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October 27th, 2009

The Impractical Swoon

For my own sanity, I managed to avoid the annualSheep and Wool festival in Rhinebeck last weekend, a sort of season’s end celebration of all things ruminant.  Not only because the fleecy crowds – hand-made and self aware from head to hoof – have begun to overwhelm the grounds, but for fear of falling in love.

Last year I fell so hard for a couple of sweet, Nubian goats that before any practical deliberation could set in, two anxiously bleating kids were on board, and the no-nonsense 4H girls were stocking the truck with bags of feed and formula.


The Salon de Chévre, complete with Empire sofa and edible art. A goatherd I’m not, although I did marry Heidi, dirndl and all.

In my impractical swoon, I built a sort of goat salonin the potting shed, complete with a bucolic Hudson River landscape and a red velvet Empire sofa. The four-by-eight-foot painting had hung in a local grange hall in the 1950s, and the sofa had graced someone’s fashionable front parlor for more than a century.

All these flourishes were lost on the goats, of course. They proceeded to eat half the painting. Only the savory bits, though: the barn and its bales of sweet hay, three outbuildings, the orchard, and an entire cornfield. They had a taste for bad art on good canvas, and had no trouble tearing it off in long, tongue-fluttered strips.

The velvet Empire sofa suffered its own fate; soiled by the constant, anxious incontinence of the goats, it went from velvet to vile in a matter of days.  And because I adopted them on impulse, I had no enclosed pasture for them to graze. I kept them tethered on a 100-foot lead, which they’d tangle around trees until they were snug up against them like tether balls against a post. The concept of counter-clockwise seemed to elude them.

But still I was smitten. I bought a subscription to Dairy Goat Journal. I bottle fed them daily (did I mention they weren’t weaned?!), I took portraits, intrigued by their strange devil eyes –  as oblong as mail slots. But before the week was out, so were they.

I clearly wasn’t ready for ruminants, and I thought of them more as farm props than responsibilities, and so sheepishly (goatishly?) brought them back to their rightful owners.

It seems no matter how well we measure our decisions, we’re always open to acts of ridiculous, blundering folly.

There were moments in the endless rain and blight this season where the idea of farming itself seemed like an act of Folly more than an act of God (it’s easier to shake a fist at God, after all, than yourself). At times, it was as though I was toiling in a medieval Bruegel painting, when what I’d imagined was Cézanne (now those are canvases I could eat!). But I’m coming through, humbled and wiser, planning for a season of plenty next year. Fool that I am.  -Mb


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