Six weeks on, Cassia’s quads have healthy appetites and like to wait for dinner (lait en bouteille, servi chaud) in comfort. Two bucks on the left (Redbud aka Buddy, and Badger Boy); two does on the right (Anemone aka Me-Me and Jonquil aka Quilla).
Cassia delivered healthy quadruplets, an astonishing feat for a goat doe, but one that claimed her life. Cassia had the sweetest personality, was a doting mother to her many kids, and was a strong elder, respected by all in the barn. Fare well, Cassia.
The four orphan kids are thriving under Sarah’s care, with assistance from Junebug on the post-milkbottle clean-up:
For the Year of the Goat, cloven hooves on granular snow, with accents by chicken. I believe the Cudzoo Goat Girls may be drawing poems about the eight 八 noble paths to enlightenment (a state of mind usually to be found by ruminating on alfalfa hay). Curiously, their hoofwork and voices converge.
Cassia and Hazel made a bid for the new Olympic marathon event of kinda-but-not-exactly-synchronized-kidding, producing five kids in one night. They spread this excitement through the night, just to keep the audience stimulated. Four of the five followed regular diving protocol, splashing into the world headfirst; the fifth performed a flip, finishing with the flourish known as “ass backwards,” a sure way to get a lung full of water. You can see nighttime photos of the newborns on Sarah’s blog.
Jupiter oversaw the whole proceedings from his barn perch:
Some news about Cudzoo Farm and The Forest Unseen:
Sarah has opened a new page on her soap website for sales and specials. These special prices on organic goat-milk soaps will be offered only intermittently, so I encourage you to investigate them now. Currently, she has a Five-for-four Special and an Ugly Duckling Assortment. Great soaps, fabulous prices: from our hard-working herd of goat princesses.
From soaps to books. The Times (London) has published a list of recommended reading for Lent. I was surprised and delighted that Jane Shaw, Dean of Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, chose The Forest Unseen. She writes that the book “is not a religious book, but [Haskell’s] careful observation of a one-square-metre patch of Tennessee forest over a year teaches us something vital about training our attention on the world around us, to see what we usually miss. That sense of attention and focus is central to all Lenten practices.” Is there a parallel between the study of natural history and the Lenten disciplines? This is an interesting idea. Within their own traditions they are both seen as practices that help us to pay attention to what matters: snails on one hand, the divine on the other (and a few of us think that some snails are themselves simply divine). Both practices are also often misunderstood as dour and outdated (Lent? Names of birds? How Victorian…), yet they have within them the potential for unrivaled connection to the world beyond and within ourselves (if such worlds exist, of course…). I’m intrigued by this Lenten connection and honored to have The Forest Unseen highlighted as helpful to those engaged in meditative practices.
I’ve also received some other good news about the book. A French translation will shortly be underway, joining ongoing translations into Japanese, Korean, and Chinese. I grew up in France and I’m especially happy that the book will be available to French readers. Schools in France used to (and maybe still do) celebrate the work of Jean-Henri Fabre, a close observer of the ecology of his home and prolific author. So I hope that my approach might fall on some ready ears, even if mine is a vastly more modest contribution (in many ways) than that of Fabre.
Last, readers of Ramble might be interested to know that this is the weekend of the Great Backyard Bird Count. From Feb 15-18 we’re all encouraged to submit checklists of the birds that we see in our neighborhoods. Last year the count collected over one hundred thousand checklists (!) comprising 17.4 million individual bird observations: a rich source of data on the populations of North American birds. This year the project has gone global and is connected to ebird.org, an amazing site that “crowd-sources” data (hundreds of millions of observations to date) about birds. So our bird sightings are now both rewarding for us as individuals and they can contribute to a better understanding of global ecological patterns. I encourage you to participate. The count is set up for non-specialists including beginning birders, so do not feel that you have to be an “expert” in order to join the project.
How long have reindeer been dancing through our midwinter celebrations?
Rudolph is seventy three years old. He came into being in 1939 for a Montgomery Ward Christmas publicity campaign. He joined his older cousins Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, and Blitzen, a little herd that celebrates its one hundred and ninetieth birthday this week. The eight “tiny rein-deer” originated with Clement Clarke Moore’s poem, A Visit from St. Nicholas, written in 1822. Moore apparently re-imagined some Norse myths, replacing Odin’s Wild Hunt with St. Nicholas’ sleigh-in-the-sky. To power the sleigh, Moore replaced Thor’s goats (called teeth-barer — the snarler — and teeth-grinder) with more kid-friendly reindeer. Moore may also have penned a slightly older poem, Old Santeclaus, that also places reindeer at the head of a sleigh (originally published in a pamphlet by William B. Gilley, but the poem’s authorship is apparently in doubt). Unlike A Visit from St. Nicholas, this poem languishes in obscurity, perhaps because it ends with the gift of a birch rod with which parents can enact God’s will by thrashing their kids. Montgomery Ward would have a hard time weaving that idea into their sales pitch. Christmas is a lot tamer these days: gone are the snarling goats and instruments of corporal punishment.
In sum, Rudolph is a bit of an upstart. But all these modern deer are babies compared to the venerable grandma and granddaddy of them all: the Swimming Reindeer of Montastruc. This pair of reindeer are thirteen thousand years old. They live in the British Museum, in a carefully climate-controlled case. The pair were carved by an artist in what is now France. The artist carved a mammoth tusk (!) to create a sculpture of two reindeer swimming across a river.
This carving is a work of stunning beauty, carrying the artist’s skill across a chasm of time. More, it reveals much about the world in which the artist lived. Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus, called caribou in North America) are animals of the tundra and northern forests. Their presence in France is a reminder that at the time of the carving the world was engulfed by the last ice age. Half of Britain was under ice, as was much of North America. The people of Europe were living in conditions similar to those of modern northern Scandinavia. Reindeer formed a substantial part of the diet of these early modern people, especially in the coldest years of the ice age. (The so-called Cro-Magnon/Paleo diet should, if carried out with rigor, be comprised of about 95% reindeer, with a little horse, cave bear, chamois, and mammoth thrown in for good measure. And don’t expect to live much beyond forty.)
I’m awed by the sculpture. For a more complete discussion of the artistic and archeological context, I recommend Robin McKie’s recent article in the Observer (reprinted in the Guardian). Here I’ll just note the artist’s attention to the particularities of the animals’ lives. This is the work of someone who understood their subject and was able to convey this understanding through sophisticated artistic technique. Natural history, science, and art have been close companions for a long, long time.
For a good view of the carving, use the British Museum’s online viewer and press the “zoom” buttons to magnify the image. Click the little square underneath these buttons to flip into “full screen” mode. You can see most of the details quite clearly and thus imagine the hands that conjured reindeer from a tusk so long ago.
Of all the various symbols and myths of the modern solstice celebration, reindeer may perhaps be the oldest. Humans were celebrating the return of Light with reindeer meat, hides, and carvings long before the agrarian revolution, let alone the origin of the Abrahamic religions. Clement Clarke Moore tapped something deep. Lighted reindeer on lawns and Rudolph songs are reminders of who we are: a species that has depended on ungulates for tens of thousands of years. These animals are carved into our psyche.
I know nothing about the midwinter traditions of cultures in places other than western Europe (transplanted to North America). Like most arctic animals, reindeer have a circumpolar distribution, so I’d predict that they appear in solstice stories in other northern temperate regions. If anyone know of any such stories (or their absence), I’d love to hear about them.
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