Bawl for one

My small herd of goats are a sociable lot. When one of them marches toward the pasture, the others fall into line and follow. Conversely, if something startles one of the does and she dashes toward the barn, a jangle of bells signals the others to race after her. And when my husband, John, and I work near the goat barn, all four goats stand at the fence, calling for attention.

The other night while practicing my harp, I thought I heard one of the goats bawling. I dampened the strings and listened: no sound. I played again. The bawling resumed. I strode outside to verify that nothing was amiss.

Crisp evening air surrounded me. The ducks quacked on the pond. The slanted rays of the sunset illuminated a deer and her two fawns tripping along the fence on the far side of the pasture. The dense outstretched branches of the Austrian pines hedged the farm lane and made a perfect backdrop for the deer. The golden light created a scene worthy of a postcard touting the delights of rural Michigan.

Bunched together, the goats stood in midpasture, watching the deer. The doe goats turned toward me as if to say: "See? We called so you could share in this moment."

Suddenly the deer smelled my presence and bounded into the thicket of pines. I started back to the house, but a plaintive bawl rippled from the pasture. Sensing a damsel in distress, I sprinted over to a wiggling goat.

Lucy, a 7-month-old doe, had thrust her head through the woven wire fence and could not decipher how to extricate herself. Our older does are Houdinis. They can twist their heads, contort their shoulders, and reach through the fence to nibble tempting sumac or pine branches. Lucy was not as experienced, and she was skittish.

Born during maple syrup season, Lucy had not received the lavish attention that other kids had claimed in previous years. When our sons were small, they spent part of each afternoon romping with the goat kids. Kids and kids played tag, jumped on the large rocks in the goat pen, and collapsed in a sunny spot when they needed to catch their breath.

Even as a high school student, Carlos would wander off to the goat pasture in the evening, flop to the ground, and let the kids dance around him as he reflected on the day and his future. Lucy had been given love and care, but had not benefited from that sort of bonding. I had not even managed to buckle her new adult collar around her neck. Now I wished I had, as it would have given me something to grip as she bawled and struggled.

"Help her! Help her!" the other goats bleated. They pulled on my sleeves, my apron, even my hair, and were more of a distraction than a blessing. Their hooves crushed the clover as they huddled next to me.

"Shoo!" I shook off their tugs and placed my hands on Lucy's head, gently turned it and guided her through the narrow opening. Freed, she snorted and galloped toward the barn.

Bells clanged as the other goats zoomed by, bawling as they ran. Were they thanking me, or shouting for Lucy to slow down? I strolled back to the house through the gloaming, relishing the quiet of the barn and the moonrise in the east.

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