Maybe it’s my eastern European heritage, but I’m pretty superstitious. Always have been. My father, a science-type of person who relies on facts to arrive at decisions, knocked on wood throughout my childhood. Pretty sure I saw him toss salt over a shoulder once. That influence rubs off and so, here it is, Friday the 13th and I woke up wary of what’s around the corner.
The majority of this week was tough. Professionally it was brutal, and on the farm front, things moved along as expected. Jolene went into heat causing hysterical screaming for two days, her milk going down to a fraction of production (but back up again today!). I fought the puppies who fought the fence. Chased a hawk come swooping down above a chicken as I sat at the milk stand in the early morning. I’m bruised still from Winston’s death last week, the kind of loss you know is coming but follows like a shadow you can’t shake.
Then yesterday. Yesterday, I came home from work. Willy Boots was gone. Vanished. The goats and guardian pups acted as if nothing was amiss, the sort of short term memory loss about their herd-mates I desperately want to acquire about my own animals. Although goats are notorious for escape – mine never have. Never tested fences and never had an interest in the fence line. On the rare occasion that a goat is separated from the herd, frantic screaming ensues until they’re reunited. Yesterday there was no screaming. There were no holes in the fence. No trace of a body. Just a Willy-sized hole in the pasture and in my heart which, today and for many days (weeks, months) will limp at half speed and need to be taped back together until healed. This one hurts a lot.
Willy was, for all intents and purposes, my first goat. When I arrived at Pure Luck Dairy over one and a half years ago to pick up my two little baby girl goats, it was Willy who hobbled towards me from the pen filled with newborn goats and their mothers. Willy was, I learned later, a mere one hour old before he purposely left his mother’s side to come introduce himself to me and suck on my finger. I had no intention that day of leaving with more than two goats, certainly not a male goat. But he was the first one I scooped up, impressed with his airplane ears and devotion, I knew I had fallen dangerously for an animal who would become more of a pet then my dogs. Quickly he proved himself to be a lap goat, jumping up onto laps whenever one presented itself. Unfortunately, this behavior continued even after his weight soared above 100 pounds. Even now, if I sit on the ground, it is only Willy who ambles up slowly and happily, to curl up beside me and place his head in my lap.
We believe, for many reasons, Willy was stolen from our pasture. I don’t have the proof and I probably never will. I also will never see him again, a reality that’s smashed into my consciousness like a hammer for almost 24 hours. It woke me from a dream last night, in which I stood in the pasture and saw him come walking through the woods. SMASH. He’s gone.
Jeremy reminded me last night (and will again, I am sure) that this is a byproduct of our mission. There is more safety in the suburbs, within sterile environments that can be climate controlled and surrounded with privacy fences and padlocks. He reminded me that we need to approach our animal relationships from the stand point of commodity. A point I completely understand and appreciate. But my passion drove me out here. And the moment it stops (it won’t) I will leave. If I did not love these animals as family, I would not sit with them at midnight, drag them to safe pens before bedtime, remedy their ailments, whisper to them as they die. Last October I wrote about going out into uncertainty with this endeavor and the way we let our hearts run all over the property, exposed and unprotected. I couldn’t know then what would happen now, just like I can’t know what to expect at the farm when I return this afternoon. This morning at milking, I thoughtlessly stuffed my pockets with extra cookies, a habit I’ve fallen into so that Willy will also receive a few treats in the pasture instead of only the girls on the milk stand. Instead of handing out the extra cookies, I crumbled them to dust and let them float away.
There has been so much loss here over the course of the summer it makes me wonder what’s gone wrong, the reality just that the odds are against a 100% survival rate with so many animals. It will ebb and flow. There will be birth and more loss in the spring, and maybe before that time. Friday the 13th, today, is not a bad omen, just the beginning of a new season without Willy. I refuse to succumb to superstition or the distinct feeling of being cursed throughout this long, difficult summer. Instead I know that this place, with all of its life and death splashed large in technicolor, is a non-negotiable.
Staying here means my broken heart will just have to mend bigger, this time.