“Did you hear what I said? I said no more goats inside the house, is that understood?”
“You’re as fond of him as I am.”
Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernières
I own a goat. Two actually: Biscuit and Bucket. One is a nigerian dwarf and the other is a pygmy. How this happened exactly, I cannot really say. We don’t live on a farm, though we do live in Austin, Texas. We don’t have a lot of land. And we knew nothing about livestock–sorry, ruminants.
Now we know a lot. Not just about animals but about life. Here’s what having goats taught me about life:
You Can’t Have Just One Goat
I can’t tell if this was a trick my wife (then-girlfriend) played on me or a life lesson. Convincing me to get the one goat was easy and I thought justifiable. But pretty soon, these conversations (often with tears) started: We can’t have just one goat. It’s cruel. Look at Bucket, she’s so lonely. They’re herd animals–they need friends! And then she sewed it up: I’d rather we took Bucket back to the farm, than have her suffer here by herself.
So now we have two goats, and everyone is much happier. Humans are herd animals too. Humans suffer when they are alone and deprived. Like goats, we live longer and do better when we are surrounded by and invigorated by company and companionship. I suppose that’s one lesson. The other is the realpolitik of relationships: Happy wife, happy life. And boy do they know it.
Goats Don’t Mow Your Lawn (they don’t eat trash either)
When we picked up the goat, I joked to the woman that at least we wouldn’t have to mow the yard anymore. Oh no, she told me, goats don’t eat grass. They eat leaves, bushes, weeds, plants but not grass. So that busted myth number one. Myth number two: Do I have to worry about them eating garbage? No, that’s a stereotype from old cartoons. Goats don’t even have top front teeth! So far, I have seen them chew (see: gum) on trees, on the fence, on each other, on my shoes, on the misters we set up for them, on my headphone cords, on an airline ticket, but they’ve never eaten any of it and they’ve never mowed the yard (but that could also be because they mostly trampled it to death). In fact, they’re incredibly picky. They only like some kinds of hay, and if they don’t like what you offer them, they’ll spit it at you like a spoiled child. Anyway, the lesson here is: you think you know about things but really you have no clue.
Pure Unadulterated Joy
Things that make goats happy: head butting each other, jumping on top of stuff, head butting inanimate objects, jumping on top of people, eating chips, boxes. That’s the life, isn’t it? We got one of the goats a tire. Look at how goddamn happy it is about it.
Really though, if you want to give a goat the greatest present in the world, buy a giant wooden spool on craigslist–they’ll love you and it forever. Meanwhile, I’m upset if my Uber estimate says (4 minutes) but takes 9 to arrive. The goats, they jump up and then jump down. They jump up and then knock the other one off. They wind up and get on two legs so they can hurl themselves harder into each other. They bleat and prance around when they hear you coming. One time they got so excited at the sight of Samantha cleaning the chicken coop, they knocked the door closed and trapped her in it. And then they were so excited by the laughter that they wouldn’t get off and let her out.
Having animals in your life is both a pleasure and an honor. It’s on you to make sure they’re happy, and it gives you pleasure to make sure that they are happy. And at the same time, they remind you how simple happiness really is. They are constant reminders of the power of the present moment. Every day I look at my goats out my office window and see it in living form.
Curiosity + Energy + Stupidity Can Be A Bad Combination
One thing about goats is that you basically have to spend all your time making sure they don’t kill themselves. They have the curiosity of a cat with the personality and brain of a big dog. Meaning: they get themselves into trouble they can’t possibly get themselves out of. There is a joke: Take three goats and put them into barrels. When you come back in an hour, one will gone, one will be dead, and one will be tied up. In real life: here is a video of my goat falling off a table. Here is a video of my goat falling off the porch while sitting in an empty Amazon box. Here’s my same goat falling off a different table. Here’s the same goat falling off the same table again. At least they’re tough–which is what you have to be if you’re dumb.
The other day I heard scratching and whining. Biscuit had knocked an extra loop of cord from the cable box down, then crawled through it and was now leashed to the house and in danger of strangling herself. You could say that this is all animal behavior, but honestly, it reminds me of a lot of situations my friends and clients get themselves into. People think that being passionate and curious is a special asset–but really I find that without intelligence, and caution (or a watchful owner) you end up getting yourself into serious trouble.
Do Ridiculous Things
Two of the best decisions of my life came out of total irresponsibility and whim. We got a dog because I was reading a book about how Pope Leo X had a pet elephant named Hanno. That’d be a funny name for a dog, I thought. A week later, we had a miniature dachshund puppy. The girlfriend and I had been together 6 months. Our dog is now seven years old. There’s no story behind the goat except that we asked ourselves: Why not? So we got a goat and had Smitty’s BBQ on the way home and called it a day.
Now these are precisely the kind of impulse decisions that your parents spend all their time trying to make sure you don’t make. Except they’re two of the greatest things I’ve ever done. If I had to choose between most of the places I have been, and most of the things I’ve accomplished and having these guys around and the ridiculous memories, you know what I’d choose? You know because you’re probably the same way. Nothing is better than a dog–or in this case, a goat. But you can never learn this if you’re afraid to take a risk, or do the irresponsible thing.
People Are Afraid To Do What They Want
The weirdest part about having a goat is how much other people freak out about it. They want to come over and see the goats, they love seeing photos, and they will not stop sendings us links anytime a goat video or story goes viral. They tell you how they’ve always wanted a goat–since they were a kid–but have never told anyone before. A friend of mine told me that he and his soon to be wife, after seeing our goats, have started talking about life in the distant future when they can have land and a couple animals. I feel lucky to have my life, sure, but I didn’t exactly hit the lottery. The distant, unrealistic future can be now.
It’s sad. You realize most of the things that people want are very much within their reach…excepting the psychological and personal barriers they put up to block themselves. They live in cities that make them miserable, they date or hook up when really what they want is a relationship, they claim to want to be an ________ yet they’re a ______ for a living instead, they say they love animals but set up a life where they don’t have any. I don’t get it. Life is short. Doing ridiculous things is good–but most of what people want to do isn’t even ridiculous. They’re more than entitled to want/have/live it but they don’t. Because they are afraid.