February 17, 2019

For the Love of Goats

It's been a year since I last visited Angeles Crest Creamery during kidding season, and I'd been having a hankering for more baby goats.

Hiking with baby goats has gotten so popular that you really have to plan ahead to get a ticket before the event sells out. And when you sign up, you don't know whether any goats will have recently given birth—because it's too far ahead to really know for sure.

So, you just have to pick a date and appreciate whatever you get when you get there.

I chose to return the Saturday after Valentine's Day—not knowing what a stormy January and February we were to have or that there would be snow on the ground, with temperatures peaking around 40 degrees F the day after hurricane force winds.

I didn't know that on that wintry day, the goat hike would start early—making us late, though we technically arrived two minutes before the advertised start time.

I also hadn't know that the herd of goats would choose that day to take off up the hillside instead of meandering around the flat lake, leaving us in the dust (or, the snow, as it were) as they climbed up a high ridge the way only goats could.

We looked for a way to join up with them by hiking up and around, but it was becoming clear that there was no avoiding scrambling up to the top more or less the way they had.

"Do you want me to run ahead and go up there and scout it out?" Cat offered.

"YES. Go Cat go!"

I was feeling old and out of shape, out of breath from the cold and the altitude and limping despite my sturdy boots and orthotic inserts.

Then, the most magical thing happened.

Behind me, a pig named Katie had shuffled on up the trail and started to make acquaintances with some other hikers who'd been left behind. And ahead of me, Cat was shouting, "They're here! I found the goats! Ohmygodohmygodohmygod!"

Cat beckoned us to join her—but I was momentarily more interested in this free-range pig who was snouting around in the snow.

And then a few goats—maybe a tenth of the size of the entire herd—rumbled down the ridge with Cat following in hot pursuit, exclaiming in disbelief as I delighted in announcing, "Here they come!"

Everything up to that point had been abjectly unfamiliar to me—but once we headed down the dirt road (suitable more or less for golf carts and equestrians), I thought I knew what to expect.

After all, I'd taken this path with some of these goats before. This isn't the way they usually start out the hike, but this is the way they usually finish it.

They all made a beeline for the tree surrounded by the retaining wall that I'd learned they love just last year.

Photo by Cat Lukaszewski

That's usually where they sit and ruminate, chewing the cud of whatever sagebrush or buckwheat or pine they'd found on their hike, and settling down from all the excitement.

But they got glints in their eyes—and before I knew what hit them, they headed back up the trail, right back to where they'd just come from. Apparently they'd never done that before. But sometimes in shepherding goats, you can't lead them—you just have to follow.

I tried to follow them, but I couldn't breathe and I could barely walk. I'd worked up too much of a sweat to wear my North Face jacket but I was too wet and it was too cold and windy to hike without it. So I sat on a log under a tree and watched the pig surpass me as I listened to the wind.

Then the best thing happened—I didn't have to follow the animals, because the animals came and found me.

Soon I was getting to know a Great Pyrenees with great intimacy, as a few goats joined us and Katie the pig dug her snout into the ground under Zita Marie, one of two dogs tasked with guarding the herd on the ranch.

I got distracted at one point and began talking to some other hikers and giving the other Great Pyrenees, Luigi, a few scratches around the collar—but Zita was having none of that. She placed a paw on my knee and then her face in my lap.

She's a good worker, though—so she knew we'd have to return to the red barn as soon as the herd started heading down there. But later, she followed me to the cabin by the lake and got plenty of more love from me, even as the goats kissed and nibbled my palms and fingers and bit my butt and backpack.

This past weekend, most of the kids had been born too early and were already too big to pick up and snuggle and let fall asleep on our laps.

Which means I might have to go back again next month, for the next round of babies to be born.

When you love goats, you just can't get enough.
Related Posts:
Photo Essay: Hiking with Baby Goats
Kidding Season
In Praise of The Goat Gaze

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