Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Speaking of Goats

I’ve noticed some people out there, on the internet, and elsewhere yammering on, in what I am sure are very well meaning ways, about how to have a happy in life.  Some would lead you to believe that an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from psychology, astrology, numerology, the I Ching, tarot, plus a smattering of Sanskrit and the lost art of paper folding are absolute necessities. I have nothing at all against any of these studies to provide illumination or guidance in life, I does bother me though when some folks act like their personal system, new age or traditional, has all the answers.  Frankly that gets my goat.

Speaking of goats, I used to work at a Zoo. In the course of my duties, which, contrary to public opinion, were not at all glamorous, and consisted mostly of scraping fecal matter off various surfaces, I have been bitten by a tiger, chased by a giraffe, and have attempted to appear calm and cheerful before the public while bats crawled up my legs.  I also have been stepped on, butted and had a significant portion of my hair chewed off by the species, Capra hircus.  In other words, there is hope.  I know the heights and depths of one of the best self-help aides available to man -- I know goats.

Let me say at the start that I know that goats are not human.  Most animal management types scorn an anthropomorphic attitude -- baby gorillas in little pink tutus -- ugh.  However anyone observing a group of animals for an extended period of time will notice that there is a specific energy that is manifested by a particular species.  This energy is in a pure form; that is, unlike your standard human, a goat doesn’t need a nervous breakdown to know something is wrong or a psychologist to fix it.  This is because they do naturally what we humans find so difficult -- they live and feel and act smack-dab in the present.  No lingering doubts regarding the moldy alfalfa of yesterday taints their enjoyment of todays repast.  

A typical day at the Zoo would start by me letting the animals out into the yards.  I would sometimes let the sheep out first, before the goats, because that would be the only peace the poor things had all day.  Once those goat hooves hit the tarmac it was all over.  In three-seconds-flat they would evaluate the various potentialities for food, shelter, and opportunities to get into trouble and then claimed them for their own.  Their modus operandi for achieving these aims was brute force and intimidation.  Goats are not subtle.  Their idea of a good time is to hit something with their heads until it does what they want.  Once outside, they would often form a charming tableau on a large rock pile where they would keep one eye on the sheep flock to make sure they were reasonably miserable, and then scan the pathways looking for children or feeble adults so they could snatch food, cameras or articles of clothing, which they would then eat trample or shred.  Their attitude during this activity was gleeful enjoyment.  No guilt or hesitation, just pure impulsive action.

Even when the goats were at rest, gnawing on a light meter or a baby bottle they remained alert to any and all possibilities for adventure.  One of their favorite pursuits was the constant assault on gates and fences.  Goats can open fences that would have baffled Houdini.  I suspect they have prehensile lips.  This talent resulted in many goat escapades into obscure and unprotected buildings where they would terrorize rabbits, chickens and other small animals and eat inappropriate food stuffs that caused them to bloat up like the balloons in Macy’s Thanksgiving day parade.  

Our goats were sturdy, graceful and quick.  Even though they appeared to be built entirely of angles, like a box with legs, they could balance on a bolder, sideswipe a sheep, and keep an eye open for dropped candy bars, all with apparently effortless grace.  However, if you tried to lead them in a direction that was not of their choosing, they had this trick they did with their torso and leg muscles that quite effectively glued them to the ground, immovable by anything less than a small forklift.  

Most of all the goats were the masters of endurance.  Hot and cold weather, unusual food, getting along with their peers, they either put up with it or assimilated it to produce more of their specialty -- obnoxious, but most of the time, irresistible goat behavior.

So, how does help me understand life?  Well, for one thing, I can see now how some ‘top of the heap’ kinds of folks combine a need for no restraints on their own whimsical behavior  with a need to be in control of others at all times. Also their need to think they have all the answers.  Perhaps when the next authority figure is kind enough to clue me into the “real” facts of life I can just look for the goat eyes behind their persona and consider their own fears or a need for liberation.  It seems significant that it was always the goats, who were so obsessed with keeping the sheep in line, that were long gone when we found the hasp undone and the gate to the yard was open.  

So the pundits and proselytizers can continue to pontificate but they won't seem quite so irritating any more.  Maybe they just haven't learned the true meaning of the word - capricious.  They could learn a lesson from my favorite goat “Eris”, on how to caper though life with a little more grace.  Next time one of them crosses my path I will look past them to see her, standing at the top of her rock pile, surveying the possibilities of leadership and obnoxiousness. The epitome of ambition, persistence and block-headed obstinacy the light in her eyes at the sight of a helpless child with a cookie was both instant and inevitable.  She thought she was right -- not because the sheep or other  people were wrong, but because she knew how to both endure and to still have fun. She was no respecter of persons and yet there was not a malicious bone in her whole rambunctious body. I can’t help but imagine that if someday they drop the big one and most of humanity is reduced to smoking slime, that through the clearing smoke we will see familiar shape emerge-- Eris on her charred rock pile.  Around her all the fences will be blown down and with a gleam in her eye she will leap down and conquer the world.

©copyright Robin Wendell 2009


  1. Wow. What a great post Robin. Sometimes it takes observing behavior in nature to understand how our own species works in this great interrelatedness experiment.
    And the goats will come to inherit the earth (or at least Eris).

  2. Prehensile lips - yes they do! Personally I'm glad we evolved thumbs instead but those lips are extremely 'versatile'.

    I must admit I took the pig pen over the goat pen when I took a whiff of my first billy, so I never got to know goats like I could have. The two I worked with were very sweet though. Far more at ease than the poor sheep.

    I wonder if sheep just get self-conscious when goats are around. It was only when they were penned with the goats that I saw the overly nervous tendencies sheep have, otherwise they were quite wily themselves.

    I'm looking forward to the day we can actually converse in animal-speak. Somehow I think it'll make all the humans I know easier to understand too! :P

  3. Ink Gypsy-
    Ah Yes--billy goats!.Pea-ewwwwie! The Zoo learned about billy goat proclivities early on after several incidents where the public was 'exposed' quite literally to the boisterous exuberance that an unfixed male goat can display when the Ides of March roll around. For a while the X-rated goats where banished, but kept for breeding in an area where they could cavort, Pan-like, with each other out of the public view. During this time we kept a 'billy rag,' a rag that had been rubbed on the, ah, smelliest part of the goat, in a tin and used it both as a prompt to bring the females goats into estrus and as a remedy against anyone we took a particular dislike to. When a victim asked if there was any coffee sugar we would point them towards the tin and then when they opened it and staggered from the room gagging and choking we would fall about laughing.

    At last it was decided to keep only wethers and females for display and bring some goat kids in every spring. The billys were sent away. I didn't miss them but I kind of miss the buck rag. No where else in life have I found such an effective and eloquently aromatic way to show my ire.

  4. Goats are indeed wily fellows. As a 94-year-old friend of mine once noted, they are smarter than some humans. Great post!