ALLAGASH, Maine — This is a tale of three pigs. And like all good tales — pig tails included — it has a twist.
These particular pigs live near the end of the road in Allagash on a small farmstead overlooking the Allagash River owned and operated by registered Maine Guides Sue Underhill and Wade Kelly.
Underhill, originally from the Camden area, grew up on a farm, so when she made the move north several years ago she brought part of that lifestyle with her.
As such, she was fully aware of the commitment, work and time that come with raising animals for food.
What she was not prepared for was the celebrity status her pigs have attained in this small community at the end of Route 161.
“There was so much anticipation about the pigs this year when people saw the fence going up,” Underhill said recently over coffee at Two Rivers Diner in Allagash, just a stone’s throw from her house. “I was asked dozens of times when were the pigs coming and how many was I getting.”
Underhill got pigs three years ago when she moved to Allagash and was gratified — albeit a bit mystified — when complete strangers began paying attention to them.
“Every year now there is more and more interest,” she said. “They almost have the status of town mascots.”
It seems just about everyone in the small community of around 250 residents has bought into the summer’s pigapalooza, where things have gone way beyond simply driving by for a look at the porkers.
“There’s an elderly resident who every week without fail comes by with a small container of food scraps for the pigs,” Underhill said. “Some days I don’t even see her and she just leaves the container on my steps — it’s like the ‘Slop Fairy’ has been here.”
Other times Underhill has looked out to see people unrolling her hose, stepping over the electric fence enclosure, and giving the pigs a drink of water.
“I just could not believe that,” she said. “I mean, I really appreciate it, but I never considered anyone would give my pigs a drink, much less take the trouble of getting the hose to do it.”
Such actions come as no surprise to residents such as Darlene Kelly Dumond — Wade Kelly’s sister.
“That’s just how we are up here,” she said. “Everyone wants to get in on this.”
Not every barnyard critter has groupies, but for the Allagash pigs, the fan base is as solid as it is dedicated to their comfort.
Keep in mind their setup was already pretty sweet — a large enclosed area protected by electric fencing to keep predators out, room enough to root around in the grass, a giant shade tree and a nice little shed.
Only thing was, someone in town felt the shed was not quite up to snuff and that these pigs deserved a more celebrity-style crib.
One day Underhill looked out and saw someone at some point had placed a large lean-to type structure in the pen.
“It just showed up one day,” she said. “It took me a day or so to find out who had done it.”
Turned out it was Allagash resident Clayton McBreairty, and soon after, Kelly Dumond decided to do him one better and offered to paint the addition.
Underhill gave her friend total creative freedom in the paint job, with one request. After hearing about all the attention her daughter’s pigs were garnering, Underhill’s mother had made the quip, “It takes a village to raise a pig.”
That phrase is now emblazoned on the new shelter in bright orange surrounded by flowers, peace symbols and other colorful designs.
Pretty sweet digs, indeed.
And the fame is spreading.
Kelly Dumond is a part-time employee at the Little Black gate entrance to the North Maine Woods, Underhill said.
“Darlene gets people at the gate and they need directions,” she said. “So she’ll ask them if they know where the two churches are or where a certain building is and they say, ‘No,’ and then she asks, ‘Did you see the pigs?’ and they all have.”
Just take a left at the pigs.
When Underhill first began raising pigs in Allagash she said they were pastured behind her house and, as interest grew, she relocated the pigs’ digs to the front for better viewing opportunities.
“To be honest,” she said, “it’s easier access for people who want to feed them. And oh, how they get fed!”
In fact, so much so they have become kind of Pavlovian pigs.
Paula Carson Charette runs the new Allagash Health Clinic and reported during a recent drive-by she and her assistant Christine Leslie saw a car pull into Underhill’s driveway and before the driver could get out, the pigs were up and moving.
“They recognized that car and raced to the fence corner,” Charette said. “They got there before she got out of the car [and] she had some scraps and they were catching [them] before it hit the ground.”
Never let it be said pigs have no personalities.
When I went with Charette and Leslie to see what all the fuss was about for myself, we found the pigs snoozing under their shade tree.
As we walked up, each pig cracked an eye open, spotted us, slowly rose up and, after stretching in what can only be described as a sort of swine tai chi — ambled over to the food bucket.
There the trio stood and glared at us, realizing not only had we come to gawk in the manner of the most brazen and shameless of celebrity stalkers, we’d come empty-handed.
With loud and derisive snuffs and snorts tossed in our direction, they stomped in unison back to their shady spot and resumed their nap.
For some, according to Underhill, a day without a visit to the pigs is like a day without sunshine.
She tells of one resident who, at least twice a day, will ask his little dog, “Do you want to go see the pigs?”
Apparently the little dog hops and bounces in joy until it and the owner pile into the pickup and make the drive up the road to visit.
Underhill is trying to get a handle on all this.
“A lot of the people who live here are older and I think for them they remember when they were younger and had farm animals,” she said. “It reminds them of how things used to be and they feel like they can help and be part of this.”
Underhill summed it up, “Once a farmer, always a farmer.”
Everywhere she goes, Underhill said, people want to talk about the pigs.
“I had no idea people would be so fascinated,” she said. “The other day a lady walked up and told me she’d brought her mother to see the pigs”
There are not many children left in the tiny village, but Underhill said those living there also have taken an interest in the pigs.
“A lot of times I look out there and see their bikes parked on the side of the road and they are watching the pigs.”
Of course, as it can happen in small town rags-to-riches stories, the pigs have sparked a bit of envy when it comes to their fame.
“I’ve said I would like to live with those pigs,” resident Wayne McBreairty said with a laugh. “Every pretty woman in town is stopping to feed them.”
It may not always take a village to raise some pigs, but in Allagash at least, it’s one village having a darn good time with it.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award winning writer and photographer, who frequently submits articles to the Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.