In the summer of 2007, I had 12 gallons of paint and no way to transport them to my home in the mountains at 6,800 feet, accessible only by trail. Help from a friend and her llamas was not available at the time. I was pondering this question of paint conveyance when, providentially, I met my neighbor, Wanda Coyan, and told her of my quandary.
Wanda suggested that she and her friend from Fallon, Charlie Goggan, provide a team of goats for the job. So on the appointed day, after breakfast at Wanda’s, cooked by her husband Gary, three women, Charlie’s two daughters, two dogs and six big goats proceeded to the trailhead. When the goats were saddled up (one could become quite sentimental on the subject of goat saddles) they warmed to the task of carrying two gallons each. No harnesses or ropes were required. The goats followed the humans and each other in a perfect line. One got stuck in a bush and after trying to free himself was content to let a human sort out the tangle. They strode over the creek without stumbling and maintained a good pace up the hill, showing no sign of strain. The journey was remarkably easy and the cloven hooves left little impact on the trail. That night, humans, dogs and goats slept outside for safety in numbers; mountain lions and other predators would have found those plump goats hard to resist.
Wanda, curator of Alpine County Museum and a plain dressing conservative quaker, grew up in a country area of Tennessee. The house had no electricity or running water. Water for baths was heated on the wood stove. They kept food cold in their root cellar. When she was four years old she was the only child at home. They had a cow and Wanda would churn butter for hours. Her best friend was Nanny, the goat. (Wanda points out that, strictly speaking, female goats are called does and males, bucks). They would play endless games of hide-and-seek, Wanda in her cowboy boots and little else. Wanda would peek around a corner of the house then Nanny would do the same. Together they used to climb a big oak tree with thick, spreading branches. Most children sport scarred knees, but Wanda had scars on her stomach where Nanny would butt her when she got mad (does as well as bucks have horns).
When Wanda and Gary’s four sons were growing up they had a cow to provide fresh milk for them all. As the boys grew older they no longer needed such quantities of milk so Wanda decided to keep goats which produce less, more digestible milk. Goats went out of Wanda’s life again when she was busy with nursing school and work. When the boys left home she was revisited by the old hankering. She contacted Charlie of Fallon who persuaded her to accompany her on a goat packing trip. Wanda was reluctant, thinking that she only wanted goats for milk but she agreed to go and became hooked. She now has three pack goats, two wethers and a doe, and one milk goat, all with distinct personalities. Three are Saanens, from Switzerland, bred for cold weather and one is a Nubian, bred for the desert. In some years there is enough delicious milk and cheese for neighbors; my daughter used to drink most of our quart before we’d walked home.
A familiar sight on our street is the herd of goats being led to pasture by Wanda and Gary. The goats keep the grass down around the sewage pond and in the pasture opposite the library.
Observing goats at play one is reminded of the George Bernard Shaw quote “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” One is swept away by their joie de vivre, their incessant chasing, climbing, leaping off rocks and spinning in mid-air. Wanda maintains that goats and grandchildren are an excellent match. When her grandson, Leo, was little the goats would follow him; he would lie down and they would jump onto his back. The goats have led to a closer connection with nature; a family of swallows lives at the top of one of the stalls. The four babies stand on the edge of the nest feeling quite safe being handled by the humans. Every night birds and goats are locked up together, the knotholes allowing bird access to the outdoors.
Wanda and Gary also have seven banty hens and a rooster, a garden with flowers, vegetables and herbs and a greenhouse. Wanda and two friends are writing a book on wild edible plants of the Sierra.