Saturday, April 16th, 2016
Growing up as an only child, I did not have the benefit of duking-it-out sessions with bratty little brothers. I ascribe my utterly senseless attraction to goats to this lack.
Now, I remember one very vivid episode from my youth involving a singularly unpleasant young boy. I was about 6, and this kid would routinely step out into my path when I was riding my bike down the sidewalk. “Stop!” he would proclaim with authority. The first time this happened I giggled. I didn’t know anything, and I mean ANYTHING about boys and to have any attention focused on me by a BOY was, well, giggle-worthy. The next time, however, I found it frightening and reported it to my mother who said it probably meant he liked me. Um, no, I don’t think so. I’m not sure my mom knew much about boys, either. After that I just learned to ride really fast so he’d have to jump out of the way so as not to be run over. Not bad for a six year old.
They say we are revisited by our old problems throughout our lives and if this is the case, then I would like to point the finger squarely at Joey the goat as the Resurgence of the Bully. For the last few months he has been blocking my way everywhere I go on the farm. He seems especially intent on this when I’m trying to do something useful like carrying heavy objects from one end of the farm to the other. He will walk slightly in front of me and then swing his big head around, horns pointed at soft parts of my anatomy, and I have to step (or jump) out of the way. We do this zig-zag dance until I seek refuge behind a gate. Now, to be fair, sometimes Joey can be quite charming and he has a fantastic smile. But the last time I tried to give him a little scratch on the back he whirled around, rammed me up against the barn wall, and kept it coming as I hollered at him. I’m not quite sure how I managed to wriggle free of him. See, the thing about bullies is that they really like bullying. There is some numbnuts theory circulating out there about bullies being secret cowards – witness a goat in action and you will be blowing raspberries at the psychologists.
Now don’t be confused – not all those who annoy you are actually bullies. Sometimes they are simply thugs. A thug doesn’t necessarily seek out busy bipeds for his recreation; he just asserts his authority and sometimes that becomes ‘inconvenient’. I’ve known a number of thugs in my time, and even dated a few. They can be charming, handsome, and at the same time have the most appalling table manners. It doesn’t ever occur to them that they shouldn’t get what they want, when they want it. Like our gorgeous Bello the horse. He’s tall, dark and handsome. He assumes general adoration is due him and that it’s fine to just walk into private sheep meetings and make visitors step aside so he can get a better angle on some hay. In fact, I can’t remember any animal ever challenging him. I remember how appalled he was one summer when I sent him for training to “learn some manners”. Training aside, this guy has nothing to prove. True thugs are a miracle of self-confidence.
I’d have to say, though, that most of the animals who live on this farm are probably greedy-gums and not thugs or bullies. It takes little energy to be a greedy-gum and the general payoff is high. A greedy-gum is an opportunist; pickpocket; sly, devious and highly intelligent; values food above all else. Should, for example, a person happen to be carrying a bucket of feed around, a greedy-gum like Jean Claude the llama will simply hook his head over that person’s shoulder and take a nice, big mouthful. It helps to be tall and have a long giraffe-like neck, although our diminutive Angel the sheep works the ground level with the same ardor. When our volunteer Susan comes over, she often has a terrible time getting out of the gate, as she is followed by a trail of hopping and galloping sheep who know that she has more cookies in her car than she actually shared with them.
I travel to a lot of other farms in the spring, shearing llamas, alpacas, sheep, and goats for other farmers. Every once in a while I work at a farm where the animals do not seem to know about greedy-gumming. It’s terrible. I sense a desolation there – no one gives them treats, and in many cases, no one even talks to them. I fear, perhaps, they are unloved. This is not to say that bribery yields love or is even always a good idea; but the apathy of an animal who knows it will never get anything special breaks my heart.
So when the animals at Star Gazing Farm are naughty, nay, dare I say annoying, I feel a warmth, knowing that these guys understand the level of love and commitment given to them is unlimited. May we all learn to be greedy-gums in our own rights.
Till next time,
“I am not a glutton – I am an explorer of food.”
― Erma Bombeck