No Goats for Me!

Pansies and Stock. November, 2011.

What Flowers Taught me of Discipline

For many years, I’ve thought I’d enjoy keeping a few goats. We live in a place where we could keep goats. But I haven’t studied up on goat husbandry, haven’t thought about where to put a pen and a goat barn. The other day, I realized I’m not fit to keep goats. The flowers taught me.

A few days ago I planted pansies and stock in pots for my front deck. These flowers thrive in our mild winters and the pots were due for a freshening. I’d bought the starts in bloom, so I could judge their colors.

My mother taught me, when I was a child, kneeling beside her in our garden, that one always removes flowers and buds from new transplants. “Those flowers draw the plant’s energy,” she told me. “We want that energy focused on building good strong root systems, instead. They’ll bloom again, soon enough.” When I was older, I found this same wisdom echoed in the pages of the Sunset Western Garden Book, the oracle of horticulture in these parts. So almost always, I dutifully snip off flowers when I plant something new.

This day was chilly and gray; it was cold enough that puffs of my own breath steamed ahead me like little tugboats as I retrieved the soil from the garage. So I set up potting operations in my kitchen. When I’d settled the young plants into their fresh soil, I picked up my floral shears. But the stock’s perfume, the purple pansy faces peeping up at me from their margins, white like starched collars on choir robes–these small promises of beauty on a doleful autumn day–appealed their sentence. I set my snips aside and returned the pots to the deck.

The next day my co-grandma Judi came to visit. She told me about the days when she worked at the livestock auction. She raised a few goats too. And then some goat sickness came. She couldn’t remember its name, but she remembered her friend calling her, urging her to treat her small herd with antibiotics, quick-like.

All these years later, her voice shivered as she told me of the one goat she couldn’t save, the one she’d had to cull. “My friend brought his shotgun over,” she remembered. “I asked him to do it. ‘No, Judi,’ he told me, ‘If you’re going to raise these goats, it’s your responsibility.’ And so I did it.”

“Ohhhhh,” I breathed. I tried to imagine my grandchildren’s other grandma, leveling a shotgun, sighting down its barrel at her own goat. I wanted to ask her if the goat had a name, but the question seemed too cruel.

“It was hard,” she nodded, her eyes moistening, even now. “But I had to do it.”

As we spoke, those sweet stock blooms and innocent little pansy faces on my deck convicted me. I brought them home, assumed responsibility for them, and my self-indulgence kept me from sacrificing a few transient blooms. I compromised their futures, swapping it for a small reward today.

If I can’t manage to do right by a few starts of winter annuals, I’ve got no business owning goats.

10 “, Luke 16, trust


  1. Funny, but I was just saying something like this about a camera. I want a fancy one with, you know, real removable lenses. But I keep ruining point n clicks. I’m not responsible enough for a fancy camera.

    Come to think of it, I may not be responsible enough for children considering my history with cats and dogs. Oh, well. Too late to worry much about that.

  2. Interesting about the camera. My family includes some talented photographers who thrive in manual mode. I’m not one of them.

    Oh, and your children? They seem to be thriving, Brandee 🙂

  3. “… in the little things.”

    So much of our faith and our integrity is worked out in the little things.

    I’m so glad you linked up, Sheila. I found a second lampshade for you, since David took the first one. 😉

  4. Thanks, Jennifer! I’ll wear it with pride.

  5. God still speaks to us in parables, doesn’t He? This might be called the parable of the pansy.

  6. Parable of the Pansy has a nicer ring to it than Parable of the Goat. 🙂

  7. I’ve always considered plants to be a huge commitment. I don’t care to look after them, but feel responsible if they shouldn’t survive. So I just don’t have them.

    It’s a wonder I’ve managed to get my kids to their teenage years… 😉

  8. That’s the great thing about children: they come with a highly effective Needs Alert System.

  9. Please, no goats. I have a terrible history with goats. I don’t think I could come visit if there were goats.

  10. That settles it, Carolyn. No Goats!

  11. Oh thank you, Sheila! That means more than you can know!

  12. I couldn’t have goats if they’ll keep you away, no could I?

  13. It’s that hard part of husbandry that those of us with a somewhat romantic notion of life on the farm need to wrestle with.

    I’d like to have chickens, for example, in order to have eggs; but with that comes death and other care.

    I’m grateful to those who are willing to do the hard part so that I can drive over and buy the eggs.

    On a gentler note, your piece reminds me to trim the ficus tree and water the ferns that I hope to nurse through winter. I made a decision when I brought them in…now I’m committed.

  14. So true, Ann. Every good thing has its hard parts, hasn’t it?

    It’s difficult for this California native to wrap her brain around bringing plants indoors for the winter. I’m something of a “sink or swim” gardener. I provide the basic care, but anything too fussy isn’t going to last long in my landscape.