Ode to Razorback
Razorback has been laying on his side for six days now. This morning, his breathing is shallow, he nays softly to an empty barn after all the other goats have gone down canyon for the day. I try to give him water through a bottle, but he doesn’t want to drink. I try to give him the “goat crack” granola he used to want so badly, and he starts to eat a bit, almost as if by instinct, but after two bites, he puts his head back down and doesn’t move again. I rub his head between his beautiful swooping horns and whisper to him. He is 20 years old and this canyon, this ranch has been his home; soon he leaves.
I turn 41 today. For the most part, I have loved this ride on earth, the beautiful places I have seen, the amazing people I have shared it with, and the hope so many have for a better future.
I don’t know if we will ever cure death. More than just re-programming cells to keep regenerating, or changing the DNA to not wear down, maybe it is more about mapping consciousness into a robot version of yourself. These questions always leave us with questioning individuality because if I can map my life into a wired system connected to some grid, then what is to say that consciousness is ever individual. If it needs a system to live, then it is symbiotic, if not parasitic. And from there it is easy for me to see that this is true right now of humanity. My life is not my own, but contained in stories with you, with family, with friends, with my community, and the landscape of my life, but all these experiences are siphoned through past experiences, and none of it began alone. My whole story into life is filtered through all of you—early childhood explorations into the world and words, the way we create what we see, and how we approach it, and what is appropriate action.
My housemate helps me and we rotate Razorback over and get fresh straw underneath him. He is mostly bone now. For many years I have chased him and his herd off the mountain, listened for the sound of the bell tied around his neck to figure out where the goats have gone. His bell still a necklace around his neck lays muffled in the hay. Razorback is the icon for Oak Springs Ranch, between the arcing horns to his long goatee, like some old Kung Fu master of the mountains, many people have come to visit the ranch over the years and all of them would get pictures of Razorback. He is blind now. He has had a couple of strokes. He was able to barely stand when I started watching the ranch for my friends a few days ago, but now he can’t get up. I tried to help him up, but he will leave this canyon on his side.
Two days ago one of the new baby goats died. In the morning it wasn’t doing well. His mother was calling to me to help. He wasn’t moving much, and just wanted to lie down. I tried to feed it a bottle of goat milk formula, but he wouldn’t take it. I wrapped it in blankets to try to keep him warm. His head kept sliding back awkwardly, his eyes fogging over more and more. I read online about how to take care of sick baby goats; however, most of the things were beyond my medical ability involving shots and tubes. I called my friends who own the ranch, and they said this happens sometimes. They have lost many goats; they just seem to spin downwardly fast and there isn’t much you can do. I have seen this one other time with a baby goat here and I know this happens. They said the night before they left, the young goat came back alone really late away from the rest of the herd. They were afraid something happened. He theorized a rattlesnake bite, but I couldn’t see any sign for that. In the morning, rigamortis has set in with the goat. I load the stiff body onto the ATV and take it down the canyon a bit. I have to get to work and there isn’t time for anything more. It is unceremonious. Perhaps this is the best way to die. What difference does this make to the dead anyways. Ceremonies are for the living.
Surely death is the ultimate trail, the travels into the unknown we all go towards, transcendence from the physical; while any unknown is intriguing, do not go into this unprepared. A life well lived, a life filled with love and friendship and laughter makes it hard to go, but more ready than you could ever be. If I am an interconnected part of this community, culture of humanity, then I want to be a force of positive change. I am setting myself out to be a person that not only sees the best in other people, but also makes sure to help others see that in their own self too—to tell people not only they can, but they already are.
I am hoping Razorback will last until Rick and Kimberly get back.; however, I am ready to put him down. He moans softly and I try to shoo the flies out from his opaque eyes darting back and forth. My housemate has been up here with me and he has gone back and forth checking on Razorback all day, making sure he has water. We both think maybe we should just stop trying to keep him alive. We talk about getting a gun. We both agree that it isn’t what we would want of our deaths.
He ate a little bit last night. I sit down next to him. I tell him that it is OK to let go. I say, “hooo goat,” to him, the call I learned to bring the goats home for the evening I still call out to the herd without Razorback leading them. I pet between his horns. It is now six days since Razoback felt earth under his hooves. Soon he will be under the earth. There is no doubt about this. Ever since understanding what Shakespeare meant in Sonnet 18 about immortalizing a person in writing, in the way some part of you lives on, passed down in tales and lore and poetry., I have set to write it down—to hold on to it because all else fades much quicker. Perhaps every person with a need to create does so against the empty abyss. There was death here, war here, a family here, toil here, this land was worked, and as even stone washes away story remains, reshaped, selected for, interpreted, and interpreting. People should know about this love ,this is the love we should carry forward into life. Even the author can fade from the story, but not the heart. And maybe, if Razorback is so lucky, maybe if my own words are careful enough, in them is some understanding of humanity, some gift to move forward, that others decades or centuries from now, when all that might remain is some hint of rock and creek, Rick and Kim long gone, the house long gone, fires ravaged the whole canyon, the stalwart oaks and few Ponderosa Pines are even gone, there remains some remnant story about a goat that once wandered these hills, fighting off Mountain Lion, enduring rain and sun and fire and frost.
They say goats are one of the domesticated animals most quickly to go feral, to return to the land, perhaps they barely ever needed humans in the first place. It was only us that needed them...once again, humans the parasite. Maybe they have a strong will to live, that even when old age has you down, when the weight of gravity is pushing you into the earth, you fight your way to one last breath.
Goats are perhaps the oldest domesticated animal, genetic analysis dating them back to 10000 years ago. Our lore and myths are filled with them, from pan to Satan, goats are part of humanity. Think of all the stories told around campfires eating goat meat and sipping wine from goatskin bags.