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May 2007

The carriage house barn has to own magic, evenings. I bring the last bottles of the day to the five tiny lambs and four kid goats. The light over my desk under the stairs is soft and warm. The light over the young stocks pen casts soft shadows everywhere. Tiny lambs and baby goats. The donkey lives on the straw. Two slightly older kid goats, Ethyl Merriman and Lydia Merriman dance on his broad back. Ethyl Merriman puts her front legs on his head and poses for a moment. As elegant as a six week old creature can be. Noise emanates from the pen. These littlest of all the creatures on the farm are hungry. They became used to the fierce competition from the fifteen lambs who, older and larger, have been weaned and moved to a larger pen. They become fierce when they are see a bottle in my hands.

There is something about evenings in a barn when all of life becomes gentle. And I can spend time with the animals rather than simply serve them. Little Glennis MacDouglas, doeling, is, of her triplet sisters, the herd leader. She was almost from the first day. Arianna is the smallest. The noisiest. She talks, talks, talks the moment she is picked up to be bottled. A vehement noisy, chattery kind of discussion always precedes her latching onto breakfast, lunch, tea, supper. She is a quick little thing. Erratic in her habits. Sometimes guzzling down twenty ounces of milk in one veracious gulp. And sometimes refusing it altogether. She is hungry at different times from her sisters. However, there is nothing I can reasonably do about that. Gillian, the middle one in size and perhaps in age, (I wasn't there for the birth), is the quietest, the most even tempered. That happens, I've been told, with the middle one of three. But the middle one of the triplets, triplet goats that is, is not anything I know anything about. The first two days of their lives they needed to be identified by braided ribbons on their necks. But as Arianne talked rather than grew, it became only Glennis and Gillian who needed to be distinguished from one another. Soon the slightly more active behavior on Glennis' part made her easier to recognize, although until a few days ago they both looked identical. So it was not a surprise to realize it was Glennis who had jumped into the horse manger and out onto my desk, the better to nibble on my hair while I bottled her sisters, half brother and five lambs. And more surprised to find myself followed around outside of the pen as well, by none other than Glennis MacDouglas herself! I always had wanted a flock of sheep that were one and all alike in appearance. I'd seen and fallen in love with a Scottish Black Face flock some time ago. All of a piece if not all identical. Horns on the ewes as well as on the rams. Pitch black spots strewn across their faces. Long wavy fleeces. My 120 sheep are mixed breeds. They started out as an incongruous mixture almost twenty years ago and while looking a bit more uniform now, still are confusing to the ewes, especially since I added the blood line of the most elegant East Friesians. And so, when I was offered some Toggenburg goats, shades of chocolate with identically placed cream markings, I was delighted. Oh, I've always wanted Nubians, the Jersey cow of the goat breed. But, except for their Roman noses (where that expression came from is utterly beyond me having recently seen a picture of a contemporary bust of Julius Caesar with, for that matter, a relatively short nose) and long droopy ears, they come in such a variety of colors that they look as if they are wearing clown's pants. (Please forgive me Candida Lycett Green, queen of the Nubians in my herd.) At best. Some uniformity on this farm. The Toggenburg genes seem to be dominant because the huge young quadruplet Toggenburg buck with perfectly symmetrical stripes down his nose and markings on his ears is really out of a 7/8 Nubian doe. The littlest lambs and the kid goats are friends. Sleep together in a crate filled with dry straw. Rush, as one, to the pen's gate when I come into the carriage house. Eat from the same big dish. (The lid from a long broken garbage can.) And shall live out their lives here. As long or short as that might be. The doelings will never be sold for meat. I'll see who milks the best when they are bred and freshen. Two or three of the five will stay. I broke down and bought a Nubian last summer. I mentioned her. Candida. Tomorrow I shall go to buy a buck for her to breed with next summer. So now, my goats won't all look the same. Only some of them. The Tog has neither the milk production nor the rich quality of the Nubian. I've sacrificed looks for milking ability here. Although I'm not entirely enamored with appearance over production, the Togs were a gift, in way of explanation, the Nubians are, for this farmer at least, something of an extravagance. Nonetheless there is something enchanting about the sight of those chocolate and cream colored six week old Toggenburg doelings dancing on the back of my big brown donkey early into the night on a spring evening.

Sylvia Jorrín

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