Animals act as psychopomps between the worlds in dreams and everyday life. How many of us have a beloved cat or dog whose warm, soft body reminds us that we too are animals? My husband and I have two cheerful yellow labs, siblings, who have been with us for almost 12 years. Tending to their needs for exercise and affection and receiving their unflagging loyalty humanizes us, brings us to earth.
But we also have a small herd of goats who walk with me almost daily. We have had goats for 20 years. The original pygmies, of course, are on the other side. Natalie and Boris were the first. I was shocked at how much their presence grabbed my heart and soul. They taught me the way to walk forest trails, paying attention to the scolding of birds and squirrels, and that it is important to enjoy the sun and the slant of hillside grass (which you slide down on on your belly, if you are a pygmy). They showed me that domestic animals have made a sacrifice to live with us, and that some of them are also on an individuating path.
These days graceful, long-legged alpines click horns in bouts of dominance decisions in the goat pen. Goats have been surprising muses for me, sharing a wall in my writing studio. When I walk, it is with this rambunctious herd of beauties who are almost deer, as well as with the llama who guards them, but I still feel the unseen presences of Natalie and Boris and the rest of the gang, all these beings who initiated me into goat-dom.
Yesterday a box arrived on our doorstep from Guanajuato, Mexico, with twelve ceramic plates memorializing the dead and celebrating the living of this herd. My friend Dianne introduced me to the potter Gorky and to Gorky’s family when I visited her and her husband in April. Years before she had given me a lovely ceramic bowl of his which had broken. I wanted to replace it.
Once at their shop, I realized that I wanted plates with goats on them, and although they were out of plates with goat images, they offered to paint my goats on plates if I sent pictures of the goats.
Which I did! What I love is that the plates themselves are both mythic and absolutely concrete. I recognize each goat and llama from his or her image: Ah! here is that expression that can be only Agaleah! and twist and tension in the body of Boey! and here is Natalie, and Libra, and Hijo (the llama), and Petunia! They infuse the food we eat from the plates with this liveliness of food of spirit, of life of the imagination, and the absolute beauty of our earth.