Monday, February 24, 2014

Animal Minds

She is watching me while she eats. Technically, it's not eating, I guess; she's gathering up organic material for the bacteria in her belly. She eats at a different stage. Whatever it is, she is watching me.

Goats are fascinating. The joke I tell and will never tire of telling is this. After spending many months working alongside two goats in trying to fight back against the ivy on the property, I see why God Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth does not like goats. God, being male, presumes he has the right to do whatever he wants. Typical, right? But a goat does what it wants, but it does it by always figuring out the hole. Give a goat some rules, and she will follow them only for the purpose of learning where the holes are.

Herding goats is not too dissimilar from herding cats, but goats have something of a natural instinct for herds whereas cat prides form around conceptual ideas. I'll have to write about that some other time, so remind me. Anyway, the thing about herding goats is that you have to think of yourself as extending outward from your own body. A New Age thinker might call this an aura or a sphere/globe/cloud/ball of energy you project outwards. I prefer to think of it as a probabilistic wave originating from myself determining where I can be within a few moments of time. I think the length of the projection depends largely upon the goat, but it definitely changes relative to the environment. Walk around a goat, and you'll get a sense of how far away you need to be to prevent a goat from going in a certain direction. At the same time, the goat is also using your body signals to decide where the line is. Do this day after day, and eventually you'll come to an understanding with the goat, but it will never be a "peace that surpasses all understanding." Goat herding  is a peace of constant solicitation and understanding, query and answer.

I haven't tended to sheep or cows or horses. I imagine, given their own evolutionary histories, herding them is subtly different.

It is clear, though, that a goat not only has a personality, but some goats are given over to cunning and curiosity. They do not talk, nor do they have a culture. But they reason, imagine, confront, recognize, identify, vary their tastes, explore, fret, plead, laugh. The older goat, Georgia, laughs when she tricks me and takes off running sometimes. It's a muh-uh-eh-eh-eh-eh, muh-uh-eh-eh-eh as she runs away. Atlanta, the younger goat, gets angry with me a lot because she is the one I will put on a leash if I need them to stay put. She will yell at me with a Aeh-ayeeeeeh. But, usually, if we're all just walking along, one will sound out, and the rest of us will respond. My goat noise is more like a deep throat muh-errr. If they are very far away from me, Mah-uh-errr! If there's nothing too exciting in a different direction, this signals a return to the center of our dispersal. I appreciate they are okay enough with Two Legs to listen to him occasionally, but I guess it's something to do with the food or freedom I give them.

The weather is changing. Flowers are coming up, tiny and eager and fragile. It won't be too long before I start the Spring Cycle and begin the long process of trying to turn this place around with color and growth. I'm thinking of going with a lot of wildflowers all along the driveway and along the street. So long as I can keep the goats from eating all of them and focusing on the ivy, but one should never make promises with the flow when goats are involved. They have much more in common with it than I do.

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