Monday, December 26, 2011

About that cry...

Happy Jack in the middle of Jills
I've been calling the sound that Jack makes a cry. This is really an oversimplification ignoring the drama of the symphony he embodies. When he first starts out there is a small quality of a plaintive little cry. "maaaa..." Like that. But then he opens up his throat and he pulls from deep inside. What comes out is a bellow. A bellow that powers through cry, adds in trumpet, accelerates into wailing and releases retching. Raw. Add running around to that 'cry' and you have a small sense of the urgency and power. I've also noticed that his scent range has expanded. It's like an invisible substance. I now have a set of clothing just for visiting buck-land. It is simply not possible to go out to visit and not be marked by him. Frannie tells me that the only soap to really get the scent out is that which is made from goats milk. How lucky am I that my friend Cindy makes goat milk soap for her Hyampom Valley Soap Company?

Eric continues to plow through trail building for all mountain riding. I love going out to see him take the jumps and bend around berms. The dogs like to take the trails too. They have not quite learned to stay off when Eric is on full acceleration down hill. My job is to keep them nearby and position myself for that perfect midair shot. Some of the best positions require me to lay down in the duff. Keebo sees this as an invitation for up close and personal. I have a few blur-fur shots and a small case of poison oak.

Friday, December 23, 2011

There are some things you just do not photograph.

SO...Tinkerbelle is finding her way into the garden with Jack. That has become that status quo for now. I check on the herd a few times a day in the course of everything else I do. I walk out into the forest to see how the latest Tree House Trail (my name) or Hoe Chi Man Trail (Eric's name coming from the breaking of a hoe as he used his chi-vital energy- man energy to build it)  has progressed. Lots of poison oak on this path. That will be fun come summer. I have a tiny patch of it on my wrist even now. It's cold in the forest and I have not dressed with enough layers. I walk out in the meadow to get warm.  Standing in the middle of the sunshine there is silence, so different from the world where everyone is plugged in or driving. The goats are in their favorite sunlit spot on a small knoll outside the chicken coop. They come running over when they see me walking around in the dried mounds of grass, winding my way towards them through paths the deer have made. In an otherwise frozen day the sunlight in the meadow feels good. Everyone is here except Tinkerbelle and Jack. I love scratching their faces, the soft thick winter fur around their necks. Goats are lovely.

When I check on the goats later Flora is in with Tinkerbelle and Jack. Hmmm. This is promising. Last year she did not get pregnant when she went to stay with Mr. Sparky. Didn't happen in a two month stay. This is looking good. Surprising, but understandable, when I put the girls back in their barn for the night Captain Jack runs wildly around the garden crying. He'd actually settled down once Tinkerbelle had joined him. But here he is all a-twitter once again. Even alfalfa does not lure him quickly to the coop. Enlightenment begins to dawn in my brain. Those pheromones are crazy strong drivers of behavior. I go after him, calling his name, calling in goat language, and then I get close enough to him to take him by the collar and lead him towards the coop. he does run willingly once I get him going in that direction. A brief resistance and call out before he jumps into the coop and then he settles in for a nosh on alfalfa. Phew.

This morning I put Flora in with the Captain and Tinkerbelle. Right? Commotion at 8:30 am brought me out to the garden. Duke is running the fence line. Keebo is sitting and howling. The chickens are running after Jack who is running after Flora who is in and out of the lilacs as Jack paws at her, crying loudly. OK. Here is the show.

I call Duke and he sits at my side. This reduces the dog component of frenzy. Still, we watch chickens and goats in this mating dance. Flora finally comes to a place where she is stuck against the fence in a corner. I won't say that she is wiling, no, not that. She is caught and perhaps surrendered. Of course it is a funny human thing to project onto animals so I can't say anything definitive about their dance. I note the time and date on the calender so five months from now I'll be on top of paying attention.

Everyone settles down, returning to the nibbling of leaves, pecking at dirt, finding sunshine to soak up.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

Free Ride Mountain Bike Trails

When my son Eric was three years old he got onto a bicycle and rode. No training wheels, no one holding him or the bike. He got on and rode around the street where we lived at the time. He has been riding ever since. For a time his passion went into motorcycle off road rides. Now he finds this area full of prime free ride mountain bike trails. How fortunate we live in the wilderness where riding in this way is easy and spectacular. I went into the forest with Eric yesterday to help groom some of the trails we normally walk on to create some special bike routes. He raked and shoveled dirt creating berms and jumps. He carefully clipped branches  out of the way. I raked leaves, took pictures and wandered off finding mushrooms and oddities in the madrone trees overhead. He worked all day on two different trails. A long hike together took us up and over and around all kinds of terrain. We threw rocks, sticks and branches out of the path. Arriving at the lookout spot a mile and a half from our house never fails to inspire. Out there, buried in the middle of the heavy forest is where we make our home under the shadow of the longest ridge line that remains a constant elevation. A week ago Eric and I found ourselves on top of that ridge driving along the road that runs the length of it. It was a daring move at this time of year when there is snow on top. But it has been unusually dry for many weeks with warmish days. We thought maybe we could make it over the top and wind down into the valley, a short cut in the summer from our trip to the coast. The most spectacular sunset colored our drive over snow drifts around icy corners and past the only road which could have been our destination down the other side. It was snowed in. This long ridge line was once a gathering spot for indiginous peoples long ago. They called it the race track. From one direction you can see into the Trinity Alps. Ridge line after ridge line of snow covered peaks. In the other direction we watched sunset colors play on the ocean. At one point we wondered if we would be spending the night up here in this remotest of all places. Thankfully we made it out and settled on the road to watch the rest of the blood orange and red sky. The hues took their sweet time fading. They held the sky for over an hour as we wandered. We made our way back to the main raod where we took another two hours to get home. If that road had not been snowed in we would have been home in half an hour. We travel very long distances out here to get anywhere.

Friday, December 16, 2011


Crack of Dawn has me out in full gear. Hat, scarf, two sweaters, down vest, canvas overcoat, two pants layers, boots, gloves. Gray light in a frozen world. Captain Jack is standing. The chickens are still on their roosting poles. Silence is broken as roosters crow and Jack begins to call immediately, running around the garden looking for his love.
Tinkerbelle is at the door, her head hanging through the hole she pushed into the chicken wire yesterday. I push her head back inside to open the door. The herd runs out, not immediately interested in Jack who has not quite figured out where everyone else lives. I have some moments of relief when Tinkerbelle comes to eat alfalfa and lick at the salt. Maybe the craze of heat is over for her and I can relax. Maybe. I leave Jack alone on one side of the fence and let the rest of the herd eat. I watch for a time then go inside to have a cup of chai and write before the sun comes out.
Luna on the outside.
This will be the rhythm of the days with Jack. Vigilant watchfulness. I return to the pen after a scant hour. Luna is outside the pen. Luna was born this last february, the daughter of Latifa. I found her outside the pen last night when I went to close everyone up for the evening. I do not know how she is doing this. No doubt about it, having a buck around is creating havoc with the herd. Randomness and chaos. I still cling to some hope that Tinkerbelle has lost the ardent fever. She really is the sweetest of all the does. I have thought if she had a kid it would be the easiest to be around. All of my does are friendly, but Tinkerbelle stands out.

Everyone has eaten. Jack is on the far side of the fence calling, pacing, stepping up onto the fencing. Is it possible he will push it down? After leading Luna to the inside of the fencing I find she has crawled under the gate leading to the garden. I find this only because Mr. Peanut and Mocha have their heads underneath this gate trying to follow in Luna's path. I can just hear her. "Hey guys, it's easy! Just wiggle underneath." They hadn't figured this out before Jack was on the scene.  I am thankful Luna is the smallest and the others can't  follow her. More kluging of boards and this escape route is blocked. I put Latifa and Flora in with Jack. He follows them with the ardor he feels for Tinkerbelle, hoping. They'll have nothing to do with him. Bobbie tells me that goat heat cycles often go with the full moon, 6 days ago. This means I'll have Jack through January. Oh joy. Bobbie tells me he is going out of rut and his scent is not as strong as when he is in full rut. "He'll make your eyes water," she says. I tell my son Eric. "My eyes water now. His smell is revolting," he says.

I take my position watching the fence line for a while. Jack and Tinkerbelle are crazy for each other. I am probably making a colossal mistake by leaving Tinkerbelle with only a six foot fence between her and Jack. I must have some insanity in my hope that I will not have to lock her up in the goat barn. But maybe for the sake of both of them (and myself) I will end up doing that. I suspect that my ignorance in the matters of Buck are grand. I will paraphrase from My Fair Lady: "Let a buck in your life and your serenity is through." But life is not dull.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Captain Jack Show

Captain Jack
It is barely light at seven in the morning. I mentioned Captain Jacks perfume. You've been in a room where someone heavily dosed leaves a scent trail? Jacks' trail is an invisible cloak that radiates around two hundred feet, spherically. Yep. You smell him long before you ever see him. I walk into a scent wall as I turn a corner from the house. Quite literally I do not smell him one second and then his fragrance is a cloud which envelopes all. I make my way out to the chicken coop where the roosters (yes, I discover now, this day, that there are two singing in a dissonant manner) announce daylight. I open the coop door and Jack comes out and immediately begins to sing, calling in his hoarse voice. All of the chickens lived without incident with Jack last night. Phew.

Onward to the goat barn. Tinkerbelle at the door, the first one out, running to the fencing where Jack is pawing at the ground underneath the wiring. The other goats show little interest in Jack. Tinkerbelle is at the fence with Jack who is licking at her through the fencing. Much goat posturing amongst the rest of the herd. Head butting. The herd reunited has its ways of establishing who is who.  Tinkerbelle and Jack are outside of this pecking order, off in their own world. I usher Mocha and FLora into Jacks world, hoping they'll get happy. It might be a while since heat cycles are 18 days apart. Oh dear....

Mocha and Flora
I had spent sometime before releasing the herd with careful placement of cedar posts along the bottom of the fencing in places that looked like someone might be able to crawl underneath. I did not really think this would happen but when Jack got down on his side and put his entire head and shoulders under the fencing in a place where it seemed unlikely he would make it through...with all signs of making it through...I ran around and placed more cedar posts. I also barricaded a gate that only stood four feet high lest Jack jump over and find ways into the other pen.

It might be sweet that Jack and Tinkerbelle have such a strong natural affection for one another. But it is not OK for Tinkerbelle to get pregnant. I find I do not trust the fencing even with all the safety precautions I have put in place. Rutting is a FORCE of nature. I put Tinkerbelle inside the goat barn with ample food and water, barricaded. It is the best I can do. If Jack and Tinkerbelle manage to make something happen....

Every once in a while I long for a life where there is cement everywhere and my shoes never really get dirty. To go out into the world and wear clothing that is cute and not durable. To smell like a woman and not a male goat. To have a latte in a coffee shop with my laptop open and chic people parading through. It is a dream life of ease.

But the out of the every day quality of the wilderness keeps me riveted in place.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

oh for the love of goats

When Thaddeus e-mailed and suggested that he bring Captain Jack over with Flora and Mocha I sat at the keyboard for a long time. The does are up at his place because I was not sure I could handle having a buck at my place. I've heard stories. Had a few experiences. Not really feeling like I would like to have any stories or experiences just now thank you.

But I have just talked to my dearest friend, my adopted mother, Frannie. She is going through chemo treatments and wants goat milk. From me. Frannie has become dedicated to her health in a remarkable and loving way. How can I say no to her request?

I want to say no to Thaddeus. Ask him to please drop my does off and take Captain Jack back to Bobbie's herd.

When the red truck pulls into the driveway I know it is Thaddeus. The smell of Jack wafts from the rear of the covered bed. "Maaaahhhaaa. Maaaaa," accompanies thumps and bumps. The four goats I have in the fenced garden come running over, curious.

Thus begins an adventure, a story. Buck plus does equals story. Period.

My clothes have the slightest perfume, unmistakeable, as vital as skunk. Love it or hate it. My son Eric will not come near it. Too much. I like it. So does Tinkerbelle. The one doe who should not be bred. She is hot for Captain Jack. Hot in the worst way. She's been calling for him for days now. Calling herself hoarse. I have read of does that can call every 30 seconds and then some for the days they are in heat.

Tinkerbelle peeks from the back.
I perch at the top of the garden where I have a view of the two side by side pens. Captain Jack, Mocha and Flora are on one side, the side surrounded by eight foot fencing. Tinkerbelle, Latifa, Luna and Mr. Peanut roam the other side of the fencing to sniff at the returned does and their escort, the Captain. Jack greets the others. Tinkerbelle goes wild. Her head comes through the fencing to be on the same side as Jack. Jack wildly nibbles her face, neck, ears and she is into it. They are rubbing up against each other, eager, clearly happy to be with each other. Not one single question about what goat love looks like. I had wondered when Thaddeus reported that the girls were just not into Jack, that he had to go to Oregon, that Jack and my girls had a go no go decision to make.

I had hoped Thaddeus was wrong and that somehow they had connected goaty style while they were up at his place. But in the presence of such obvious ardor exhibited by Tinkerbelle and Captain Jack I know they have not. Frannie wants milk therefore Captain Jack is here to stay for a visit.

I watched the proceedings along the fence line for a while. I watched convincing myself that this was one side and that was another. That there would be no co mingling of goats across the fence apart from the harmless necking. I had to admit to a friend that I really hoped they could manage no more than necking through a fence. You see, I've heard stories. I came inside to watch the storm clouds glide into the sky after ten days of clear blue sky and a frozen pond. Where would Jack sleep? Who would he sleep with? I thought Flora and Mocha would be with him. Sleep under the covered area in the chicken coop, a small highly fenced place within the larger garden. Yes, that's it. There is an area that stays dry. It is not optimal. But the dogs do patrol at night. Of course I have heard that some trouble bears have been released in the area. Bear that have come from the national parks where people feed them and they know the things human offer are  food. Normally in this wild where I live there are not bear troubles of a large nature. The usual nature. Like the year we lost two sheep to bear. Had two old dogs that year. But I have one very vigorous dog and another good dog. I've had no bear troubles. I hope Jack will be safe.

Dark falls rapidly near the solstice. By five it is dark. At 4:15 I go out to the garden to see how things are going. It takes me a while to find the goats. Chickens are active, around. But the goats are not in the larger garden. All manner of thought begins to pluck at my mind. I am fractions of a second from letting those thoughts run away with me and then I see the goats crowded into the smaller chicken enclosure. The door has swung shut somehow. Relief. This side of the fencing. The other four have travelled the fence line and are on the far side of the chicken coop, nearby. I step into the chicken enclosure. I wear boots at all times this time of year. Frozen muddy chicken yard is one thing to walk on. When the day warms and the muck thaws...yucky mucky. Sucky.

Fearless of muck I step into the coop. I look to the end where my darlings are doing their work munching overgrown blackberry vines. So smart to find the worst place in the garden from my point of view as gardner, the place with the most blackberry. Pleased, I start towards them. Mocha and Flora come running towards me, to the open gate and into the rest of the garden. I look into the blackberry thicket and there stands Captain Jack, his true love by his side. Tinkerbelle, tail wagging, nipping at his neck as he nips back at hers. Are they in post-coital bliss? I fear this to be true. If the violence of their initial head contact is any indication, then they are a happy couple. They stand next to one another, side by side, touching along the length of their bodies.
There is nothing to be done at this point. If Tinkerbelle has managed to get herself over (?) or under (?) the fencing, somehow materializing on the side of Captain Jack and they have done the deed...well...I will figure out how to participate in the next part of the story.
Of all the does, all five, that live here at Quail Meadows, it is Tinkerbelle and Tinkerbelle alone that should not be bred. She was run over by a truck when she was a kid, a few months old. Her pelvis was broken. She was cared for by Bobbie with such TLC that she in the friendliest goat that lives here. Bobbie made me promise I would not get her pregnant since we do not know if she can get pregnant, carry a baby safely or deliver at all. So that's how it is.
I separate Captain Jack from the rest of the herd. He stays in the chicken coop, locked up with the hens for tonight, happy for the moment with a leaf of alfalfa. This can't last long, there are many problems associated with this method of buck care. Like I said, I'm in the midst of a story and I wasn't sure I wanted one. But who am I to control any of this wild ride called life?
Tinkerbelle called to Jack, Jack to her or the world, as I led Tink to the goat barn. Everyone settled down into the deepening darkness of the darkest days of the year. Sleep will take us all and lay to rest anything of worry, at least for a few hours. Tomorrow is another day...will I be able to keep the love goats apart?? Will I find out just how Tinkerbelle is finding her way into the garden enclosure? Will anyone else figure out how to be with Captain Jack? Will the two does that I really wish to breed ever care for him as Tinkerbelle does? Stay tuned. Can I stand the tension? Can you?