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~~*  Black Sheep Newsletter............Issue 111............Spring 2002  *~~


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THE HOMESTEAD: A Story About Friendship


NOTE: The following is a full rendition of the more "compact" Story about Friendship submitted to the Black Sheep Newsletter and printed in their Spring 2002 issue. Most of my articles as printed here on our website are exactly as found in the newsletter. For a variety of reasons I thought I should send the newsletter an abbreviated version of the below write up. Here is the actual uncropped version as the words came a'tumbling onto paper when I initially penned it.splash dot!


A Story About Friendship

In the Brush - Mo and Zebulun

In the Brush - Mo and Zebulun

This is a true tale that cannot be told by me without fond remembrance of a time when I learned a bit about true friendship in the animal kingdom – amongst, of all creatures, angora goats. It took place one summer a few years ago – perhaps five full years, though I made no note of the year in any calendar. I only assess this by the fact that Zebulun, the black goat, is now nearly nine years of age - and it seems to me he was only four years old at the time all of this transpired.splash dot!


Before I begin let me make a simple admission. Up until the time that these events took place I was a skeptic in the way of believing that my goats could befriend one another. There seemed to be constant bickering in those goat pens, always aggression amongst the does who fought for predominance in a "pecking order" filled with file and rank, jostling, butting and severe treatment of any that were subservient. The old and the weak were especially prone to being last in the pecking order of things. When I would witness one doe butt another nearly senseless, obtaining a pledge of obeisance from the vanquished one, I would marvel sometimes at how their ladder of rank moved.splash dot!


I had seen worse in the buck pens. Especially was the hatred fierce during their rutting season when the does came into estrus. The fights between "the boys" that then ensued were horrendous, and always the bucks had to be separated from one another lest great harm come upon one of them by their stronger opponent. I decided with finality, in the early days of goat keeping, that friendship between the goats was not possible.splash dot!


Having said all that, I shall now compose my tale without further adieu. Reader, I deviate not at all from the truth of the matter and pen it only as it occurred those hot summer days in southern Oregon’s Cascade mountains. Come with me into these misty mountains…splash dot!



Summer being upon us at Singing Falls, the goats were unfurling on the pasture and venturing further and further north for their browse on a daily basis. I followed them out, a book in hand, and usually spent long hours with them as they ate to their hearts’ content and then turned homeward when they had had plenteous – usually signaled by rotund bellies and a quiet laying down of most of the flock as they worked their cud – swallowed it – and coughed it up again.splash dot!


We would spend a good three to four hours far away, our first steps a mad dash for the mountain they loved best while I tried my best to keep up with the bunch. They made me irritated and I blustered at times, but soon learned that the first hour was the worst. After that they settled down as their appetites diminished.splash dot!


The lead doe always would take note of the time instinctively and would then turn her head around, leading us all homeward. That signaled that we would reach the edge of the pasture, turn about once more, and circle upward the mountain but one more time. I knew their appointments and could readily keep up by then, finding that I could actually read a few chapters from my book in the meantime. At the time of this story, the white guardian dog was not yet upon the ranch. It was only the goats, me and the two Australian shepherds.splash dot!


The does and the kids, dogs and I would form a sort of unit. There were two bucks in those days, both large bodied, though one was older than the other. One, black as a lump of coal, was Zebulun (whom I already introduced to you earlier.) His fleece at that time was lustrous and he had a commanding presence about him, for he was in his prime. His horns gently spiraled upward and then out from a large and well formed head. With him always (because bucks will hang out together most times of the year except for breeding season) was the large registered white buck we had named "Mo." Mo had Texas blood in him and other than that all I can say is that he, too, had a majestic presence about him and even a larger horn span. One other feature about Mo was that he could never be trusted by me – for he once was a bottle baby and worse than that, the previous owners had "butted heads" with him when he was a kid. That made me particularly vulnerable to a goat who could do me some harm if he wanted to. I must admit, however, that he never did except for once – and I won’t tell that story here.splash dot!


Each buck had a muscular and large body. At the time this took place their fleeces were magnificent. One pepper black and one salt white, the locks of mohair were rather long.splash dot!


Mo and Zeb were their own inseparable "unit" at the times we all headed to pasture. Very often they left me alone with the does and the kids as they headed off into a vast distance by themselves. Over time a shepherd learns the "pattern" of his (her) charges, and so I learned that these two bucks were set on foraging for the better pastures found upward on the mountainsides together - unencumbered by any of the others or by me, for that matter. They roamed the high mountains thick with blackberry bramble, wild broom and a variance of herbage. The bucks were the ones who delved deeply into the lush riparian zones that hugged the creek. Finding themselves lost in things green – ferns, miners’ lettuce, shade loving plants that abounded where the water flowed, they left us all far behind. It was my more timid herd of does and their kids that stayed quite safe from all harm, never wandering far.splash dot!


Mo and Scion

Zeb and Scion, our new registered buck, on the evening return to the paddocks

I had no worries about the bucks. They seemed to be wise to the way of the woods. We, Stan and I, truly came to believe that they were large enough to be unattractive to the predators. We assumed it was their massive horns. After all, time had proved the point well. The bucks trudged homeward every late day just as the sun would be setting – by themselves – their stomachs quite full. We’d glance up (ever vigilant for our flocks) – and see up the long winding road two opaque silhouettes framed against a bright but dying yellow orb of sun. They never failed to appear on the horizon – the last of the herd to come in at night.splash dot!


One summer day it became late. The shadows began to gather on gold grassed pasture. All the does and kids were already in their pens locked up tight. I looked at my blonde haired husband and quietly spoke. "The bucks are not back yet…"splash dot!


We had seen it a few times before: the black Zebulun and the white Mo would at odd times wander behind the property fence and walk adjacent to it, a tight line between the outer boundary of the fence and the old growth forest outside its perimeter. What made them so bold in their forays (with sure knowledge cougars always lurked) stymied us. Nonetheless, they would make their rounds at odd times as though tempting fate.splash dot!


Let me describe, best as I can, that old growth forest. It is a place where shadows always gather, the trees towering upwards forever. Their forms are majestic, to be sure, and because the loggers have not been allowed to touch them, their girth is immense from centuries of being able to try to touch the heavens above them. I have no idea how antique some of them must be. Mosses and ferns grow upon their scaly barks and I can’t encircle any but the youngest with my arms, if I would attempt it.splash dot!


The forest is dark and foreboding – mainly because sunshine only penetrates its canopy at varying times of the day. There are toppled cedars lying on the ground, uprooted by wind and storm. Large trees, and red barked, they have fallen like the pick up sticks of our childhood - askew and piled randomly. The beauty found there is an austere beauty and untamed. The forest - primordial and ancient, without man's imprint scarring its landscape or erasing its antiquity, though compelling in its mystery, can at the same time chill a person to the marrow.splash dot!


In this forest – shade - even at high noon - blankets everything. Rays of sun finally find its floor in late afternoon, and always in laser fashion through the dense overstory. The only sounds to be heard are the babblings of water from small rivulets and occasional streams that part the forest as a man would part his hair. All else is silence, completely. Silence and eyes. One often wonders what creature is right at that moment peering down from some high precipice watching, ever watching...splash dot!


There was enough light yet to search the outer perimeter of the fence line that late afternoon for fresh sign. Stan and I hiked the steep mountainside to the corner of the fence and looked at the ground. No fresh sign at all; the bucks had not traversed there.splash dot!


In the past when they would decide to venture there, it was apparent that their trek would bring them around the perimeter of the fence line that surrounded the 35 or so acres that Stan had fenced. The bucks, by the end of the day, would finally end up on Mr. and Mrs. Wilson’s fine green pasture smack dab in front of our house - on the other side of the fence, of course. It was not an infrequent occurrence, therefore, to hear my phone ringing off the wall right around 7 pm in the evening, its shrillness likely to catch me off guard. I would lift the receiver (usually knowing beforehand who it was) and I would hear my neighbor, Mrs. Wilson, usually saying the same thing: "Hi there! Your two goats are in our pasture again, honey." Well, at least she called me "honey", I would smile meekly, while looking over at Stan (if he were there at the time) throwing one wild hand into the air while pointing furiously with an index finger toward the front yard mouthing "bucks" to him. There were a few select times that I thought I heard a peculiar edge to her voice and wondered if she might just fire off a few rounds and dispatch the two pests and feel predisposed to telling me about it later.splash dot!


RRRIIINNGGGG. "Hello?"splash dot!


And from the other end: "Hi there! I just dispatched those two bucks of yours, honey."splash dot!


Something like that. And I guessed I couldn't really blame her...splash dot!


As I said earlier, this particular summer’s eve it was evident that the two bucks had not skirted the fence line after all. When the shadows fell as though a curtain on the land, we could search no more and called it a night.splash dot!


As we trudged homeward, the moon’s silver light shone on the pasture. It gave the land a strangely ghostly appearance, especially with the old gravestones in the distant Thomason Cemetery jutting upward and crookedly amidst strewn grasses. Before we turned in for the night I looked up the old road one last time. The sky was a deep indigo blue and the stars were a sprinkling of diamonds. A coyote howled in the distance (never a pleasant sound to shepherds who are missing part of the flock.) Both of us hoped the bucks would surprise us and be near the home place in the morning.splash dot!


Morning dawned and Stan went outside to the pens while I prepared our breakfast and set the tea water on the wood cook stove while stoking the fire.splash dot!


"They’re still not back," he reported shortly after walking into the back room adjacent to the kitchen. Taking off a warm shirt, he lifted it onto a peg on the wall. The sun was already bathing the land in golden light.splash dot!


"I really don’t worry about them, Stan – they can fend for themselves. But, we’ll have to watch for vultures…" That last statement was something he and I understood from past experience. In the event the bucks did manage to get into some trouble with a predator (we still could not fathom that at this juncture) – there would be those big circling birds during the hot afternoon – always a signal that an animal had died. We worried to ourselves, not speaking much to each other about it, and went on with our day.splash dot!


As it turns out, the day came and went. I pastured the does and kids as I looked into the distance for the bucks and called them a few times. There still was no sign of them. By evening they were still missing. Day number two came and went without a sign.splash dot!


"They could be anywhere," said my husband that evening as we partook of a hearty homestead salad from the garden, and grilled tofu. "They could have walked over that mountain and may be at John Zimmerman’s place, for all we know," he added. John lived forever and a day over the mountain and Stan seemed to think that when our animals would disappear at times it was at John’s place that they’d be found (though it was more a manner of speech than reality, for I do not think one of our stragglers ever ended up at John's place.)splash dot!


He was right. They could be anywhere. I still believed they were safe and sound. I was agitated by the fact that the two animals were missing from the homestead for so long. These were our breeding bucks – and autumnal breeding season would be soon upon us. What would we do without them? Well, soon enough it would be morning and we’d try to find them again.splash dot!


Day number three dawned with a stern and forthright sun that declared the promise of baking the land with its intensity. Not my favorite kind of summer day, perspiration already was breaking upon my brow under a wide rimmed straw hat. I followed the goats to pasture and we climbed the mountainsides as usual. I wanted to search for the bucks, but the does and the kids were boisterous with movement. I followed them and still looked for sign. Nothing.splash dot!


The day ended, the sun setting with an intense display of color painted with the brush of God. I longed for some kind of "miracle." I wanted to see the bucks and their silhouettes at the top of that long winding road. My eyes watched the horizon hoping against hope. Finally darkness covered the land but there were no dark shapes against it, no opaque forms with full tummies lumbering home on a slow roll.splash dot!


Day number four came and went much like the previous three, except that when it dawned, Stan turned to me and carefully framed his words. "Don’t expect them. They’re gone. Cougar, I suspect. All that’s left of those boys are their horns…"splash dot!


I remonstrated, and this time with no holds barred, for I had become frightened. "Where, then, are the vultures?" My guts were churning. I knew the goats were dead. Or alive. Or dying. Or something. I didn’t know what to think and I worried myself sick.splash dot!


He answered. "That’s puzzled me, too. I’ve been looking hard for vultures. No vultures. Makes me think they’re alive, it really does. But can’t be. Four days. No sign. Nothing. They’ve got to be dead."splash dot!


That’s when we decided to take action in another way. We called Tim O’Leary and told him we were missing two big bucks. It seemed preposterous that a cougar would take down both bucks, but it was not impossible. Some of these cats were awfully big, and after all, their usual game was "elk." An elk was a lot bigger than an angora goat buck.splash dot!


At the break of dawn – day number five - Tim came out with six hound dogs. "Slick"** (Tim’s favorite) was in the lead, as usual. The dogs had been here before a few times and knew when Tim let them out of their boxes in the back of the pick up that today would be a cat hunting day. They’d treed a few here in times past, the scent of cougar beginning, usually, at the site of bloody goat or sheep remains.splash dot!


"Let’s go for cat, Slick!" Tim’s voice rang out in a serious tone as he opened the clasp attached to the hound’s collar. One by one he let the hounds go – and I watched them on their nose to the ground run before they were out of eye sight. It was apparent they already had found a trail.splash dot!


"Get your rifle," Tim said to my husband as he hurriedly slung his own across a shoulder. Soon the both of them had headed out behind the dogs.splash dot!


I stood with Mrs. Wilson on her lawn and we both listened while filling deaf Ike Wilson in on what we were hearing. She and I traced the journey in the woods. Those slick coated hounds bayed on occasion and then were quiet for long periods of time. They would bay loudly on a western slope of the property and within half an hour we could hear them baying on the eastern slope. The hunt belonged to those hounds who wore those silly looking radio collars lashed by towering antennas that swayed gently while thrust skyward. Tim monitored them with a handheld radio transmitter and knew where his dogs were located at all times. Roma and I waited to hear gun shots which never came.splash dot!


Tim and Stan were both out of breath when arriving back at the house. The houndsman’s verdict at the end of a long day spoken with his typical deep timbred voice was, " There is cat sign every where. Plenty of it. Maybe you should have called me the first day they were missing." He took off the leads from dog after dog, and opened up the doors to the cages. He continued haltingly, as if to brace us for the worst. "There is more than one cat out here. The dogs were crazy with following scent. Cat everywhere, there must be two or three – maybe a mother and its cubs… and they can’t track because of overlapping sign…"splash dot!


We thanked Tim, and he went on home with his passel of dogs secured in those plywood boxes that lined the back of his pick up truck. As his vehicle moved to the highway, shrill baying accompanied it all the way down the canyon until they were too far away to hear anymore.splash dot!


Day number six dawned especially bright. Tim’s dogs had found nothing. Stan had said something that morning that made me ponder a bit. He looked over to me and said, matter-of-factly that if there was anything left of the bucks it was their "horns" alone. Suddenly and peculiarly I wanted more than anything now to "find those horns." These were our breeding bucks and autumn would be around the corner. If the bucks were dead, we needed to know that, for we would need to line up a breeding buck for the coming season.splash dot!


Stan was right, of course. Though the bodies of the bucks could very well have dissolved in the bellies of a few hungry beasts by now, those magnificent horns could never have become fodder. In my mind’s eye a picture formed: it was a fresh cat pile of leaves with a pair of horns jutting upwards from like some kind of macabre tombstone.splash dot!


Setting off toward Joe Hall Creek that morning I told Stan that I would be looking for "horns." I needed to know where those bucks had gone or where they had died. By 3 o'clock in the afternoon I was tiring. I’d been trekking up and down mountainsides and scouring that shady old growth forest all day. Finally, homeward bound, I decided to skirt the area we call "the triangle"one more time. Crossing where the creek is only a deep gash in the ground, the water a silver ribbon not more than a trickle, I jumped on a bridge of bed round river rock and met the inclined path leading to the land. I knew that the dogs had pretty much scouted that triangle the day before (as did Tim and my husband) but I couldn't call my search "good" until I'd scouted every area I knew to be goat habitat. At this point, because I was about ready to call my search off, I began to pray fervently as I walked.splash dot!


It is a bit strange to me that five years later I can still recall vividly the thoughts I had that day, as well as the feelings of despair that accosted me like arrows. I will try to etch them on paper here, for at this point my story's pace is quickened.splash dot!


Discouraged, I was losing faith quickly that I’d find anything after all. After hiking through the woods all day I'd seen nothing. No tracks - no scat. It was apparent that I'd failed, even though when I'd set out that morning I was so confident that I'd find something to indicate the bucks' whereabouts (or final hours on earth.) Now, as the afternoon sun beat down furiously, I began to laugh at myself, feeling a bit foolish for wasting a whole day in the woods. Six long days ago those goats had set out. How did I expect - six days later - to find the goats' remains in a land this vast? Sadness began to overwhelm me, also. Surely we'd have to sell the remainder of the flock and call it quits with raising angora goats. Too many losses - too many lions. I began to compose a sales list in my mind. I knew Singing Falls had a good name for itself and that we'd acquired some fine does over time. Tears began to flow freely by then. I'd talk to Stan about it all when I got home...splash dot!


Though these thoughts tumbled though my mind and the battle raged, I caught ahold of myself suddenly. Are you forgetting God? I heard myself asking. Right then and there I suddenly remembered all the miracles I had seen in the past, all the prayers answered, all of His faithfulness to me. I laughed again, but this time not at myself - but in hope. Beware, readers, when hope accosts you - because it is a close cousin of Faith - and Faith can move mountains. In my case, it could easily find goats, and that I knew.splash dot!


Taking hold of my "bootstraps" as it were, I suddenly understood that I had not carried this matter to God yet - not entirely. Father, you know where these bucks have gone - where their remains are - if they are dead or alive. Speak to me, Lord. Please. Let me hear you...let me discern Your Voice..."splash dot!


Of course I was struggling with the fact that two lost angora goats may not be that important to the God of the Universe. Still - I could not let go of my prayer. And strangely a surge of strength stirred inside of me. Let me then tell this as it occurred, step by careful step, reader - and leave off further suspense.splash dot!


I began to sense a leading, as it were. I know some people speak of "being led of the Lord" and I have experienced such divine interventions in my own life over time - so I do not disavow such things and neither do I make light of such things. Walking, my prayers still fully with me, I suddenly felt a strange inclination (how else do I describe it?) to climb that staggering mountain ahead of me. Yes, I was certain I heard a Voice speaking. "Climb the mountain." I began the climb, a silent prayer my only companion. How often is our journey in life just like this? A vertical climb up a steep mountain, tears flowing, dejected, seeing no answer, feeling so alone, nearly losing faith - thinking we are hearing God - wondering if we really are...splash dot!


The sun blazed. My skirts were getting caught on brambles and twigs and without second thought I just tore the cotton clothing loose from anything it secured itself against. Worse yet, that dratted barbed wire the previous owner strung all over this mountain kept catching me. Still climbing, still beseeching the Lord of the Universe, that same Voice seemed to compel me. "Look there – to your right." Midway up the mountain slope when I had heard those words, I turned my head to the right. The stillness in the air was palpable.splash dot!


At the moment I turned my head – I saw him. The white buck. He stood there silently looking right at me. He had watched me the entire time. Had I not turned my head at exactly that moment as I scaled the incline, I would have missed him. I know that now and I knew that then.splash dot!


Laughter melded with surprise and I called out to him softly. ""Mo." I approached the buck slowly, expecting him to bolt and run. It was as though all of time stood still for a moment while I sorted it all out. Day six. He was alive.splash dot!


"Mo," I again spoke his name, and then I saw why he had not run from me. "You’re caught fast, ol’ boy – on that barbed wire. Same stuff that's catching these skirts of mine…" Sure enough, his long mohair was wound securely in that same barbed wire that the previous owner had trailed all along the edge of the forest, from tree to tree, in an attempt to keep his horses in check. I tried, but there was no way to free the goat without pliers and a host of tools.splash dot!


"Zeb??" I called out loudly. I looked through the trees and shrubbery that circled all about me.splash dot!


King of the forest

The interface

It was more like a Bev Doolittle painting, surreal and incredible, than reality. The big black buck was there hidden in the shadow of a tree – not far away. I looked through him at first, his horns becoming tree branches, his body part of the gathering shadows. Then my eyes saw his gold eyes looking straight at me from the rim of a leafy bush. He was a magnificent creature.splash dot!


I whispered his name with jubilation. "Zeb…"splash dot!


It all came together at once for me. The white buck was stuck fast to the fence barbs and the black buck would not leave his side, not even for the sanctuary of home. Zeb stayed with him throughout the ordeal. They were friends, after all.splash dot!


Later, after I’d fetched Stan and the required pliers, and we both worked to free the buck from his predicament, we had a chance to survey the scene. We found the narrow corridor that was Zeb’s solitary trail to the creek side. It was apparent that he had left the side of his friend only for water. The black buck took his fill of water once or twice a day, and browsed some. Never, though, did he leave the white buck’s side to saunter on back to the goat herd or corral.splash dot!


We all ambled home on a slow lope, the goats in front. Stan and I mostly laughed and cried and thanked God all the way home. I told my husband about how I had been "led" specifically while trekking that triangle - about how it seemed I "heard" where to walk, when to turn. He didn't seem to think that was outlandish at all, my dear spouse who very well knew the leadings of the Lord in his own life over the years and was well acquainted with His Voice.splash dot!


The two bucks were on a run by the time they hit that long, lonely homestead road. They saw their pens ahead and ran the rest of the way. We could hear the anxious bleats of a few of the does who called to them, "hey - where the heck have you guys been all this time??"splash dot!


Azure skies still held that bright yellow sun whose fury was only now slightly abating. And suddenly we were not alone. In the distance - our across-the-street neighbors, the Wilsons, could be seen standing across the street. Relics of these Cascade mountains, their own stories rich with lore on warm summer evenings while we all ate watermelon on their screened porch, stood there watching our homecoming.splash dot!


We penned the proud goats up with the does (making sure Mo had his fill of cool water) and nearly ran to the Wilson driveway. Indeed, she may have been more excited than us to see those boys. When I had run up her shouting - "they’re back!! We found them!! That was them!!" – she grabbed me tightly and held me, and with wet eyes and laughter whispered, "I’m so glad, honey, I’m so glad." Then Ike Wilson, on the cusp of his eightieth year, called out to us. "Come on in, kids, let's go sit on the porch and have some watermelon!"splash dot!



Our spirits were light, the foreboding was gone and because of that we were able to spend a pleasant evening in that tiny porch room with our neighbors while evening breezes cooled us and sugary red watermelon juice dripped down our chins. It turned out to be another indigo blue night and the stars were again twinkling in an Oregon sky. The sounds of summer abounded - the croak of frogs and the whir of crickets - Elk Creek flowing not far away. But the best sound of all, of course, was the soft bleating of goats, as they fought one another, and jostled for space...splash dot!


A coyote wailed in the distance and another joined in, and then it became a trio. This time, with all the goats penned securely, the sounds of the wild canines were incredible melody.splash dot!


It amazed me then and still amazes me. Zeb never left Mo by himself on that lonely mountain. I’ll leave it up to you, dear reader, to ascertain whether or not this was mere "blind herd instinct" or whether, even in the animal kingdom, a higher and loftier communion exists. I have drawn my own conclusion. I allow you to draw yours.splash dot!


NOTE: "Slick", Tim's courageous Walker hound, was killed by a cougar during another cat hunt not long after this hunt on our property took place.splash dot!


goats butting heads



scripted signature


Alexandra Scribe
Homestead Home


Stanley & Alexandra Petrowski
34620 Tiller Trail Hwy.
Tiller, Oregon 97484