Enemies

One of the most time-consuming things to have is an enemy, wrote E.B. White. It is also the dumbest, costliest, and hardest thing to walk away from – as with garden pests.

But my worst enemy once was Lena, our Nubian milk goat. She was not only sneakier than I am (intelligence, in an enemy, is called sneakiness), but stronger, louder, more ornery, and – like any proper enemy – the clear cause of most trouble at our place. Mind you, I’m was no small part of her troubles, but it’s hard to have an enemy when you look at things from both sides.

We bought her because fresh Nubian milk is one of life’s finer pleasures. Lena thought so too, and had no desire to part with hers.

 Goats are milked on a platform with a place for the grain dish and a stanchion to lock their heads in place while you drain their udders. But one touch of a hand on Lena’s udder and the reaction was electric. She’d thrash, kick, and buck her hindquarters so high one leg would get caught on a three-foot-high plank, leaving the lady stuck fore and aft, half upside down, howling in protest with the other-worldly “BLAAAAAAA!!!” that only Nubians are capable of, and that I know could be heard at Tom Merna’s place down the road. (Hearing it inside a closed room is a particularly special experience.)

In time she’d settle enough to let me milk until the pail was half full, whereupon a back foot would shoot and hit the pail’s lip like a tiddlywink, decorating myself and two walls with fresh milk. In respose I tied her back hooves to two heavy eye hooks screwed into the milk stand. In response, she sat down on the milk pail. In response I slung a grain sack under her and hoisted her midsection up with  a block and tackle. In response, she arched up to leave her teats pointed due east on the horizontal, which raised accurate milking to art form – calculating volume, trajectory, and distance if you hoped to get enough milk for morning coffee.

Like all wars, this one was senseles — but having declared it, and come this far, neither of us was inclined to walk away. That happens, you know? Once in a while I scratched Lena behind the ears, or rubbed the bridge of her nose, and she liked that. Maybe I should have done it more often.

 My enemy more recently was the local squirrel population, which had grown out of hand. As a result, acorn storage space was at a premium that year, and it overflowed into our garden – making a mess of the mulch and wintering-over crops. I decided to resolve the issue with a .22 rifle, randomly picking the first of what I thought would be many squirrels and shooting it off a tree branch with a long, lucky shot. This acrobat of summer, twitched slightly, leaned, and plummeted to the forest floor, dead.

 I didn’t like the feeling that left me with, and wondered if perhaps the real enemy here wasn’t me.

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About lifegrower

Peter V. Fossel has been gardening since he was nine, and has been an organic farmer for the last 20 years. His most recent book, “Organic Farming, Everything You Need to know” was published by Voyageur Press, Minneapolis, 2007. He’s written numerous gardening articles for Organic Gardening, Horticulture, Country Journal, Out Here, and American Profile among others. He was Gardens Manager for The Hermitage, home of President Andrew Jackson in Tennessee before returning to Cape Cod to start his newest organic venture, Swan River Farm in Dennisport, MA.
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