Go Out With the Goats
Some days don’t sit right, like food swallowed that just plunged over the ledge of edible. There’s no avoiding these days, and we all have them. No matter what adjustments I make, or little deals brokered between my gut and my heart and my head, they just feel off. Back in the Austin house, Jer used to nudge me up and outside in those ill-tempered moods. “Take a walk!” he’d suggest, tossing me a dog’s leash. “Go on, go on you’ll feel better,” he’d say gently as he shut the door against my back. It used to really piss me off for exactly one minute. Until I leashed the dog and started walking down the sidewalk, kicking at rocks, past the constant sprinkler spray shooting above the neighbor’s over-watered lawn. On the walk I’d be forced out of my head to take note of basic safety precautions: avoid the uneven sidewalk just here, look both ways crossing the street there, tug the dog away from another one as they both growl and circle, posturing for a fight that neither has the nerve to initiate. I’d do a quick loop around the block or one of those long, meandering walks where I’d somehow end up down an undiscovered street – even after eight years in the same neighborhood. Regardless, I always felt better because of the way it forced me to notice minutiae far more interesting – and simple – then whatever was stewing in my head. “Feel better?” he’d always say, when I came home. And yea, I usually did.
Out here, there’s no sidewalk to push me out onto. We have a park down the road that I visit far too rarely but even that requires a level of thought and planning that defeats the purpose which is to just get up and go, go, go. So now, on the days that don’t sit right, Jer says, “Go out with the goats.” I don’t know what it means really, and I never ask. But it always feels like a good idea; a balm to the sores that can fester when I travel too far inward. Now when the door slams against my back, it’s a gravel road instead of pavement. Uneven sidewalk cracks are replaced with fire-ant mounds. I haven’t crossed a street in at least a year, but I cross the pasture every day and look intently into the patches of high grass discerning sticks from rocks, vigilant against snakes. Then I open the goat pen where they always crowd at the gate. Always waiting for visitors, irreverent, and disappointed I haven’t brought snacks. They lean against my legs, butt heads in a tangle vying for my proximity. They run out and stand beneath a tall elm, stare suggestively up at the limbs, then at me, then the limbs, then at me – begging for branches. We set off in a line through the woods, six dogs intermittently gallop and roll alongside the goats, play tag up ahead of me, fall back in order to tug at a goat ear and get knocked over with a headbutt instead. Lately we end up in the north west corner of the property where a shallow dip at the mouth of the dry creek is verdant with growth; even in July, a tiny jungle thrives in one place the goats either have forgotten or refuse to visit without me. I sit at its edge while they eat grasses and brush, tails wag wildly. Dogs crowd at my side and take turns placing paws in my lap. All of us turn to watch as the goats tear down pieces of the forest.
I can’t explain how these walks work, but they do. I wonder at the simplicity of just – walking – but doing it with some company outside of the voice that complains from your head. How maybe we’d all be slightly less bruised if given a few moments each day to go out – with the dog, with the trees waving above, with the grasshopper bouncing from leaves, with the goats that amble in a slow and silent line, never questioning the destination.