Community Philosphy Blog and Library

Book excerpt: “Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese” by Brad Kessler

In honor of Labor Day, and of our collective goat love.

Goat Song is the story of a year in the life of a couple who abandoned their one-bedroom apartment in New York City to live on seventy-five acres in Vermont and raise Nubian goats. In poetic, reverent detail, Brad Kessler explores our ancient relationship to the land and our gradual alienation from the animals that feed us. His fascinating account traces his journey of choosing the goats and learning how to breed, milk, and care for them. As Kessler begins to live the life of a herder, he encounters the pastoral roots of so many aspects of Western culture—how our diet, our alphabet, our religions, poetry, and economy all grew out of a pastoralist setting, a life lived among hoofed animals.

From page 129, courtesy of Scribner.

“When I sink into the rhythm of these days all this labor (the milking and cleaning and mucking and feeding kids) is pleasant, even in this heat. The end result is palpable: Milk. It’s difficult labor but it’s my labor and the best kind there is – that which directly feeds us. Gandhi believed that everyone there is – the banker, shopkeeper, poet – should spend at least a small part of his or her day producing the food they eat or the clothes they wear. “Bread labor,” he and Tolstoy called it. In India, Gandhi urged everyone to spin their own homespun, that it would liberate both the country and the individual from oppression. He wrote: ‘If the poet spun half an hour daily his poetry would gain in richness.’

These mornings I tend to believe in Gandhi’s prescription; that one’s own bread labor – labor that is not for hire, that doesn’t turn into a commodity but feeds you – can enrich one’s life and lead to a kind of liberation.

Maybe it’s just the routine, the same objects in the same place (the wipes, the teat dip, the feed bucket, the scoop). The smallest change upsets the balance; and the repetition builds a kind of faith (milk stand, hoof trimmers, hay knife, stool). Rote is the nature of prayer. Incantation is repetition. Saying and doing the same thing over and over until entranced. Ritualizing the same physical motion with your body as Yogis do. My movements here on this milk stand are a kind of davening, a morning prayer with goat.

‘All natural and necessary work is easy,’ wrote Gandhi. ‘Only it requires constant practice to become perfect, and it needs plodding. Ability to plod is Swaraj. It is yoga.’ “


2 Responses to “Book excerpt: “Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding, and the Art of Making Cheese” by Brad Kessler”

  1. This expresses a truth that I feel in every fiber of my being. Growing my own food is so rejuvenating. After a day at the computer and on the phone, I have such a strong need to spend a little time weeding, hoeing, raking, watering, harvesting and preserving the harvest. It’s like a spa vacation for me.

  2. It would be great if everyone took some time and went back to their roots. We are all too busy to enjoy the most simple things in life. I look forward to the day I move back to a farm and enjoy growing my own vegetables and tending to animals.

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