I stroke Sage lightly across his long top hairs. The brush is an old one of our younger daughter’s, black and square and with plastic quills. He freezes like a chicken suddenly on guard. I’m talking easy to him. His back skin ripples. A million years of evolution tell him to run like hell, but this semi-wild animal silently begs for more. Four-inch fleece can itch. But it’s not about the itch. It’s the interaction. He is riveted with the newness of it.
Down his spine and then across the wide sides, shivers of pleasure shoot up and out the curled horns. Sage is skittish, but he allows touch, even encourages it now, thanks to the Bearded One’s patient training. But I’m here to tell you, he is not tame. Sage, I mean. Come to think of it, neither is the Bearded One.
This farmlet is the very lap of domestication. We hardly ever leave home. In a recent visit from my California brother and his daughter, we ate homemade jam from homegrown berries on cornbread made from home-grown corn which we dried and ground, and fried chicken that we raised from chicks and harvested, and washed it all down with our mountain spring well water.
And how’s this for domestication? The Bearded One installed a string of dim but brightly-colored Christmas lights in the barn rafters to help watch over the goats on these long dark winter nights when it’s dark at 4:30pm. They’re on a 4pm-10pm timer, the same as the chicken coop light telling the hens’ tiny pituitary glands to keep on making eggs.
Sometimes we reek of domestication. I just cleaned out the urine-soaked hay from the barn floor as the goats looked on. They’re always scratching. I can’t let their bedding get yucky at all or I’m just inviting lice. And now I’m brushing Sage, but taking very little for granted. He can whip those horns around so fast you see the bruise for weeks.
Still, right here in my hands is the genetic leap of domesticity. The taming of a goat. This need to scratch, Sage’s recent discovery of the Bearded One’s ability to deliver, and it’s like some DNA woke up. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. Domestication is evolution — change at the genetic level through the selection process — but I believe there’s some kind of love in the mix, too. Trust-flavored love. Domestication just works better with love.
Love and nesting instincts are busting out all over the farmlet, and it’s not even spring. This month, our elder daughter became engaged, her stepsister also became engaged, our younger daughter the Nurse (and the former owner of the goat brush) and her boyfriend declared their love for each other, and our son has met someone he really likes. It’s not a coincidence that he sported a new “modern haircut” — his own tongue-in-cheek — when he was home for Thanksgiving.
I brush through Sage’s fleece while LaLa looks on. He can’t interrupt Sage’s grooming session, but he stands ready for his own. Pearl is the only holdout, and neither the Bearded One nor I can get closer than a hasty nose kiss on a fingertip.
We hear the gate click behind us and Sage runs for his life. “It’s a good day to be a goat,” says the Bearded One. He’s just pruned the apple tree, and between the autumn supply of apples and cabbages and pumpkins, the goats are happy. They thunder down the chute, enjoying the sound of their own wild hooves.