The Golden-Bristled Boar
Last Ferocious Beast of the Forest
The wild boar appears to us as something straight out of a myth. But as Jeffrey Greene learned, these creatures are very real, living by night and, despite shrinking habitats and hordes of hunters, thriving on six continents.
Greene purchased an eighteenth-century presbytery in a region of ponds and forests in northern Burgundy between the Loire and Seine Rivers of France. He soon discovered he’d moved to one of the most densely populated boar areas in Europe. Following the gift of a side of boar from a neighbor, and a dramatic early-morning encounter with a boar-hunting party and its prey, Greene became fascinated with the animal and immersed himself in the legend and the reality of the wild boar.
Although it has no natural enemies, the boar is in constant conflict with humans. Most societies consider it a pest, not only wreaking havoc on crops and livestock, but destroying golf-course greens in search of worms, even creating a hazard for drivers (hogs on the roads cause over 14,000 car accidents a year in France). It has also been the object of highly ritualized hunts, dating back to classical times.
The animal’s remarkable appearance--it can grow larger than a person, and the males sport prominent tusks, called "whetters" and "cutters"--has inspired artists for centuries; its depictions range from primitive masks to works of high art such as Pietro Tacca’s Porcellino and paintings by Velázquez and Frans Snyders. The boar also plays a unique role in myth, appearing in the stories of Hercules and Adonis as well as in the folktale Beauty and the Beast.
The author’s search for the elusive animal takes him to Sardinia, Corsica, and Tuscany; he even casts an eye to the American South, where he explores the boar’s feral-pig counterparts and descendents. He introduces us to a fascinating cast of experts, from museum curators and scientists to hunters and chefs (who share their recipes) to the inhabitants of chateaux who have lived in the same ancient countryside with generations of boars. They are all part of a journey filled with wonders and discoveries about these majestic animals the poet Robinson Jeffers called "beautiful monsters."
Mr. Greene's descriptions have the clarity one would expect from a poet, whether sketching the striped young boars, called marcassins, playing rough and tumble while looked over by the older sows, or recounting an old boar's happy mud bath.... A fascinating portrait of rural France and its cherished rites emerges as Mr. Greene negotiates the intricacies of la France profonde.... Eclectic to the end.
A truly fascinating, lucidly written, informative, entertaining, and valuable contribution to the growing canon of pig literature, or even of literature in general.
The Golden-Bristled Boar is an elegant book that looks at the landscape and ecology of what would seem to be or most inelegant natural neighbor—the star of dark paintings and angry fables, as well as, by family connection, the food of colonial America. Jeffrey Greene leads you deep in the forests of Burgundy—befriending hunters and biologists, and, along the way, bedazzling with stories of wild boar invasions throughout the swine-filled world. When you come out the other side, you are changed, not just in how you think about boars as a creature, but in how you think of them as the centerpiece of an ancient and wonderful country feast.
In investigating an animal that can strongly alter its environment through sheer numbers and constant rooting, and that is firmly entrenched in human folklore (Norse goddess Freya rode a wild boar), Greene patrols the woods in search of boar compagnie (groups of females and young), visits museums in search of boar specimens and boar art, and studies the hunt and its aftermath, the feast. Complete with delectable-sounding recipes, this elegant portrait enchants.
Deep maps lay bare the soul of a place by revealing the stratifications of its natural and cultural history, charting the lives, natural cycles, and stories intersecting there. In a way, The Golden-Bristled Boar, along with Greene’s entire oeuvre, is an act intent on deep mapping his adopted home.
The gift of a wild boar carcass from a friendly provincial neighbor prompted a journey into discovering the secretive lives of the wild boars in the region. Part memoir, part historical examination, this book weaves a story that includes boars around the world and ways this species has influenced human cultures over time.
He [Greene] introduces us to a fascinating cast of experts, from museum curators to scientist to hunters and chefs (who share recipes) to residents of chateaux who have lived in the same ancient countryside with generations of boars.
Jeffrey Greene is the author of French Spirits: A House, a Village, and a Love Affair with Burgundy and Water from Stone: The Story of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve. A widely published poet, he is the recipient of the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize and the Randall Jarrell Award in Poetry. He teaches at the American University of Paris.
This book has me so hooked on these beastly creatures, that I became fascinated by how many boar tchotchkes I could find. I wanted to buy them all up and send them to Jeffrey [Greene] as gifts, but decided against cluttering up his own magnificant presbytery-turned-home in Burgundy into Fred Sandford's junk yard.
This book is really about the ways in which fragments of our environment splinter off into our imagnation where like seeds they may grow into myths, dreams, poems, or passions connecting us to matrix from which they sprang.