Updated: Jul 19, 2022
Today, I tell the tale of July 2, 2022, a story that began with a delicious BBQ hosted by my brother-in-law and his new smoker, followed by his usual display of fireworks. Fireworks now legal to purchase in Iowa; fireworks which always make me wonder how on earth we mass produce such intense explosives and why we let every Tom, Dick and Harriet buy them.
But I was not the only one shocked by the spectacle. Jeff’s dogs ran for the cover as soon as the show began and Snooks happily crawled into the back of the car to wait it out. And when the sulfur smoke settled after the booms and “ah’s” were over, John and awesome neighbor kid Wyatt ventured out into the night to check the near-by grazing goats. Only Billy the (dang cute) Kid, his mom J-Lo and aunt Oreo remained, goats who had been raised as pets, used to the loud shenanigans of humans, and were too out of shape, lazy or short to escape. The other 12 goat moms, one buck and their 18 kids had split the scene, jumping over the electric fence and across the pasture, through the permanent fence and deep into the neighbor’s land. A rescue party of five BBQers set out into the darkness looking for the at-large herd - to no avail. The search would have to wait until daylight.
After a mostly sleepless night worrying about the lost tribe of goats, our investment in them and their future wellbeing, we regrouped with family and friends at 6 am. The seven of us spread out and walked out into the tall, dew-laden grass, and a few minutes later someone yelled, “there they are!” Lo and behold there was a gaggle of them, on the hill near the fence line. John tempted them with a bucket of mineral, and the exhausted group followed mindlessly, basically walking themselves back into the pen, easy peasy. With 25 or so of them back in within the first 15 minutes, I felt confident we would have the whole lot of them back quickly and painlessly. I knew better.
We found the second group a little farther away, about five does and kids a bit more panicked and disoriented than the first. One of the babies was “stuck” on the other side of the fence and bleated his little heart out with the volume and drama of an exhausted toddler who doesn’t want to leave the park. Finally it occurred to him to simply walk through the fence and join his comrades, which he did and promptly shut up. Once all together, the group meandered aimlessly, first this way then that, not a single one of the bastards listening to any of our calls, or swayed by treats or mineral. They walked right past the opening to the paddock repeatedly, like a school of fish swaying in the tide. Finally Lady Luck graced us and one turned in the correct direction and the rest followed in a single file line into the paddock, the entire herd almost immediately again calm and collected, munching on honeysuckle as if nothing at all had happened.
The entire herd that is, except one—Myrtle or Myra or Mabel—depending on the day and who is referring to her. A goat gifted to us by some farmer friends, she was a nice enough doe, but not the sharpest tool in the shed. “She’ll find her way back,” the more experienced in our crew said, pointing out that her kid was now back in the electric fencing and she would want to feed it. But something about her being out nagged me. Mabel was missing, and while the rest of the rescue party went back to the house for John’s famous pancakes, I headed out to find her.
I made my way over the fence and onto the neighbor’s land, following what seemed to be a path the wandering goats might have blazed the night before and thinking I faintly heard a goat out in the distance. “Mabel!” I yelled and her distinct but increasingly tired-sounding “bleeeaaahh!!” bleated back, the two of us calling and responding until I was upon her. I looked out at a drainage filled in with knocked down trees and roots, and there she was, an oversized black goat gazing up at me from a giant hole in the ground.
For those of you who have yet to met me, I am a 5' 3", 110 pound powerhouse, and although I looked for a way to get her out on my own, she had no room to move and the prospect of lifting a being slightly less than or equal to my own weight from below the level of my feet was daunting. I called in for reinforcements, disturbing the pancake eaters just before the hotcakes landed on their plates.
The instructions as to my whereabouts got lost in translation and Team Rescue Myrtle ended up passing me by, then backtracking through eye-high grasses, another call and response session finally leading them to me. One of the rescuers, our 6-foot something neighbor Mike DeCook, squeezed into the hole with Myrtle and tried alternatively to push her out or pick her up, his feet slipping in the mud like a Michael Jackson moon walker, the (not so bright) goat’s head getting stuck under a tree root each time he tried to get her out. Josh wedged himself into another part of the ditch while Wyatt and Jeff pulled from above and after several heave-ho’s, Myra popped back to ground level, her demeanor seemingly relieved even if her slitty eyes remained expressionless. The group of manly-men hoisted her once again, this time into the back of Jeff’s four-wheeler, driving off over the horizon to rejoin her with the herd.
Mike (former bison rancher and impromptu comedian) later described the rescue this way:
“It was a hot tepid July day. I, wearing my bison loin cloth and my underdog cape (procured as a weanling) was exploring the hills & dales of southern Iowa trying to harvest supper [aka - John’s pancakes]. “Nary a goose in the sky,” I proclaimed, overlooking the southern horizon on a dolomite outcropping, when from a distant wind I heard the call of an ailing goat. I immediately leaped off the rock and was airborne on a thermal updraft with my unfaltering underdog cape. From up above I heard Beth proclaiming & pointing - there was Melvin or Martha or Matilda (damnit - can’t remember the goat’s name) stuck in a ditch hole. With grace and fortitude along with the other goat saving humans we went into the dark abyss & slowly lifted Miss goat out to safety where she could rejoin the herd via Jeff’s motorized goat transporter.”
Goats safe and sound, the valiant group returned to the house, flush with the glow of having saved another being’s life, and rejoiced over pancakes. Jokes were told and bellies grew full, and after a time we all wandered back to our respective homes and beds, naps overtaking the group one by one. We rested our bodies and minds, and all was well.