You’re The Great Pumpkin, Dave Hilty

There’s a story that makes the rounds every autumn on farms and in fields, and especially here on The Quarry Farm, about the generosity and beneficence of The Great Pumpkin, who rises from the pumpkin patch some time during the month of October and gifts all the good chickens and ducks and donkeys, turkeys and geese and goats and pigs with succulent orange orbs packed full of seeds and strings and goo. And while it’s rumored that the legend of The Great Pumpkin is born of humans, that particular mindset gains little acceptance on the farm, for it’s as the goats say, Humans spend most of their brainpower just maintaining their balance. And for the few that still might think otherwise, the donkey’s argument always prevails, one which he delivers in the most solemn of voices: Schulz, or no Schulz, Peanuts are for eating.

This year, as in years past, the residents here all waited anxiously as the month wore on, staring to the south for a sign of His (though some say Her) coming. Baskets of apples were delivered and pears by the bucketful and truckloads of zucchini and they were greatly appreciated, certainly, and swallowed down to the very last seed. But of The Great Pumpkin, there was no sign. October came and went and…


It’s just as we thought, the geese cried. Great Pumpkin, piffle. Great Poppycock is more like it. To which comment there was general agreement, particularly among the fowl (birds of a feather, you know). The goats made do, browsing the trees and bushes. Buddy, the donkey, cropped grass and chewed hay and if, occasionally, he seemed a bit tearful, nobody said a word. Little Pig, though, kept her own counsel and spent a good bit of each day off alone, walking along the southern fence line, eyes on the horizon, waiting.

And so it was that Little Pig was the first to see him: The Great Pumpkin, sitting in the cab of his red and silver pickup truck and towing along behind him a veritable mountain of pumpkins. A whole week late, he was, the first full week of November having past, but those that live here on The Quarry Farm are quick to understand simple truths: Time is fluid and Better late than not at all, not to mention All that matters is what matters in the end, especially when it’s pumpkins in the end.

The Great Pumpkin pulled in through the gate and up the stone drive before stopping and hopping down from his perch. To either side of the squash-laden wagon he threw the great round balls of sheer joy. The pumpkins bounced and broke and spilled their treasure of seeds and strings and slippery orange goo.

Heaven! Little Pig shouted. Slippery orange heaven!

The pumpkins flew and flew and still they flew and, finally, when the ducks and chickens and turkeys and geese and goats and donkey and pigs were certain that he had finished, when the blue and gray sky was no longer streaked with orange, what they heard him say made them all stop and stare.

How ‘bout if I just leave the wagon, The Great Pumpkin said. I won’t need it again ‘til spring.


They all looked to the wagon and it was heaped with pumpkins, mounded with pumpkins, buried in pumpkins as if not a single one had ever soared and fallen and broken and exploded in great gouts of seeds and strings and (heavenly) slippery orange goo.

The Great Pumpkin fiddled about a bit at the front of the wagon and then hopped into his red and silver truck.

Give a shout when you’re through, they all heard him say. No hurry, though.

The Great Pumpkin waved as he pulled away and through the gate, moving south until he’d disappeared from sight. Every duck and chicken, goose and turkey, donkey and goat and pig thanked him a big thanks before tucking into their chosen pumpkin. And if Little Pig was a bit greedy, if she pushed aside a goose or three to suckle at the slippery orange goo, nudged out of her way a chicken or a turkey or a duck, well, then, maybe she could find forgiveness in the eyes of those who keep the faith, in the hearts of those who believe.

Special thanks to Dave and Jane Hilty, who are this year’s Great Pumpkins at The Quarry Farm.

simple gifts

People never cease to amaze. As a species, well, let’s just say that I often prefer to spend my time in the company of others (chickens being the perennial favorite). As individuals, though, there are so many who shine. I met three such last Wednesday: Becki and Mustaq Ahmed and their granddaughter, Kennedy.

Not this weekend immediately past, but the weekend before, Anne and I set up at the Bluffton Farmers’ Market on behalf of The Quarry Farm. We really didn’t have anything much to sell – a basket of tomatoes, a dozen glass jars of jelly, some notecards – but farmers’ markets are great places to get the message out, to do a little self-promotion. And with the second annual Acoustic Night coming up (Saturday, September 13, from 6 pm to whenever), it seemed like a good time to make a personal appearance, be a bit more high profile. Becki and Kennedy were wandering through the market when they saw our table and picked up a copy of the latest newsletter.

On Tuesday, Becki called and asked if we’d like some of her “small and knotty” apples. She’d seen that we ask for apples in our wish list and hoped that hers would prove acceptable. From my experience, I assured her, goats and pigs and donkeys and chickens and ducks and geese and turkeys aren’t the most discriminating of gourmands; so, yes, please, apples.

The Ahmeds and their apples

She and her family came out the next afternoon with two large containers full of fruit. We off-loaded the apples, enough to fill a large, red wheelbarrow typically used to transport hay and straw. It was an excessively humid day, as many have been of late; while there was precipitation, it was more of a sky-dripping, really, than rain. The wet had most everybody under cover: the pygmy and Nigerian goats under the pines, the turkeys and chickens at the base of the crab tree and under what remains of the forsythia, the pigs in their various shelters. The ducks and geese were gamboling about, too overjoyed with the quality of the day to bother with anything as mundane as visitors.


While we waited for the sanctuary residents to recognize their windfall, Kennedy, with Becki in tow, set out to deliver the good news and meet some of those about to benefit from their gift. Mustaq tagged along behind, photographing and filming their interactions.


Humperdink and AndiThe giving roosterMister Bill, a recently arrived Boer goat, was the first to discover the largesse. He set to with a will, scattering bits of apple and not-so-bits of apple in a wide arc before him. The geese and the ducks discovered the bits, which alerted the chickens and the turkeys, and they tucked in. The pygmy goats followed the Ahmeds and Kennedy to the feast, where they stood on their hind legs, front feet braced on the edge of the barrow, and bobbed for apples. The three pot-bellied pigs rolled up next (three hours later, you could have almost literally rolled them away). Finally, the two Nigerian dwarf goats and the miniature donkey caught wind of the event and made their way over. It wasn’t long before the wheelbarrow was on its side, the apples spilled across the ground, allowing everybody easy access and laying waste to the old expression, “Don’t upset the apple cart.” All in all, a most wonderful day.

Buddy and company

Thank you for that, Becki and Mustaq and Kennedy. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you.


Thank you, Whale Eyes

Gertie, shortly after arriving at The Quarry Farm.

Gertie, shortly after arriving at The Quarry Farm.

In February of 2012, shortly after Anne and I came to the conclusion that we shouldn’t take on pot-bellied pigs at The Quarry Farm, we took on our first pot-bellied pig. Such is the way of things. “No, never,” has a way of morphing into, “Absolutely. Today? Bring her on over.”

She came to us by way of the Humane Society of Allen County. They, in their turn, came to have her by way of the Lima Police Department, who called the good people at HSoAC when they found Gertie and a number of other animals huddled around the body of the woman with whom they had lived for all of their lives. There was nothing nefarious about her death; she was simply an elderly woman whose passing left a host of animals bereft and homeless.

When she arrived here, Gertie was understandably morose. The only home she had ever known was gone, as were all of her companions, and she was in the company of strangers. We built her a shelter, her own pen, under the stairs that lead between the first and second floors of our home. We lined it with blankets and that is where she insisted on staying, pushing her head out of a cocoon of fabric just long enough to eat and drink. She slept 22 out of 24 hours, ranging out only when we forced her out, hauling her kicking and screaming from her sanctuary, out the front door and down a ramp we had constructed just for her, using a blanket as an improvised sling. While she was housebroken, this was no house she recognized. So, three times a day, this was our routine. Until, that is, the day she stood at the gate to her pen, waiting. She walked out on her own that day, out and through the front door and down the ramp, grumbling the whole way. Pigs are intelligent animals, intelligent and sensitive, and Gertie was a pig’s pig. It took her all of three days to work out her new situation, despite having had her world turned upside down.

001Gertie’s state of mind was only the first in a litany of issues that threatened her well-being. Though it was apparent that Gertie was loved in her first home, there were fundamental areas of care that had long been neglected. She was grossly overweight, weighing in at nearly 200 pounds when she first stepped through our door. And that was the least of her physical problems. Despite their infamous cloven hooves, pigs move about much like horses or donkeys or goats: that is to say, on their toes. Gertie’s toenails, her hooves, had never been trimmed, not once in the estimated seven years she’d been alive. Instead of walking on the tips of her toes, her hooves, extending out over a foot from each toe, forced her to move about on the pads of her feet. It took nearly two years to whittle her hooves back to the point where she could even approximate a normal posture.

001Anne and Gertie made friends fairly quickly, though even Anne had trouble at first; Gertie charged her the first time they met. She was much slower with the rest of us. It took her the better part of six months to accept me and even then usually only when I was in the kitchen, and it was nearly a full year before she came to accept her new place as home. I have no doubt that the introduction of Beatrice, better known as Little Pig, played a role in Gertie’s recovery. A new companion with whom she could see eye to eye finally gave us all the opportunity to meet the being with whom Anne was already familiar.

Gertie and Beatrice

Gertie and Beatrice

I’m stymied now. There are a million anecdotes that I want to share, but the details are gone. What I do remember is her expression. She went from guarded and flat to completely open, no matter her mood. Mostly, she was amused — at us, at what she had just done, at the antics of the other animals in the house — and it showed up in her eyes. Anne referred to them as whales’ eyes: expressive and deep. Though already thin, a few months ago Gertie started losing weight. Ulcers began to bloom on her sides and on the ridges of her spine. Dr. Kathleen Babbitt, Gertie’s doctor, diagnosed uterine cancer. On Tuesday, we took her in for one last visit, then brought her shell home and laid it in her favorite sunning spot.

I’m confident that the stories will come back, but even without them, I’m blessed. I’ll always have her expressions.

Gertie's happy face

Gertie’s happy face


Beatrice gets a hoof trim

There are two pot-bellied pigs that live with us here on The Quarry Farm Nature Preserve and Conservation Farm. Neither began their lives here, but this is where they will stay. Soon Beatrice and Gertie will be joined by Alphonse, Bob Barker, Grits and Greta, four pot-bellies that found themselves without a home after a cruelty and neglect seizure by a nearby humane organization.

While this video may make you laugh a little, we hope it also makes you think long and hard about the care that smart, inquisitive, stubborn and vocal pot-bellied pigs require in order to live in harmony. Indeed, keep that in mind whenever you adopt. Anything.

On the other hand, piggies are a joy when you are prepared to welcome them into your life.