How I explained American Independence to my goats

On July 4th, 2016, I spent the night with three Nigerian Dwarf goats named Ellie, Frankie, and Pickles. I packed a sleeping bag, my cell phone, and a headlamp that I didn’t end up using. I settled into the goat house at around 9pm, just as the first explosions began.

To pass the time on this long night, I talked to the goats. Using an app on my phone, I created an audio recording. The following is a transcript of that recording, with minor edits for clarity.


(rustling sound) OK, is this working? (checks recording levels). Looks like we’re rolling.

First of all, thanks for letting me bunk with you tonight. I realize this is probably just as awkward for you as it is for me, so I really appreciate it. If you guys are comfortable standing silently in the corner like that, I’m good here on top of the hay manger. Just let me know if you want to switch.

(muffled explosion in the distance)

I see you jumped a little there. That strange sound is why I wanted to spend the night with the three of you. Just to let you know that everything’s OK. The world as you know it is not actually ending, despite the way it may sound and feel.

That sudden booming sound is called a firecracker. It’s a little package of powdery compound wrapped in paper. It has a fuse that is lit on fire, which causes the package to explode with great force. The reason for the explosions has to do with something called patriotism, and also a little thing called independence.

I realize you’re all probably like “What’s a powdery compound? What’s patriotism? What are words and concepts?” Totally valid questions, seeing as how you are of an entirely different species than me. Me with my fancy verbal language and everything. But since we’ve got some time on our hands, just hang with it and see if anything sinks in.

Whether you realize it or not, America is part of your identity. Your mom is named Blanche after a famous bank robber of the Great Depression. Frankie, you’re named after FDR. Ellie, you’re named after his wife. And Pickles, you’re named after pickles.

Frankie, I can see well enough in the dark to sense that you are starting to get restless. Go ahead and lie down if you want. If anyone needs to poop or pee, feel free to do your thing. This manger is pretty cozy actually. Reminds me of a Christmas song we used to sing in church (clears throat). Away in a manger no space for a bed. The little lord Jesus laid down his sweet…

(very loud explosion nearby)

Hoo! Sweet Jesus! That startled me too. From the sound of it I would guess that it was a block or two away. Pickles, I can see that you are getting anxious. Also I can hear that you’re getting anxious, by the way you are screaming at the top of your lungs. Wow, that’s quite a voice you’ve got there. Somewhere between a shrieking child and a party favor horn. Goodness, my ears are ringing.

(much louder explosion)

Sweet mother of God! There go the car alarms. Seriously, if car alarms are to exist on this earth only to annoy neighbors, then I say bravo to the car alarm industry – mission accomplished. Anyway, where was I?

Oh, right. I was talking about patriotism, and independence. Let’s break those down just to provide some context to the situation. Patriotism means that a person is emotionally attached to their home land. It’s probably not unlike the feeling you have for your home farm, the place you were born. (long pause)

I’m sorry to bring up a sore subject. That was a tough day, taking you away from your farm, your friends, and your mom. Especially because one of my students left your pen door open just long enough for two of you to bolt out and into the field next to the barn. Man, chasing you two around a thirty acre farm, only to catch you by diving in a rolling tackle, was no picnic. And it certainly didn’t help to relax you for the ensuing ride on a six lane highway into a major metropolitan area. But, we made it, did we not? And here we are. Three goats and a farmer who has apparently lost his marbles.

(huge explosion)

Ho baby! I felt that one rattle the walls. Did you know that some over-the-counter fireworks have the blast capacity of a half stick of dynamite? Of course you don’t know that. You don’t know anything except goat things. Like how to ruminate food in your four stomach compartments. Have I ever told you how great that is? You really have no idea how I impressed I am by that.

Anyway, where was I? Patriotism, we covered that. Independence means that one can exist solely without any assistance from the outside. Ellie, you know how you like to hop on top of the climbing structure and violently butt your sisters off if they try to take your place? That feeling you get as you become king of the hill (sorry queen of the hill) – that’s what independence feels like. You know better than anyone, however, that the independence you feel has nothing to do with existing without assistance from the outside. If you stayed up on the top of that hill like you own the place, you’d never get to drink that fresh water that I fill into your trough, or catch some much needed shade in the barn, or munch on some fresh hay.

(pop pop pop in the background)

Funny thing about America is that we love to celebrate our independence from the British Empire by blowing up those firecrackers that just made you jump again. Those firecrackers are all manufactured in China, as is most of everything we purchase in this country. The other funny thing is that the British Empire (less empirical these days) is still trying to exert its own independence by splitting from the European Union, and the very Brits that voted to do so aren’t really sure why they actually want to. Or if they do it’s largely based on emotional reasoning, not reason itself.

Look, I know that as goats, you are social creatures. You simply cannot exist without the love and companionship of other goats. So I’m not surprised if the very idea of independence leaves you shaking your heads. Or maybe you’re just shaking your heads to get the flies off of them. Either way, we can all agree that such lofty concepts are just that: concepts. Constructs. Abstract ideas that can be twisted and abused and used to sell fireworks, fire arms, and fiery rhetoric.

If nothing else sticks with you after this little lesson, remember this: even though you live in the middle of this giant monstrosity of a city with all its aggression, its noise, its puffed chests and pride, none of that is you. Maintain your essential goatness in all its musky greatness. Stay kind to each other and to everyone you encounter. Realize that everyone and everything – human, animal, and otherwise – are all inter-connected by the virtue of their very existence in this chaotic universe. To quote the great zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, continue to  inter-be. Continue to celebrate interdependence, every day.

Ok, I have been a teacher long enough to see when I’ve lost you. Except that my students usually don’t start chewing the cud while staring at a blank wall. At least most of them don’t. That was a joke. I’m sure you’re laughing in your own way. Also my phone is about to die, so let’s stop there.

(loud explosion followed by crackling)

Let’s see if we can catch some Z’s after the rockets red glare is over. If it’s ever over. Goodnight, ladies.




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