I Follow the Goats
This season is bitter. I can’t avoid it, I can’t hide from the resentment that’s mounting and boiling and just beneath the surface of every interaction, the way it seems lately we search our neighbors for clues about the lines they draw. The issues they stand for. Against. The sides they’ve chosen. I know how I feel. I can only imagine how You feel, but I am certain we will never feel the same. It’s an empty, a hollow, a bitter season.
I look to the goats when I can’t look towards strangers for comfort. If the constructs (confines?) of our society seem foreign, I observe the careful caprine community that’s been blended together inside the barn. The daily struggle they face of co-existence, their disagreements settled quickly in order to find solidarity in the most primitive necessities: shelter, food, friendship. In the morning I watch two fight fiercely, hackles up, as they raise onto hind legs, glaring at each other until falling forward with the full force of their own weight and gravity, the dull thud of their skulls meeting rings out in the pasture, again and again, and again. Until it’s just…over. And they walk away with the distraction of food or sunshine, or maybe because it’s time to walk in a line up the hill of swaying grasses for a nap. Usually they stop because neither wins, neither loses. It’s an expression of force, only worth expressing until their points have been made.
It’s a luxurious simplicity, the way they’ve ordered this society. No deity to dictate their decisions, no religion to enforce codes of conduct, it’s only hunger or weather that drives them. I stand with them in a clearing in the woods, knowing each so intimately, remembering every single battle I have witnessed, how deeply their hatred seemed to cut, yet I see them work collectively, taking turns to stand and pull down the limbs of trees so each of them can eat. Last night a cold front blew in. I locked the barn doors against the draft and tore open a new bale of bedding. I watched the two who fought in the morning paw at the floor beside each other, settling down together, curled closely for warmth.
When I can no longer bear to comprehend which lines have been drawn across our own constellation of humanity, I try to follow the goats. I try to remember these animals who walk with me through the woods, who have walked alongside man since the beginning of the beginning, who feed us when we feed them. They negotiate openly, briefly, and not because they must establish order, but because they are establishing themselves. Then they move on, knowing instinctively that their co-dependence outweighs their need for victory.
Out here, the votes we cast don’t matter. When the wind blows hard enough to bend the limbs so they break, it doesn’t matter who has won or lost. I can’t take a moment to consider if your hands were used to cast a ballot in favor of something I fear. Because if your hands are strong, I need them. To fix this fence, gather the cattle, to steady my back when it’s breaking.
When the tables turn, you may need my hands, too.