First Snow

The barn is a big, rambling, rangy place of many doors and rooms, salvaged beams and planks jerry built onto an old stone foundation sunk against a hill. The barn swallow nests are empty now but the mice have moved in and a skunk lives under the floor upstairs. A wild rabbit sleeps in the hayloft. One can follow her neat snow path which leads under the door. When I brush her dry, marbley droppings off of the bales, they hit strings salvaged from an old piano. It sounds like the angels are playing their harps. In the late morning, if the day is clear, the sun pours into the stall and warms the paddock.

Mama goat rears her head, flicks her tail and flaps her big Nubian ears at me as I tumble bales of shavings down the steep barn stairs. She stands on her hind legs and tucks her chin, showing me her horns. I, in turn, rear up and dance around in what I assume to be a goat-like way. Mama looks baffled. Baby, meanwhile, is busy ripping open the shavings bag. He paws at it then tears at it with his horns then looks to me for a scolding. He jumps onto an unopened bale of hay. The mane on his neck and shoulders stands erect. He dares me to push him off. Until recently, the meningeal worm that infected his brainstem prevented him from jumping on things or even walking in a straight line. After months of treatment, he can now play, his coat is glossy and thick. He has regained his strength. Although he is a fully mature wether, and sports a ridiculous beard, Baby (aka Yarrow) still behaves like a baby. He hides behind his mother when he hears the coyotes howl.

I think that goats like the tidy sound of their hooves when they trip trap along on hard surfaces. In the fall, I would take them for walks in the forest. They loved to dawdle on the bridge, clip clop back and forth, pause to look down at the water below. I call them Billy Goats Gruff.

When they play in the grain room they rear at each other and gently butt heads. It is a precision dance, performed as a ritual: Each goat lands simultaneously after a threatened head butt. The landing accompanied by a bright, percussive sound. Recently I laid down a walkway of wooden planks across the muddy paddock so that I could push the wheelbarrow more easily. The goats love to travel this little boardwalk, I think they like the sound their hooves make on the wood. I listen to their busy footfalls as I work nearby.

When I leave after morning or evening chores, Baby and Mama bawl and call in plaintive, moaning tones. “Please come back! Come brush us! Come play! Take us for a walk! Stay!” This pulls at my heart. If they could sleep in bed with me, they happily would. There have been times they’ve come into the house. As chaos-making as it is, it’s fun to watch them jump onto the couch, pull plants from a pot, wander the house with pure curiosity and even climb the stairs!

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 is the day that the goats discovered that they love peppermint candy!

William the pony is an old hand in the business of peppermint love. His soft, furry ears perk at the sound of the plastic wrapper crinkling when I unwrap a piece. I enjoy his enjoyment, the sound of the hard candy shattering between his molars each time I feed him one, I remember how our big bay mare, Panga, would savor the candy for minutes and stick out the tip of her tongue as she sucked. I never once heard her crunch.

This is the time of the year when one yearns to give presents: peppermints to pony and goats, a walnut or two for the mice, a carrot for the rabbit who sleeps in the hay. Sunflower seed trickled down a chipmunk hole.

I come in for lunch but will go back out later into the dusky woods. 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 blue jays are sleek and plump. Fallen logs in the forest dotted with tiny sit spots, marked by semicircular piles of nutshell fragments. I look out at the world from my warm kitchen; some smallish, fox-sized animal catches my eye as it disappears around the corner of the barn. I watch my neighbor’s daughter glide off on skis across their hay field. She is accompanied by two tail-wagging dogs.

As winter approaches I take note on how my own world curls around itself. I stay mostly in the kitchen now into which I have recently moved a couch. I put on a coat in order to play the piano in the living room. My bedroom is unheated and very cold. The bed is piled with extra blankets. Twenty-year-old Clover, sleeps the end of her life away in the chair by the fire that is hers. A whisker shivers, a paw twitches, an ear flicks. What is going on in her cat dreams?

In mid-December, the border between outside and inside hardens. Boots require warming, mittens drying. One cannot dash out on a whim. I keep a close eye on the woodpile, figure the weeks and months until spring, fire up the stove in the living room only on special occasions. Outside, life hides in hollow trees, beneath roots and stone walls, in tunnels that wind below a protective blanket of snow. Grouse make snow caves.

Zora and I set off on our walk. The world is mostly white now, no longer showing glimpses of purpley brown and green. Each and every twig and branch is edged in white. Still-standing sunflowers wear peaked snow caps. The mountains on the other side of Fuller brook are obscured by a curtain of white. The snow is coming down hard.