Sagebrush

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.

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11 responses to “Sagebrush

  1. I would rather call it “Natural Selection”…a learned process that delivers rewards. Earl is an afficionado of natural selection and recently learned a similar lesson to Sage in that the brush is GOOD. Earl is as close to feral as we get on this farm…even closer to the earth than the real feral cats because he uses his senses rather than his brain to get what he wants. I sometimes look into those little Chinese eyes of his and can’t read him inside there… a little alien dog all tangled up on Serendipity Farm. Did the goats get the apple prunings? The wallabies are eating our pear trees from the ground up and the possums are helping them by bending the branches down with their fat little bodies while they deforest the tops. It might be time to use Earls alien intelligence to give them a bit of a night time scare methinks…or maybe we just need a night wandering goat? It isn’t getting dark till 9.30 at the moment here and we are definately the polar opposites of Farmlet. Steve is part feral too but I put that down to him being from the U.K. He is hurtling along to the beat of his own drum and would give those goats running down that hill a run for their money 😉

  2. A delightful post. It all sounds so interesting on ‘Farmlet’.

  3. Christine Widman

    Domesticity. I think you are right; it is a genetic leap. The leap from being wild to being tamed. Domesticated animals and humans help each other in many ways – though I know many people don’t see that.
    But it is easier to have necessary food, water, and shelter safe from predators and the elements if you are a domestic chicken, turkey, cow, sheep, horse, goose, pig, duck, dog, cat.
    It is easier to have food and clothing safe from predators and the elements if you are a human with domesticated animals.
    In the wildness aspect, all animals – including humans – are at risk from their natural predators and from the caprice of the earth.
    And you are right, I think, about love & caring. I think when heart concern is added, human and animal both benefit.
    It’s certainly true for humans. Without the compassion of heart – when our wildness kicks in – we fight and hurt.

    I love the photo of the Bearded One getting a Pearl nose kiss on his fingertip.

    And I love the image of the colored Christmas lights watching over the goats through the dark NW nights.
    It shall carry me into this coming season of starlight, candlelight, & the inner light that carries us through our journey on this planet.
    xoxo,
    C

    • Oh, Christine, what a lovely, thoughtful comment. This is exactly what I believe, too, and I feel sooo lucky to live with these animals. And plants, too. When Austin came home, he asked me if I knew who Michael Pollan was, and I said Yes! The Botany of Desire! He’s reading the Omnivore’s Dilemma right now, but is interested in all Pollan’s books. As you might be able to tell, I dipped into Botany a bit this week and was bursting with his thinking.

      May your desert fall and winter be starlit and refreshingly cool. Love you!

  4. Awww, poor Pearl! She has a certain level of dignity to maintain as the boss! I love the picture you painted of Sage fighting his wild side because it just feels so GOOD to get scritches. I had a cat when I was younger that would act the same way about other people petting him. He’d adopted me as his mother, so I got away with a lot more 😉

    • Oh, Erika, you have nailed it about Pearl. Dignity indeed! I was wondering why she has taken to standing on Goat Mountain A LOT — sort of a Mt. Rushmore thing — to emphasize her boss-hood, of course.:) Thanks for visiting!

      • Ha! That’s actually pretty cute 🙂 I hope she figures out that bossing you around for brushings just INCREASES her dignity soon! I love your stories, they always give me something to think about!

  5. Christi — this is poetic and beautiful. I have a brother-in-law in Colorado who runs a small goat ranch (they make cheese) and this tale is so perfect I am sending it to them. Thanks for such an enjoyable read!

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