John dug the hole with the tractor. Then, together we hoisted her down into the grave, careful to keep her head from lolling back as we maneuvered her limp body. She was dignified in life, we would see to it that she was dignified here, too.
I went down into the hole with her. First, making sure I liked the way her legs were arranged — comfortably, like she might lay in the field on a cool, sunny day. Then, I turned my attention to her face and stroked it as I repeated to her the things I’d whispered to her only an hour before as she fought for her final breaths.
Nutmeg. You are a good goat. A strong goat. An amazing momma. Thank you for the gift you were to this farm.
And so on.
I fussed with her eyes, as I had done several times over the past hour when I thought no one was watching me. I wanted them closed so badly, but they would not cooperate. I knew that in a few moments we would scoop ceremonial shovelfuls of earth over her body before John finished the job with the tractor, and I couldn’t stomach the idea of tossing dirt onto her still-damp eyes.
Of course she would be stubborn about this. Of course she would demand to have it her way. She was always endearingly stubborn. And, horse of a goat that she was, if she wanted to go left despite my leading to the right, left it always was. When Zander was young, this stubbornness got Nutmeg into trouble in the field. Despite his urgings, she cared not a bit about hanging with the herd— she and her babies off doing their own thing. Zander would nip at her heels, urging her to join the herd, but she would have things her way, putting him in his place with a powerful swing of her head.
Let it go, I tell myself, and move my attention from her still open eyes to her ears — her beautiful, floppy ears. They are frosted like the rest of her body. John knew she was beautiful from the beginning. When she first came to the farm, an anniversary gift to me, in perfect keeping with the traditional gift of fur given on a 13th anniversary, I loved her for the milk she would provide, but I didn’t yet see that she was beautiful. She was the largest goat I had ever seen, and why did a female goat have a beard? But, her quiet, strong demeanor and her tolerance of my affection despite her independent spirit won me over quickly, and I began to see her as beautiful. I would trim that long beard in the winter to keep it from becoming an icicle when dipped into the water trough, but in the spring, for our young field trippers visiting the farm, I let it grow and used her beard as an example of how each goat is unique and beautiful. I told them, too, about how she marched to the beat of her own drum, not needing to follow the crowd, but content to spend time alone and how that is different for goats but okay.
I feel as though John is ready — ready to pray a prayer of thankfulness from up there on the edge of the hole and finish our little ceremony. But, I am not ready to leave this place — not ready to leave her. I want to lay my head down on her chest and rest here in this moment like I used to nap with the goats out in the field on a fall day, using her as my pillow.
I want to rest here in this hole. But, I know I can’t — because Nutmeg isn’t the only one. There is an entire herd. And, in this heat, they need water. And the eggs need to be gathered, washed, put away. The garden must be weeded — and today, if the cucumbers are going to have a fighting chance. The heartbeat of a farm is unrelenting. It doesn’t stop for me to lie here in this hole.
Just a few more moments here, please. I know how it will go when I climb out. I will pull Elijah, the only child of the three who has been here today for all of this, close and remind him of the circle of life — how in the spring, the farm was bursting with life as we welcomed all those bouncing babies. And that this stillness is a part of that circle, too. He already knows this, of course. Farm kids learn these things early. We will pray our prayers and each throw a shovelful of earth into the hole. For my part, I will be careful not to get any in her eyes. Then, we will get back to the work of the farm. The coming week will be a tough one. I will struggle to revise the milking schedule, filling in the hole Nutmeg leaves by moving her daughter Mrs. Hughes to earlier in the rotation. But, when she enters the barn, stout and strong, I will cry for what I’ve lost even as I see before me what is ahead. And, when milking is complete, and I release all those babies from their field to reunite with their mommas, I will weep again when Jake and Charles wander aimlessly, crying loudly as goats all around them pair up — mommas with their young. But, with each day, her absence will sting a little less, for me and also for them. I know this, of course, because this is not my first time in a hole with a goat.
But even as I am here in this hole, the lifeblood of this farm is ever flowing. The goats are grazing, making milk even now. The hens are in the nesting boxes, producing. The bees are buzzing around the zucchini blooms, planning tomorrow’s fruits. And, I don’t want to miss any of it. I can’t. I love it all so deeply. And, I will take the bad days, if I must, because the good ones are oh-so-very good. Thank you, God, for all of it.
So. Deep breath. Final caress. Goodbye, Sweet Meggie. And I rise.