Coming toward me on a path beside the highway was a man with a goat on a leash. Or so it appeared. Out on a morning run, I blinked at the sight.
When I got closer I saw that the man was indeed a man, in his late 30s, thin and sinewy, a two-day stubble on his chin. The goat was unmistakably a goat, brown and black with horns, hooves, and a beard. The leash, however, was not a leash but a length of old rope, and the man and his goat, instead of being on a stroll, were doing a two-step—two steps to the side, bleat, bleat, two steps to the other side, turn around, do it again. Bleat, bleat!
In the time it had taken me to cover 100 yards, they had advanced two feet.
“Did it escape?” I asked, pausing when I reached them.
The man moved to block the goat as it tugged toward the highway.
“N’home, non,” he said, in Asturian. Home (oh-may) is man, and the phrase means “Of course not.”
“Then are you walking him?”
The man laughed, then explained that he was moving the goat from one field to another, but the goat wasn’t used to the rope, which was why it was pulling this way and that.
A week earlier, at the village fiestas in a nearby town, I’d seen a farmer banging his stick across the broad face of one of a team of cows yoked to a wagon. “Get going,” he’d yelled. Were I a better person, I’d have thrown my arms around the neck of the animal receiving the blows, as Nietzsche famously did with the mistreated workhorse. Instead, I’d turned away. Twenty years earlier on a city street I’d witnessed a man kick his dog for no reason at all, and that time I did protest. “He didn’t do anything,” I said, but the man, not a bit abashed, merely glared at me before turning back to his dog, no more kindly disposed than before. Were I a better person, I thought then, I’d report the man. Competing with those clear images is now this new one of a man struggling with his goat, not irritated, not frustrated, and in no hurry, not in competition with the animal, not in combat, not even at odds, but taking it slowly, as if both were practicing the steps of a dance. Were I a better person, I thought as I broke into a run again, my mind already straining toward the grass I wanted to mow and the bulbs I wanted to plant, I’d dance too. I’d dance through the rest of my day.
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