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  • Lisa McMinn

Wooing Hazel


Little Sophie has been re-homed to Tilikum, where she will undoubtedly flourish as the tiny goat that children and staff will adore, partly on account of her tinyness and partly because she assumes she should be adored and calls it forth in others. She and Zeke reconnected in their gentle head butting way and seeing him flourish made me grateful for this nearby children's camp. Mothering disagreed with Sophie's body--her bones and coat looked old and tired until her boys went to a new home and she had a chance for the grain, hay and foraging she ate voraciously to feed her buck to go back into her own little self.


Sometimes nurturing others can be like that. A post for another time.


In anticipation of sending Sophie to a place that would hold no expectation for her to mother kids, we brought Hazel home, a doe that had her first go-around at birthing, nursing, mothering and milking this season, which went well. I was forewarned that Hazel, while solid on the milking stand, behaved as goats should and do and had not had her goatish wildness wooed out of her. I felt palpating shyness and fear as I sat with her in the back seat of the truck on our way home. I told her I thought she would come to like life at Fern Creek.


I still believe that to be true.


Hazel would need wooing, of course she would. Naively I assumed milking would be relatively easy, even if wooing took longer. Twice a day she would need (want!) the milk taken from her udder, and would stand patiently while I did that. Otherwise I could woo her by sitting nearby with giant maple leaves for her nibbling pleasure, along with treats made of grains, apples and raisins held together with molasses.


Milking did not go easily. Hazel came to know within hours that the hand offering treats would also force her onto the milk stand and, rather ineptly it turns out, try expressing milk from her teats.


I felt empathy as she kicked and bucked in the stand, bruising me as I undoubtedly bruised her. What should have been two cups of milk each time we engaged on the stand amounted to barely 1/2 cup, though yes, more went hither and yon--sprayed onto me, the floor, the walls, her front legs (she hated that, of course. Wouldn't you?).


We've had a rugged sort of week, she and I, and my lofty thoughts about my wooing her somehow mimicking God's wooing of us pretty much dissipated.


Yet on this theme I will make my stand.


I have managed, not unlike God, to woo Hazel patiently, in a long-suffering sort of way, offering tidbits of sustenance to a creature hungering not just for physical nourishment, but for the nourishment that comes from belonging to something bigger than herself, something akin to a herd, a place where she is desired and pursued. God gives us space, and waits. God does not get frustrated by our fear (or inattention or pursuits of lesser things we think are greater things), but sits in the barnyard singing softly of deep truths about an abiding love and presence that lives in the midst of hard things and also transcends and holds those hard things.


The words, it turns out, matter less than the texture and tone of the voice.


God is also in the wrestling on the milk stand where what is necessary is painful and seems that is should not be painful to me and to not be necessary to Hazel. But painful and necessary it is and I refuse to ratchet down those pieces more than that.


So yes, God is in the mess of milk spray and bruising and failing and the impasse that requires me and Hazel to think in an entirely different way about how to move forward. God is in the interstitial spaces, as it were, between Hazel and me, and mediating a sort of soft wooing of us both that transcends and infuses my efforts to help Hazel settle in at Fern Creek and Hazel's efforts to settle.


She and I haven't envisioned what that different way looks like just yet, but just now I'm thinking it means relinquishing my expectation to get milk from her this season. That release allows for a more patient wooing so that we might build a trust that allows for a milk stand-worthy relationship next season. That itself is no small thing and it is enough.


I could keep fighting Hazel on the stand, and hobble and strap her down to push this milking thing through and God may not think poorly of me for making her submit to my efforts. But that feels increasingly like a kind of violence and manipulation that God refuses to do with us. Maybe the way forward is letting go of my notion that success as a goat tender (and goat milker) is defined by successfully milking Hazel this summer. Hazel knows I am the shepherd of this little herd, and ultimately have a sort of final say and that is enough. At the end of the day I want her to come to me, and to stand for me, because she chooses it.


And so it is with God.



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