Sunday, September 2, 2012

On September 1, 2012, we enjoyed a hot, sunny day followed by a warm night. On the day of the goat, the 18 days of summer remaining await on your plate, leftovers to enjoy.


The goat has long held a special place in the bestiary of my mind.
Hesse Hathaway Park stands on Williams Lake Road in Waterford
Township, Michigan, and a family of farmers donated the farm house,
barns, coops, fields and forests to the township. The manager
maintained a herd of goats and a coop full of chickens, just to give
the farm an authentic feel. He had success maintaining a hutch of
rabbits, and children loved to feed them. My daughter has gone to
visit Hesse Hathaway Park every year, in every season, since the
second year of her birth.

She was born in September of 1996, so that fall, she went to the apple
orchards of Western Wayne County and a working farm on the grounds of
Maybury State Park, which featured pigs and horses. As early as one,
she was transfixed by the squealing of pigs and the hen yard ballet of
the chickens at this working farm. The pigs could squeal all they want
behind their fence of two by sixes. The chickens could peck a child's
hand through the chicken wire, and I would have to keep my daughter
out of range of their pecking. I think that November, her mother and I
took her to an art and garden show at the Washtenaw County Fair
Grounds, and the cold had started to arrive for the season. She was
born on a day in the end of summer, and enjoyed Fall 1996 as her first
full season.

As for Hesse Hathaway Park, that became her local working farm for all
the years of her childhood and her early adolescence. She's about to
turn sixteen, and this summer she twice led young girls scouts through
a week of camping and nature studies on the grounds of Hesse Hathaway.
I remember a concert, with the band standing on top of a hay wagon,
singing the anthem, The City of New Orleans, and I remember explaining
to her why that song is special to me on the drive back to her
mother's house. "I'll be gone five hundred miles when the day is
done". I explained how the tradition of folk song was all around us,
ubiquitous in a way I feel classical music or top forty never can be
ubiquitous. A man could stand up on a hay wagon and sing the City of
New Orleans imperfectly and still deliver its full emotional effect.
The song has lyrics that could be recited as a poem in a halting
voice, by a reader who sounds out words, and still deliver its full
emotional effect.

There's nothing to harmful from a chicken's peck. The coop at Hesse
Hathaway allowed us to walk right into the coop amongst the chickens,
as if we were gathering eggs. We never got pecked. The roosters didn't
aggress against us. Near the farm house, the billy goats milled around
in a pen with the barn forming one wall. The goats could poke their
muzzles through the squares in the wire and accept handfuls of grass.
Key was, knowing when to let go of the bundles of grass, the second
when the munching goat had the grass securely in his mouth. I was
allowing my daughter to hold out a bundle of grass for the goats, and
I watched her hand and pulled it back when the grass was held by the
teeth. I pulled back my hand a little to abruptly, and I think that
made her cry. At the moment, I had thought the goat had nipped her
fingers with his chomp.

I freaked out, and I carried her to the car, and she cried. And that
made me all the more certain the goat had nipped her fingers. I was
freaked out by everything in those days because I had just separated
from her mother in July of that year, and the divorce proceedings had
kept me out of the office enough to make my consulting position at a
local health insurance company precarious. I had a new position with a
manufacturer by spring of that following year. So I took her to the
urgent care where she has been treated every year of her life except
the first, and an intern carefully checked her left and right fingers
and found nothing. They put her on my lap, set a lead blanket over her
waist and legs to protect her from the radiation, and took several
X-Rays of her fingers. And the intern found nothing. I don't believe
it to this day, but her mother's mother had said it was impossible for
a billy goat to bite because ungulates only have teeth on the bottom
of their mouths. My daughter plays a fairly good flute and piccolo,
which would be impossible if a goat had maimed her developing fingers.

A few months later, she explained to me as we got out of the car,
"Billy goats don't bite. No, don't bite".

I have taken my daughter on an August vacation for a few days before
school started, and that has failed this August and last August. The
August vacation last year became a week of bereavement, so I suppose
we did observe an August trip that past summer, an unplanned trip to
say farewell to my father and to greet the family as it would remain
until the next sadness took one of us away. This year, we had a fairly
nice train trip on the Wolverine from Pontiac to Niles, Michigan, and
we took a taxi down to South Bend. We haven't taken a trip this year
for August because money has been absurdly tight this year. I have two
more Augusts until she goes away for college.

In August of 2010, we found ourselves on the road to Madison,
Wisconsin, looking to visit State Street and just soak in the ambiance
of the college town. A temporary road side sign had invited us to stop
for apples, self serve, and we saw that the apple stand stood inside
an open barn. Outside, the yard had a pen of billy goats that lived
under a scrub apple tree. We stopped and bought a peck of apples to
take home and we fed the scrub apples that had fallen outside the
reach of goat muzzles to the goats. We didn't hold them in our hands.
We threw them into the air and tried to see if the goats could catch
them. They could. The goats could play shortstop with their mouths in
baseball tasted as good as an apple.

I think we can make up for the missing of the August trip by a good
trip for her birthday rapidly approaching in September's third week. I
have seen goats this summer, but only from a passing motor vehicle.
Last Sunday, I was driving south of Grand Rapids towards the town of
Middleville, driving a friend's late model Monarch with no rust and
only 60,000 miles upon its odometer. She spotted the pigmy goats in a
field to the right of M-37, and we didn't stop to feed them. She
teased me I could get out of buying her dinner by picking up some road
kill and roasting it over an open fire. I should have stopped the car
at the deer kill just to see if she laughed.

I am thinking of renting the movie, "The Men Who Stare At Goats", just
to see if I can learn more about keeping the darlings from munching
children's fingers. I expect to have grandchildren within the next
decade, and I can imagine my daughter, her child or children, up close
and personal with those hungry ungulates again.

Apples for the goat.

I don't want to kill goats by staring at them. I just want to back
them off a few inches.

Photography Credit

Hausziege im Wallis (Schweiz) bei Fiesch.
Goat, located in Fiesch, Valais (Switzerland).
Date 13 July 2010
Armin K├╝belbeck

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