anthroponothing

noun: anthropomorphism
the attribution of human characteristics or behavior to a god, animal, or object

On Thursday, we buried a friend of ours: Marshmallow, a Nigerian dwarf goat whose gentle disposition touched a lot of lives. I’ve already related this, clumsily fumbled my way through a post that was part eulogy, part obituary and completely inadequate in relating the true nature of this incredible being, how important he was to all of us here on The Quarry Farm and to those who had the good fortune to interact with him, however briefly. Something happened, though, while we were burying him, the relating of which I hope will make up for my failure.

Yesterday, I dug a hole. If you follow these posts, then you already know this. I dug the hole, then I drove the seventy-some miles to Marysville to pick up the husk that was Marsh. Marsh’s brother, S’More, was lounging near the gate, watching as I left, and he was still there roughly three hours later when I returned.

I pulled in, closed the gate, then maneuvered my car over to the site we’d chosen to return our dear friend’s biomass to the Earth.

It took me a few moments to jockey the body from the backseat, ease it into the hole and manipulate it into position, muttering apologies the whole time. That Marsh wasn’t there to hear me was apparent. I was simply pouring sound into absence.

As I took up the shovel, scooped the first blade of dirt, I saw S’more come up on my left  between me and the now not entirely empty hole. He was agitated, his tail flicking furiously as he paced the circumference of the pit. Every few steps, he’d stop and lean down toward the shell of his brother. His nostrils would pulse and he’d falter a bit, one foot pawing tentatively at the open air between them.

I waited until he was on the far side of the hole before I threw the first shovelful of dirt, then three more in rapid succession. As I was reaching for the fourth, S’More rounded the corner, stepped up to me and leaned the crown of his head against the handle of the shovel, holding it in place. I rubbed his neck for a moment, easing him away, then threw a fifth, and then a sixth shovelful. Turning for another, I found myself surrounded by all five goats who live here: Willow, Elora and Madmartigan, the three pygmies; Mister Bill, the giant Boer-mix; and S’More.

While the pygmies paced the pit, nostrils flaring, Bill gently hooked me with one horn. This isn’t unusual behavior. Bill loves to rub the side of his face up and down whomever will stand and tolerate it. In the process, his curled horn will lock a body in place, glide up and down a hip or leg or side as he rubs. This time, though, he  simply applied a gradual pressure that pushed me away from the dirt, away from the hole and, by necessity, the body in it.

For a few minutes, I soothed them all: rubbing the spot between Bill’s horns that he most dearly loves rubbed; stroking S’More’s neck and gently scratching his rump; talking quietly to Willow, Elora and Martigan, none of whom are overly fond of physical contact.

When I resumed my task of shifting dirt from mound to cavity, the herd wandered off together and took up observance from the top of a small hill of dirt-filled tractor tires, a form of enrichment that Rowan constructed during her last visit home, some sixty feet away. They stayed there, all five of them, until I’d finished. Then, once I’d climbed the steps to the deck on the west side of our home, they left their perch and moved to surround the grave, staying there for several minutes before moving off to graze on the opposite side of the property.

It’s been suggested that we can’t truly understand the motivations of animals, that in trying to do so we attribute to them emotional responses that they simply don’t have. But it’s not they who are lacking. It’s not they who fail to understand.

In the end, I know what I know.

I know that they are grieving.

I know that they are sharing that grief.

 

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