Keno Farms is a really spectacular spot out in the Northwestern hills of Williamson County, just at the edge of the town where I grew up. Huge barns and shelters pop up behind the old stone house that Jon and Mary Fenoglio built together themselves years ago. The entire acreage in front of the house is cleared of every last speck of brambles and brush. It’s actually a registered airfield so their son can use the space to fly his tiny plane. We had the privelege of watching it taxi and take off while we stood chatting on their front porch. It looked like a little toy out there in the front lawn as it sputtered forward and suddenly gunned ahead, lifting up, up in silence as invisible hands of wind nudged it over a fence. It dangled above a pasture, circled and flew away in a lazy line where the sun was setting.
I met the Fenoglios the way I meet most people these days: goats. They have them, and I’m looking for another. These folks don’t advertise in the traditional way, in fact I found them through another goat breeder’s website. After exchanging emails about a particular little buckling for sale, I made the trek out not knowing what to expect because you can’t ever know what to expect when it comes to these things. The way we live on land and with our animals – it’s a deeply personal ritual that everyone approaches differently. It’s a lovely freedom to be tucked off the road somewhere so that curb appeal doesn’t matter, and it’s quite alright if the chickens lay their eggs right there in the flower pot or at the base of a peach tree. And if the peacock wants to roost on the rooftop well, then, it makes the prettiest wind vane I’ve ever seen. So that’s how we saw Keno Farms: airfield out front, eggs scattered amongst flower beds, geese chasing through a pasture of lazy goats, and a field of Holstein mooing through their cud. As usual, Mom came along for this visit, a habit we’ve fallen into when I go to see a man about an animal. We’ve gotten pretty good at having conversations with only expressions, and I’ve passed on a few bad decisions based on her furrowed brow alone. Plus, like any animal lover, it’s hard for her to pass on the opportunity to pet a few friendly goats.
Jon and Mary led us through pens and pastures, barn stalls and a dairy room. We met their milkers and the dairy calves. We saw the newly hatched chicks scamper behind a hen who led them under hay feeders and between goat hooves. Mary and Jon themselves were as lively and fluid as their farm. Both kept up a constant stream of conversation, spouting off goat lineage and recalling anecdotes about earlier days of their farm. The way they told stories it’s obvious they must have whispered about this place years ago, clasping hands and having those “What if” conversations. In fact, the farm’s name itself refers to the gambling game since the land purchase was a risky business for the couple, some 30 years ago. It was a hope and prayer type of situation apparently, and judging by what we saw, lady luck favored them when they rolled the dice on this dream. “We couldn’t make the first payment,” Jon laughed while he scratched the back of his head and kicked at a rock on the ground, “but, well….you want it bad enough. So” – with a sweep of the arm towards the barns and vast array of happy goats, “you figure it out. We made it work.” Mary is the sort of woman with perpetually rosy cheeks, and she smiled back. I saw them like those trees that grow out of creek beds. Two separate trunks with shared roots. I’ll be damned if I’ve ever met a lovelier couple.
We were out to look at their little Nubian male goats, a purchase I made in an effort to keep Boss, and to keep him happy, too. I cannot keep a male goat with the does and with their eventual babies. His scent will flavor the milk and his increasingly large presence could become dangerous to them – although he remains one of the gentlest and sweetest animals I’ve met. The alternative is to find a new home for Boss, but in my commitment to keeping a buck on site for ease of breeding in the future, and because I love him – this is the choice right now (I will never have an animal live by itself). Willy has proven to be too small for Boss’s advances, and so he will remain as a companion in the doe’s pasture. There’s no grand plan here, folks, and this might be another poor decision to go along with the decision to have one buck in the first place. Or it will work out just fine. A future teller would be handy now, but making mistakes is half of the process, so we’ll see how wise my own judgement proves to be. The new guy comes home soon.
All these decisions – to do or not to do – to buy or not to buy – to act or not to act – they weigh on me. Someone commented recently on the heaviness we bring on ourselves and how complicated life must be for folks like the Fenoglios who have so many animals in their care. Don’t complicate your own life, was the unspoken implication. It’s fair warning. It’s true that each addition feels a bit like putting more on top of an already teetering tower of obligations, but I’m getting used to feeling full to the brim – to the extent that I’d miss the mess if it were gone. In fact, a friend sent a note this evening. She also lives on a small property and though she doesn’t focus on animals, she’s poured a great deal of energy (blood, sweat, etc) into that dirt as an avid gardener. After carefully digging, planting, and tending a new tree, the deer attacked the thing, ripping it to shreds, save for a few spare limbs. “So I went back out, and I planted the limbs. We’ll see,” she reported to me tonight.
I can picture her out there carefully patting down dirt around tattered branches in the dark tonight, wearing a head lamp and swatting at gnats. What drives us to this? What is the human condition that recognizes when the odds are against us but forces us to give it a go anyhow? My finger’s not on the word for it just yet because it’s an amalgamation of all the beautiful things in the spirit – all smashed together. For her, for me, for the Fenoglios – for all of you crouched down over a dream: we’ll see.