This is the story of Sparkplug the pig, as told by Nat Weeks.
A Really Bad Start to the Camp Season
After training in the Wind River Range with NOLS, I joined the staff as the director of the Mountain Program the summer of 1975 through 1980. We had a blast climbing lots of mountains. I talked my cousin, Dave, into visiting and he was hooked. That last year my fiance, Silence, came for several weeks and helped Albert in the kitchen. We were married July 26 and after a honeymoon in Bermuda returned to Wyoming/Colorado, but each summer since then, my heart, from 2,000 miles away, yearns for BRC.
At the beginning of one summer, Chief asked me to pick up two new campers at the Portland Airport. I greeted both but neither appeared happy at all. As it turned out, the first had been to another camp and hated it. The second had never been away from home at all and had been infected on the flight by the first camper. Into the station wagon with me climbed misery, fear, sadness, anger, and homesickness!
On the drive through the countryside, I tried my best to excite the campers, to at least offer hope and encouragement but I couldn't cut through the gloom. And then, around the bend of the country road appeared a farm sign, 'Pigs For Sale.' I slammed on the brakes and exclaimed, "Let's buy a pig!"
The campers were incredulous but timidly followed me across the gravel to the barn where a farmer met us. We followed him down between high steel-barred pens protecting us from huge, angry-looking sows to a cluster of little piglets. All but one were dozing in a heap. That one was scurrying around the pen with a happy smile on his cute face. We bought him for $15 and named him 'Sparkplug.'
Nothing was the same any more. The two campers were delighted and full of glee as Sparkplug rolled across their laps in the back seat. We arrived to hear the dinner bell summon us to eat. The welcome and announcements followed. Counselors rounded up their tentmates and carried trunks to the cabins. Then it was lights out. We hadn't had a moment to think about what we were going to do with Sparkplug!
At the last moment, I found a cardboard mattress box for Sparkplug, filled it with new mown hay from the upper field, and slid it under my bunk. We settled under our blankets and all was dark and quiet.
Nights, the early part of June, can be chilly. And Sparkplug was also homesick. He suddenly shattered the peacefulness with his squealing. It was loud enough to echoed across the lake! He wouldn't be consoled. He wouldn't shut up. And he was making a racket.
Finally, in desperation, I grabbed him and tucked him under my sheet and blankets. Oh, that did the trick! He contentedly snuggled up against my warm body with just the tip of his snout sticking out. All was well.
The next morning, Chief suggested that I find a better place for Sparkplug...
Pt.2: Adventures with Sparkplug
Chief was concerned that one of my cabin-mates was the son of Elliott Richardson, the then Secretary of HEALTH, Education & Welfare. Were the media to discover that his son shared a cabin with a pig...
So, the next morning, we build a corral giving Omar time to build a proper wooden pen on the field above the museum. My hope, having learned that pigs are generally smarter than dogs, was that as Sparkplug grew, we could fit him with a special pack and have him join us on hiking trips in the wilderness.
Unfortunately, when he reached a suitable size, his belly would scrape on the rocks. I jokingly blamed Albert for his great cooking - more than the campers could consume. There was always plenty for Sparkplug and several campers volunteered to make sure he was well fed!
Once a week, I’d wash the pig. Sitting in the meadow, one hand would press on his back as he straddled my thighs so the other could dip into the soapy bucket to scrub him pink as the clover around us. He didn’t like that and raised a ruckus but to no avail. His stubby feet couldn’t reach the ground in that position and on my wet, nylon bathing suit found no traction in spite of his galloping.
In the middle of the summer, I decided to introduce Sparkplug to my family at our summer home, but that would mean hitch-hiking across Maine and all the way across New Hampshire to Lancaster on the Connecticut River adjacent to Vermont. I started hitch-hiking down the road at Springers.
A farmer came to the country store to get a pack of cigarettes. He had told his wife that he’d be back in about ten minutes. The old-timer took a liking to me and offered to take me up to Bethel so I could get onto Rt. 2. I laid Sparkplug, half out of the basket, across the back seat and hopped in the front. It was a sunny day, great weather, and we had an interesting conversation about all sorts of things as the countryside rolled by.
At Bethel, he inquired as to the next big town. I allowed that it was probably Gorham, a half hour to the west. So the warmth continued to breeze in through the four-door’s open windows and the conversation continued. I don’t know if he’d ever been this far from his farm.
Gorham was only 40 minutes from Lancaster and it was a wonderful day, so on he drove stopping in Jefferson to pick up a gal hitch-hiking, who slid in alongside me. Unbeknownst to her, Sparkplug in the back was asleep in the sunshine. However, when the car bumped over a frost-heave, Sparkplug awoke snorting! The gal turned to us with huge eyes blurting, “Is that a pig?!” We all had a good laugh. In due time, our friend dropped us off at our various destinations and my family was delighted to meet Sparkplug.
As for the farmer, I suppose he got home for supper but what an example of our camp’s motto: Help The Other Fellow!
Back at camp, Sparkplug was having as much fun as the campers and even liked swimming. We had many more adventures and by closing day, Sparkplug weighed almost as much as I did. We got him back to Lancaster and sold him for $50 to Frank, the farmer at Cat Bow Farm because I couldn’t take him back to Dartmouth! During the end of November, I learned that Sparkplug had become part of Thanksgiving. I was grateful for the memories!
We never did get him up a mountain and that was probably a good thing. I would not have wanted to carry him off a peak. I did that with one camper who twisted his ankle just below the summit of Adams in the Presidential Range. The fellow weighed about 90 lbs without his backpack. It was a long afternoon with him on my back as we descended. Another hiker we met volunteered to call BRC since he’d reach the trail head before our group would. I can’t recall if Don Miguel whom I knew only as Mike Apicelli or Steve Scribner - both wonderful fellows, were with me on that climb. All went well and Chief was waiting for us at the road. I fell asleep from exhaustion on the drive back to BRC. The ankle healed well. Thanks to those summers at BRC, I qualified for the New England 4000 Footer Club.
One of the best trips was summiting the Bigelows and viewing the Flagstaff Lakes to the north. We hit the peak at the peak of the blueberry season and since the weather was perfect, we didn’t bother setting up tents but lay out our sleeping bags sinking into the dense ground cover just below the summit and barely below the evening breeze which crossed just above our bodies, hidden amongst the blueberries. It was snuggly and the stars were beautiful.
The next morning, I awoke, turned my head, and closed my mouth on a cluster of blueberries. We scrambled out of our bags and picked so many berries for breakfast that the pancakes wouldn’t flap - too wet, too blueberry-y!
Now I’m after the fifty-four 14,000'ers in Colorado with four to go. If you take a wrong turn or if that farmer picks you up, we’ve room for all BRockers, so come join us!
Nat & Silence Weeks
303-403-8382, NatWeeks@aol.com 11627 W. 74th Way, Arvada, CO 80005