Posts Tagged ‘Virginia Woolf’

Three goats 005

If we didn’t live venturously, plucking the wild goat by the beard, and trembling over precipices, we should never be depressed, I’ve no doubt; but already should be faded, fatalistic and aged. – Virginia Woolf

I take this quote to mean that living dangerously and teasing wild goats keeps you young. I have to take issue with that opinion, and would add that clearly V. Woolf has never known an actual goat. Because to pluck a wild goat by the beard would, it seems to me, be one of the more fatalistic moves one could make. I mean, there is living dangerously, and then there is plucking goats’ beards.

My parents’ next-door neighbor has been keeping small goats to eat underbrush at his place. The most recent candidate was a bit wild; he had a genius for escape and enjoyed roaming free between his home and my parents’ farm. The first time Ernesto and I saw him, he was grazing in a small field between the two properties. As we drove slowly past, I made a comment along the lines of, “There’s Bobby’s new goat, isn’t he cute?” The goat raised his head, and we both were both stunned. He was a little fellow, shaggy and white, but he had enormous horns and a black, stringy beard about a yard long. Ernesto said he was such a cartoon-character of a goat that he should be called Capricorn.

Several weeks later we had Easter lunch at the farm. My sister, Holli, and her crew had not yet arrived, but it was 2:00 and folks were getting restless and one nephew had to drive back to Chapel Hill to work, so we sat down at the dining-room table to get started. We sat in front of long windows that look out over the front of the house—the pond, the driveway, the field between the farm and the neighbors.

“Look, there’s a goat,” Robin said. It was Capricorn, heading up the driveway at a determined trot as if he were going home. We all watched and laughed as he trotted along, wondering what had riled him up.

About that time, Holli’s van pulled into the main driveway and began ambling toward the house. As we watched them bump slowly up the drive, the goat cut in front of their van, and veered right.

The van stopped. Then, instead of continuing to the farm, it turned left into the neighbor’s driveway.

“What are they doing?” I asked the table.

“Maybe they want to tell Bobby that his goat’s loose.” We all laughed again—the goat was never anything but loose.

A couple of minutes passed, and then the van came out of Bobby’s driveway and turned back onto the main road toward the house. It followed the winding drive, and just about the time it was in the home stretch, here came Capricorn, galloping toward the house as if racing the van.

He won, too—but of course the goat had taken the short cut across the front yard. He pulled up and stood stiff and trembling, glaring with yellow-eyed hatred at the van as four people and two dogs disembarked.

“Wow, he’s really giving them the stink-eye,” Robin said. He was. He looked as if he might attack the van, the dogs, the people, indiscriminately, but he only stood there, upper lip curled, until they had all disappeared through the garage and were safely inside the house.

We laughed so hard at that goat—but only because we were inside the house. He really didn’t look like a goat to be trifled with.

A week ago, Ernesto went to the livestock auction in Liberty and purchased three nanny goats of our own. He and my dad drove them from the trailer into the corral, where they stood around looking hyper. When approached, they melted through the corral fence like it wasn’t even there.

Catching a goat is no joke, and for some time the three of us tried to herd them gently back through the slats of the fence and into the enclosure. Things were not looking good, especially at the point when they went around to the front of the house and discovered how tasty the rhododendrons were.

Eventually we did get back them into the corral, and then we backed way off so they wouldn’t feel threatened and bolt back out. My dad offered to go back home and get a reel of barbed wire to string between the slats of the fence, and he left.

Ernesto and I stood around in the back yard, looking at the goats from a distance. There is an older white goat with brown spots that looks a bit like Mamie Eisenhower, a young cute goat who looks something like the older goat and may in fact be kin, and a brown goat that from a distance could be mistaken for a small deer. We’ve named them Iris, Lily, and Rose, respectively. They don’t look dangerous, but they aren’t exactly cozy to be with, either.

While my dad was fetching the wire and the goats were corralled, if not exactly secured, we received company. Two neighborhood dogs, Australian shepherds, arrived to help with the herding. They streaked across the back of the property and into the corral, causing the goats to run to Ernesto for protection. Behind the two dogs came three small boys, who somehow collected the dogs, took them back to their own pen, and returned to the corral in about fifteen seconds. The boys gathered at the fence to watch the goats. They were constantly in motion, climbing the fence to sit on top, going between the slats and then back out again, standing on the bottom rail to get a better view.

“You got some new goats,” the 8-year-old told me.

“We did.”

“Can we pet them?” the 6-year-old asked.

“Not today. They’re feeling sort of nervous. Let’s give them time to settle down.”

The boys accepted this and observed the goats quietly for several minutes before scampering back homeward. “We’ll come back tomorrow!” they promised.

Ernesto went into the house to fortify himself with food. I believe he had forgotten to eat lunch in the excitement of buying goats. Meanwhile, I put some cracked corn into a bucket and went into the corral with it. The goats came toward me, and I managed to lure them into a stable and latch the door shut. When my dad came back, he and Ernesto were able to reinforce the fence without fear that the goats would flee again.

Now the goats are feeling a little more at home, I think, and they each have a nice new collar and Ernesto even took Iris, the tamest of the three, for a walk on a leash. Neither of them seemed to enjoy the outing, though. Still, the collars are useful for holding onto the goats when they need medicine to cure their diarrhea (Iris).

I can tell you one thing: We won’t be plucking their beards or messing with them in any such impertinent way. You look at a goat’s eyes—they are amber and glassy as ice, with a disconcerting black slash of a pupil. They do not look at you. They look right through you, and from their expressions what they see is not pretty.

Anyway, I’d like to see Virginia Woolf pluck a goat’s beard. I don’t believe she could do it.

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key in jar2 (2)

A key, safely preserved in a jar.

I have been thinking lately of Eliza Fay, who has been dead since 1816. Neither beautiful nor rich, she left behind a fascinating memoir in the form of letters. Original Letters from India is an account of the many trials—and they were at times harrowing—that she endured when she left the safety of England in 1779 to venture into strange lands with her useless husband, an Irish attorney. E. M. Forster wrote the introductory notes, which are in themselves a good reason for picking up a copy.

Forster is, in fact, responsible for the fact that we can pick up a copy; he stumbled upon an early edition of the book while researching A Passage to India and convinced Virginia Woolf and her husband to publish a reprint. It would be sad not to have Eliza’s book available for reading—it would be even sadder not to have Forster’s introductory notes.

I read the book three years ago, and I was thinking of Eliza Fay again this week because she had amazingly foul luck for nearly all of her life, and I have had a week of mildly foul luck myself. Eliza is a fine model of how to meet misfortune, so I picked up the book and reviewed parts of her story. In one example, Eliza and her husband are held as political prisoners (temporarily) in Calcutta. As if this weren’t bad enough, they lose the only money they have with which to buy their freedom.  Eliza’s recounting of this incident is entertaining but lengthy, so I’ll go to Forster’s notes for the recap:

When the verandah in which they had hidden their savings was twitched off by a monsoon, [Mr. Fay] abandoned himself to lamentations while she calculated the direction of the wind and finally discovered the money in a far away tuft of grass.

Forster adds with obvious admiration:

[Eliza’s] floods of tears and fainting fits are always postponed until a convenient moment: they never intrude while she is looking after her luggage or outwitting her foes.

Unlike Eliza, I am feeling somewhat daunted by my troubles, piddling though they are. Mine began, not with a journey to India, but with a shopping trip to Burlington. (We did have a delicious lunch at an Indian restaurant before running our errands, however.) After lunch, we knocked out our three errands: Aldi, to pick up a few things; Great Clips, so that Ernesto could get a trim; and a stop at Walmart, which seems to be the sole source for the window fly-catchers we like because you can actually see all of the tiny, horrid gnats that collect on the sticky strips, and it gives me great satisfaction to see them stuck. If that sounds cruel, well, all I can say is that you have neither inhaled nor ingested them in the numbers that we have.

At Aldi, we packed all of our items into a box and Ernesto wheeled it in the shopping cart toward the car. The box was heavy, so I hurried ahead of him and used my key to pop the trunk open. Then I trundled the shopping cart all the way back to the store because there was not one single soul in the parking lot to give it to. That was the last time I remember seeing my keys.

I read a magazine at Great Clips while Ernesto got his hair cut. At Walmart, Ernesto caught sight of the Dr. Scholl’s foot machine and decided that he wished to have his feet mapped. He doesn’t have any problems with his feet, but he couldn’t resist a free ride on the foot-mapping machine. So he stood first on one foot, then the other, and cycled through the process and was told in the end that he had handsome arches and healthy feet but that (of course) he would benefit greatly from Dr. Scholl’s insert C320. He didn’t buy any inserts, but I believe that he found the experience of having his feet mapped refreshing in itself. Because it was free.

Anyway, we picked up fly-catchers and soap and olive oil and goat’s milk and were on our way back to the car when I realized my keys were not in my purse. They are a good-sized set of keys, too, reinforced by two ornamental fobs and about four mini-cards for various grocery stores and pharmacies. The entire bunch is gone. I went back into Walmart to see if perhaps they’d already been found and turned in, and at the customer service counter the clerk reached into a cubby and brought out a basket filled with about 70 sets of keys, festooned with mini-cards. If you have lost a set of keys in the last ten years, I suggest that you stop by your local Walmart. I’m sure they have them. Mine, however, were not there.

We went home, went through every shopping bag we had brought back, and I removed everything from my purse except the lining. Then I combed through the car, every inch of it. Nothing. I called Great Clips, and they said the keys weren’t there. I couldn’t find a phone number anywhere for Aldi, so I drove back to town, scoured the parking lot, and left my name at the office so they could call if the keys turned up. I forgot to ask them why they don’t have a listed phone number.

On my way to check the parking lot at Great Clips, the skies opened up and the rain poured. It was raining so hard that the Great Clips stylists, whose customers had fled, were all looking out at the deluge and watched me as I ran under the building’s overhang. One of them opened the door. “Keys,” I said, and the stylist at the door nodded. “We didn’t see them,” she said brightly, and we both looked toward the corner where I had been seated while reading about the year’s hottest colors in More magazine. There was no possible place for keys to hide there. “Maybe they’ll turn up when we sweep!” she said encouragingly, but I could not be cheered. “They’re not here,” I said, and plunged back into the storm.

I even checked the storm drain in the parking lot at Walmart, thinking that the number of my keys (or the sheer bulk of all those mini-cards) would surely prevent them from falling through the grate. Nothing. When I got back home, I removed the spare tire in the trunk and checked the cavity, then ripped out the lining of my purse.

Now, having exhausted all my resources, I no longer believe that I will discover the keys in a far-away tuft of grass, or anywhere else. They are gone. So this seems like a convenient time for a flood of tears. Perhaps I’ll cry in the manner of Eliza Fay, writing her first letter to her family from Calais, still within sight of her homeland:  “My very heart seems to melt as I write, and tears flow so fast as to compel me to shut one eye while I proceed.”

I’m ashamed not to be as courageous and indomitable as Mrs. Eliza Fay, but even Forster admitted that she had her own shortcomings. “Geography could never have been her strong point,” he says, “for she thought that the Alps were only one mountain thick…. Writing she adored—never happier than when the pen is in the hand—but her grammar was most personally her own.”

Imperfect she may be, but Mrs. Eliza deserves the last word. This passage is from her preface to the letters. She is speaking of herself in the third person as the heroine of her journey, but I am adopting the message as my own:

Shadows, clouds, and darkness still rest on the remainder of her pilgrimage, which calls for the pilotage of kindness and the Day-star of friendship. She has, however, by the blessing of Providence been constantly enabled to rise superior to misfortune, and will not now in the evening of her days, derogate from the unostentatious energy of her character, or seek to solicit the pity of her readers by wearisome retrospect or painful complaint.

You’re welcome.

Update 8/23/13:  My keys have returned safely home!  I went back to Aldi this week, and inquired again at the office there. This time, they were there. One ornamental fob had been badly damaged and had to be tossed; probably it was run over. Doesn’t matter. I rise superior to misfortune!

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