I have pretty good hearing, so when I’m at home, which is still most of the time, I listen to the sounds of the neighborhood. They are pretty standard, mostly: people who mow lawns and run sprinklers and ride bikes and one person who I think has been on the same cellphone call for the last three years. We’ve got chickadees, blue jays, cardinals and a woodpecker that keeps looking for food in the wooden part of our basketball hoop. This week one of the neighbor dogs got a squeeze toy and played with it for about an hour straight. He was in heaven, squishing that thing over and over. I’ve heard a few late night dust-ups between cats and once or twice the howl of a coyote way off in the distance, but by and large these are sounds you’d expect to hear.
I did not expect to hear goats bleating in my neighborhood, which is, after all, in a city of a quarter million or so people. But there they were! I could hear them.
“They’re at the conservation area,” my wife said, solving the mystery. When the conservation area has too many weeds, they call a farmer who brings over 30 or 40 goats. They hang out for a few weeks and eat whatever they like, which, honestly, there are worse summer vacations to have.
People in the neighborhood like to walk over to see what the goats are up to, and my crew is no exception. The goats all bunch up along one side of the fenced-in area, and the people bunch in on the other. When we were there a lady walked over to us and asked, “So, have you tried touching it?” She was pointing not at a goat but at the white fencing. The fencing that has a sign on it that says “ELECTRIC FENCE – DO NOT TOUCH.” She was convinced it wasn’t really electrified, because why would they put an electric fence where people could just touch it? “I’m a skeptic about everything,” I said, “but when the sign says ‘ELECTRIC FENCE’ I take their word for it.”
Please take my word for it that if you have the choice between showing your kid(s) a massive blockbuster movie that cost $300 million and having them stare at a goat eating weeds somewhere, choose the goat. They’re sassy in just the right way and I could hang out with them all day long. Actually, I have a few times. Back in New Hampshire there was a working goat farm you could visit; you could pick up goat milk soap in the shop and then go out back, put a quarter in a little machine and feed the animals through the (non-electric) fence. The owners were super friendly people and listened to the station where I worked, so we got to be friends. They let us come into the barn a few times to see the goats up close, and once we happened to show up during a weekend where the mama goats were having their kids, and we got to feed them.
If goats are the best, newborn baby goats are the best of the best, the most adorable things in the whole world. They’re like the size of large stuffed animals and they’re cartoon character-level cute as they try to walk around on their stick legs and knobbly knees. They nibble on your hands but since they don’t really have teeth yet it’s sweet instead of painful.
One of the goat farmers handed me a kind of modified soda bottle with the nipple from a human baby bottle on the top, and sent me toward a tiny-eared white goat that was derping around the barn. “He’ll know what to do,” he told me, which was reassuring because I definitely didn’t know what I was doing. The goat scarfed the bottle down fast, only pausing to try yanking the thing out of my hand, and then somehow got excited and walked up a flight of stairs from the barn to the shop door. I could have just carried it back down, but it was so little you could see the goat milk sloshing around on its underside and I didn’t think grabbing that would work out well for either of us. I think I just sort of nudged it back down each step.
The goat farm had a few other animals around, including a friendly pot-bellied pig named Fern, some indifferent chickens and a flock of actively hostile guinea hens. They did not like visitors and wanted them to leave. One time I was taking photos of the goats when the guinea hens started advancing on us. My wife was pregnant with our oldest kid at the time, so I and my camera jumped in front of her and… that was my whole plan really. I had no experience using Nikon cameras to defend against angry guinea hens. Do you just, like, shoot a bunch of pictures and post them on Twitter and hope it ruins their reputations, like a Karen at a shopping mall? Actually we ended up getting rescued; one of the farmers came out of the barn banging a giant bucket, and roaring at the birds to “cut this shit OUT! Right NOW!”
Up until this we were thinking semi-seriously about having a hobby farm of our own, raising goats, chickens and maybe some rabbits, but I didn’t much like the idea of getting attacked by my own animals. Or, for that matter, getting up early to clean their coops and stalls and cages. Other people’s animals would be good enough for me.
And, of course, wildlife. We haven’t seen them much this year, but most years we have a couple families of turkeys that live nearby, and at dawn and dusk they like to pop by our front yard and scare themselves. Once two of them managed to fly up into our big oak tree, and then they couldn’t figure out how to get down for ages. Finally, it must’ve clicked: oh, I’m a bird, and they stretched their wings and got themselves back down to the ground with the others. They strutted out into the road, gathering up their group, and when they got to the wooded area, they launched themselves, one by one, into the air. It was like watching a fleet of ships from Star Wars go into hyperspace, only with more gobble gobble noises.