia, a kindred spirit and pig lover—in honor of Tootsie.” Tootsie would have liked that very much.
Read a review of Sy Montgomery’s The Soul of an Octopus here.