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Stone House Diaries: Oh, the Disillusionment!

The honeymoon is over. The bloom is off the rose. The gold has lost its shine.

As heartbreaking as it feels, I suppose, it was inevitable. No matter how many changes are made, sooner or later just about everything returns to its natural state. Take hot water away from heat and it’ll be room temperature in no time. Stop tending the land and it’ll be thick with weeds, thistles, and cedars before you know it. It’s just the way of things.

It’s not like I didn’t see it coming. There were hints. Suggestions. Toes stepped on. Demands instead of requests.  Pushes when nudges would have sufficed. Still, the transformation is startling.

It hurts. Really hurts.

Why on earth did I expect things to turn out otherwise? Why was I so hopeful?

That herd of creatures out at the barn isn’t made up of 32 gentle pets. They’re goats. Goats! Even the kids! Goats! Self-centered, ruthless, thoughtless goats. Meat goats. If you ask me, every one of them should be eaten! Now!

Their true goat natures appeared last week when Adobe, the Grand Old Patriarch Sire decided he wanted the horses’ fresh hay on the other side of the fence. Instead of waiting for me to load his fresh hay into the goats’ feeder as I was preparing to do, he suddenly rammed me, jamming his very long horns under my legs, then  shoved forward until I was squeezed into the welded wire fencing. Then he lifted. Unfortunately for me, not only was I stunned, I was utterly caught, trapped between horn and fence as the butt end of one of the thick wires jammed into my left arm, just below the shoulder, and then carved a fine gash down my arm.

It’s going to leave a scar.

But that was only the insult. The injury, the Real injury, came a few days ago.

It was a late afternoon like any other late afternoon in the Ozarks. The temperature was off kilter, fifteen degrees above normal. Rain in the forecast but there was not a cloud in the sky. Long golden rays of sunshine painted gold hay that is a month early and terribly insincere.

I had prepared everyone-at-the-barn’s supper. Corn chops and dry dog food for the geese. A huge tub of dog food for the Great Pyrenees puppies. A trough full of sweet feed for the dozen kids. A half bucket of 12% for the three horses. A bucket and a half and bale of hay for the 20 adult goats.

As usual, I feed the horses and the geese, then opened the creep door and let the kids pile in to gulp down their grains. As they ate, I hefted the bale of hay over a low fence onto the top of the goat feeder. On top of it, out of reach of the goats, I set their buckets of sweet feed. Then, while they were occupied trying to get their feed, I snuck in the gate. Then, I grabbed the full bucket, raised it out of reach of the goats and began to make my way into their feed area.

That sounds too easy, “began to make my way.” It sounds like I’m walking in uncomfortable shoes. Perhaps, “began to wade through a sea of starving, maniacal, determined goats” would be more accurate. Or to admit that they weren’t the only ones who were pushing. To make any forward progress at all, I had to meet their push with a stronger one, then spin a bit, untangle my feet, and take a step. Then repeat the process to move the other foot. Again. And again. And again.

Only this time…

Instead of just pushing, shoving, even some not-too-hard ramming behind the knees, one goat – and I have no idea which one it was (and, therefore, I condemn them all. The entire species!) — one came up with a brand new idea: knock her down. One second I was trying to reach the gate into the area with three feeders, the next, two cloven hoofs slammed me in the back. My body was jettisoned forward. Into the ocean of goats. The flowing, bleating, ramming, pushing, shoving goats. There was nowhere to go except down. No way to take a step. Piercing the air with a terrified shriek, I began falling, the bucket of feed above my head spilling down and backward. Onto the goats, their horns, their backs. Then the ocean parted and the ground raced to meet me. Unable to let go of the spilling bucket, I hit face first. Right into the waste hay and muck.

The goats, not missing a single beat, clamored on top of me before my body had even settled on the foul ground. Everywhere not already struck numb by the fall pinched and tingled and smarted with the shifting, bouncing, jousting weight of hooves and smack of hard gums against bottom teeth as they scrambled for the sweet feed.

I tried to  pull my arms under me, push myself up, but just as I was making headway, Sharif and Leilah, the two six-month-old very large Great Pyrenees pups came to my rescue, nudging the goats aside just enough to lay on my shoulders, pin me down, and lick my face. My ears. The sweet feed from my hair.

If, at that very moment, the geese had decided to flog me with their wings, the humiliation would have been complete.

Instead, I screamed and kicked and flailed like a crazy woman. I gained control of my right arm and used it to pull goats off my back. I rose, twisted, kicked more and gained my legs. Realizing I was still holding the red feed bucket in my left hand I pitched it as far as I could and fair number of goats followed it.

Then I sat up.

100% crazy woman.

The puppies moved away, suspicious and fearful.

Some of the goats still pushed and shoved, tried to reach the sweet feed tangled in my hair or sliding quickly down my shirt. I pushed back. When that didn’t work, I grabbed horns and dragged the beasts off me. I swung a few punches, landing one squarely on Adobe’s nose. He threatened to ram me, then trotted off.

Shaking and furious, I knelt, then pushed up.

Finally, finally, I was able to stand. And spit out the last bits of hay and grains of muck and strands of hair in my mouth. I looked down. Toes to chest to nose, I was splotchy black with who-know-what. I twisted my arms, pulled out my t-shirt and looked at the sides. Everywhere there were hoof prints. Smears. Little dabs of blood. Skin turning purple. And red. And blue. I ran my fingers through my disheveled ponytail. Amid the hay and sweet feed was a small cut. Nothing to worry about, but it would be a bear to clean.

Only a few goats still lingered near me, nibbling on the feed trapped in the wrinkles and folds in my jeans and sprinkled on the ground. The rest had reassembled by their feeder. As soon as they saw me looking at them, they began bleating. Hollering. Demanding that I serve up the half bucket of feed still resting atop the hay.

I took a few long, slow breaths, then grabbed the bucket and a big switch and headed with fierce determination to the feeding area. This time, the goats raced ahead as usual, bottle-necked at the gate, then slipped in. Before they knew what was happening, I slammed the gate behind them and secured the catch. Then I walked away, bucket in hand, to put the hay in the feeder. “To heck with them,” I thought. “They’ve had enough sweet feed for one day.”

As if the trampling by the big goats wasn’t enough, just yesterday when I went to feed the barn animals, the kids tried to climb me like I was new and interesting tree. In a matter of seconds, my jeans and shirt were spotted with small hoof prints. One of them – and this time, I know who it is – started from quite a distance, then sprung into the air as only running kids can spring into the air – and before I could block the impact, rebounded off of my chest and into the bale of hay I was carrying.

This week has taught me something I once knew and then forgot: Goats are goats are goats are goats are goats!

And most certainly, the thrill is gone!

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Warmest, happiest greetings to Ms. Golda Stout. I so appreciate your readership and your sharing this column. You are why I write. I hope I never disappoint you!

With love and best wishes,