Saturday, July 13, 2019

Mares eat oats and goats eat ... weeds


One of the little known facts I’ve discovered during our time living in a fixer-upper: it tends to be far more interesting and satisfying to fix up the habitats for our animals than the one for ourselves. It’s fun to see our macaws enjoying their outdoor aviary, complete with branches and ropes to climb and a fountain to splash in. It’s less fun to repair cracks in the plaster of one wall in the house only to realize that you’ll have to do the same with every single other wall in the house … and then there’s the ceiling … and those floors … not to mention the siding … and what exactly is going on in that crawl space? … and oh the hell with it, let’s make a bigger goat shelter, shall we?

Speaking of goats, one of K’s most recent completed projects involved fencing in the acre around our house so that our cloven-hooved buddies can perform their duties as weed-eaters across an even greater area. I was a little apprehensive at first—there is a lot in that one acre that goats could get into besides just weeds. As I’ve discovered, however, goats do not eat everything; they are, in fact, fairly reasonable in discerning what is and isn’t fit for consumption. That would seem to put them considerably ahead of humans, who really will eat just about anything. Fried pickles. Bacon-topped donuts. Cheeto-crusted chicken. And, oh! the things we’ve done in the name of pizza? Italy should sue.

The other surprising thing I’ve discovered is that our goats don’t seem to mind the heat at all. Ancestrally they are from hot regions, sure, yet still you’d think a woolly coat would be a big liability when the heat index hits triple digits. But no, all this past week I’ve watched them bounding merrily about the land, and when they take a midday rest, it’s fully in the sun. No shade, no SPF 152, no sweaty glass of iced tea rapidly coming to a boil.

I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised, though. When I was a kid growing up in Hawaii, I spent summer days almost entirely outdoors, running madly about in the tropical heat until dusk, when I’d go back in and count how many new mosquito bites I’d gotten and brag if I had more than my sister. It was fun back then. If I do that now, it’s an ultramarathon and I train for it beforehand and suffer a lot during and brag about it afterward like I’ve just done something epic, when all I’ve done is act like I did when I was five. Minus the junk food, that is; my parents rarely let us drink soda or eat potato chips and candy. Every ultra, I attempt to make up for those lost years.

But I’m not going to tell you that this means children are stronger and more resilient than adults. Let’s face it, small children bawl their eyes out over things so bafflingly trivial you just have to laugh even knowing it will raise the bawling to gale-force level. And I’m not going to tell you that goats are these wise, gentle, uncomplaining souls that spend their days in peace and harmony with each other and nature. As I said in a previous post, goats are jerks. There is always plenty for all of them to eat, yet they seem obsessed with the idea that one of the others is unfairly getting more and better food. This results in a lot of shoving and head-butting whenever I appear, since they, like pretty much all our animals, see me as a walking vending machine. There is also a very strict size- and strength-based hierarchy that is sometimes disturbing to witness. The littlest goat, Chubb, has gotten so pushed around by the others that he stays away from them, off to the side, waiting for a moment when they’ve wandered off to scamper over and bleat for treats. But recently the second smallest, Kettle, broke one of his horns, the loss of which has temporarily made him a bit timid. This did not go unnoticed by Chubb: now there was someone he could push around, and he quickly head-butted his way into the #3 spot. Guys. Please. A little empathy?

I’ve made this point on this blog before, and I’ll make it again now: it does neither animals nor people any good to assert that one group or the other is “superior.” We may think we’re paying tribute to one species or another—or all of them other than our own—by making these comparisons, but all we’re doing is oversimplifying the complexity of living things. Throughout the animal kingdom, there are examples of what could be perceived as brutality, selfishness, and cruelty; there is also altruism, affection, playfulness, creativity, and unmistakable joy. But I suppose the reason we enjoy having animals in our lives—the reason K and I in particular often spend more time trying to meet their needs than our own—is that we can’t help wishing things could be simple. Perhaps we still long for happiness to require little more than the sun shining on a green field, and the feeling that you could keep running through it all day.