I like living out in a rural area, where every day I get to see the natural cycle of life, large and small. Out here seasons matter—spring brings new grass for forage. Fall means time to stock up. Winter brings snow and shoveling a path for the animals, or clearing the weight of the snow off their shelter. Change occurs daily, sometimes hourly, when a new plant emerges or grass springs tall after rain, or seeds begin to show those first sprouts, or guinea eggs hatch new birds, or the swallow on the nest comes back for another cycle of sitting on eggs.
On the farm, life matters—but the other side is death. Death matters, too.
Nature isn’t kind and second chances don’t always happen. A fox grabs a chicken who wanders off into high grass, or an owl carries off a keet who refuses to go into the chicken house for shelter at night. A high wind comes through and tears down half of an ancient peach tree. On some farms, those that produce meat, death is as routine as the white cloud of scattered feathers from butchering day. But this place isn’t a meat farm; the poultry are kept for eggs and the goats—a collection of rescue goats—for grass mowing. So when death happens, it usually isn’t planned.
The first group of rescue goats that came many years ago were Spanish goats, a heritage breed brought over by early settlers. Four goats came, a beautiful curled horn billy goat, and his small family.
We named the billy goat Apollo.
Apollo died today.
Apollo wasn’t a “pet” who came inside, but he has been part of my life for many years, always ready for a scratch, or in the early days, to give a shove. Every day, Apollo would come up, full of life and character and absolute joy. He gave my heart a lift whenever I saw him. He was always a character, pulling on my shirttail until I petted him or when younger, pushing me hard to start a game. His name Apollo fit his character to a t.
Until this past year, Apollo was the leader of the goats—the one in charge. He moved the goats into the central pasture each night and they all followed him. He managed them and he managed them well.
But my personal name for him was “little man” – because he was always a gentleman, a darling, ready to give love and get it.
This year he’d gotten frail, moving slower and slower. He stopped being the leader. Several mornings recently when I went out to feed and water, Apollo was stretched out on the ground, and I was afraid he’d died. But each time, he’d slowly lift his head and get up.
Today, when I came back from market to check on everyone, to feed and water before the storms hit, I found Apollo inside the run-in shed, against the wall, unable to get up. I brought him water—he was thirsty– and sat with him. He drank, and I petted him. He tried to get up but couldn’t and sank back down. I gave him more water and stayed with him for a while. He murmured to me the way he always has, but ever so softly.
It’s a bad sign when a goat or cow can’t get up. When I went back to check after the high wind and rain had passed, I found him lying curled up out of the weather inside the shelter, head down as if asleep, as gentle in death as he had been joyful in life.
He was old. Goats live maybe 15 years and Apollo was past that. So I knew it was time. But even though I knew, it’s still hard to believe that my little man has passed.
I will miss him.