Author: Cornish, Rick


Good morning from Whiskey Creek, where everyone…the humans, the dogs, the llamas, the one cat and especially every tree, bush, shrub and blade of grass, is waking up with the exuberance and hopefulness of a child on Christmas morning because, you see, we’ve all been told there will be rain today. Some of us, Lynn and I for example, have a depth of appreciation for just what this will mean if it’s true, but all of us, right down to the blade of grass, knows, at least at an intuitive level, just how critically important having the first weather front of the season move through will be. It’s been a dry, dry, dry year at Whiskey Creek.

Years ago, I’d have included our goats and sheep in telling of the “extended family’s” excitement this morning. (One of our goats especially, Joe the Goat, loved the rain and actually seemed able to predict storms a couple days before they came in…he would get into a frisky mood and start butting everyone and everything in sight just for the fun of it.) But six years ago, in a matter of less than eight months, my wife and I lost our two boar goats, our two sheep and a third, “replacement” goat, a pygmy name Jerry, to predators. This seemed odd to us at the time…still does…because we’d had the collection of llamas and goats and sheep for six years without anybody being eaten. Then, all of a sudden...

Well, that was the end of goats and sheep for us. Lynn and I decided that if we couldn’t guarantee the safety of the animals we adopted then we didn’t deserve to have them. We added three more llamas to the herd, (predators leave llamas alone because they’re very large and very well known for the ferocity of their kicks) and swore off smaller livestock all together. But then a couple years later I came up with an idea; I could build a safe and secure structure in which a goat or two could sleep each night. It would be warm and dry and lion-proof and we could go back to being goat owners, which, if you’ve ever been one, is a pretty exciting prospect. Lynn, who missed the goats, especially Joe the Goat, as much as I did, immediately took to the idea and we were well along the planning phase of the safe-house-for-goats project when the whole scheme tumbled like a house of cards. Tumbled because, after days of contention and bitter debate, we realized that neither of us could talk the other party into being responsible for the stowing and securing of the goats each night. Considering the long walk to and from the pasture, up and down muddy and slick pathways, the terrible winter cold we have here in the mountains, the perfect blackness of moonless nights, and not the least of which the fact that, if they were hungry enough, the predators who took Joe and Ted and Alice and Ramona and finally Jerry the replacement goat during that awful six months might decide we looked just as tasty, the plan was dropped.

But then, three months ago, a serendipitous occurrence brought the prospect of goat replacement back into focus, albeit in a most circuitous manner. Ron Cotman, a good music friend of mine, and I were having lunch downtown one day and, as was often the case, he was describing in great detail the project he was working on down at Stage Three, a local theater troupe for whom he designs and then builds sets. The play, a Streetcar Named Desire, had Blanche Dubois going up and gown and up and down a spiral staircase to and from her loft in the Kowalski apartment. Ron explained that an avid Stage Three supporter and volunteer, who just happened to run the wrought iron works here in town, had generously constructed a spiral staircase for the production; aside from the fact that it was two feet short of a full-sized, two-story conveyance, the staircase was built to code.

“Don’t know what he’ll do with it once Streetcar winds up,” said my friend, “it’s two feet too short to be of any practical use.”

Ah, but there he was wrong. What if, my mind bolted into action right there at Armando’s taco truck, I was to buy that damned spiral staircase, install it off my deck and down to the pasture below, buy a goat(s) and train it(them) to scurry up the stairs each night, and then build the protective sleeping enclosure, left over from the last scheme I’d hatched, on the deck where tucking them in each night would be transformed from a cold, shivering nightmare into a sweet, tender experience? What if?

So that’s just what I’ve done. Or mostly. The staircase was procured…a modest thousand dollars, which, when you think about it, is a mere pittance when you’re talking getting to have a goat(s) again…it’s been installed…at no small risk to life and limb, (try coaxing a thousand pound-plus tangle of iron into precise place with the help of one friend, (albeit an excellent one named Billy Schneiderman), and a wench)…and I’m now mostly finished building the landing required to step off the deck and onto the stairs. If you’d like to see a photograph of the installation mid-way through, click here..

I know, I know, it seems like a lot of time and effort and expense in order to simply have a goat living in one’s pasture. It’s really not like they’re good for much. But try owning a goat for a while, spend time with him, get to be friends, and I think you’ll understand why this whole spiral staircase thing happened. Don’t have a space for keeping a goat? Okay, try reading this Welcome column I wrote six years ago about Joe the Goat and see if you don’t understand. (So sad, I posted the story right here less than a month before Joe was gobbled up by a big cat.)

Joe the Goat, 1996

This is the story of Joe the Goat and how he helped me reevaluate the rhythm of my daily life. The story begins this past summer, the very Saturday morning I was to leave for Grass Valley and our 32nd annual Fathers Day Festival. It so happens that one entire wall of our shower is a large window looking out onto our yard and, beyond that, our fenced pasture. While lathering up I happened to glance out the window and saw that the larger of our two Boar goats, Joe, was on the wrong side of the pasture fence and was snacking on some blood red roses in the garden. I banged furiously on the window. “NO, NO, NO!” I yelled. Joe glanced nonchalantly in my direction and then went to work on yet another rose bush.

Let me stop here briefly for a word about Joe the Goat. We acquired Joe, (Lynn calls him Joey), and Ted, the other Boar, about five years ago from a goat breeder in Mountain Ranch. The two goats were roughly the same size and had nearly the same markings, but Joe was raised by the rancher’s young daughter for a 4-H project and was treated pretty much as a household pet. Bottle-fed, taken on walks, allowed to sleep at the foot of the girl’s bed. Which is all to say that Joe the Goat behaved, (and we suspect, thought of himself), more as a dog than a goat. And though Joe is certainly not as intelligent as a dog, he’s light years smarter than Ted, and the llamas and sheep for that matter.

Not bothering to even dry off, I leapt out of the shower, threw on some shorts and flip flops and ran out into the yard in the hopes of saving at least a few of the roses. Grabbing Joe by his two huge horns, I tried steering him away from the bushes, all the while being careful not to let him gore me. Keep in mind that Boar goats, in the industry known as ‘meat goats’ get to be about 250 pounds….Rick-sized, you could say. Reluctantly Joe allowed me to lead him the 20 yards or so to the pasture gate and, once there, to reunite him with his five colleagues, all of whom by now were watching with anxious curiosity. (Anxious, because pasture animals tend to look out for one another.)

Upon returning to the house I discovered that Lynn had been watching the whole show.

“Change in plans, I presume,” my wife said, rather than ask.

“What do you mean,” I knew exactly what she meant.

“Only that before you can leave for Grass Valley you’ve got to figure out where that goat got out and make sure he doesn’t do it again. Rick, you’re going to be gone for nine days and we can’t have Joey getting out. It’s bad enough he’s eaten our own landscaping. What happens when he spots our neighbors rhododendrons?”

Of course she was right, but for three months I’d planned on being on the road by 8:00 a.m. Damned goat.

Instead I left by noon. It took me an hour just to locate the breach, or at least what I thought was the breach. It looked like Joe had rubbed up against a section of the fence in order to scratch himself (there was matted hair on the grids) so many times that he’d bulged the fence out and, hence, had lifted it off the ground enough to somehow crawl under. It took a while to get the fence pulled back into shape, and then to drive twelve-inch nails into the ground to keep it firmly held down. While I worked five of the animals crowded around to watch. Joe, however, was at the other end of the pasture munching grass….indifferently, I imagined.

My wife’s not much of a camper, so our tradition is that she joins me at the festival on Wednesday or Thursday and leaves on Saturday. The very first words out of Lynn’s mouth when she arrived at our encampment at the festival Wednesday afternoon were, “Joey got out yesterday.”

“How? Where?”

“I don’t know,” she said a bit coolly, “I looked and looked and couldn’t find where he got out.” (You see, house cleaning and washing clothes and the like are Lynn’s job; my job includes things like making certain that fences do what they’re supposed to do.)

“So what did you do.”

“I led him back into the pasture. He was in the pasture when I left this morning. Where he’ll be when I return on Saturday is anyone’s guess.”

Joe the Goat was with the other animals in the pasture when Lynn arrived back home on Saturday. (She did have a voice message from a neighbor, however, complaining about our run away goat. Apparently Joe was coming and going as he pleased.) I got home from Grass Valley two days later, and after a day of resting up, I did another thorough inspection of the two and a half acre fence and found the spot where the Boar had escaped. This time he went over. I fixed the problem.

Several weeks went by before, again one morning, mid way through my shower, I spotted Joe the Goat headed toward the neighbor’s property. This time, however, I was off to an important meeting in Stockton and just barely had enough time to wrestle him, dressed in a sport coat and tie and swearing every step of the way, back to the pasture.

By the end of summer this goat-out-of-pasture thing had become a sort of Clash of the Titans. No, a duel of wits. It seemed that each time I found and fixed a breach in the fence (and this is a LONG fence) the goat would find a new escape route. And he’d invariably do it when it was most inconvenient…..the day I had a deadline…..a board meeting day…...a day company was coming over. Joey just seemed to know when to strike, and somehow he always had the upper hand. Sure, I was way, way smarter than him, but he knew the pasture and the fence that surrounds it like the back of his hoof (and don’t forget, Joey was led to believe he was a canine from birth). Of course, I had tools and technology on my side, but he had unlimited time. I was into a thousand different projects, had hundreds of different deadlines and scores of responsibilities; he spent, or at least I imagined he spent, his entire day planning his next break out. Sort of like Steve McQueen in the “Great Escape”, time was on his side. And maybe most important, Joe the Goat was flexible, which is to say he could make his move whenever and wherever he wanted. I was bound up by commitments—two days per week at my office in Stockton, CBA stuff, and, of course the never ending web site work, especially the daily deadlines.

And that’s when it hit me. To beat the goat I needed a more flexible schedule, one that would allow me to react immediately. I told my staff in Stockton that I would decide what days I’d come in each week on the fly; I started recruiting Welcome columnists to significantly ease my daily deadlines; and finally, today, I’ve gotten out from under the Almost Daily News column.

No, Joe the Goat has not yet been beaten. He was out yesterday. But once I spell check this Welcome column I’ll be out there scouring every inch of that pasture fence. I shall prevail.

Posted:  11/19/2013

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