My son Caleb told me later that as soon as he saw me tearing across the backyard in my barn boots, he knew what had happened.
We raise dairy goats, a tradition going back several generations. We show them at a few local fairs and shows, but mostly they are our most enjoyable companions around our home. They are full of personality – some rambunctious, some self-absorbed, some passive and quiet, but always a joy.
For two years, we had held off on breeding, simply for the fact that none of us were quite ready to begin the arduous daily chore of milking twice a day. But this past winter, we finally decided it was time, and we had four does ready to give birth at any moment. Unfortunately, no one seemed to be “showing,” so there was no indication that caprine midwifery would be required in the next few days. On this particular day, Caleb was lying on the sofa with a stomach bug, but for months he had patiently waited for the start of birthing season, checking his “mamas” multiple times a day for weeks on end. Today, he simply didn’t feel well enough to go out, so I went to feed on a sunny mid-April morning.
I don’t actually remember seeing the babies there. I do remember looking in the trailer and seeing our snarky white doe Winter in the familiar position of head down, licking the world’s newest creatures with intuited motherly affection. Growing up on a dairy farm, I knew that posture, but I hadn’t personally seen it since I left the farm roughly 20 years ago. But this was muscle memory – I knew this miracle by heart. That’s when I went in full sprint, muck boots and all, to get my sick son off the sofa. So Caleb, feeling equally awful and elated, rolled off the sofa, put on his boots, and walked gingerly out to the trailer.
This was muscle memory – I knew this miracle by heart.
There they were – two beautiful solid white goats, one buck and one doe, both with “airplane ears,” large lobes that stick out like airfoils. The trailer was silent, cut only by the infantile bleating of these two beautiful animals, their white color reminiscent of the eerie quiet of a snowstorm. Here, laid out in all of its complex beauty, was the gift of new life. Equal parts beauty and blood, sanctity and insanity. We contributed our part by bringing the new babies up to the new mother’s udder, giving them time to get a bit of colostrum – nature’s way of packing new mammals with vitamins and antibodies – and giving Winter an opportunity to get adjusted to this new, bizarre feeling in her tired, accomplished body.
If this scene surprised us, the next 10 days were even more a surprise, as our other three does all gave birth in rapid succession. It seemed like every other day, we were required to move one new family out of the trailer in order to give a new mother and twins an opportunity to get to know each other. Two brown goats here, two crazy black-and-brown goats there, cleaning out the trailer yet again.
Once the chaos had completed, and we took stock of what had just happened, we realized we had a very big problem on our hands. We had fed six goats through the winter. Late spring left us with 14. Every time we pulled into our driveway, the goat pen seemed to be a swarming mass of life and energy. The chaos of new life, and the remarkable responsibility that accompanied them were incredible.
The chaos of new life, and the remarkable responsibility that accompanied them were incredible.
At the church that I founded and pastor, The Keep & Till, we talk a lot about life, and life more abundant. To this end, we work tirelessly to support and explore regenerative agriculture as a means for flourishing in human and non-human communities, and the ecosystems that support all life as a worthy work of discipleship.
While some may read this as a romanticized, escapist kind of spirituality, it is tempered by the apocalyptic urgency of climate destruction (because to call it “change” anymore is far too soft a term). With each passing day, the headlines roll like rising sea levels – “Civilization as we know it will end by 2050,” “Unprecedented refugees predicted in decades to come,” “Midwestern farmers unable to plant their crops, face a year of no income,” “India’s sixth largest city just ran out of water” – and people of faith who believe in a God of life are finding themselves fearing for life in the midst of apocalyptic death.
While all of this destruction is only a taste of what may yet be in store for us, a magnitude difficult to comprehend, the spectre of death landed even closer to home a few weeks after the goats were born. Coming home from church one Sunday evening, we went out to check on all the little ones. I pulled out my iPhone light to look in the trailer while Caleb went in to inspect and count every little head.
The spectre of death landed even closer to home a few weeks after the goats were born.
Except one head had been bowed – Cajeta, our matriarchal doe, had died, far too soon and much too unexpectedly, leaving two orphaned babies and one distraught young herdsman. Short of an expensive autopsy, we’d never know what killed her. There was nothing to do but cry. And, the next morning, to get up and teach her two brown babies to nurse from a bottle. The celebration of life had been replaced with a liturgy of lament.
Together, we felt a pall over everything we did for the next week or so. Caleb was scared to go out alone and risk finding another goat dead. In a climate change era, every step outside our door and every turn of the channel feels like we are risking another scene of death. Just like in dairy goat herdsmanship, the experience of any given morning will often be lament. Our many and diverse faith communities, if they are genuinely concerned about the human condition, give space and time for that lament. It is good to cry. It is okay to feel fear.
In a climate change era, every step outside our door and every turn of the channel feels like we are risking another scene of death.
Writing this, I look out over the top of my laptop out to the goats, and I reminded that I still have 13 beautiful animals where once there was only six. They are growing quickly, learning to play and explore. Those two orphaned babies drink from a bottle just fine, thank you, and are happy for the additional attention we show them. In the midst of this death, I’m reminded of the incredible power of life. Even as a pastor, I need the reminder that life is still more powerful than death.
As we continue to work for a regenerated, more beautiful world – what the apostle John called “a new heaven and a new earth” – those baby goats remind me of the chaos, and the beauty, the pain, and the victory that life really is, and prayerfully, will still yet be.
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