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.

 

lions and lambs, donkeys and chickens and geese and goats

In 1826, American folk artist and Society of Friends minister Edward Hicks created “The Peacable Kingdom”. While it’s not in a style that I find particularly appealing, the content of the painting, its message, strikes a chord. In the foreground are a number of different creatures, some of which I can’t identify simply because of the manner in which they were represented, but clearly both predator and prey lying down with one another. There are cherubim and seraphim, as well, and in the background, English settlers meeting with Native Americans.

1934.65

I don’t pay attention to the human interaction; so little, in fact, that I’m always surprised when I see it. Suffice it to say that there appears to be some manner of commerce taking place involving blankets and, given how that type of exchange often worked out to the detriment of Native Americans, I apparently choose to ignore it each and every time I view the painting. I simply refuse to see.

But the animals? Now that is an altogether different story. I relish those innocent interactions; revel in the way they coexist. And while it’s unlikely that, in the wild, a lion will lay down with a lamb, interspecies cooperation isn’t a rare event, particularly here on The Quarry Farm. I’ve grown accustomed to seeing the chickens ride Buddy, the resident miniature donkey, or any of the six goats that also live here. I’m not surprised to see Snitch, the neighbor’s cat, padding under Mister Bill, the extravagantly tall Boer goat mix, around a pig or two and sideling on by Johnny, the Canada goose. The goats play with the pigs, the pigs play with the chickens and Buddy whips everybody into a (relatively) friendly frenzy every now and again, especially now that spring is just around the corner. We’ve even seen wild rabbits lying out in the open and nursing little ones old enough to have left the nest, but still willing to nurse.

The Quarry Farm Musicians: Audrey, Buddy and S'More

The Quarry Farm Musicians: Audrey, Buddy and S’More

Even so, and despite all of that, I witnessed something the other morning that made me stop and stare.

Gigi

Gigi

Although we named him something altogether uncharacteristic of his gender, Gigi is a gander, an Emden goose who is, characteristically this time, very protective of the two geese in his flock. He came here several years ago from Van Buren State Park, where he and Louise (the other goose’s name is Henry and yes, yes, we know) were abandoned. Gigi can be so protective, so surly, in fact, that we encourage visitors to give the trio a wide birth. Gigi is the gander your mother always warned you about: quick to hiss and threaten and quicker still to follow through on that threat with a wing beating or a hard pinch with his bright orange bill.

Madmartigan

Madmartigan

Madmartigan is one of three pygmy goats that we adopted from a failing goat herd on the eastern side of Ohio four years ago. While generally good natured, like most goats, he has a fondness for his fodder. When food’s involved, all bets are off and he can, and does, do whatever he feels necessary to secure his own little patch of whatever. Being male, Madmardigan also has a ridiculously impressive set of horns, horns that spire up from the top of his head like twin missiles. And when he’s staking claim to a flake of hay or a patch of grass or an apple or three, he liberally applies those horns to heads and backsides and bodies; whatever he can reach to drive his point home.

Individually, these two are more often than not at the core of any discontent. Together, though, at least earlier this week, the two were quite fond of each other. Gigi would slide his neck along Madmartigan’s back and nibble through the hairs there and up his neck and behind his ears. For his part, Madmartigan would gently nudge him with his horns, prompt him to continue her gentle ministrations.

And so here we are on The Quarry Farm, our own peaceable kingdom.