FROM THE STOOL

PIGS IN PARADISE

From the Stool has been conspicuously lacking in human interest, as it was conceived as a social narrative, not a collection of short stories. This past week, however, while cruising in the Bahamas with family and friends, we encountered a situation so unique, and in some respects ironic, that I felt my readers might find the subject enjoyable.

The Bahamas are a large collection of islands off the east coast of Florida, best known for Nassau, Freeport and Bimini well traveled tourist destinations, and least known for the hundreds of little cays which make up most of the territory.

The Exumas are a chain of exquisite, sparsely inhabited cays which begin about 70 miles south of Nassau and continue for over a hundred miles. Staniel Cay is known only, if at all, as the home of the grotto in which the diving scenes for the old James Bond movie Thunderball were filmed. The beauty of the grotto and the abundant sea creatures are much more memorable than the movie, perhaps the weakest of the Sean Connery James Bond series.

We were told that Staniel Cay boasts only a reasonably well-protected 25-slip marina, and the Club Thunderball, a quaint Bohemian restaurant on a hill overlooking the grotto which serves three meals daily to the sport fishermen and cruisers who tie up in the marina or in a number of lovely anchorages.

Staniel Cay is home to several pristine, world-class, white sand beaches. If one is content to share the water with the wildlife small sharks, rays, enormous red starfish and a seemingly endless variety of tropical fish, the probability of encountering another human being is rare. With that in mind, six of us set off one morning on our dinghy with snorkeling gear to explore the prettiest of Staniel's beaches.

As we approached the shoreline, about a hundred yards off the sand, and prepared to kill and lift the engine in shallow water, we saw a very large animal exit the woods, enter the water and begin to swim toward our dinghy. We all assumed a very large dog, as the marina is home to several stray but gentle dock dogs that survive on the largesse of the restaurant and their customers. It just didn't look much like a dog, and for a moment someone speculated that it might be a bear. As we prepared to back up quickly and find open water, our guest's features became clear, a very large, gregarious, aggressive pig, snorting loudly, and bent on boarding the dinghy. With six adults we were already at our 1,000-pound limit. While we will never know for sure, as we got to know her better and her four little piglets joined mamma on the beach, somewhere between three and four hundred pounds would be our guess. One of our friends had grown up on a farm around pigs and even he didn't know they were such superb swimmers.

Once we were comfortable that she was only looking for food and that there were no males in sight, we joined her and her family on the beach, erroneously assuming she must have gotten away from her keeper. Pigs are extremely intelligent animals. After giving her an apple, digested in one serious bite, she was content to romp around with us, figuring there was more where that came from.

Later that evening we learned from natives at the marina that we had met Suzie, one of 70 wild pigs who inhabit the island and who serve as the refuse disposal plant for Club Thunderball and the marina restaurant. Apparently only the females enjoy the beach. We have excellent pictures of Suzie's efforts to board our tender. She might have been successful save a gentle slap to the snout with a swim fin. See her picture below.

The irony in all of this is my intimate association with pigs and particularly their skins. Wolverine World Wide, the company whose Board I chair, and for whom I worked for sixteen years, is the largest producer of high-quality pigskin suede leather in the world. This proprietary, waterproof, scuff-proof leather is an integral part of Wolverine work boots, Hush Puppies and Merrell footwear. Wolverine makes the world market in pigskins, and semi-cures and sells rawhides to tanneries around the world.

As a city kid, I never met a live pig before Suzie and her babies. From now on it will be very difficult to do a Tannery tour with enthusiasm, and almost impossible to fully enjoy a sausage biscuit with egg.