Getting Ones Goat

Elana Renata

© Copyright 2019 by Elana Renata

Photo of a goat.

            I was biking up a long, razor-thin, hair-pinned turn in central Ireland on my way to Kilkenny and the youth hostel nestled in the “Kilkenny Mountains”, named such by the locals.  They were merely large hills to my American eyes accustomed to ranges the likes of the Rocky Mountains.  Nevertheless, they were steep enough to cause me to come to a wobbly stop at the aforementioned hill.  Did I mention the hill was both steep and narrow?  I had to run off the tar paved road more than once to avoid being creamed by a passing lorry.  Luckily, these were few and far between (and they were probably driving illegally on that road, judging from its narrowness and sharp turns).

            As I pushed my mangled and limping three-speed rental bicycle up the hill towards the youth hostel, a torrent of rain fell, even as the sun was fully shining. Only in Ireland have I seen this phenomenon.  There I was in my yellow slicker, jacket and pants, with fog rising up from the hood to steam up my glasses.  I was forever stopping to take them off and wipe the steam away on the edge of my shirt, leaning the bike against my knee and groping under  the jacket for a piece of shirt.  The humidity was high and my glasses were forever fogging up from my breath as I exerted myself, while breathing most of the time through my nose.  Thus the landscape was blurry from the falling rain, sweat, foggy breath and my poor eyesight.  I felt trapped in a tunnel by my vision and the weather.

            After walking more than an hour without seeing any traffic, all of a sudden the hair on my neck stood straight up!  Someone or something was walking behind me!  I whirled around to see a lone goat, maybe Angora or Mohair, following me directly up the slope in the pouring rain.  The goat was a billy, with a goatee beard.  He had those other-worldly eyes that all goats have that seem to be lying on the wrong axis.  Most mammal pupils lie vertically, but goats appear to have horizontal lying pupils, up and down is natural, not sideways.

            I think these eerie eyes have given goats a bad name in history and have associated such a helpful animal with the sinister, or erotic judging from the association with the Greek God Pan, the scapegoat of ancient Hebrew worship.  Ancient Christians and Muslims borrowed the goat as a symbol of the Evil One.  You see, this was not the kind of goat that is found in a petting zoo, all small and cute, but was more like the goats in the Scandinavian fairy-tale, “The Billy Goats Gruff”.  He was very tall, as tall as my bike.  He bleated at me and I yelled at him, “Go home you goat!  I guess he was a Gaelic Goat and he just could not understand me, or more likely, he was just ignoring me.  I was kind of afraid, city girl that I am, and although I grew up with a menagerie including guinea pigs, white rats, dogs, cats, parrots, canaries and parakeets, any animal bigger than a Labrador Retriever, which the goat was, was intimidating to me.  He had large long curved horns and I thought that he just might as soon butt me as well as follow me.

            Since yelling did not work, I tried clapping my hands, swinging my arms and hooting and hollering.  I also thought of charging him, but decided against that because I was outmatched in armor and weapons.  I thought that though there seemed to be no malice in the goat, I was alone on this mountain and was ignorant of goat behavior.  The longer he followed me, bell swinging and ringing, baaaaing and maaaaaing , the more concerned I was that the goat was leaving his territory and that my inability to make him behave might get me in trouble with the owner and that I might be accused of stealing him!

            He kept back exactly the same distance from me no matter how fast I walked.  Every time I stopped to wipe off my glasses, or rest, he would stop just as I stopped.  When I was ready to continue my trek, he would begin walking exactly as I did, keeping equidistant behind me the whole way.  His tangled long hair was multicolored browns and tans and hung long past his knees.

            The rain kept pelting down, the fields around me were a misty forest green and lime green and a vivid green that one finds only in Ireland and is hard to describe.  This rich, vibrant, living, luscious green can only come from the juxtaposition of so much sea and rain.   The humidity was sky-high, the sea close around and the lack of many trees poured all the energy and nourishment of the frequent rains into the surrounding fields and shrubs.  These were criss-crossed by rock cairns, stone fences, druid menhirs and the ruins of medieval castles.  It was a magical scene.

            I had been traveling in the British Isles for four months now, most of the time with one companion.  Periodically, we would separate and travel alone, hitch hiking, walking and biking through the countryside.  We would meet at prearranged times.  We stayed in Youth Hostels the majority of the time, except when we had colds or other illnesses.  Then we would spring for a Bed and Breakfast where we would not be kicked out of the lodgings promptly at seven a.m.

            I had been reading a novel about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table as we traveled through the exact country where the legends were born.  I had been to Land’s End and Tintagel in Cornwall, which was believed to be Arthur’s birthplace.  I had hiked through Wales, listening to Welsh and Gaelic.  I had seen Stonehenge only from a distance because it was closed to tourists due to persistent vandalism.  In Ireland, however, the medieval and older sites were numerous and easy to access.  I could walk up to the druid obelisks and crumbling stone ruins of cold castles and just touch the rock or wander in and out of the small stonehenges that dotted the landscape.  I was imbued with the Celtic charm, myths and legends.  Here I was surrounded by so much palpable history.

            Roman roads were still being used as the grade for modern roads that were then resurfaced.  I learned from a man in a pub that if I saw a straight road in England, a road that seemed to barrel through the countryside, that this was most likely a Roman road, an iter, that the Roman engineers had carved through the hilly countryside two thousand years ago.  A native road, in contrast, was formed to hug the rolling countryside, and therefore, had natural curves and rarely ran straight.  Some of the main highways used in England, were built over the road bed of these ancient Roman roads, using the original Roman engineering to build modern highways and the equivalent of the British “freeway”.  I was fascinated by all the living history around me.

            It was just me and the goat, plus all the Celtic myth, Roman and medieval history.  Leprechauns, gnomes, faeries, elves and dwarves.  Roman Legions, clashing knights and damsels in distress collected in the periphery of my soggy vision, just clinging to the corner of my eye and the steep cliff.  I relaxed into the moment.  I had seen no one but the goat for hours.  I fell into a reverie and though awake, I daydreamed of King Arthur and Guinevere, the Celtic hero Tristan and his beloved Iseult, Gawain and the Green Knight.  Suddenly, my bike disappeared to become my steaming, snorting white palfrey and the goat transformed into my prince, my knight in shining armor.

            Much later I became aware that it was no longer raining and though it was October, I was uncomfortably warm in my slicker, so I stopped to take it off.  I looked behind me and the goat had disappeared.  I looked back down the long hill and could see no goats or any other animals.  After tying my wet slicker to the outside of my pannier bags on my rear wheel, I rounded the last hill and saw the Youth Hostel ahead.  How appropriate!  My night’s lodgings were to be in a converted building with turrets and towers, built in the manner of an old medieval castle.

I travelled to Ireland in the Fall of 1979.  It was the last leg of a four months trip to the British Isles. The goat encountered me on the steep hairpin turns of Kilkenny Mt.  We were traveling in tandem, me on a battered three speed bike, the horned goat on the high hillside.  He left me on top of the mountain before I reached Kilkenny Youth Hostel.

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