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The End Of Winter

The goats are looking good today. They have settled down, at last, in the carriage house where I may be keeping them for the duration. The duration of what is the question, however. The cold season? The spring? The year? They used to live in the lambing room which was not used this year. It needs to be only modestly mucked out of its very nicely composted manure, perfect for the garden. But there are no pens in there to separate them. And goats fight. They need to be kept separate from the aggressive ones in the herd. There are, on the other hand, three nice pens in the carriage house. I've to put chicken wire on their gates to prevent the expected kids from getting out and into trouble in the main part of the building, should I decide to leave them, even for a little while, with their dams, and reopen a hay drop from the left that had been boarded up a long time ago. The one that remains is a miracle of good design. The perfect hay chute. I've not solved the water problem although it solves itself when the winter leaves these hills. A hose from the basement does very well when the frost abates and the morning temperatures exceed 35 degrees.

I feed the goats baleage in the afternoon. Second cutting hay twice a day. And a little grain to the ones who seem to be bred. They have pans of free-choice goat mineral mix and baking soda as well. And aren't trying to leave. Anymore that is. No more breakouts.

Little Honey Merriman is bagging. She shall be a year old this week. Her mother, Adelaide Merriman, seems, today, at least, to be filling out. Sometimes I think she is bred, and sometimes I'm uncertain. Their grandmother, mother, respectively, also seem to be filling out, as well. She has only one "quarter", so it is rather difficult to tell if she is bagging or not. But if she is not in kid, she seems to becoming a very large goat. Those three are looking good, shall freshen, if they are to freshen, within a few days, perhaps a week of each other, the better for this shepherd, sometimes goatherds, to become acclimated to my latest role.

Soon I shall make cheeses everyday. Some to eat now. Some to dry for winter. There are green shoots from the garlic growing in the garden to put on top of the fresh cheeses, with pepper, lots of freshly ground pepper. Little cones of cheese, or tidy rounds, or cylinders created from yogurt containers. It is time to get ready. Scrub pots clean with Ajax. Rinse them with Clorox. Hang the cheese cloth out to bleach in the sun. Re-hang the cheese drying house I had made some time ago. It is time to get ready.

I've not yet named the Nubian Tog who is about to freshen. She is a nice looking animal. Chocolate colored. Tall. A first time kidder. And a wild creature. She has always been wild. Or, rather, skittish. She was given to me as part of a herd that arrived from Pennsylvania two summers ago. Some were tamer than others. She was of the untouched-by-human-hands category. She was equally skittish with her prior owner who knew her from birth.

The name Elizabeth comes to mind, of late, but Elizabeth who? Farleigh? Featherstone? Claridge? Is she a Cavanaugh? Perhaps. But whatever her last name is, it needs to be something shortly. She must have a surname by the time she freshens. As shall her kids, who shall, by the way, stay if they or it is a doeling.

I do need a buck. The one I had, Tobias Witherspoon, a beautiful massive Toggenburg, is gone. He hated me. He was so beautiful an animal. But a vicious creature. His replacement won't be from this Elizabeth but rather from one of the pure Togs.

I shall keep the kids away from their dams after they have gotten a days worth of colostrum. Or so I've been advised. It may be best if they live in the lambing room. And I shall probably milk once again under the barn bridge way. The kids will be bottled, which will tame them to me and help keep their dams in milk longer.

The lambing room is looking more promising this April than it has in years. It asks for some glass to be replaced in the window panes. And only a modest amount of composted manure to be removed and spread on the vegetable gardens. I'd love to "whitewash" it once more with raddle which makes the walls an exquisite peach color, but I've not nearly enough raddle left to cover all of the walls. I really don't want the room to be white. The old color pleased my eye for far too long to change it now. It is a lovely place, that little milk house. Its sloped ceilings and plastered walls have made a little chapel on this farm. For me at least. I've had some of the most peaceful moments of my life there. It is beginning to make the most sense to keep the kids there. Perhaps they shall adjust and consider it to be their summer home.

The winter that has not wanted to let go has begun, despite its concerted effort to lose its stranglehold on my mind, heart and spirit. Oh, the mornings have not changed as yet. Hating to move a foot in bed in the anticipation of encountering an ice cold sheet. The kitchen holding fast at 42 degrees. But it is warm out here on the front porch steps. Noon. Coffee almost hot enough. And the sounds of Dolly Parton in the background. My friend, Jennifer Holtz, herself a musician, sent this "The Grass is Blue" along for me to give Ernest. She said it was an example of what an incredible musician Dolly is. "Got in a little trouble in the county seat."

I visit the goats throughout the day. "Can I tame you?" "Are you bagging?" "Need any more water?" I pull burdock to burn from my original vegetable garden. And start to dream a little. I turn the rocks over along its border. Bit by bit the yard becomes tidy. I've even renewed my dreams for the outdoor fireplace. A Connecticut spot in this Catskill Mountain home. Will I ever make it perfect? Leaves raked? Pine cones packed neatly in boxes for the winter? Low tables? Little folding chairs? Lanterns?

Farming is a constant interplay between hope and despair, with an occasional interval of uneventful peace in between. That dichotomy still amazes me. It is a rediscovery each time I realize how quickly I embrace possibility in its essence every time it presents itself to me. The recent tragedy here caused by the rain we endured, or rather some of us endured, others died, two weeks ago, the tragedy I thought I'd never recover from, has not colored this gleaming day. The day filled with hope and promise in the goatherd. This day edged with plans for vegetable gardens and a separate garden with kale and mangel wurtzels for the sheep.

So how does it work, this life? How does it work? The heartache, for me, at least, doesn't go away. It doesn't move. It doesn't fade. It doesn't dissipate. It stands, intermingling with all of the rest of it. With the feeling of satisfaction watching the sheep eagerly surround the round bales of baleage. With the sound of my most glorious rooster, and the voice of Dolly Parton mingling with the slush thump of the well pump with the small pleasures of the sun on the stone steps where I sit, the most satisfying pleasure of my desk in the carriage house, and the light that my new electrician Erick Bowser installed above it. Each of these moments stand next to each other. Equally to one another. I see them clearly.

And I still don't understand it.

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