My herd and I are pretty in sync. If I head to the barn, they head to the barn. And, even if my reason for being in the barn has nothing to do with them, I can't help but give them some loving while I'm there. So, including all the time spent during milking each morning and evening, suffice it to say that I spend a lot of time with my goats. I can often tell that one is sick before she even shows many symptoms. "Hmmm. It seems weird that Nutmeg is hanging out by the fence during this time of the day," I thought. And, when I went to check on her, I noticed that she had developed a sunburn since I'd trimmed her hair so short. Her discomfort had caused her to behave a little differently than normal, and I was able to pick up on it.
I KNOW these animals.
I know that Nutmeg has to have the fan blowing on her during milking to keep the flies away or she will stomp the entire time she's on the milk stand. I know that if I turn that fan to blow on Razz during milking, it will drive her up the wall. I know that every single time I open the gate, Honey will be there trying to bulldoze her way out. I know that Razz picks around her alfalfa but that Shake will eat her leftovers. I know that when I first approach Mrs. Hughes, she acts shy but that as soon as I turn my back she's jumping on me, begging to be scratched behind the ears. I know that if any one of them acts differently, I need to have a close eye on things. Their sicknesses rarely surprise me. I can see the early signs.
If there was a hint -- an inkling, I missed it. She was fine. Then, she was gone.
I have always approached the barn with an eagerness as the animals all call out their morning greetings. But, since Izzy's passing, I've approached the barn with a nervousness -- what terrible thing might await me today?
And, if I've been away from the farm for several hours, when I arrive home, I drive right on past the house and down to the barn. I just need to lay eyes on everyone before I can continue with my day.
As I write, I am preparing to be away from the farm for several consecutive days. This is a first since Izzy's passing, and the idea of leaving has my stomach in knots. Maybe it will be good for me to see that the farm won't come crumbling down in my absence -- that with John here to do the daily chores, my animals can survive without me for a few days.
I do not wish to be a fearful farmer.
I hope that as time passes, I'll be able to stop holding my breath as I swing open the door of the barn.
For now, though, there is this. This is the season that I am in. And, in it, I am trying to remember to be thankful for every time that I am able to open the barn door, count them out -- one through ten -- and then exhale slowly, a prayer of thanks, before beginning the familiar rhythm of the morning routine.