An Appalachian Country Rag--Dirt Road Journal

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white-goatBoy George was our first goat, but I loved Nelly best, probably because we got her, along with her mother, Tess, when she was a baby. All of our goats have been different kinds and colors, and all except Nelly were given to us, more or less against my will and better judgement. SweetPea, a mountain-type goat, strong and sturdy in many shades of brown, with long curling horns, a dangling goatee, and "dreadlocks" of fur under her chin, I absolutely refused to take. She's the one I tell my troubles to now.

All goats, or at least all of mine, have understood English after they heard it for awhile. They've learned their names, as in "Boy George, I've got some cigarettes for you" (goats love tobacco and it's supposed to be good for them for preventing worms or something) and "Donna, here's a pear" (they're also fond of non-citrus fruits). But they've also understood "Watch it!" as in, "Take it easy 'cause I've got a broken ankle and if you butt me, we're both done for." They've enjoyed being petted and talked with about their day, the weather, the grasses available to them (they like a variety and prefer honeysuckle over just about anything), and what was going on with our other animals, mostly chickens, ducks, cats and dogs.

Usually, in good weather our goats are tied to stakes or trees and moved about as they run out of grass and bark. (They like the sides of wooden buildings as well.) But, when Nelly was little, we let her run free on the theory that she wouldn't stray too far from Tess, who was tied up. (The reason goats need to be confined is so they won't eat all the flowers, which they crave, and our vegetable garden.) That worked until a not-so-close neighbor mentioned how cute Nelly was and how they enjoyed seeing her nibble on their foundation plantings. We had to admit she wasn't a baby and couldn't follow us down to the river anymore. (Goats don't like swimming, by the way.)

Our goats have helped keep the hillside between our house and the flood plain "mowed" and Nelly helped, too, although she was always the smallest of the goats we had and the fussiest. If she didn't like the weather at 2 a.m., she always let us know (and I always woke up). Nelly adopted SweetPea later as her surrogate mother and baa'ed in distress whenever SweetPea was out of sight. All of our goats have baa'ed, in the way that dogs bark, when we return from a trip to town or whatever, as in, "WHERE have you been? I'm hungry. I need water. SOMETHING knocked over my bucket. The blasted CHICKENS ate all my corn. MOVE me. PET me. Come HERE."

Something about a goat is funny and endearing. Aside from it's baa, I think it's partly the eyes. Goats have pupils that go in a straight line from east to west instead of around in circles like a normal mammal. When they look at you, it's slant-eyed and you can't help but wonder what in the world they see like that. They like to butt things (you, for instance) just for the hell of it. It might be a sign of affection, but turning your back on a goat is a daredevil sort of thing. A great game for a goat is pushing with its forehead as hard as it can against your hand to see who gives first. In the excitement of spring, a goat'll jump straight up in the air and around, kicking its back legs from the ground. SweetPea likes wine and would willingly get zonked, if we let her. Goats, by the way, don't drink a liquid. They siphon it. Like a water spout in the river, the water swirls up all at once into their mouths and when they're done, it quits. A few weeks ago, I gave SweetPea too much wine and she got wobbly, so I had to pray no one bothered her as she crumpled into the hay, until she got over it. Don't give a goat more than, say, a cup of wine.

river Nelly died from an ice accident this past winter. She was brave about her injuries and walked slowly with me one last time to her "house" where she lay to sleep in a safe and familiar place. SweetPea and I talk about Nelly sometimes.

"The stars are matter, we are matter... but it doesn't matter." -- Title, album by Ronnie Taylor, one of many gifted Appalachian "string musicians," West Jefferson, NC


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Original material A Country Rag April, 1996. All rights reserved.