I just came in from the barn where I spent a couple of hours tidying, feeding, brushing, mucking, hauling. I derive so much pleasure in taking care of the animals and making their stalls clean and cozy. Having goats in my life and the time to play with them is a delight. They love it when I roll bales of hay and bags of shavings down the stairs into the tack room. Mama, especially, rears her head and flicks her tail and flaps her big ears at me, an overture to play. Then she stands on her hind legs and feigns to butt me. I pretend to rear up too and dance around which she thinks is pretty funny. Baby, meanwhile does his utmost to rip open the shavings bag. He paws and tears at it with his scurs then looks to me for a scolding. He jumps onto the unopened bales of hay and stands there, so proud he can now accomplish being up so high. Until now, the meningeal worm infection had prevented him jumping on things, his rear legs were just too weak and his balance not great. Standing on the hay bale is a “trick” he does. He is rewarded by a nice grooming with a soft brush.
I think the goats like the sound their neat hooves make when they clop along on wood. When I take them for walks in the forest, they spend an inordinate amount of time on the bridge, walking and trotting back and forth, stopping to look down at the water below. In the grain room, which has no shavings on the floor, they rear at each other and pretend to butt heads. They land at exactly the same time making a bright, percussive sound with their four hooves. I stop my work and watch the dance which may last for several minutes. Recently I put down some sand and then laid a walkway of boards across the muddy paddock so that I could push the wheelbarrow more easily. The goats love to pace this little boardwalk, I think they like the sound. I hear their hoof falls even when I am working a little way off in the garden. My ambition is to enlarge their paddock next year and make some more climbing things for them. When I leave after morning or evening chores, they bawl and carry on, calling to me to come back! This nearly breaks my heart. If baby could sleep in bed with me, he happily would.
It has been snowing since early morning. The temperature hovers around freezing and there is no wind. The flakes are big and coming down steadily. The day holds the softness and silence of the first real snow. The world holds its breath. It seems fitting that today, after I filled the goat stall with a deep bed of hay, and the common stall with fresh shavings, cleaned the water barrel and lugged bucket after bucket of fresh, warm water (this is the first day that the hose has frozen solid and so the water carrying begins), piled soft hay around the perimeter of both stalls, it seems fitting that today, which feels very solstice-like, was the day that the goats discovered that they love peppermint candy!
Of course William the pony is an old hand in the business of peppermint love. His ears perk at the sound of the plastic wrapper crinkling when I unwrap a piece. Even if he doesn’t want to get caught and brushed, he cannot resist the temptation of a peppermint. I enjoy his enjoyment and sound of the hard candy shattering between his molars, each time I feed him one, I remember what our big warmblood mare, Panga would do with peppermint: she would suck on it the way a person might, and stick her tongue out of her mouth just a little bit as she sucked. This is the time of the year when one wants to feed peppermints and carrots to the barn creatures, leave small treats out for the barn mice next to a saucer of warm water, hang cranberry strings in the woods for the squirrels and birds. Trickle bird seed down a chipmunk hole.
I came in for lunch but will go back out soon into the woods and see what it feels like there. The beaver families should be safely ensconced in their lodges, I know that they have been busy cutting saplings and storing food. It has been a halcyon year for beech nuts and acorns, fattening the bears, chipmunks, turkeys, grouse and deer. The bluejays have never looked so sleek and plump. Fallen logs in the forest are covered with tiny sit sites marked by semicircular piles of nutshell fragments. I look out at the world from my own fire- warmed kitchen; some smallish, fox sized animal had just caught my eye as it disappeared around the corner of the barn. I watch my neighbor’s daughter Amber, glide off on skis across their field. She is accompanied by two tail wagging dogs.
As winter approaches I take note of how my own world contracts. I stay mostly in the stove warmed kitchen now, and must put on a coat in order to play the piano in the living room. My bed is piled with extra blankets and I keep my socks on as I crawl in to sleep. I keep a pot of water with fresh sage and orange peel on the wood stove and cook thick root and bean filled soups and stews. My old cat Clover sleeps the end of her life away in the chair by the fire that is hers. I wonder what she dreams and think of her lucky life. With me for 20 years now, she has never missed a meal.
In mid December, we ( the animals and I) enter a hibernation of sorts. The border between outside and inside hardens. Boots must be warmed, mittens dried, one cannot dash out on a whim. Beds must be deep, clean and warm. I keep a close eye on the woodpile, figure the weeks and months, light the other stove in the main part of the house only on special occasions. The world outside hides its secrets in hollow trees and stone walls beneath a blanket of snow. Grouse make snow caves.
So out I go on the day’s woodland adventure. The world is mostly white now, no longer showing glimpses of purply brown and green, each and every twig and branch is edged in white, still-standing sunflowers wear peaked snow caps, the mountain on the other side of Fuller brook is obscured by a curtain of white. The snow is coming down hard.