There was no way to know it at the time, but when we adopted four pygmy goats on a whim in the winter of 2015, we were embarking on a totally wide-eyed and unprepared journey into gleaning serenity from farm animals.
Fast forward nearly five years to our nine goats romping in their 1/3 acre playpen in our backyard. The biggest, Spices (named by my daughter who was responding to my name prompt that his white and gray coat ‘looks like salt and pepper!”) has an enormous belly that protrudes widely left and right. He is the brute of the group, pushing his way to the first of the line for food, but the sweetest with me, nuzzling his big, scarred forehead against mine.
There’s tiny Oak and his twin Star, who were two weeks old we met them. They used to fall asleep in our arms. Now, as spunky teens, they want very little to do with us and I can practically sense them rolling their weird goat eyes at us.
There’s rambunctious Henry, who makes a funny yuk-yuk noise when he’s excited and is the first to leap up toward the delicious branches of the willow tree when he sees me heading over to grab a leafy snack for them.
There’s Henry’s twin sister Daphne, who screams when she’s excited. It’s not a pleasant sound. Hers are not the gentle, adorable bleats of satisfied goats; it’s a guttural war cry of cray that has shockingly not gotten us a single noise complaint from the neighbors.
There’s shy Captain, who will finally come – ever so gingerly – to my outstretched hand after years of being perpetually skittish. Her bleat does not match her gentle demeanor, as she sounds like failing old-timey car horn giving up its final toot each time she speaks.
It is impossible to be grumpy when you are around these silly creatures. They make weird noises, they show their teeth in freaky smiles, they leap off of their wooden spool tables with a little jolted wriggle of their bellies as if they’ve been shocked.
It’s possible to tell when they’re happy, when they’re hungry, when they could really use a good beard scratch. Some of them love a beard scratch, and some of them only want their handful of oats before skittering away.
As with any beloved pet, the goats have grown to trust and adore me. They come running when they hear me approaching; they brush up against my legs as I enter their area. I’ve learned where each one likes to be rubbed (Captain and Spices on their dehorned foreheads; Henry right under his beard; Oak on the sides of his belly, which can get a little bloated; greedy nibbler Dakota literally anywhere on his cashmere-soft flanks.)
Sometimes I head out to the goat yard to just sit with them for a dose of “goat therapy.”
Here’s how to experience goat therapy: You walk toward the post-and-pole fence that separates the goats’ area from the rest of the yard. You know the moment they notice you arriving, because your senses will be greeted with a series of bleats, groans, yuk-yuks, and – oh, Daphne – screams.
You’ll lift the latch on the gate and step in, usually allowing your dog to leap into her favorite otherwise-out-of-bounds territory to sniff and snoop. The goats tolerate her well, and she is more interested in their poop than their personalities.
You’ll find a place to perch, maybe on one of the tall wooden spools, maybe on the soft green grass in the shade of the giant willow tree. The goats will come to you. Some will get their exploratory lips up in your neck, your shirt hem, or your hair (Dakota and Durango), others will hover to see if you’ve brought a tortilla chip treat (Star). Some will sit near you (but not too near; Oak), and some will plop close enough to get a neck pet or a few hugs and kisses.
And then, you can just settle in. You’ll leave your phone inside and allow your breath to flow easily. The goats may frolic around a bit (whether for show or because they’re so happy to have you near is never quite clear… maybe it has nothing to do with you), and you’ll find their frolicking so contentedly satisfying.
Once they realize you’re just there to sit, the goats will carry on in their easygoing goaty ways; nibbling, munching, butting heads. Henry may sidle right into you and stay until he’s been properly snuggled. Dakota might need a few reminders to stop masticating your shirt. It’s perhaps not the best opportunity to lie down for an uninterrupted meditation, but you may be surprised to find that the earth beneath you begins to absorb your burdens as the goats’ energy mingles with and eventually overtakes your own; you’ll feel your shoulders unclench and your heart become freer.
Goats have a soothing glory all their own. They’re not flighty birdbrains like our (sweet and lovely) chickens; they’re not needy for attention like dogs; they are less mercurial that cats. All they require is something tasty to munch on, a few places to climb and cavort, some friends of the same species, and a dry place of escape when it rains (goats hate rain!).
When we picked up our first goats from a friend in urgent need of rehoming them, we had no idea what we were going to do with them. We didn’t even think to consider what they were going to do for us.
Every day, I get to look out the back windows to see their current state of cavorting. Even when they’re being feisty headbutters, or when they daily witching hour happens at twilight (at which point they’re literally running circles around the place), I immediately smile with a sense of calm and ease. They don’t have to work at their tranquil joy, they are unbothered by the state of politics, they have everything they need in their well-fed life of simply existing. They’re my reminder of what’s truly important.
The time will come when you will be able to settle fully into gratitude for the decisions you’ve made that others want to challenge, but that you know you did for your best self and highest way of being.
I mean, it’s probably going to be a rough and weighty time, but trust me when I say this: the road gets smoother and the weight gets lighter as you continue to step into what you know is the best truth for you.
There is so much space that opens up for hope when you decide, with finality, to leave the drama in your wake and set your sights on the smooth waters ahead.
And what is the heart without hope?
“If a conclusion supports your existing beliefs, you’ll rationalize anything that supports it.”
What is it about being human that makes us want to believe in things, though hard evidence doesn’t exist?
Is it our intrinsic need to feel knowledgeable, worthy, and “in” on realities that the status quo just doesn’t support?
Is it in our nature to feel important? Seen?
Does it make us feel safer and therefore more powerful when we can be surrounded by shiny “proof” of the secret ongoings beyond our basic day-to-day lives?
We can not fault ourselves for seeking peace and answers when we feel so helpless. It’s frustrating when we don’t feel in control.
However, I believe it is dangerous to cling hopefully to conspiracy theories that may act as an “aha!” balm for our unease.
Just because stories are packaged in slick and captivating ways doesn’t mean we have to be led down rabbit holes of intrigue that may only guide us to more fear, anger, and the need for retribution.
Step away and dance for a bit.
The world is not out to get you. There is not a secret society of planned pain, intentional chaos, and malicious takeover.
As human as it is to want to feel in control, it’s also within us to find trust that we are all in this together.
We may not be in the same boat, but we are in the same sea.
If you find yourself drawn toward ideas that make you feel filled with rage and unease, know that you are feeling exactly the way they want you to feel.
Don’t lose hold of your common sense. We are all feeling tumbled and tossed around, and deserve to come together with grace vs rip each other apart over the need to believe.
In an effort to ease the strain of quarantine orders, my daughter and I have been leading fun and simple 15-minute live goat yoga classes on Instagram. It's a tiny, silly way that we can bring some lightheartedness to your days. Check out our feed here.
by Emily Nielsen
"I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition."
All posts are copyright ©Emily Nielsen