Tag Archives: Goats

… Winter Tale …

A poem for Ricarda Huch

Snow-tracks, 3Snowflakes spin in lantern beams like distant nebulae,

iron scrapes on ice and halter-bells chime with the trot

of horses. The sledge slows on the steep track,

at the top – a click of tongue – the reigning in.

One window shines in the black yard. Off the sledge,

I drop back in time and nearly slip on frozen muck.

 

Inside, the woman serves hot stew; she says, matter of fact,

‘Stay up, read, that’s fine by us.’ They have an early night.

I feed the fire in the hearth, wrap up and settle near the light

of a paraffin lamp. ‘You love books?’ This is how it began,

Ricarda left books, enough to span the valley to the farm.

You must visit us.’ I was keen, though mother held mistrust:  

 

‘They’re odd; famous relatives don’t take away from that.’

A hiss, a splutter of flame, the antler’s shadow shifts on the wall.

 

Morning sun, books in open crates, scattered across the floor,

nibbled at by Billy goats – how had they opened the door?

Three dog puppies jump and bustle on my bed, gnashing holes

into the eiderdown. They grin at me, feathers on their snouts,

Their eyes propitiate. I let rip and belly laugh. From the hall:

It’s all right; our creatures can wander in and out as they like.

 

The southern window glows opaque with frosted fern and flowers,

cold grace melts under my breath and hand, unveiling a frozen

lake, and beyond the valley, a curl of river and the white rim

of Alps like a parade of porcelain elephants under the pale sky.

From the blue … Ricarda’s voice: ‘Poetry is perception unbound.’

It will take years to feel at home with no rules but my own.

Ashen

An unashamedly romantic  facet of my childhood. For several years I used to spend parts of my school holidays at a ramshackle estate close my home, because my parents had a business and could not always find the time to attend to me as they would have wished. The treasure in that special place (owned by relatives of Ricarda Huch) were the amount of books, stacked up in crates because no one had the time to sort them into shelves. For me, this was an exciting and oracular milieu.

As is the case with 99 percent of images on my blog – the image of the snow tracks is my own.

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… Goats are Goats … part 3

What I saw across the road, through the watery gauze of the side window, sent an electrifying jolt through me. Magnified, blazing eyes lanced through mine, saying – you’ll find what you want. For a brief moment he was there, an intense presence, a man dressed in emerald green at the corner of a white-washed house, holding a staff capped with a skull exquisitely carved from ivory. For a brief moment we were one, intimately united in clarity of being, which was how I perceived the finest detail of the staff’s handle across the distance of twenty feet. When I looked again, the figure was gone.

Trust unfurled in fast motion, unlike the everyday subtle intuitions I weighed with reason as counterbalance. My attitude towards the unexplained was respectful but wary. Ellie’s entities were real to her, and felt by those around her. Not that I doubted the forces pushing through envelops of time, only that the deeply personal significance of a supernatural event could be misread and misapplied. Since every cell of my body had grown wings, I was convinced by the message I received, with no need to solve or snub the mystery.

‘The sky’s clearing.’ Ellie said. Brilliant light broke through the clouds. A breeze swept remnants of rain like sparkling trinkets from trees. Dowsed in afternoon light, the village roofs glistened like buffed silver under a giant rainbow. ‘I’m starving,’ Ellie added, at the sight of a grocery shop.

The woman behind the counter smiled at seeing us. ‘You brought the sun!’ She cut us wedges of freshly baked bread and topped them with local cheese. Rarely had bread tasted so delicious. ‘I’ve goats’ milk in the fridge, would you like some?’ Ellie burst into hysterical laughter, which shocked the dear woman.

I grinned, ‘We’d love some.’

‘I fancy it myself,’ the woman said, and filled two glasses to the rim with cool, silky milk. We savoured every sip and wanted more. The sweet, nutty taste so absorbed my attention, I forgot to ask her about goats, which is why I felt my heart wobble when she said, ‘Sadly the source will dry up. My friend, Marte, is getting too frail to milk her doe and I don’t have the space to keep goats.’

This is what goats get up to.

Marte lived in the next village. She had been forewarned and waved at us, stoically forcing her arthritic knees towards the gate. Her goat, Fleck, was white with random patches of brown and gracefully curved horns. ‘A gentle creature,’ Marte said, ‘unless you annoy her.’ She giggled, as if she shared a pun with an inner companion. I had an ear for this kind of banter, having companions of my own. ‘She needs a good home,’ she said. ‘I gladly give her to you, if you take her weaned kid as well.’

Fleck was used to cars from trips to pastures in the hills. She calmly walked the plank into the hatch of my estate. Her adorable kid followed. The goats ogled Marte as she raised her hand in salute with a tear in her eye. Equipped with sacks of grain, lore and advice, we drove home with two new passengers comfortably bedded in straw. Their curiosity was engaging. I fell in love with the pair. And even Ellie, contented after her anxious day, was too protected by bliss to predict the trouble ahead.

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. A wise man does not need advice and a goat won’t take it.      Anon

The End 

@ Ashen Venema July 2012

Don’t miss this wonderful drawing, created especially for this story by Natasha Tonkin, my son’s partner. If the link doesn’t work  you can find the post in the archive under August 2012

https://courseofmirrors.wordpress.com/2012/08/11/the-english-goat/

 

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… Goats are Goats … part 2

Drenched, we stepped into a steaming kitchen. A sizeable family was gathered for a meal. Men had spread their wet jumpers on chairs near the central cooker. In a nook above the table hung a plain crucifix. The matriarch served food. When she saw our bedraggled state, she dropped her ladle to fetch towels. We must have looked like scarecrows.

‘Sit down, have a bite.’ Her husband heaped roast lamb and spuds on large plates for us. A young girl gawked at our exotic outfit.  We were wedged into benches, flanked by men who, while bashful, beamed at the welcome distraction. As to goats – no luck:  ‘Ja Geissen, di hamma ghabt, aber jetzt nimmer. Dass tut mir Leid.’ The woman was genuinely disappointed for us.

Goats, we learned, were not bred anymore in the area. ‘The effort outweighed the reward,’ said an elder, though unlike the farmer earlier in the day, he did not make me feel a fool for wanting a goat. The brothers were curious and showered us with questions about the outside world, we were a novelty. Ellie kept quiet, struggling with her roast leg of lamb, out of politeness. She was undecided about eating meat. Playing the martyr, I thought. A good hour passed with stories in local dialect. I caught the gist and laughed along, while Ellie occasionally managed the ghost of a grin. When the deluge reversed to plain rain, I grasped the moment to thank our hosts.

‘You could ask the cobbler in the village. He’s privy to gossip from round here.’ The elder chuckled. ‘You’ll find him in the village, next to the church.’

Guided by the baroque spire, I found the church and parked the car in the square. Two crows cawed, debating in a spindly tree. ‘A bad omen,’ Ellie said. 

I was gripped by a compulsion to let her hitchhike home. Her foolish superstition annoyed me. ‘All depends what you project onto crows,’ I countered.’

A lean and nifty man, the cobbler stashed not only shoes but secrets, likely for profit. There was punch behind his words, ‘Your best bet is the slaughterhouse,’ he said, ‘they might have an old goat.’

‘I don’t want to go there.’ Ellie wailed. Her moral conflict over eating meat at the farmer’s table left her feeling woozy. And the crows had put fear in her. Wet through once more, we lingered in the car and gazed at the waters dancing on the tarmac. ‘Maybe you should get a sheep,’ Ellie said.

I suffered the humiliation of defeat, while the slaughterhouse loomed as a last resort. My want for a goat prevailed. ‘I’ll enquire, you can stay put,’ I said, and firmly started the engine, heading in the direction the cobbler had indicated. Another black cloud sailed in. The torrent drummed so hard on the windshield, its wipers slowed under duress. Single drops hit the tarmac like missiles, forming a milky mist.

‘Everything’s against us,’ Ellie said. Here we go again, I thought. Yet I had to admit the dead-end. We would have to return down the mountain. The trouble was, when Ellie slipped into a low mood the air surrounding her became heavy. If I stretched my imagination I could see her succumb to a host of dark entities, hear their whispers. I regretted my decision to take Ellie along. We turned a corner, and, without warning, were faced by a stark scene. In the frame of an open industrial unit animal corpses dangled from hooks like pendulums. That instant a cow’s belly was sliced open. Blood and inner organs poured out and splashed into the drains below. Ellie shrieked and paled. Queasy myself, a vivid taste of iron in my mouth, I turned the car and stopped on the main road.

Numbed, we avoided each other’s eyes, the shocking event lingered. Part of life’s food chain, I told myself, and promptly pictured the cling-filmed bloodless meat in supermarkets.

Ellie heaved a breath. Her hands stopped trembling. She shook her head, ‘Nevermore,’ she said. The gravity in her voice, the burning determination in her eyes, hinted at a deep rage, way beyond her revulsion to meat. It seemed to me her nevermore applied to the shadowy entities that plagued her, and a no-meat pledge served to conquer her passivity.

I liked the taste of meat, but would I eat it if I had to kill the animal myself? A challenge! I reasoned with my conscience and came up with a compromise. ‘From now on, I’ll remember to honour a sacrificed life with a thank you,’ I said.

‘That’s a start.’ The sharp tone behind Ellie’s new credo brought an icy draught on the air. To escape the depressing spot, I made snail-speed through the village. The day’s span had narrowed. Overcome by failure, I gazed into the haze for answers.

… a link to part three, the last instalment is at the top of this page …

The only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing. A wise man does not need advice and a goat won’t take it.   Anon

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The illustrations are by Arthur Rackham and Gustave Doré

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… Goats are Goats … part 1

Recently, Jane Alexander, another spiritual warrior, had a blog-post sparking a dialogue that brought up the theme of goats, in the widest sense 🙂 and it reminded me of an episode with goats. So I dug up my notes and wrote a Short Story. Here the first part, one or two more to come … enjoy.

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Friends warned me – goats are trouble, they’re stubborn, they gobble up everything in reach and reach everything, fences are useless – to no avail, my brain cells were committed. The image of a she-goat had acquired deep saturation in my heart and was fixed. At the time, none of our group who had rented the old house was keen on gardening. We were surrounded by weed-smothered acres. I envisaged the jungle cleared and converted into snow-white milk and cheese. A deeper image chimed, of the orphan Heidi sent to live with her grandfather in an alpine hut where she met Peter and his goats. The story had left an indelible impression; especially how the healing of Heidi, Peter and the wholesome milk of his goats worked on Clara, a paralysed girl. Sediments of memory that push up times’ layers and seep into new situations often justify my otherwise irrational actions.

The local farmer told me of a place where they kept goats. ‘A rarity these days,’ he said. I got up at dawn, bemoaning the grey sky. Ellie was awake, eager to join me, a curious act of will for someone who tended to apathy. I had not planned on company, but could hardly refuse since she had already prepared coffee in a Thermos, good strong coffee. We raided the fridge for provisions and folded into my old estate. The destination was a smallholding in a Bavarian hamlet, an hour’s drive away. Ellie was silent. She liked to daydream. When she talked, it was about what she noticed in her immediate vicinity. ‘See the pretty flower box up on that window?  It’s tilting and might fall on someone’s head.’ Or, commenting on a woman who offered directions, ‘She squeaks like a mouse in a trap.’  Her observations tended to ripple the air with uncanny prognostic qualities that made me shiver.

The overgrown dwelling nestled like the green-speckled cap of a giant mushroom in the slope of a hill. Across the black earth in the yard waddled flocks of white geese. I parked the car, which made a couple of birds chase their goslings under the branches of an elm that served as roof for a medley of neglected farming tools and scrap wood. An enchanted world in which a silver-haired woman stood motionless among her goose sentinels. ‘Is she aware of us?’ I wondered.

‘She wouldn’t miss a worm stirring in her yard,’ Ellie said.  Her impression mirrored mine, of the ageless crone being rooted to her environment as through fungal filaments. Stepping from the car was like agitating the boundary to another universe. There was a bout of nervous honking, and a gander hissed as I walked up to the woman. Her kind eyes twinkled, animating a leathery face inscribed with immeasurable knowledge of the elements. She told the tale of her last goat, in slow detail, giving it shape with her bony hands, as if I was a neighbour passing by who deserved the latest instalment.

Back in the car, I took a last glance and wished I had my camera. The woman stood as before, on the same spot. Ellie was humming.

‘What’re you humming?’ I asked.

‘Some tune, can’t recall – this place, you know, could be spirited away any moment.’

‘Good luck then that she gave me another lead,’ I said, ‘a place not far from here.’

The farmer ten miles down the road looked us up and down. Not an inch of ironed cloth on us, my mirror-embroidered vest, the charms dangling from Ellie’s neck – hippies – I heard him judge. ‘Goats, gosh, they’re a luxury. I sell you sheep, less hassle.’

‘Sheep are sheep,’ I said, bluntly. He carefully gauged my sanity and shook his head. The thoughts of a simple soul can be read in capital letters, not flattering, but always enlightening. I made small talk to navigate through our discord.

Eventually he offered a hint. ‘There’s a farm I used to do business with, in the mountains, near the Austrian border.’

This search was going to be a longer than anticipated. We stopped at a river for a picnic. ‘It’s not going to be straightforward, is it?’ Ellie said. ‘I hope we don’t get lost … exciting really’, she added, as if to undo her fretfulness. I never tried to persuade her of anything.

She was a strange one, Ellie, a cautious spectator, longing for others to take charge, which got her into trouble when someone she considered a friend laced her birthday cake with psychedelics. She lost coherence and was sectioned. When our small community heard about her plight, we got her released from the institution and took her in. The trauma had shaken Ellie, but opened her mind, though she swayed from moments of brightness to moments of despair.

‘We can sleep in the car,’ I said. ‘There’re blankets in the hatch.’ Determined, I drove on – into the unknown. Another 30 miles, and my Estate laboured up the steep serpentines of a gorge. The sky drew dark curtains and it began to rain.

Close to our next destination, flashes of lighting zigzagged among the cliffs. The narrow road became a roaring stream. Ellie clasped the crystals she wore for protection round her neck. I could smell her fear and tried to be brave for both of us. ‘I’ll stop at the next layby.’ To my relief, a cluster of farm buildings came into view. Sheep huddled for shelter under a copse.

‘No goats!’ Ellie said. She had a habit of stating the obvious.

‘Goats hate rain,’ I assured her. ‘They’ll be under cover on a day like this.’ Once we reached the farmhouse it poured rivers. I parked and turned off the engine. The mass of water pressing against the windshield was impenetrable, and it didn’t look as if the downpour was about to stop. ‘Let’s run for the porch,’ I said.

…   a link to part two is at the top of this page …

Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of men of old; seek goats.  Basho

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The illustration, Goat and Vine, is by A. Rackham

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