The Goat Rodeo

Life, Beers & Brewing in a secluded (and slightly off kilter) nook in Northern California

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Goat Rodeo

When the calendar rolled over from the last millennium (with an anticlimactic Y2K whimper) to the new millennium I decided that (since the world was indeed not ending) I would have to change my plan. I had been working for the last year on starting my own company. I had poured myself into the project, physically, emotionally and financially, but lacking any real sort of business acumen, my plans seemed to have drifted dangerously close to a precipitous edge. In early 2000 my efforts hit an icy patch, flipped over and went tumbling down the road until it abruptly came to rest (with a bang and an uncomfortable sounding hiss) in a swampy drainage ditch. After the wreck I was dazed, I lay there, frozen, incapable of movement, the interminable Northwest drizzle pattering softly on my face. I had no idea what I would do next.

An indeterminate amount of time passed during which I was mired in a befuddled state of sloth - I did not leave my house, nor did I shave, or bath, or even get out of my pajamas. Then, one day sitting in my dank, dark attic office, surfing eBay in my unlaundered night clothes, I had my epiphany. Like a bolt of lightning it struck me. Then, right there - I knew exactly what I had to do.

I had to get a job.

What I wanted to do was obvious, but where - now that was another question altogether. All I knew was that it had to be somewhere (anywhere) south of where I was. My girl friend was supportive (although I do believe that she would have supported anything that got me out of the house and bathing again). I had to start looking. And she offered to drive

I formed a plan. It was a good plan. It was a detailed plan.

I would head south. I set up several interview - down through Oregon and deep into California. Some were in urban areas, others in more pastoral settings. We would travel in style and at our leisure. We would make our way down the redwood fringed west coast of north America. We would explore. We would meet new people. We would see cities and hamlets of all kinds and sizes. We would feel the ebb and flow of each town we entered. We would immerse ourselves and drink in the culture of each local. In doing so we would rediscover ourselves, and by the end of our adventure we would know - with great certainty - where exactly we thought it best to make our new lives.

All things considered the trip went fairly well. (I won't dwell on the gritty details of spending 14 days on the road and 13 nights in 13 different cheap motels). Suffice it to say that the interviews went (for the most part) pretty well. By day 12 we already had several good possibilities and we still had one more interview to go. As we drove along towards our final destination we chatted happily about our options and our opportunities.

Our last stop was in a town called Boonville.

Boonville is the largest "town" in the secluded (and very agrarian) Anderson Valley*. In fact so secluded is this valley that the residents there have developed their own language. They call it Boontling. This created language is almost completely contextual, it is so intimately related to the valley and its residents that without living there for some length of time it would be impossible to follow a Boontling conversation, much less appreciate its nuances.

This unique bit of social knowledge, however interesting, did not weigh positive in the valley 's favor. But as we wound our way through the dense redwood forest I thought to myself; "well, this could be great – The girl friend has always wanted to live out in the country. I'm always the one who has been reticent to make that move. Maybe now is the time, maybe this will be the place"

As the redwoods gave way to the drier oak covered hills, the fog began to burn off and the sun poked up over the valley's edge. With happy thoughts in my head I was feeling a bit giddy with the anticipation. When we came to Boonville it looked folksy and quaint. The brewery sat on a magnificent 28 acres parcel at the edge of town, it copper brewhouse (not yet operational) shown gleaming in the windows. The girl friend dropped me at the front door and drove off to explore Boonville and its environs.

The interview was short (I having known the owner for several years) and it ended with beers in their park area. Without a doubt this brewery was a really good option, and in many ways superior to the other offerings. The position was good, the salary acceptable, the beers delicious and the surroundings beautiful. I was really warming to the idea of the move and I felt certain the girl friend would be loving the magnificent countryside here too. Presently her Forerunner drifted into the parking lot and I bade my host a happy farewell with assurances of calling him with confirmation early the following week.

Happily I got into the passenger’s seat and (a smile on my face) closed the door. But before even shifting into gear my partner turned to me and said (with some vigor) "We can never move here". I sat there for a moment stunned in a silence like the expanding universe. (My inner monologue in a continuous loopo of: "what, what did she say"). She then launched into an almost frantic aspiration of why we could never move to such a place; no book store, no coffee shop, no movie house, no real stores, no real restaurants, no mail delivery... the list went on.

But mostly I didn't hear the rest of it as I tried to make right in my mind how it was I had just (basically) accepted a job in the middle of nowhere (in no small part because I thought she wanted to move to the country) and now country living had been decidedly rejected by her. Have I yet mentioned that once (not so long ago) she had tried to convince me to move to eastern Washington to live (in the middle of nowhere) in a Yurt ? A Yurt ?! Really ?!?! I was feeling a bit light headed. Only moments ago things had been going so .... swimmingly, now seemingly inexplicably they were spinning wildly out of control. How had I arrived here? And how could I now extricate myself ? My only intelligent reoccurring thought was - well, I tricked her once into dating me - maybe I could trick her again - it could happen.

A month or so later I rented my house to some friends and I move to Boonville on my own. The idea was that I would find permanent residence and then she would, without too much delay, join me there. But some six months later, even after having purchased a house together, I remained sans mi amiga.

Concerned over our long term future I sought the advice of a fellow brewer & good friend. He had recently encountered a similar situation and I thought his insight potentially useful. His solution had been simple. He told his girlfriend that if she consented to move to his new job location - after a period of 6 months she would then have absolute decision making power over whether they stayed or move back. It had worked for him and so I made the same offer - After a six month trial period she would have absolute (blame free) power to decide what our next move would be and I would, without any guilt trip (or whimpering), honor her decision.

It worked. We set up house in the middle of a redwood forest and immediately (on my urging - partially in the hope that critters would help make life in the country just that much more appealing) we bought two goats (Nick & Nora), five ducks (Othello, Socrates, Indira, Lucky, and Flossie), and a lot of chickens (mostly they didn't get names). These along with her dogs and the cats made up our farmette.

Our two goats, in fairly quick succession, became three, then five, and then seven (quick someone call the vet). Over the next few years we carved a little niche for ourselves in the Anderson Valley. We put in big gardens, we grew our own veggies, we got involved in the community, we joined the Grange. We volunteered for events and we made new friends. Some of our goats were moved to start a new flock at the brewery, a few stayed at home with us.

Our goats (although hand raised and tame) never really took to the obligatory hoof trimmings and other such ruminant maintenance we needed to provide for their care. And somehow they always knew what our intentions were (be it peanut treats or hoof clipping – they knew the difference long before we ever got near them). On those days when a trim, or brushing (or worst of all a vet visit) was involved it always became a Marx Brother-esk goat chasing & tackling event; the goat rodeo. Even with two of us it could be a difficult job. Over the years we solicited the help of friends and neighbors - we managed to turn our goat rodeo into an “event”, even going so far as to serve meals & offer beers afterward.

After I did a stint in Asia I returned earlier this year to Anderson Valley. I went back to work at the brewery. The girl friend, well - she has now moved on to greener (or is it grayer ?) pastures, but the goats remain. Getting older now Nora has developed and limp and Nick, well, he's getting thick. Two of their sons, Noot & Ned, remain with me as well. The four of them, despite being ever hungry for Peanuts or other special treats, can still tell when it is time for another hoof clipping - and once again there I am chasing them around.

Life in Anderson Valley is not like life in any of the other places that I have ever lived. It’s a hidden little slib of northern California where sheep farmers and apple growers share a Grange with vintners and pot growers, where everyone knows the deputy by his first name (whether they actually know him or not). It's a place where one can still barter for goods and services, where a woman I know paid for her doctor visits with eggs and the occasional chicken. Where, if ever I need a hand, I can count on most of my friends showing up to help out. A place where my co-worker’s sister (who once was married to our former graphic designer – who quit working for us after he hooked up with the former owner’s wife) is married to our former packaging manager who owns MY ex’s old Forerunner (that we made our first trip to the valley in) that she gave to him in exchange for helping us fix one of our other vehicles. You get the idea - it a bit like those hoof trimming session. It is disorganized and some days it can be a confusing, but the people that live here love it – welcome to the goat rodeo.


(pictured above Nick, Ned & Newt - Nora does not like cameras)


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