Tuesday, December 23rd, 2014
I am not one for quoting scripture – or anything much, for that matter. My dad used to be able to quote poetry, sing songs in their entirety, and recite long speeches in ancient languages. Alas, I seem to have inherited none of his extraordinary literary memory; but some tidbits of my upbringing rise to the surface from time to time.
And for some reason recently the story of Jesus and the five loaves and two fish came to my mind as I looked back on this past year at the farm and thought about both love and loss and the mystery of the infinite nature of both. I am even less skilled at interpreting scripture than quoting it; but what a cool day that must have been to those hungry people! The seemingly limited bread and fish miraculously provided everyone enough to eat. There was no need for competition or stealing or meanness – everyone got what they needed. One thing that worries me just a bit about this story, though, is not knowing whether Jesus had a lot of experience with goats. It just seems to me that the parable might have turned out somewhat differently if goats had arrived on the scene.
Greedy goats aside, I wonder if anyone ever feels like they have “enough” these days. Modern life is very parsed out. I think that many of us believe that we only have just so much time, attention, money, energy, affection to give. We are drowning in electronic information and visual and aural stimuli from a multitude of sources; the consumption of all this non-nutritious junk leaves us feeling so full of empty calories and stripped of energy that we are, as a result, sometimes sadly parsimonious with our souls. In keeping up with a million unimportant things, we seem to forget what really nourishes us. People limit the number of minutes they will talk to a friend, have quotas on social outings, schedule friendly get-togethers as though they were business meetings.
In contrast, can you imagine a dog saying, “I’m sorry I’ve exceeded my quota of tail wags today”? Now, I have heard kids whining, “Ma, I already petted the dog”, but that is, lamentably, the problem with humans.
Being a human and possessing all the woeful traits that accompany that status, I find there are days I am so tired after working, taking care of paperwork, mucking the barn, feeding and watering the animals that actually paying attention to anyone seems beyond my ability. I am TAPPED OUT. If I am lucky, my mood is lifted: Jean-Claude the llama jumps up into the air and does a crazy dance, or the sheep suddenly shake their heads and run with glee at the sight of corn, or Joey and Graham, our immense Boer boy goats rise up on two legs and crash down with a deafening “CRACK” as they play the “whose horns are harder” game, or three roosters crow exactly at the same time. As likely as not, of course, I am unlucky and I am assaulted in my pitiful human exhaustion by large beings with a sense of entitlement and an endless appetite. No need to get into that just now.
Our “Holiday Open House and Gift Shoppe” was certainly a time of replenishment as visitors met, hugged, and had deep conversations with the beasts about molasses cookies, shared belly laughs with Santa, and felt the immense relief of being in a place where everyone really does have enough (do NOT listen to the goats).
Some of these folks already have special friendships here; they “Sponsor” animals with whom they have a connection and they donate money to the farm for that animal’s care. I’ve been asked with just a hint of jealousy, “can more than one person sponsor ‘my’ animal?” Well, I’ve got news for you: these guys are not monogamous. They do have their special friends both amongst themselves and in the biped group, but their affection is not measured or doled out by how much they’ve already committed.
Oddly, though, that seems to extend to grief, as well.
Several of our animals have passed away this year. One of the most difficult losses was Jules the 18 year old goose. He was a screamer, and he bit my thighs all the time which made feeding the chickens and geese a painful and annoying proposition; but he was so protective of his flock Dani and Layla that when a predator jumped over the fence, Jules went after it with the warrior heart of a lion… but tragically lost because he had the body of a goose.
Over the summer I had to make the decision to put Burrito to sleep, our elderly lady goat, la grande dame of the farm. She had a tumor and was suffering. It was the right thing to do. But having to witness her sweet body drop to the ground as the medicine did its work and then experience the dampened mood amongst the animals when I laid her out in wake so they could say goodbye – these things made me realize that there is also plenty of sadness to go around. We can all share the grief and that, too, is life.
In my travels as a shearer I sometimes meet uncared-for and unloved animals. You can actually smell the sadness on them. I treat them with gentleness, and speak up about it as much as I can, and then I rush home almost guilty with relief to hug the lucky ones who live on this farm.
We do need to think about this: How many animals have no one? How many are right now outside in the cold and wet without shelter or enough to eat, living amongst humans who see them only as a number or the next $100 check, or worse, do not even like them? How many are in line at the butcher shop or are on an endless transport across the country, separated from their friends, or are running for their lives in canned hunts? It is very hard for any animal lover to think about these realities. We quickly feel helpless, that there is nothing that can be done. But that is not true! One by one, the animals at Star Gazing Farm came from such unhappiness and even outright abuse and now live privileged, happy, funny lives. And we are but one of many organizations who work on behalf of farm animals and are supported by thousands of caring people. Daily choices that you make – in what you purchase, in how you demonstrate your love of animals to others, in how you inform yourself, and, of course, in how you vote – these are in your power.
The animals at Star Gazing Farm are very lucky. In life they are loved and in death they are grieved over, their bodies handled respectfully and their memories kept alive.
If five loaves of bread can feed five thousand people, then are there any numbers for love? I ask you this holiday season to consider all the animals. The year is nearly over, but our job is hardly done.
Mr. Newman Goat sends his kisses.
Till next time,
“What is man without the beasts? If all the beasts were gone, men would die from great loneliness of spirit, for whatever happens to the beasts also happens to the man.”