Yesterday was so cold I didn’t let the goats out of their pen, but little Coral (who we affectionately call “Fuzzy”) still had to come to the house to get milked. It’s a long way back to her pen and didn’t want to make her wait for me out in the cold by herself while I strained milk. So I let her follow me upstairs to the kitchen while I put the milk away. She’s a sweet, timid little goat and she doesn’t get into things when she’s in the house. Most of my goats would behave like a tornado, but Fuzzy just tiptoes around and carefully sniffs things but doesn’t mess with them. She’s completely adorable and if I were to choose one for a house goat, she would be it.
Don’t be jealous–Phil and I drove goats today! Finn and Sputnik haven’t been driven since Christmas time, and they haven’t pulled their single carts since sometime last summer I think. They did awesome and we even staged a couple of short races down the straightaway. I could tell that all the people driving by on the highway were green with envy.
After we drove goats, I stopped to pick up something at the saddle club. It was muddy down there. VERY muddy. I started down the hill toward the arena on foot because I knew the truck would get stuck if I drove to the gate. About the time I was beginning to think maybe this was a bad idea, and perhaps I should fetch the item another day, my foot slipped and down I went, KERSPLATT! into liquid clay. Phil had a beautiful view of my acrobatic display from the warm, dry cab of the pickup truck. I decided I might as well walk the rest of the way to the arena because I couldn’t possibly get any muddier at that point. I was far too muddy to sit inside the truck. I had to ride in the bed with the goats. Luckily the thing I had picked up from the arena was a mounting block and it made a good seat. Once home, I stripped down outside and tossed my clothes over a plow blade so I could hose off the chunks of congealing mud. What a great day! We had a fabulous time goat carting, and we ended it with a hilarious new episode of “Disaster Wife” (one of me and Phil’s inside jokes).
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 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 any 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.
Winter started the day before Halloween. We got our first big 15″ snow on October 30. We had more snow in that one storm than we had during the entire previous winter! And it didn’t stop there. Several more large storms hit us in November and December with smaller ones scattered 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.
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!
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!
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?
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’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.
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.
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.
“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.
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!”
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!
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 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.
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.