Friday, May 6th, 2011
Most of us don’t deal particularly well with illness. In ourselves, it’s anything from inconvenient to downright embarrassing; in others it’s often a bore and disgusting. Well, isn’t it? As we get older, more parts seem to break down, and conversations lamentably all too often turn to the details of ailments, the multitude of cures which don’t work, a rant on the medical system, and all manner of unenlightening subjects.
But today I was offered a completely different and, perhaps, redemptive “take” on medical problems for the lay person. It’s true that when dealing with farm animals, one is rather prone to a whole panoply of revolting things. But once in a while you get a real head scratcher. I’d been shearing Angora goats down in Virginia all day. It was totally smooth sailing, and I had just two more little goats to do. I hoisted the little grey boy up on the shearing stand, patted him on the back as I always do to let them know that “I’ll be your shearer today, sir” … and I felt something odd. Don’t you just hate it when you feel something odd? They were bumps. Very weird and crusty bumps that seemed to erupt in little pock-marked hills. And some brown stinky stuff. And other things I’m reasonably sure you’d rather I not mention.
Let me just say right here that while there are only a handful of things that can pretty predictably gross me out, there is one, and only one that can bring me from zero to a hundred instantly: maggots. As I got a whiff of something definitely not within the normal realm of “Angora Goat Body Odor”, I got a sick feeling in my stomach. I lurched to the car to fetch my reading glasses so I could really get a good look, and began the process of peeling fleece back from a hideously hardened, scabby skin. And…. no maggots. Yet the relief was short-lived, as I seemed to be removing pieces of the goat along with the fleece, and the horror of this whole picture was only overcome by my sense of duty to carry on. Meanwhile, this cheerful, good-natured little guy with a darling face was standing perfectly still for me as I inched my way along his body with my clippers, finding more and more evidence of something that made me terribly glad I’d not had dinner. And then, without thinking, I lay my hands full on his small frame and said, “oh you poor, poor thing”, and gave his little (unscabbed, as some of you might just be morbidly curious) face a kiss.
The sudden ability to separate the essence of the lovely little beast from his disease filled me with a surprising load of compassion. Dang! I’d thought I was already compassionate, but then it’s easy to be friendly with happy, healthy, gunk-free animals, isn’t it? I thought, wow – this might even apply to people. It might even apply to me! What a concept! What a relief! Think about it: the delirium of fever, pale, clammy skin, projectile vomiting, even just run-of-the-mill halitosis: none of that takes away your essence. Why, it’s revolutionary!
Sequestering the goatie dude in a separate stall for vet examination, I brought out the goat I’d been looking for all alone, number 19, the very last goat of the day! She was a sweet mama goat still nursing two darling angelic baby goats (see attached photos for an “awwww” moment). I started to shear and… am I seeing black things? I really hope I’m not seeing black things, because this here is a white goat, and… oh cr*p they’re moving. Reading glasses shoved back on my face, I regarded a really rather impressive infestation of lice. Just then, I confess, I experienced an unbearable itching on my scalp, but since my hands were now clearly covered with lice cooties I didn’t dare scratch. (By the way, goat lice cannot be transferred to humans; they are common and fortunately extremely easily treated – knowing this, nonetheless, the itch factor for me had just ratcheted up several dozen notches and remains, in fact, on my pristinely louse-free head this very moment.)
I called in my report on what I’d found to the caretaker, and very, very slowly began to pack up. I wished the little calves who had been investigating the trunk of my car earlier would come back to visit. Instead, I stroked the large, eager nose of the big mama ewe, and then sat down with the 2-week old kids and watched them play like puppies. What magic.
And what joyfulness to offer the site of the recent tragic death of my friend, the flock’s owner. It’s one of the most beautiful farms I know, yet my recent trips there have been dark ones, leaving me depressed for days afterwards. He was one of those “large” human beings, someone who comes to your mind without bidding, and whose musical voice can be called up from memory so easily. I had pledged to honor him by always being available to shear, trim hooves, and do the simple deworming and shots for the herd he loved so very much. Today was the first day that I felt Michael smiling again.
I do not know, nor have I asked, what his illness was. I know only this: it took nothing from his beauty and soulfulness, qualities which clearly live on in his animals.
I’m not a good Episcopalian anymore and it’s been decades since I’ve heard this Rite One prayer, and yet oddly (or perhaps not) it’s what I started muttering, without even thinking about it, as I drove out past the massive old trees and grazing cattle, “the peace of God, which passeth all understanding…”
The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep
your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God,
and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of
God Almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, be
amongst you, and remain with you always. Amen.
Dedicated to the memory of Michael.
Till next time,
Star Gazing Farm 501(c)3
A haven for retired farm animals and wayward goats