Tough Old Goats

I’m tending the goats again. My farmer friend is on a jaunt down the coast (still love saying that!) and I get goats and chickens mornings and evenings for a couple days. It’s peaceful work, gathering eggs and scattering feed. Two of the goats get milked, an unexpectedly serene ritual of communication with the animal.

My farmer friend tells me I have a soothing demeanor with the animals. I was glad to hear that, because I make an effort to pay attention to them, to watch for cues, to listen, as it were, to what they’re trying to say, to get a sense of them. My favorite goat is Poppy, Poppythe multi-colored milker who stands at a distance from the other goats, skittish and wary, not like Spree, who loves on everybody who comes in the pen.

Poppy gave me a hard time when I was first learning how to milk her. She ran to the farthest end of the pen, down in the muddy ravine, and dared me to chase her. Any step I made her direction caused her to bolt. I sat on the stump near the barn, just watching, waiting for her to wander my direction. Spree, who’s the oldest goat, went down and headbutted Poppy, a gesture that looked to me like “Hey, quit being a jerk!” Not long after that, Poppy trotted up to the barn, and I was able to milk her. Spree rules the goats with her hard head.

I plied Poppy with alfalfa pellets and strokes to her forehead, using a soft voice and quiet manner. Over a couple of days, Poppy became friendly, approaching me on her own, nudging me with her head for pets like Spree does. Now, Poppy comes to the milking stand without coaxing, stands without fidgeting, and hangs around afterward just to let me scratch her ears. We’ve bonded.

I’m proud of having won over Poppy. She’s a tough old goat, intelligent enough to know how to manipulate people, careful about who she allows to get close.

Recently, I realized that I specialize in relationships with people who are a lot like Poppy; difficult, obstinant, pushy, and not many people get to know them. My husband would be the first to admit that he could be described that way. He thinks of himself as Beast, from Beauty and the Beast. Just like Beast, he’s a gentle man underneath the snarl. (Fun fact: Beauty and the Beast is Tim’s favorite Disney movie.)

I’ve had a number of bosses I would also describe that way, bosses who became my good friends. A few of my very close friends over the years have also been difficult, someone that not a lot of other people get along with.

Deep down, I know that there’s an element of ego for me in pursuing these relationships. The phrase “music hath charms to soothe the savage beast” has always appealed to me, and the story of Androcles and the lion. It’s all somehow connected to my desire to be so gentle that even the most dangerous, ferocious creature settles down in my presence. I am proud of the fact that I can withstand more than anybody else, like somehow that makes me superior to the average person. It doesn’t, really. This is a fallacy I’ve believed for a long time. I’m working on changing that.

The difficulty of being the Beast Whisperer is that, over time, the bulk of my energy is spent creating calm for other people, being so unflappable that I cause no ripples of my own, and only react to the ripples of other people. But subjecting myself to other people’s ripples, to the waves of negativity or anger or prickliness for so long has worn away at me.

It’s only now, in this distance from so many of my Beasts, that I realize the stifling effect my years of whispering has had on me. I have become a purely responsive entity, existing for others, emitting no waves of my own, good or bad. I’m just beginning to shed the habits of other-centered behavior and take a look at who I am underneath.

Tim, in his middle age, is mellowing to a more constant, supple state, the hard edges wearing smooth through his efforts at introspection and understanding. It’s a beautiful thing to see, and I’m proud of who he is, and I stand by him as he changes, just as he stands by me as I change.

My husband notwithstanding, though, I’ve decided to stop purposely being the center of other people’s storms, the anchor in the typhoon. A couple of gentle, balanced friends are showing me what I’m like when I’m released to be a person in the world. It’s a fascinating process, this ‘becoming’. It’s like being an adolescent without the insane hormonal fluctuations. With the encouragement of these stable folk, I’m discovering all kinds of new things. I think I’ll keep going.

From now on, I relinquish my role of Beast Whisperer so I can seek my own adventures.

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