Friday, April 30th
We started a dairy goat herd during the pandemic. I mean, who didn’t? It was the natural thing to do. We call them our COVID bovids. Actually, Phoebe has had a few pet does for about two years, but during this year at home we decided to go full throttle, with a plan to breed a bunch of does, make goat cheese, and sell goat kids.
In January, Phoebe, Tristan, and I made an epic journey to the Central Valley to buy a couple of fancy baby bucklings who will be our herd sires. Our trip was loads of fun, including a one night stay in a hotel in Vacaville, where we booked a time slot in the hotel’s swimming pool, ate crappy take-out food from the Olive Garden, and watched bad TV in our room. The kids were in heaven. The goat farm we visited was amazing, and Phoebe oooed and ahhhed at their set up. Both kids enjoyed a half hour of sitting in a pen with twenty or so baby goats who climbed on their shoulders, chewed on their hair, and ran around the pen bucking and jumping. Who wouldn’t love being swathed in baby goats, really.
Then, in late February, I bought a pregnant doe named Jolene. Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Joleeeeeeene. If you haven’t listened to that Dolly Parton song, do it now before you read on. Our Jolene does not have flaming locks of auburn hair, eyes of emerald green, or beauty beyond compare, but she is fabulous. Jolene came home to us a month before her due date, and she ate, and ate, and ate, and ate. Her sides expanded laterally until she appeared to be off balance, a problem made worse by the locomotory constraints posed by her swelling udder, which eventually no longer fit between her hind legs. Jolene began to waddle. As the big day approached…and then passed, home school became an extremely unfocused experience; the kids and I jumped up every ten minutes to check Jolene through the living room window as she grazed in front of the house. We had a few false starts, during which we texted everyone we knew to say that our Jolene was going into labor, but we were wrong and Jolene simply continued to eat and expand. It was torture. Hoping it might induce labor, several times we serenaded Jolene with Dolly Parton’s song, crooning along to the track as loud as we could. Jolene simply looked at us sideways and continued to chew her cud.
Then, finally, a day came (ten days after we expected it) when Jolene ate less than usual, bellowed more than usual, and crabbily pushed the other does around. We continued our halfhearted attempts at schooling, punctuated by frequent looks out the window and visits to Jolene. Still nothing. At 4:45pm, I made my usual run down to the foot of the mountain to deliver Tomas to Gary, who would take him to soccer practice. On my way back, five minutes from home, Tristan called. Breathless and hyper with excitement, he yelled repeatedly into the phone, “Jolene’s having her babies!! She’s already popped one out!” I put the pedal to the metal, flew home, parked the car behind the house, and sprinted to the goat enclosure in the front yard…to find that the kids had fetched the birthing kit Phoebe had carefully assembled in the previous weeks, slapped on blue medical gloves, delivered a second kid, wiped the twins’ nostrils clear, and placed the babies on a fresh towel for Jolene to lick clean. My kids were over the moon with joy, grinning from ear to ear, with blood on their cuffs and goo on the fronts of their jackets. Jolene, ever steady, was unfussed about sharing her babies with Tristan and Phoebe. She cleaned the newborns from head to toe, let Phoebe help them stand to nurse, and began to eat again. It was the most marvelous experience, and I’m so happy it happened the way it did – with my kids home alone for a full COVID bovid midwifery experience.
In the Fall, we’ll breed our new bucks to three of our does, and next Spring we’ll have a bunch of babies to sell and does to milk. Phoebe is so excited, but I’m not far behind her. When I was a kid, I thought I wanted to be a farmer. Now I get to enjoy raising dairy goats via Phoebe!
Rural living has many perks. For some rare souls, these might include pooping in the woods, doing the dishes with a hose in the yard, and having bucket baths on the porch. For others, those activities might fall into the category of downsides of country life. That’s alongside of things like cooking on a hotplate and going to bed at 8:30 to beat the cold. Wait, let me back up.
A few weeks ago, we broke the expensive ceramic glass in the door of our woodburning stove. For a while, we managed with the cracked glass. Then, the piece fell out and we could no longer close the flu without filling the house with smoke. So, we quickly burned through the rest of our firewood. No flu, fast burning. Once the wood was gone, there was no excuse for not taking the stove door to have the glass replaced, so off it went down to town. Without the woodstove, I cranked the propane-fueled forced air heat while Tristan, Phoebe, and I continued to home school. (While Eureka is in the full swing of Spring, pointelist buds dotting all of the trees, at 2700 feet we’re still having frosts most nights and the house is cold most of the day.) Turns out heating your house all day with propane burns fast through the stores in your tank. Huh, go figure. The burners went out while I was cooking dinner, long before we were set up for a refill. I called our propane company; it would be over a week before they could deliver. Pandemic delays, of course.
But that’s not the end of it. Oh no, there’s more. Then our septic system died. And, boy, there’s nothing like a Yellowstone geyser in your bathroom to, well, make you reconsider the perks of rural living if you happen to be someone who prefers not to poop in the woods or bathe or your porch. A new low point in my life was when the propane truck arrived to deliver gas right when the Roto Rooter guys were busy pumping. Cliff, the propane guy, took in the sight of digging, destruction, and heavy equipment around our yard. Then he looked at the propane gauge. “Wow, looks like you’re empty here,” he said, his voice full of profound sympathy for his sweet yet ridiculous customers who were clearly both pooping in the woods AND cooking on a hotplate. Long story short, after roughly ten days without plumbing and a lot of money down the hole (literally), we have a muddy yard, a new septic system, a thorough understanding of septic system anatomy and various types of leach fields, and a great respect for our new set-up, which we will treat like a queen. Queen Kaka, we hereby pledge to divert all of our grey water to the yard. Anyone who flushes a baby wipe into you will be blood-eagled. (If you don’t know what that is, watch all six seasons of The Vikings. Yikes.)
It’s been a helluva school year. Tomas diligently stuck it out at his desk upstairs for month after month, the monotony thankfully broken by frequent trips to Santa Rosa to practice (masked and socially distanced) with his competitive soccer team. Things got lots better in the Spring, when Eureka High School opened again part-time, and when Tomas tried out and made the high school soccer team. The team played a short, intense season, with practices five days a week and games twice a week. Tomas, a Freshman, started and played most of every game as center mid. He’s so shy, but the Juniors and Seniors on the team took him under their wings, were kind to him, and encouraged him. He had an absolute blast. He also did fabulously in his classes, mostly on his own; he rarely asks for help. He definitely understands the value of keeping all of one’s doors open, and he can’t wait to leave our mountaintop and head for taller skyscrapers.
Phoebe, Tristan, and I continued our home schooling, most of the time in front of the fireplace (until we broke the glass door and then ran out of firewood). Tristan, who’s in second grade, blasted halfway through fourth grade math, with his own bizarre way of calculating things that I can’t follow, and Phoebe read stacks of books, did beautiful artwork, and wrote a fascinating report on what the first European settlers brought with them to eat and how screwed they would have been had indigenous peoples not introduced them to native foods and fed them. (She and I plan to plant a “Three Sisters” garden bed this summer.) I taught the kids a bit of mammalian osteology and some phylogenetics, and they invented beautiful creatures for whom we constructed evolutionary trees. We made a few trips to the beach to survey tide pools, visited our local zoo to walk through its new Redwood Skywalk, and did various small research projects of the kids’ interest; with Tristan I learned how helicopters fly, and with Phoebe I learned more than I could ever hope to know about goats. More recently, the first hour or so of “school” is consumed with trying to milk Jolene, Jolene, Jolene, Joleeeeeeeene, who is not wholly committed to being a dairy goat. Despite being comfortably perched on a milking stand that Phoebe built on her own with a drill, Jolene bellows and bucks and knocks over the container and makes it clear that she would much prefer to being chewing her cud with her fellow does. Jolene, I’m beggin’ of you please don’t kick over the milk again…
Outside of school, Phoebe, Tristan, and I completed the 2020 Virtual Tevis Cup – horseback riding 100 miles in 100 days. Phoebe rode her young mare Dolly while Tristan and I rode together on my mare Bella. I think it might have been the highlight of this crazy pandemic year for me, and I have so many treasured memories of our rides. On some I read to the kids on horseback, on others we listened to music on my phone, and on others Phoebe sang to us. It was amazing.
Thanksgiving and Christmas were quiet affairs, with just the five of us, and they were wonderful. On Thanksgiving, Tomas cooked and carved the turkey. On Christmas, Gary and I were bewildered that suddenly things weren’t rushed or crazy anymore. The kids were happy to take the gift-opening slowly, and they savored and appreciated each thing, one at a time. It was so lovely.
We had one and only one decent snow and enjoyed an incredible day of sledding, during which we put into use the Flexible Flyer sled that had appeared under the Christmas tree. Best sled ever!
Recently, Tristan got his brown belt in the kids’ kenpo karate program at our local dojo. He is the youngest ever to do so at Lost Coast Kenpo, and he did it so competently and capably. He said such kind things to his instructors at his test, the five-stripe blackbelts almost melted.
We continued to have outdoor playdates with friends, either on sunny days or around a bonfire. Phoebe’s February birthday, usually gloomy, fell on a sunny day. We had only recently brought home her baby goat bucks, and the party featured goat racing for the kids and bloody marys for the moms. You would be correct if you imagined that it was uproariously funny.
Now, as the weather improves, home schooling (and probably schooling everywhere) is wearing a bit thin. We’re ready for summer, and sunshine, and riding horses again. I also feel ready for the kids to be in school again next Fall; Phoebe will go to Eureka’s St Bernard’s, where she is excited to do all nine hundred of the extra curriculars offered, and Tristan will go to the little red schoolhouse at the foot of the mountain, a good school called Garfield. In addition, I’m gearing up again to go to nursing school in the Fall, assuming that the kids will be back in school. While this was an amazing school year and I’m so thankful for the opportunity to spend so much time so intensely with my kids, we all need something new come September! Over the last month or so, compounded by septic failure and propane burnout, Tristan, Phoebe, and I, who have been together in the living room for a year, have decided we’re done with the pandemic. Go away, COVID.