Monday, December 20, 2010
THE GOAT BORROWER: The Beginning
THE GOAT BORROWER
By Mimi Foxmorton copyright 2010
The Goat Borrower: The Beginning
Certain things happen to you as you begin to get older. You develop an obsession for
fiber arts for instance, this time using a much better quality of yarn and you take the time to unravel the row with the dropped stitch. Your younger self would plead youth and inexperience regarding the gaping hole. Your older self knows better. When the dog suggests a midday couch nap snuggled in said fiber arts blanket you don’t think the kitchen floor could use a good damp mop or if you ran the vacuum now well then you’d still have time to get that second load of laundry hung on the line plus bleach the bathroom tiles while you’re at it. Nope. You’re older now and definitely wiser so you get busy taking that nap.
And you begin to develop a passion.
A passion is a wondrous thing. You begin to see things in a soft and new light. You open your eyes to the fresh and endless possibilities before you. You take the time to thoroughly investigate and explore. And you begin to ask yourself how you could possibly have lived your whole life without ever noticing this new and wonderful thing.
You also, if you’re me, begin to question your sanity.
I’ve never done anything 86%. (Well maybe that knitting back in sixth grade but I’m atoning for those dropped stitches, I promise.) For me it’s always been a 150-whole hog-pedal to the metal-get out of my way I’m coming through affair.
A storyteller, children’s theatre director, senior and recreational event coordinator by trade I’ve twenty plus years under my hat of taking a simple theme then wringing and savoring every last glorious drop of sweetness from it. Shakespeare, historical pirates, Rom gypsy culture, fairytales. The list is endless. I once designed an entire summer program around the single word: time. I research, design garb, explore and dig to bring out the succulent, diverse and, more often than not, deeply hidden sweetmeats of a topic.
So it wasn’t a surprise to anyone, least of all me, that I took on my latest theme with feverish dedication. What did surprise me was the profound effect said theme was to have upon me in the coming months.
The topic? Goats.
Yep, goats. What better interest for a single, non-agriculturally zoned, town home dwelling, two scraggly tomato plant-one ten by ten failed blueberry patch ownin’, goat clueless female to have, eh?
But it wasn’t to be stopped. Not by a long shot.
It all started quite innocently (doesn’t it always?) by way of a job. I arrived one lovely Autumn day to the Cracker Box Palace in Alton, New York, a humble animal rescue farm specializing in the care, housing and loving of formerly abused/neglected farm animals. A place I thought initially would be sad and forlorn but is amazingly under a spell of peace, hope, love and happiness. I happened that day to be garbed in full gypsy regalia to volunteer my service as a storyteller for their annual Autum fund raising event.
I job share during the year with a wild life rescue person and was doing a friend a favor.
Now, I’ve seen goats. I can identify them at the State Fair. (The sign says: Goat Barn) and the ‘G’ for Goat page in the children’s alphabet book is pretty clear. I like goat cheese. But I never paid goats much attention. They’re goats. They eat stuff. Tin cans came to mind. They smell bad. Not much in the way of personality I wouldn’t imagine. They’re goats. (I know, I know. But settle down I’m on my way to that part of the
The goat path is located directly across the path from my favorite, elderly ex-race horse, Stormy, who lives apart from the other horses because he still, God love him, likes the ladies. He’s also old and pretty near toothless at this point so I’m sure to bring him a special treat, apple oat bread, which always makes him my best friend. (As long as the bread holds out.)
This particular day a single goat stuck his head through his fencing and was insistently calling my name. Or maybe he was saying: “Hey lady! Give a goat a break with that bread will ya.” I wasn’t yet fluent in goat. But in any case, I went.
The first slice went into that goat like a piece of junk mail into a paper shredder.
I was greatly amused. So I did it again. And again.
Fear and responsibility of overfeeding was the only thing that stopped me as by this time I was laughing my self silly and making cartoon shredding noises as the bread slices went in.
I hadn’t laughed myself silly in a very long time.
So, you’d think it would have stopped there, as a pleasant moment. But it didn’t. The Universe apparently had Her eye on me that day.
A week or so later I had another event as a hay wagon gypsy at an apple orchard. As we toured the farm we came to the goat pen. Ah, more goats. Too bad I was fresh out of apple oat bread. (Insert cartoon shredder noise here.)
As people were milling about one goat came over to me from his feed and climbed up on the gate which gave everyone a chuckle as he was on top of the NO CLIMBING sign. (I’ve since seen many of these photos on the internet-goats standing on NO CLIMBING signs-you gotta love their sense of humor.)
The farmer who drove our wagon pointed out that “those goats don’t pay attention to anyone less they got food.” I had no food.
And then that goat did something no goat should ever do to a town home dwelling gypsy just minding her own business. That goat snuzzled me. That’s right. A clear cut case of goat snuzzling. That goat climbed right up the NO CLIMBING sign and, ignoring all others, began to softly work her lips against my cheek and neck. She looked as though she were whispering to me a goat secret. And then she just…snuzzled me. She nestled her head into my neck and snuzzled me.
Now, if you are a goat farmer you probably find this far less than extraordinary. Pretty common place in fact. City girl snuzzled by goat. Auh-yep. But for me, a wayward gypsy always chasing that for which I have no name, it was like an odd sort of Epiphany.
Except with a goat.
In that moment, that moment of pure, sweet goat snuzzling I felt completely and utterly at peace.
In that innocent and ordinary moment the extraordinary occurred. I felt an immense crack open inside of me as every ounce of negativity, every shred of midnight worry about my future path, every sleepless night dissipated into the crisp Autumn air.
And I was irrevocably hooked.
Of course this is the part in the fairy story where I run bounding home full of rapture and resolution, withdraw my life savings, sell my town home overnight, load the dog and cat into the car and move effortlessly onto a one hundred head goat farm that I fortuitously found for sale and was just within my price range whereby I meet my handsome, though brooding, bachelor neighbor-who is also a goat farmer-one day while chasing an errant goat, the scamp! (the goat not the neighbor) through the back pasture and right at the moment I fall keester-first into a pile of goat poo, with only several hairs strategically escaped from my pig tails, we discover said errant goat to have just given birth and as our eyes meet over the newborn kid we fall insanely in love, merge our goat farms to greater financial gain as I discover a hidden talent for making the rarest of all goat soaps, and live happily ever after. Cue romantic music and cut to long shot of couple sitting on a grassy hill at sunset surrounded by peaceful goats. The end.
Yeah. Except none of that happened.
What did happen was I became the most dreaded of all creatures. I became (dramatic pause) a Goat Borrower.
Well, it’s not like I didn’t check into getting my own goats. Just two. Modest really. Just two I could snuzzle and love and provide a perfect life for. But I happen to work in the same building that houses the Planning Department for our town and I now know there are many (many) pages in the law book devoted to: WHY MIMI CAN’T HAVE GOATS. I know. They were read to me. Something about hooves. But because they know me and my penchant for fairytales and costumes I’m sure they keep a wary eye on me and secretly imagine I have procured two illegal goats which I dress in sausage curl wigs and spotless pinafores ready, at a moments notice, to be passed off as my visiting twin nieces from Peoria. Obviously I didn’t but its fun to keep them guessing.
So, back to goat borrowing. Which isn’t like borrowing a cup of sugar. You can’t actually borrow the goat, as in ‘I’ll bring this goat back next Tuesday.’ No. One must go to the goat.
Now, if you’re a farmer reading this you know as well as I do that while you’re probably more than open to visits and education you are also a very busy farmer and indulging a desperate stranger who desires nothing more than to sit in a pile of your goats for several hours is not something you probably have time for. Also, if you’re me and live in Central New York you come to find out that there aren’t an over abundance of goat farms less than an hour or more drive away. So I tried to soothe my goat jones by stopping back at the apple farm. For fifty cents you could buy a pack of goat feed thereby becoming queen of the goat pen as long as your quarters held out.
“May I please feed the goats?”
The look on the lady’s face behind the store counter was actually stricken. Like in a comedy.
“Um. Well. They’re not here.”
I just figured they went to town or something.
“Oh. When will they be back? I’ll wait.”
Again the stricken look.
“They’re not coming back.”
I had to know.
“Um. Where are they?”
Now, she could have lied. But she didn’t. She did, however, have the grace to pause.
“Slaughtered.” She whispered. She actually did whisper it. I pictured the goat who loved me even though I didn’t have food. I guess now I know what that goat was whispering.
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, they were old and we’re getting new ones in the Spring.”
We said our goodbyes and I made it to my car.
Slaughtered? Couldn’t she have said ‘they went softly into that sweet night’? Old? Being replaced? And yeah, yeah I know. Circle of Life and all that. But still.
And then I burst into tears.
I cried for the slaughter. I cried for the goat who loved my even though I didn’t have food. I cried for the whispered goat secrets that I failed to hear. And I cried for myself, the girl who, after all this time, figured out by accident what would finally make her whole but had absolutely no idea of how to attain it.
And if you really want to know…I’m crying now.
Yeah. I’m gonna make a terrible farmer.
Well, the good Lord did provide the world with a bounty of goats so I guessed it was up to me to figure out how to get my share. Just the two, please. Thank you.
And so I read. I discovered the history, the legend, the realities, the pitfalls and the gift that was a goat. I began making fiber art goat dolls and spent countless hours designing a beautiful goat crochet tapestry. I visited a far away farm on the spur of the moment on an afternoon drive with some friends. But it was closed and all I got to see from the drive way were curious goat eyes peeking out at me through some open slats in the barn. I’ve always been of a mind that the Universe provides you with what you need when you need it. And so I waited.
One day several weeks later while on my way to a Victorian home brunch event a close and always supportive of my craziness friend sent me an email which read: “I wish for you to find a goat farm this day.”
A lovely sentiment but highly unlikely given my destination for the day.
It was a work event that I had arranged at a nearby Victorian home so there were many local seniors from our semi-rural community. One conversation led to the next in the elegant dining room and eventually I uttered my catch phrase: “I love goats.”
“Yep. I like to snuzzle them.”
“Go up ‘round the corner and see Lyle Young. He’s got lots of goats.” Offered one lady.
“There’s a goat farm around the corner from where I’ve worked for twenty plus years?”
“Do you think he’d let me snuzzle them?”
“I don’t know. You’d have to ask.”
And so I did.
I found somebody who knew somebody who knew Lyle and his goats and was willing to vouch for the fact that I’m not (completely) crazy and a week to the day from the Victorian event I had succeeded in scheduling a morning farm visit and goat petting for my senior club, the Wanderers. I called my wish-friend that evening and she didn’t even appear surprised.
The morning came and I loaded up on plain Chex, carrots and a giant bag of greens donated by a sympathetic produce worker at the local grocer. Besides goats there were to be cows, a chicken, and Elvis the donkey who is handsome as all get out but likes to kick. I was prepared.
We pulled into the farm early that morning and Lyle had the animals gathered at the hay pen and there they were. The goats. And mine for the snuzzling!
It so happened that the billy, eight months old presently, had been hand raised due to circumstance and was as amiable and as friendly as my own yellow lab. I fell immediately and madly in love.
Bill (his name) had a personality as big as a barn and was the star of the visit. Lyle was the perfect farmer host who took the time to regale us with stories, facts, anecdotes and realities. A goat man all his life he spoke of doing the morning milking before hopping the school bus each day.
As the others left, Lyle and I continued a discussion as to how we might combine my love of folklore and theatrics with his goats. In addition to his farming Lyle also contracts wagon rides with his two giant Belgium horses as well as the occasional petting zoo for various events. By the time I left we agreed that we just might make a good team. The Universe, it seems led me straight to the perfect barn door.
We scheduled our first event for three weeks later. Bill was to appear as the Yule Goat at a town tree lighting I was coordinating. I would appear in costume with a plethora of Yule goat lore and Lyle would provide the goat.
I found the folklore to be fascinating and spent the three weeks prior devouring everything I could get my hands on. There’s the Swedish Julbock (the Yule goat) and his elf partner Jultomen. Germanic tradition has the St. Nick arriving astride a goat. Thor has his goat chariot. But the most beautiful of all I discovered was the Romanian tradition of Dancing Capra-children dressed as goats in fabulous garb retelling the story of rebirth. (I highly recommend you YouTube it. It is quite raw and stunning.)
I also spent many happy hours assembling the perfect Yule garb and designed a wreath of holly, ivy and purple and red feathers for my headwear. We decided to forego dressing Bill as, amiable as he was, we hadn’t had near enough time to get him used to the idea and above all I wanted this to be a comfortable experience for him.
The day came and Bill arrived to many huzzahs and was once again the star of the show. He offered himself up to the crowd for petting and admiring and allowed the children to touch his warm horns in awe and wonder. I thought about the birth of the Baby Jesus and knew then why he had chosen a barn. Animals, without doubt, have the purest of souls.
And there was poop. I won’t lie to you. But Lyle and a friend acted as subtle Poop Wranglers so all remained pleasant for the crowd. Of course it was an exciting time for Bill bringing a tense moment of nervous diarrhea during the pre-tree lighting speeches. But people laughed. People always laugh at poop if they don’t have to clean it up.
And then it was time for the lighting.
Bill trouped outside, dutifully following the crowd down the narrow path to the tree. Snow was falling thickly as the choir began to sing, Santa magically lit the tree and standing close to me Bill witnessed his first Yule.
Inside I snuck him a Christmas cookie and kissed his wee nose good-bye. He whispered with his goat lips in my ear something I am quite sure sounded like, “Happy Christmas, Mimi.” And off he trotted to his waiting van.
Lyle and I have more plans. Tentatively deciding how we might bring this combination of farm education experience and the spoken word to the public. And in the meantime I get to goat snuzzle.
Bill’s growing and he is a billy and all that that entails so it probably won’t be feasible to use him much, if any, longer. But he’ll always be special to me for being my first Yule Goat.
New kids are to be born in a few weeks and Lyle has promised me a hand in their care in which I might learn what I need to know. Maybe someday I’ll have two goats to call my own. But for now I’ll wait and learn. We’ll go forward slowly with this new and diverse project and see where it takes us. We’re sure the goats will lead the way.
I look forward to the rest of this story.
To my friend who wished me a goat farm I say thank you from the bottom of my heart for believing me when I said I found my bliss. And to the Universe I can only wonder what She has in store for me on my way to finding where I need to be.
And so for now I leave you with this:
Kneeling in the snow with a soft, warm goat snuzzling your neck…leaning heavily and contentedly against you while fluffy, white snowflakes are falling…listening to Silent Night being sung by a choir…will heal all wounds. Of this I have no doubt.
Mimi Foxmorton c. 2010