This summer John and I gave in to the siren call of buying a log built home on an acre. A project house, a blank slate of a place, it’s too small, has poorly insulated doors and windows, and lacks reasonable cooling (which is to say, it has none) and heating (which is to say, it has a tiny woodstove and electric baseboard heaters we’re not sure work). We nonetheless fell in love with its possibility.
For Riley, the cabin fulfills a few wishes. She’ll get to raise animals, have her pick of climbing trees, eat fruit she picks herself, go wading in the small irrigation stream in the back.
The first time we showed the place to Owen, he stood next to the car shaking his head. “I mean, all that looking around and this is what you chose? I’m confused.” Our choice was further evidence that his parents are nutjobs, that he was switched somehow at birth and got taken home with what he calls “hygienic hippies” instead. Owen wanted a pool, a media room, a hot tub, a house that said “Wow” from the street.
Early summer was long and lovely and mild, the perfect conditions in which to move ourselves just the few miles with hundred of trips in our pickup truck and some help from a band of teenage boys. Owen’s friends are much more willing helpers than he is, for which we’re grateful. In addition to a growing curiosity about his real birth parents, Owen is newly in love, and therefore anything we ask him to do is half completed in a hot rush, one eye on the clock, while he counts the minutes and seconds until he can be reunited with his gal pal. When they cannot be together, there is furious love-struck texting, and also more than a little staring off into the middle distance, deep in thought. He wants to be fully independent and stay out at night as late as he likes. He wants to bring five friends home for dinner with five minute’s notice. He wants to go camping with a pack of boys and girls and no chaperones, burn huge bonfires in the desert, wear a LOT of cologne.
This territory is new for all of us and seemed to come all at once. He can hardly have a conversation, changes clothes three times a day, and takes a lot of showers. We like his gal pal quite a bit; she’s genuine, helpful, a good friend to him. John and I do remember how all-consuming teen desires of any kind are, which helps us dread the brain-damaged condition we’re all going to have to suffer through for the next few years. We remember enough to be a anxious about Owen’s choices in his Technicolor love haze.
“Give me a break,” Owen tells us when we talk about not getting carried away in love. “You’re in love too, you know. With LAND.” As if it’s a bad thing.
Many days, the new house is too small for Owen and me, so I spend a lot of time outside on the LAND, which I do, I must confess, love.
Anyway, by day three in the cabin I realized the back pasture’s thigh-high grass needed attention. On Craigslist I found a goat wrangling schoolteacher with a hobby farm a few towns over, so I called him and asked him to bring me some professional eaters, which he did. The next day our new Nubian friends pulled up to the house in the bed a tiny pick-up truck . A mother goat and twin kids, a boy and a girl about four months old. They’d been on the freeway and caused quite a ruckus among drivers, but when they arrived the goats eyed us from the back of the truck, chewing rhythmically on some hay, and didn’t seem too worse for the wear.
The wrangler stepped out of the cab. He wore workout clothes, a pair of Nikes, a baseball cap. I’d expected him to show up wearing, um, goat wrangling clothes, and then realized I had no idea what that attire would be.
“That’s Cooper, the mom,” the wrangler said, “and Coeur d’Alene, the girl; and Preston, the boy. We name all our goats after places.”
Riley and I sat on the tailgate. The goats nuzzled our hands from the truck’s bed and leaned their foreheads into our chests.
“I just banded Preston,” the wrangler said, “so he might not feel too well for a few days.” He took some leashes from his cab and reached to clip one to each goat’s dog collar.
I had no idea what he was talking about. “You did what?”
“See that rubber band back there?” I maneuvered to look at Preston’s backside and spied a green rubber band wrapped around the top of his testicles. “It takes the Billy out of his Billy, if you know what I mean. Last thing you want is a Billy around. Doesn’t really hurt, just tingles a little. Should dry up and fall off in a few days.”
Though I had just met the wrangler, I said something about how great it would be if it was that easy to take the Billy out of some human males, remembering John’s post-Billy-surgery-drama-queenness. The frozen bags of corn and peas. I thought of Owen’s burgeoning Billy, and also wondered how anyone could possibly know that for a goat, having a rubber band cutting off the blood to its Billy did nothing more than tingle.
We stood quietly a moment. “Wait,” I said. “Which thing falls off? The Billy or the rubber band?”
“You’ll see,” he said. “You can call me if there’s a problem.”
We put the three goats on leashes and took them into the pasture and let them go.
Preston licked at his backside and then laid down by the gate while Cooper and Cordy wandered off.
We watched them browsing in their new salad bar, and by the time the wrangler was ready to leave, Riley and I were decidedly smitten.
It’s been two months, long enough for us to train the goats to come when we call. They follow us around in the pasture, nudging our hands for kitchen scraps, putting their front feet onto our chests to make sure we’re not concealing anything. When it’s hot, they lie together under a big spruce at the corner of the property, just opposite the fence from our neighbor’s chickens, who lean against the fence from their own side, close enough to touch their goat pals. They’re fast friends, which has given life to a habit of breaking property lines to be together. Once, my neighbor found the goats inside his chicken run, where they ate all the chicken feed and then laid down with the chickens. A few days later, the hens were in our back pasture, trailing the goats and chortling to one another in chicken speak about what good fun a day visiting friends was. They put themselves to bed later in the evening.
We’ve spent a lot of time shoring up fencing, hoping each time we’ve succeeded in preventing their next houdinied adventure.
All summer we waited for Preston to lose whatever it was he was going to lose in only a few days. We called the wrangler once to ask why it was taking so long and got another cryptic answer: “Sometimes it does,” he said. In the background I could hear a chicken laying an egg, a lawnmower, some kids yelling. Riley and I decided to resist asking Uncle Google what to do, and instead, we just waited.
Preston, his Billy perpetually shriveling but not falling off, spent the summer trying to work out what it all meant. At dusk, he’d run up to his mother and nurse furiously for a minute, then canter spastically toward his sister Cordy and mount her until Cooper bleated at him to stop, at which point he’d run in zig-zags, until they were all sprinting back and forth along the fence line, tossing their ears.
Summer’s pretty much over as far as the kids are concerned. Owen’s still with his gal pal. Though John and I are bold in our conversations about how it’s possible to be in love and also make smart choices, we’re terrified of Owen’s Billy being in the driver’s seat of decision making.
Last week Owen and I were in the way back diverting water into the pasture. He’s been much more willing to help than I imagined, and I’m tickled. The goats were with us, using one of the fence posts to stretch up into the leafy branches of a locust and eat. Their appetite is like nothing I’ve seen; it beats even a band of teenaged boys after swim practice. Owen and I stood in the knee-high stream in our rubber boots, watching the water find its way through the grass in the pasture.
“Isn’t water games so much better than a media room?” I asked.
He shook his head, smiled, offered a clutch of mint to Preston, who nibbled on it, jerking his head to keep it away from Cordy.
I leaned down to check out the status of Preston’s rubber band, finding nothing at all. All of it had fallen off, both the Billy and the band. I patted his head and asked him if he felt better, if he’d even noticed that he was newly unencumbered.
“Poor guy,” Owen said. He stepped out of the water, and Preston sniffed his pockets and put his front legs up on Owen’s chest. “Wasn’t really a fair fight, was it, Bud?”
I opened my mouth to seize the opportunity to have another TALK about inhabiting the world of love while also making good choices. But my boy was in galoshes, mucking around with me in the pursuit to divert water, and he was pretty good humored about it, for once. And already, I was seriously at risk of being the dog whistle he couldn’t hear, so I let it lie.
Owen patted his pocket for the appendage of his phone, then looked toward the house. “So. We’re done here?” he asked. “I’m going to do that thing in a while?”
“Sure. Thanks for the help.”
I bit my tongue against all the cautionary words to live by, the pearls of wisdom gleaned from my own near-misses and hard lessons, the ever-present feed of news informing new pitfalls for youth. He wouldn’t have heard me anyway. Already gone, Owen walked back to the house, sloshing through the water-soaked pasture, his head bent into texting while the goats trotted along behind him.