Thursday, September 22, 2011

Goat Song

I have the opportunity to read a good number of books while I am away doing field work. Each week I bring a tall stack of books with me from the library and blast through them at a pace of one every day or two. So, I figured I would mention some of the ones I have enjoyed the most. The first is Goat Song.

Goat Song, by Brad Kessler, was just what I expected it to be, a romanticized snippet of goat farming.
 I thought it was super.
 A mixture of prose about nature, etymology (that’s right, words, not insects), animal companionship, milking, mating (enough to make you giggle), and cheesemaking. Even if you’re not interested in becoming a goat farmer, it is a pleasurably restful book to read. Bits of knowledge just waft off the page like steam from a warm cup of tea. I read it between batches of paperwork, I read it in a recliner, I read it by the pool, and in all of those places I felt neither a hurry to finish it, nor any boredom, just gladness that there was still more of it to read.
One of my favorite sections of the book was the author’s discussion of the word Pastoral and how it used to refer to the poetry and songs written by herders--songs often sang only for the livestock. I also learned about the different varieties of “singing” used in different cultures to get the attention of goat herds. Yodeling and kulning being two examples of high vocalizations to which all kinds of animals are more attentive. (This is where you go look kulning up on YouTube for a while...I'll be here when you get back).

Another of my favorite of Kessler's discussions is best summed up by this quote he used from the naturalist Henry Beston,
"We need another and a wiser and perhaps more mystical concept of animals. In a world older and more complete than ours they moved finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the sense we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time."  

 I think I appreciated it so much because I have been thinking about all of the things we don't know about the world around us. Just as when we meet a new person we can’t know their story just by looking at them, we really will never know how birds perceive the world, or whether the cows think we’re silly, or whether elephants pass down history. And I can’t help but wondering whenever I hear people looking for intelligent life in outer space (wondering why they are, that is). Not because I don’t think there is any, but because there is so much mystery right here, and just because the goats and raccoons aren’t communicating to us with radio signals doesn’t mean we have figured out what makes them tick. God has breathed life into all that breathe...I just wonder what it is like to be a goat or bird or zebra.

But ask the animals, and they will teach you,
or the birds in the sky, and they will tell you;  
or speak to the earth, and it will teach you,    
or let the fish in the sea inform you. 
Which of all these does not know    
that the hand of the LORD has done this? 
In his hand is the life of every creature    
and the breath of all mankind.

Job 12:7-10

From my field work
(nothing to do with the field work, or with goats, just a fascinating little creature).


  1. Hi Sarah! I'm a friend of Melissa's. She brought your blog to my attention and I'm really enjoying reading it. Educational, entertaining, and very enjoyable. I'll be back! :)


  2. Sounds like a great book. I've always dreamed of having a little herd of goats.
    And that Beston quote is excellent!


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