The more time I spend around animals the more I feel like I ultimately learn about myself. We want to use opposable thumbs and verbal language to draw dividing lines between us and them, but lines in the sand always get blurry after the tide.
I have a goat named Saffron, she is an Alpine/Nigerian Dwarf cross, small, lithe and beautiful. Groups of goats have a herd queen, an individual that makes the decisions for the others: when to eat, when to sleep, when to move on. Saffron’s royal duties have lead her into climbing the highest, and taking the biggest risks. She rules with an iron hoof.
Last autumn , as the leaves fell, the grass shriveled and the hay feeders were brought out, Saffron decided she wasn’t going to eat with the plebeians. She was going to eat inside the feeder, where she could shit on everyone else’s food. The feeder is about a foot wide, and she would glide inside it like a dove, landing softly and gracefully. A few lambs occasionally tried to emulate her but could never jump high enough, and always bounced off the sides of the feeder, dejected.
One morning we found Saffron limping around the inside pen. She had jumped out of the hay feeder incorrectly, caught her leg, and broken her third and fourth metatarsal bones cleanly and completely. When we caught her and I ran my hands delicately down her leg she screamed as I realized the only thing holding her lower leg together was muscle and skin. The vet splinted the bone later that day and advised Saffron be kept in a very small area to heal.
She did heal, and she came out of her confinement slightly unsteady, biding her time until she had the strength to take back what was hers.
And take it back she did. During the growing season Saffron would sneak under the fence with her suitors. I’d hold the door open for her to come back in to the proper pen and she would give me a contemptuous smirk. The queen does what she wants.
Now its winter again, and Saffron is back to jumping in the feeders. Broken bones, and all the memories of a goat can’t seem to keep her out out of the hay. We put a board across the top of the feeder, and she now jumps up on top of that, balancing on it, to dip her serene neck down to eat.She will balance on three legs, and scratch her neck with her back leg, all the while looking me in the eye and saying without words, “The heart wants, what the heart wants.”
Sometimes she pushes her way down below the board, into the depth of the feeder. She is pregnant, and with the new board she can’t get out on her own. She waits quietly, head held high, till I come by and pull her out, while she squirms and screams at the indignity of needing help from anyone at all. But I am gentle, always. Because I get it. The heart wants what the heart wants.