Reflections…

As I look back on 2018, I see a year of contrasts: Joy and Sorrow; Gain and Loss; Triumph and Tragedy.

We started the kidding season early with Skeeter and Blackbird arriving February 1st and providing endless entertainment on long winter nights as we practically turned them into house goats. We’ve had a lot of fun baby goats here over the years, but those two were in a league of their own!

In March I took my horse Jet to Denver for an obstacle competition at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo. We didn’t win, but we had a blast and Jet got to be the star of a clicker training clinic. He hammed it up and won the hearts of both the trainer and the audience.

We returned home in high spirits, only to be met by the news that Tigerlily was miscarrying a month before her due date. There would be one less sweet baby to greet at Goat-O-Rama. He was black with a white belt, beautiful white markings on his face, and speckled ears.

We had no winter. Aside from a single frigid night so cold it burst a water line, the weather stayed warm and barely and snow came. A few feeble shoots of pale grass poked up timidly in April and were met by hot winds. They were scorched brown and dead by May. The ground stayed hard and bare. On June 1st I hosted a state-wide horse show at our saddle club and the rain poured down so hard we had to cancel the show halfway through. It was the only day of moisture in a four-month span that stretched from mid-March to late July.

Heavy as it was, our single day of rain was not enough to relieve the drought. Within hours, the parched ground had swallowed all the water and there was no relief. One consolation was that it was too dry even for the insects. There were no grasshoppers, flies, or mosquitoes. The sky was brassy and trees began to die. I stopped turning on our electric fences, afraid they might cause a spark in the hot wind. We were grateful for the scrub oak. Grass for the horses was able to grow in the shade beneath it, and the oak leaves provided forage for the goats. Most of my friends were having to feed hay.

In June Phil and I drove to Idaho with Finn and Sputnik for the North American Packgoat Association Rendezvous. It was a wonderful time to catch up with old friends and meet new ones. It’s aways fun to see people in person who you mostly hang out with online. Pounding rain and hail almost flooded out our camp the first day and night, and the weather stayed cold and the sky gloomy all weekend, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. Phil and I had almost forgotten what soggy ground looked like! I was glad I remembered my rubber boots.

A few days after we got home, Phil and I took a walk at night to avoid the relentless heat of the day. I smelled smoke and the moon looked eerie and unnatural. There was a faint but suspicious glow over the southwest shoulder of our mountain range. It was the start of the Spring Creek Wildfire, which ballooned in size over the next few days as hot winds drove it through forests that had become dry tinder. The brassy sky rained ash on a parched earth, and the horrifying thought of being unable to get back home to evacuate our animals kept us from going far. One or two fires did break out closer to home, but thankfully they were put out quickly.

After something like ten months of drought, we thought we might never see moisture again, but around July 20th the rains began to fall–in buckets! Within two days, a sparkling emerald sheen began to creep over the crinkly brown fields. The patient, hardy mountain grass had been waiting just off the wings to come bursting on-stage at the first opportunity. I walked over brown mud in the early afternoon and a few hours later I walked again over the same ground, now covered with little green loops pushing through the damp soil. By next morning they had popped their spiky heads up. Within a few short days they were several inches tall and the pastures took on a softer look.

But the blessed rain brought unexpected loss. On July 25, Jet and I came home from a triumphant night at Salida’s Chaffee County Fair where we claimed the Gambler’s Choice Obstacle Challenge jackpot. Next day we were hit by a blinding thunderstorm and Jet was gone in an instant when a bolt of lightning struck his tree. He is buried beneath it and Phil and I commemorate him by placing a rock on his grave each day when we go for our walk. He was the last in a line of horses that has been with me since I was three years old. His great grandmother April gave birth to Tuffy when I was almost four, and Tuffy gave birth to Easter a few days after my tenth birthday. Easter was my first “very own” horse. Jet was Easter’s only foal and I may dedicate many of this year’s blog posts to him as he was a magnificent and multi-talented horse. My inability to say goodbye made his death harder than any previous loss.

I was grateful to have planned a 4-day backpacking trip with a couple of other ladies that started only a few days after Jet died. It cut short my grieving but it also gave me something totally new to think about. It was a wonderful trip and my packgoats proved themselves mightily, especially when contrasted with the fussy, high maintenance llamas that also came along.

August, September, and October are a blur. After the backpacking trip my family and Phil’s vacationed on a houseboat at Lake Powell. We drove Finn and Sputnik in the Colorado State Fair parade. I sold a few baby goats and said goodbye to Nauti who was not thriving here. She went back to her original owner. Phil and I took our annual “goat vacation” in Taos in early October. I spent most of those months feeling depressed and it’s hard to remember all the fun things we did.

I knew I needed another horse. Skokie was lonesome and desperately needed a buddy, and I needed another horse to help me move on as well. In September a friend of mine offered up a horse I had been watching her daughter ride at Saddle Club all year. I had admired the horse, and when she came up for sale I gave her a try. She seemed very nice, my saddles both fit her, and the price was perfect. I brought her home September 15th and changed her name to Stardust. I call her “Dusty” because white horses never look clean.

Skokie was overjoyed when this beautiful white creature stepped out of the trailer.  

Winter started the day before Halloween. We got our first big 15″ snow on October 30. We had more snow in that one storm that we had during the entire previous winter! And it didn’t stop there. Several more large storms hit us in November and December with several smaller ones in between. We’ve hardly seen the ground. As soon as it melts off, another storm covers it again. It’s a proper winter the way Colorado winters should be.

“Adios, 2018!”

Sputnik the Service Goat

I’ve gotta show off the new trick I taught Sputnik. He hasn’t got it down perfectly yet, but he’s getting there! We worked on it sporadically for two weeks in early December before I got too busy to practice any more, but Sputnik is such a quick study that he didn’t need practice. He remembered very well when we tried it again yesterday!

I think this will come in very handy when I want to sit down for lunch on the trail. I have this trick knee that sometimes refuses to support my weight. As long as I’ve got my “service goat” around now I’ll never be stuck on the ground again!

Disclaimer: I DO NOT recommend training a goat to do this unless he is full-grown with a solid background in trick training. Pulling on a goat’s horns can make him aggressive and/or headshy. Never train a young goat to do this while he’s still figuring out his role with people. It’s important to stay safe!

Christmas vacation

For the first time since 2003, we had family for Christmas! Phil and I usually spend a quiet Christmas at home by ourselves, but this year Phil’s parents came to stay for a few days. It was great fun except that I came down hard with a very bad cold a few days before they arrived. I lost my voice and never got it back until after they left. Phil started coming down with the crud on Christmas Eve and is still recovering. But at least we didn’t give it to his parents!

We made a gingerbread house. I’ve since snacked on part of the roof, but I suspect the goats will eat most of it.

Santa visited us Christmas morning! Phil’s dad, Jim, has been growing his whiskers so Phil lent him the Santa suit so he could really play the part.

Naughty Phil! I’ll bet he gets coal in his stocking!

“I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus…”

Dusty and I got a new bridle, breastcollar and saddle blanket. Jet’s things have been retired. He was so special it was too hard to put his tack on a new horse, and Dusty needed her own style. Doesn’t she look pretty in turquoise?

Jim and Finn share a moment.

Christmas Eve Characters

Got some fun Christmas eve photos this morning. Phil and I hauled in a load of firewood the other day and Finn claimed it. Look how proud he is! You’d think he cut these trees down and loaded them in the truck all by himself!

Tigerlily is only a month along and she’s already picking fights with everyone, including a pine tree. I thought this was blood on her face at first, but it turned out to be red tree bark dust. (Phew!)

I wasn’t trying to get pictures of Penny, but she kept mugging for the camera. What a cutie!

Goat Milk Caramels

I’ve been trying some new recipes this Christmas season to make use of all the yummy goat milk we’ve been getting. I don’t usually have two goats in milk this time of year, so we are quite fortunate to have the abundance!

I tried and failed several times to make eggnog before I managed to make a perfect batch, but I finally made some last week that turned Phil into a convert. He’s always disliked eggnog, but the stuff I made for a party last weekend was light, fluffy, and gently flavored. Phil loved it, and I have to admit it was the best eggnog I’ve ever had either. This will become a regular part of our Christmas tradition from here out.

The next experiment was a recipe for caramel candy that I found on a goat website. I tried it early in December and met with complete disaster. I never could get it up to 250*, yet I still managed to burn it to the bottom of my saucepan. So I bought a better saucepan with a heavier bottom and a non-stick ceramic surface and tried again.

This time I achieved almost complete success! I got impatient at some point and turned the burner up too much and scorched a little of the candy to the bottom of the pan, but not like I did last time. There was no acrid burning smell in the kitchen, and the caramel got up to 250* right after that so I was able to remove it from the burner and pour off the good stuff before the burnt stuff had time to turn black and flake off into the rest.

I was cutting the sheet of caramel into smaller pieces when it suddenly cracked under the knife and half of it flew off the counter and shattered on the floor. I had just swept the floor earlier that day so it looked unscathed; nevertheless, I know where my feet go when they aren’t on the kitchen floor, so the candy seemed a bit suspicious even if it wasn’t wearing any hairballs. So I washed the pieces in the sink and laid them out on some wax paper to dry. The half that stayed on the counter got cut into neat squares without any drama and looks beautiful in addition to tasting good. The half that got a bath looks a little sorry but the flavor is unaffected. If no one else wants to eat it that’s ok. I’ll make the sacrifice.

I’m getting over a cold right now and I have the attendant laryngitis that always seems to plague me after I get sick. This candy works just as well as the throat lozenges I’ve been popping, and it tastes a whole lot better! So if all the caramel disappears in short order and the family starts to wonder, I’ll tell them it’s not because I’m greedy–I’m using it for medicinal purposes. Oh yeah, and half of it went on the floor–no one wants to eat that.

Beulah Yule Goats!

I swear the Beulah parade and Yule Log Festival get better every year! Last night Phil and I took Finn and Sputnik to Beulah for the annual parade of lights. Phil dressed as Santa Claus and I was the elf. We used our big, pretty carriage this year so Santa was able to sit in the back seat where he could wave and throw candy while I sat in the front seat and drove. Phil bought some LED light strips to stick on the bottom of the carriage and we set them to red and green. They glowed off the pavement and looked spectacular. We strung a few lights over the rest of it as well. I wish I could someday get a really good photo of our Christmas parade get-up, but they never come out.

Finn and Sputnik were wonderful. They walked nicely together without pulling at the bits or see-sawing. I love having a carriage with brakes. There’s a long, steep hill at the end of the parade and without brakes the goats would have had a rough time holding back such a heavy carriage and Phil and I would have had to get out and walk. But with brakes to help them hold back the load, Phil and I could both stay seated! The only thing that startled Finn and Sputnik was the laser lights. They balked briefly when they saw the bright green lights buzzing over the pavement at their feet, but with just a bit of encouragement they walked on and had no more trouble. Good boys!

Afterwards Phil and I went to one of the local establishments for some free hot chocolate and they had a beautiful Yule Log cake on the table! It was an amazing piece of artwork–almost too good to eat–but we did anyway. It had merengue mushrooms growing out of the chocolate bark!

Next day was the Yule Log Festival, and Phil and I loaded the boys in the pickup truck and got there nice and early so we could find a place to park. It was chilly so they were grateful to have blankets for the trip.

We harnessed them up in anticipation of helping drag back the Yule Log. Both wore jingle bells on their collars for a festive sound.

Last year’s Yule Log, waiting to light the Yule Fire.

Father Christmas came over to greet the goats.

Sputnik was a champ. He put up with a lot of kids today and only got flinchy near the end of the day. This little boy was gentle and kind, but he was a bit persistent and eventually pushed Sputnik past his tolerance level. I told him to go pet Finn instead. At one point I looked over and saw Finn standing with his head down and his eyes closed as three kids hugged him and buried their hands in his fur. He looked absolutely blissful.

Then the head Woodsman gave us the rules, the trumpet sounded, and we were off!

Sputnik and I search the woods for the elusive Yule Log.

Finn says, “Is this it? Is this the Yule Log?”

“I think I ate it!”

“Halueb!!!” The Yule Log was found and we were nowhere near it. But we joined the jolly crowd to help pull it back to the lodge. Finn and Sputnik had the honor of pulling at the front of the line this year!

The boys didn’t just pull–they pulled HARD! There were a few times when I thought Sputnik was going to pull me over and drag me as well as the Yule Log. It wasn’t until we started uphill that he settled down for a steady pull.

It’s blurry, but there’s the Yule Log with the lucky finder and his friends riding on it.

This little boy was the proud finder of the Yule Log.

He helped cut a piece off the end to take home as a souvenir of his big day.

Afterwards we had wassail and cookies. We shared quite a few cookies with the goats. Finn’s favorite part of the Yule Log Festival is getting fawned over by hundreds of strangers who come every year for the express purpose of adoring him. Sputnik’s favorite part is COOKIES. “Gimme cookies!! Gimme cookies NOW!! Nom! Nom! Nom!”

Merry Christmas!

Guess who brought in our Christmas tree this afternoon? Yep, Finn was the hero and dragged this puppy all the way from the far end of our property. I usually had my horse Jet drag the tree home for us, but since I lost Jet last July we decided to take Finn. I did have Finn and Sputnik pull our tree back two years ago, but that was kind of wild and a lot more work than handling just one animal. So Finn got to volunteer. He did a great job! He would stop from time to time to let us know that the tree was getting heavy with snow, but as soon as Phil shook it out, Finn was ready to go again. Good boy!

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 6: The Unicorn Wood

Our original plan for Day 6 was to hike to Williams Lake far above Taos. It was supposed to be a sunny day with temps in the 60’s, but the morning dawned cold, foggy, and overcast with snow still spitting fitfully from the sky. The mountains behind our cabin had a dusting of snow, and I knew that above treeline it would be more than a dusting. We were not prepared for winter hiking, and the goats would have frozen on the long drive to the trailhead so we changed our plans. We decided to try one of the other trails within walking distance of our cabin. This one was called “Canoncita Trail” and sounded easy and fairly scenic in the description we found in our cabin. With the cold weather, we didn’t plan a long hike and thought we would be back before lunchtime so we did not bother to saddle the goats.

The trail wandered along a creek in a wooded canyon, crossing back and forth many times as we climbed.

This hanging tree amused me. I wonder how long it had been suspended like that?

The goats enjoyed the zen circle.

Huge, imposing rock towers rose up behind the trees.

The creek was low, but it was beautiful. Crystal clear water tumbled down endless little cataracts, over ancient logs and mossy rocks. Golden aspen leaves looked like pirate treasure.

The trees got bigger as we climbed. Many of the aspens had carvings reaching back decades.

The canyon walls closed in as we gained altitude, and the temperature began to drop noticeably. There was more snow on the ground and we had to be careful not to slip at creek crossings.

Even without the sun to ignite them, the blazing aspens set the forest on fire.

We came around a bend in the trail and stopped in our tracks. The air tingled. It was a Unicorn Wood.

I’ve never before been privileged to see this many freshly fallen aspen leaves on snow and I know I shall never forget it.

We found squirrel tracks, but nothing else was astir. The woods were still and silent. The aspens gave way to a dark spruce forest, and solemn gray boulders lined the trail.

Finn found a stone throne and immediately claimed it. How lordly he looks!

If Sputnik wanted to hide, this would have been the perfect place. If he’d gone off among the evergreens I would never have found him again!

Pieces of eight.

Though the aspens were fewer, they were perhaps more dramatic against the dark spruce and fir.

The day was getting cold and the snow was getting deeper. Our shoes were wet and our noses chilly. Phil and I had no idea how far we’d hiked, but it was long past lunchtime and we were hungry and our legs were tired. Nevertheless, the enchanted wood drew us on as if casting a spell. We made up our minds to head back when we reached the next creek crossing. When we finally got there, the forest tempted us to keep going, but we resisted the enchantment and did not cross. We stood on the bank and watched the water gurgling over rocks and logs. Finn took the opportunity to snuggle up to Phil for some loves.

Fresh snowflakes began to fall, settling on Finn’s black back, and we knew it was time to head down. The most beautiful forest quickly loses its magic in a snowstorm!

But it doesn’t lose all of its magic. I stopped to catch snowflakes.

We turned a corner in the narrow canyon and found sunshine for the first time all day.

It was late afternoon and we were all hungry when we got back to the cabin. Finn and Sputnik gorged themselves on fallen apples.

Next morning we packed up and headed home to Rye. This was our coldest goat vacation so far, but we still found adventure and beauty on the trail. I would not trade that last hike for anything. It may be one of my favorites ever. Photos can’t come close to doing it justice and I will never forget it.

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 5: Exploring Taos

Day 5 was kind of a dud–cold, windy, rainy, and spitting snow. We tethered the goats in the yard to graze for a couple of hours in the morning and then I bedded their trailer down deep in clean straw and gave them fresh hay so we could get them under shelter just in time for the nasty weather to blow in around 10:30. Phil and I took off to explore the area without goats. We drove up to Tres Piedres and saw the Earthship visitors center where we paid too much to see a model Earthship home. But we bought a book about harvesting rainwater which might come in handy for us one of these days.

Then we went to the Rio Grande Gorge bridge and walked across so we could spit off it. It was a very high bridge. The gorge was beautiful. But we were puzzled by the lack of parking. You could park on the limited shoulder on either side of the bridge. Or you could park at the visitors center. But there was no access from the visitors center to the bridge without hiking cross-country and climbing over a guardrail. It was very strange because the bridge had wide walking paths and observation balconies on both sides. And we didn’t understand this sign on the visitors center bathroom at all!

After lunch we visited a couple of museums and a wonderful rock shop. The rock shop was the highlight of the day. They had many beautiful mineral specimens, and Phil bought a bag of mineral spheres to add to his marble collection.

We let the goats out in the yard when we got back and they amused themselves at the apple tree.

Seventh annual Hassey “Goat Vacation” Day 4: Of Thrones and Fountains

Day 4 dawned clear and cold. It would be our last day of sunshine on this trip, and the temperature was predicted to stay cold. We originally planned to hike up to Williams Lake at the base of Wheeler Peak–New Mexico’s highest mountain. But that would have required a fairly long drive with the goats in the cold, open truck bed. There was a chance of warmer temperatures on Wednesday, so we put off the Williams Lake hike and I did a little research to find a better cold weather trail closer to Taos. I discovered Devisadero Loop Trail on the south side of Taos (where the sunshine was happening that day), and reviews said most of the trail was on the sunny side of the mountain. This sounded like a win to me! I love loop trails, and this one was about 6 miles long–perfect for two people still recovering from Friday’s hike to Wheeler, and from the previous day’s steep terrain.

The trail skirted the peak of a mountain overlooking Taos and offered stunning views of the city and surrounding mountains along most of the way. The reviews had been correct about the sunshine. Despite the cold temperatures, the sun hit this mountainside hard enough in the morning that I was able to hike in a T-shirt for the first part of the day.

Sputnik’s fluffy, warm hindquarters made a great resting spot. There was even a good pad of fat on that broad back of his!

Sometimes a bit of vandalism adds character to a place.

We were greeted by a series of three stone thrones at the top of the mountain. It was a perfect place to eat lunch, but I had to tie up the goats because people with dogs kept coming over the crest and we didn’t want any accidents or surprises.

According to the man who took this photo for us, the thrones were much bigger and more impressive until the Forest Service decided to intervene. In the name of “Leave No Trace”, the government decided to tear down the thrones, monuments, and other rock art at the top of the mountain. Naturally, the citizens came and put it back up, but apparently it does not live up to its former glory. The local who took the photo didn’t think much of the Forest Service any more.

We had equally good views on the hike back down.

I just love the shape of Finn’s horns.

We still had daylight left after the Devisadero Loop, and several trails started from the same parking area. So we explored the river bottom across the road from the Devisadero Loop for a while. We didn’t go far because we only wanted to see the leaves. The cottonwoods and willows were at peak color and their leaves carpeted the trail. Unfortunately the light was a little off and none of my photos came out very well, but it was a particularly relaxing and enjoyable little jaunt through golden, sun-dappled woods.

We finished hiking in mid-afternoon and there was one more thing I wanted to see. I’d read about the broken-down Ponce de Leon hot springs south of Taos and I wanted to see them. Reviews were mixed. One said the trail to it was closed. Another said the springs were silted in and choked with cattails and probably hadn’t been used in years. But other reviews said it was a wonderful, secluded little spot and showed photos of beautiful, clear pools–the remains of what once was a small resort built in the 1920’s and abandoned in the 1960’s.

It took a bit of looking, but we found a rough parking lot at the top of a narrow dirt road. It was full of broken glass and the road across the way was barred with a metal gate. Signs next to the gate indicated that the trail and springs were closed to vehicle traffic and were being managed by the Taos Pueblo Indian tribe. The signs were all shot up. It was an easy mile hike down to the springs and we had to go through a couple of gates.

When we got there we were greeted by a large silted-in pool filled with cattails just like the one-star review stated. No swimming to be done here! Too bad. It looked like a really nice pool at one time.

But a short hike up the hill and around some willows revealed the hidden spring. Apparently our one-star reviewer was not a very ambitious explorer. I dipped a finger in the water, expecting it to be too cool to tempt us in on such a cold day.

But I was pleasantly surprised! The water was not hot, but it felt wonderfully warm compared to the chilly air. The sun came from behind a cloud, showing wisps of steam hovering over the surface. Phil and I changed into our swimsuits and jumped in. It was not deep–only about 3 feet–but it was a delicious temperature on a 50-degree afternoon.

The goats had carried our swimsuits and towels down for us, but they had no desire to try the water for themselves (and it would have been bad manners to allow goats in the pool even if they wanted a dip). I tied them to a willow tree along the bank and they kept themselves very amused by trimming the foliage.

The water was some of the clearest I have ever seen. There was no sulfur smell–only pure, delicious, crystal-clear spring water running over a sand and gravel bottom through which you could feel the heat radiating up between your toes. It was good enough to drink, and Phil and I both had a sip from the cataract that tumbled into the pool.

Getting in was wonderful, but getting out was cold! We waited until the sun peeked from behind the clouds for a few minutes, and then hurried over to our towels and into our dry clothes. Finn got to carry my wet swimsuit back to the truck. I’m glad no one else was at the springs because I really didn’t want to hike back in my wet bathing suit, and there was nowhere convenient to change clothes except right by the side of the pool. I’m just not one of those “clothing optional” people even though this is a “clothing optional” pool.

I hope Ponce de Leon Springs is never “rediscovered” because it’s a gorgeous little gem just as it is. It provided the perfect end to a wonderful day.