Friday, November 17, 2006

Yin & Yang, cubed

I spent all kinds of time yesterday, with two daughters in tow as assistants, “fixing” the fence. It is too complicated to explain exactly, but the goal is to keep the goats in. In the past we haven’t really cared, they behave themselves pretty well, but now we’d really like to keep them in. So I put up more wires and made sure the nose-scorching charger was scorching the entire length of the fence.

And I knew it was useless. Useless in that I anticipated the goats would be out this morning.

And they were. So this morning, after milking, I found where it had been torn down, fixed it, and put the goats back in. Again. And it will probably happen at least a half-dozen more times. And we’ll have to re-engineer a place or two on the fence. And who knows what else, or who in the end will prevail. I think it is a matter of persistence on our parts. The goats don’t like getting shocked, but how many times will it take?

With the fence “fixed”, and with one goat showing obvious signs of estrous, I finally introduced the two new goats to the herd. Well, introduced may be the wrong word. They’ve gotten to know each other a bit, they just haven’t been running together. And doing that is complicated by having a mixed field -- goats, cow, horse, donkey.

Herd dynamics is a complex thing. A cruel, somewhat vicious thing. An intense thing. A vital thing. When we got Betty Sue in the spring, she came with a round bale of hay, and the big horse wouldn’t let her near it. Circle. Sneak a bite. Chase. Snort. Circle. Approach. Avoidance. Approach. To decide to allow, or to not allow, a new animal into the herd is a huge thing. It is something I’ve watched and studied my whole life. As herd mom, I don’t want to interfere too much. Because I can’t. They have to come to their own peace. But it is important for me to know and to understand what is going on because there are sometimes some things that need changing.

Like in this herd, one of the wethers, who really needs to be eaten, was acting buckish toward the girl in heat . . . and it was enough to inhibit the real billy goat from doing his business. So I took the old one out of the field although I’m not sure the girls won’t have to cycle a second time for him to implant his seed. I just don’t know. Yet. Part of it depends on how persistent the donkey is going to be in chasing him, how tolerant he will be of the horse insisting on smelling him (it is a scary thing for a 100# goat to be sniffed and love nipped by a 2000# horse but it is what horses do), if the cow will decide to ignore him or chase him some more.

To understand what was going on, I spent more hours in the field, mostly staying out of sight behind trees, watching, observing. I like to watch and observe people too. Sometimes I think I’d like to be able to observe myself from a silent behind the trees vantage point but when I think too much about this, I get to feeling uncomfortably crazy and kinda sorta have to stop. It is a fine line to be able to observe and not change to any great degree the dynamics going on. Mostly it takes patience to squat there for an hour in the darkening winter mist, and the alertness to notice that the drop of the head in the goat over on the hill has a meaning for this goat hiding in the woods.

So there is persistence and patience and insight, but really I think the biggest requirement to live this sort of a life is fortitude. I like that Barbara Kingsolver quote, “Life and death, always right there in your line of sight.” That so captures it. Life and death, always right there. If the crows get the corn, no corn bread. If you don’t cut the wood, no heat. If you don’t fix the fence a hundred times, the goats will be out . . . and they may be out even if you do. And if you outsmart the crows, you still face the raccoons, and the rain or lack of it, and the borers, and the wind, and a hundred other things. And if it rains today, you are gonna wish you’d cut that wood yesterday so you always keep an eye on it. Fortitude.

So this morning, between fixing the fence and wrangling the goats, a chicken squawked desperately and every other chicken ran. I let go of the goat and ran toward the sound. I saw a huge white underwing. Predator bird had hit a chicken. With me yelling and running toward it but still a good ways off, it took off. It was the biggest hawk I’ve ever seen, a red tail I think. Most of the hawks I see are smaller, like Cooper’s. My guess is this thing has a wingspan of, oh, five feet or so -- his wing seemed almost as long as my arm. I’ll have to do some research to see if that is even reasonable. I really don’t know my predator birds the way I know my chickens.

The chicken lost quite a few feathers but was fine. The goats are at least for now in the field. The house temperature is in the 60s, which is good. I’ve got two days of dishes staring at me from spending the whole of yesterday with my animals. I’ve got to go to town tomorrow.

Life and death, right there, staring you in the face, every day. If you really wanted to know the essence of my life, I think that is it.


lilfeathers2000 said...

With critters it either works or it don't. Kinda like with people.
Have a God blessed weekend

laura said...

reading this i thought of 2 things:
first: this is how i am with my kids...trying not to interfere...letting go of my need to manipulate and orchestrate everything to death. it is so very hard to just be still and silent and let them work things out on there own (unless of course they have actually asked for my help)

second: fortitude. it takes many forms. my husband getting up every day and going to work to put food on the table and pay the bills. no work=no food, no shelter. makes me think of a line in "the invitation" by oriah mountain goes like this:

"It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have. I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children."

the Contrary Goddess said...

I agree la that it is what I call the dailies that require, oh, something akin to courage to face again and again and never ever be done with, accomplished. Sweep the floor and the next person through will track. But ya do it anyway. And don't fuss. Most of the time anyway.

But the kind of fortitude I am referencing is a magnitude different. When S goes to work, he pretty much knows he'll be paid. Rarely does anyone work and not get paid. But on the farm, one can plant and work the corn for four months and still not end up with any. Any. And every day you know that. The goats are born and they may all die. And even our pick-up work, we'll get paid, but we may not have any more.

Philosophically that is true for everyone, but city living (except during a plague) never puts life and death right there in your line of sight. At least, that's what I'm thinking.

And I love how we've called our children feral. I hope I've stayed out of their way enough.

laura said...

yeah i can see that...the uncertainty of it all...but doing it anyway, because how can you not. it takes a certain amount of faith or hope or whatever you may call it. because there are no guarantees. i would have to add that i think it can be that way for city dwellers as well. not so much for us, because when you cook you can work pretty much anywhere...there are countless ads for cooks...not chefs, but a job is a job sometimes. but for a lot of people, there is that day to day uncertainty of how long a job will last and if they will be able to find work. i have a great deal of compassion for the struggles of the working city dweller. i cannot discount their struggles. i think it is universal, whether your crop doesn't come in or you get laid off; whether you love your job or hate it...but go in anyway. the fortitude to keep going, no matter what.

sweeping and such...there's a word for that type of work...the kind that has to be done over and over again, with little permanent evidence that it was ever done. can't remember it, but it is what makes up the most of what i do...since i don't "make ingredients" as you have been known to say (which i love btw). i'm glad you see the courage in it. because it all has value. all has value... all kinds of work have value. we can't discount that.

the Contrary Goddess said...

No one's struggles are being discounted here

But life and death, right there, staring you in the face, every day, does not exist for most people

Those who can imagine can imagine it but it is the everydayness of life and death, right there, staring you in the face is a different thing

Says I

All the goats stayed in the pasture today, so that was good. All the goats are in one herd, so that's good. The new nanny is still being harrassed by the herd queen, but at least she's not being chased across the pasture by the donkey.

the Contrary Goddess said...

P.S. this is not a person's "fault" but a lifestyle's fault. Modern society sucks. It is bad for people. It is soft. It is exploitive. People do not make a living but a dying.

I remember a story in the Back book Illusions, about a society that clings to the rocks on the bottom of a stream, always fighting it. Oh no, they say, don't let go, you'll be swept away by the stream. When one of them does let go, it is seen as a tragedy. But downstream he floats above the struggle of the bottom and flies over them and they think he's the Messiah or something . . . and they refuse to see that they could let go too, do miracles even greater than these themselves, if they just would let go of their struggles.

On the farm it is very clear the only struggle is with yourself.

the Contrary Goddess said...

that would be the Bach book, Illusions, and it would be clear to me that my only real struggle is with myself.

Joe Tornatore said...

herds of fun. good post from down on the farm.

the Contrary Goddess said...

And this morning, Sunday, the chicken that had been hit by the hawk was dead in the nest box. So there it is again.