(Michele A is a fitness and nature enthusiast. She likes dirt, most things with fur and feathers, and tasty plant-based food. In her free time, you’d most likely find her playing outside or in her kitchen. This is her debut blog post for Fit is a Feminist Issue. Let her know what you think about her love story about a cyclist and some goats.)
It’s never lost on me how fortunate I am to have my own pack. They consist of a group of women ranging from their early 30s to mid-60s who are almost always willing to partake in local adventures. I can send a group text or email asking if anyone wants to join me for a particular activity that following weekend and am almost always met with a positive response. 50-mile road ride followed by mocha lattes? “Sure!” 65-mile gravel ride in the hills of northern New England? “I’m there!” Nighttime trails on a chilly autumn evening under a full moon with post-ride ice-cream? “Absolutely!” Snowshoe trek on a single digit day in February? “Wouldn’t miss it!” Some version of this happens at least a couple of times during an average week, and I’m always in great company. These women have as much appreciation as I do for getting outdoors on bikes, and occasionally by foot. It may mean something a bit different for each of our minds, bodies and spirits, but I don’t think there’s one of us who could go long without being out there.
Being out there often affords us with other, sometimes unexpected, soul-lifting experiences. One example is meeting a local herd of Nigerian Dwarf Goats. I first interacted with them a few years ago while riding trails in a nearby town. Over time, I learned more about my ruminant friends. They live in the backyard of a house in the center of town, but get out for walks most days year round, so they too, can get some exercise, and also have access to a variety of grass, moss, bark and other vegetation to supplement their basic diet.
Each time I see them, I feel a twinge of excitement, and stop to say “hello”. As it turns out, I found another reason to be grateful for my riding partners because they are just as happy to stop for a visit with the ladies. The herd is also made up of all women, now spanning five generations with their most recent births.
In these last few months, the goats have taken on larger significance. These days, I’m doing only solo rides until it’s safe to ride in groups again, which may be a while. I’m sticking close to home and staying on terrain I’m familiar with. When I happen upon the goats, I linger for longer than usual. I live alone and have had very little in-person interaction with other humans. The goats used to be a fun sighting during a ride, an adorable pit stop in the midst of a multi-hour social excursion. Now, they are a meaningful source of comfort and joy. They are the main event, not just the popcorn while watching the feature film. They don’t know it, but they made quarantining and social distancing more tolerable for me.
When I see them, I stop and have various kinds of interactions:
Sit and pet: Sometimes I find a cozy spot to sit in the tall grass or along a rock wall. The goats do things on their terms. If one wants some attention, she will come over and plant herself sturdily next to me, and then I will rub her ears and stroke her head and sides. This is most often Mei Mei. She is the most equanimous of the bunch. Usually once she has gotten my full attention for several minutes, either Eia or Luna will follow and try to intervene. I often end up petting two goats at once, which is like brushing your hair and your teeth at the same time. It takes coordination, and I am getting better at it!
Foraging: Other times, I search for things they like to eat. I have learned what they deem as the perfect acorn and how to prepare it for them, by cracking off their shells and removing the meat. I find a large flat rock to spread out the acorns, and another hand-sized rock to crack them. Sometimes I have an audience while I do this. I often feed these to Lycian. She is the great-great-grandmother and is now in her 80s in people years. Getting the acorns out of the shell on her own has become difficult for her.
Cuddling: In the last month, my heart has been completely taken by Lydia. She is one of the two kids born to Lyra. When she is in the mood, I can pick her up or she’ll come sit in my lap. She will settle in and enjoy the attention. Sometimes she nibbles my shoulder, shirt, pants or wrist with her tiny mouth, mimicking the eating of the adult goats while she is still mostly drinking her mother’s milk. From her tiny mouth also comes the littlest bleats when she is chasing after the herd, reminding them of her presence. When she plays, she hops erratically about and returns head butts to her sister, Lyla.
These are all-absorbing and satisfying activities which allow me to forget life beyond the pasture. For the time that I am with them, I am immersed in their world and focused on their needs and behaviors. There is nothing but the goats.
Whether or not you have your own pack or flock or covey of companions that you’re missing terribly, it’s likely that your activities and routines today are different than they used to be, and you’re feeling unsettled or yearning for aspects of your former life at times. Comfort and joy can come in many forms. It doesn’t have to be goats. Finding your own special Red Beech tree to sit under its canopy, leaning on its enormous, smooth trunk can be grounding. Perching on a bridge overlooking a creek where you can toss in sticks and watch them float downstream can feel serene. Walking the same path regularly to watch it change throughout the weeks can remind you that life is going on all around you. Identifying the birds outside your window and watching them go about their eating and gathering can be calming. I’d love to hear examples of how the outdoor world has brought you peace.