It will likely come as no shock to you that I’m having a pretty unhappy time right now. I know I’ve got it pretty good, all things considered. But what with the global covid-19 pandemic and economic decline, the onslaught of election news, the ever-worsening existential threat of climate change, and also, uh, life stuff, this is kind of been a depressing time to be alive. But there is one thing that is keeping me going, and it, my friend, is goats.
I don’t just mean cute goat videos on YouTube or my Instagram feed (which I am also very into). I mean actual, live-and-in-person goats in the middle of Baltimore. Yesterday, I kicked it with 20 goats at a park by my house.
The park’s board elected to hire the goats because they needed to deal with overgrowth on a big grassy hill, about 0.26 hectares in size. Lawnmowers can’t handle the steepness of the slope, but the cute little four-legged workers can, so they made a deal with a goat-mowing firm known as — I kid you not — “Eco-Goats” about 90 minutes away. The project is called “Goats on the Slope,” adding an extra dose of twee to an already whimsical idea for tidying up a Baltimore city park. On Thursday, the company drove the goats over in a little trailer, and they’ll be staying at the park for up to a week, grazing until the weedy hill is trimmed short. I plan to visit every day, obviously.
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This would ordinarily be the part of the blog where I write about how studies show that lawnmowers emit as much planet-warming pollution per minute as cars, how though goats emit methane, they’re far more friendly to the Earth, and how cool it is that the fuzzy friends even eat invasive weeds and other scary plants like poison ivy. Those things are true, and the world could use more goat park rangers. But also, as a sad and cooped up person who loves animals, the goats are bringing me a whole other kind of benefit.
Since the pandemic began, I’ve seen exactly one other living being most days: my partner. He is great to be around but can’t really replace being around the entire rest of the world. We both love animals but for various reasons have no pets. If you’re lucky, you may know from experience that hanging out with pets is good for the soul, medically speaking. But it turns out, you can get some of that same warm, fuzzy feeling from being around animals even if there’s a wire fence between you and them. Spending time outside around trees is also super soothing, and particularly important when we’re spending so much time indoors in front of our screens.
I’m not alone in my joy, either. Standing by the goats’ enclosure yesterday, I was around dozens of other smiling people of all kinds. We all looked on at the fuzzy animals in awe, tickled by their simplest actions.
“This is easily the best part of my week,” I said to my partner, basking in the goats’ glow.
Cailin McGough, president of the board of Friends of Wyman Park Dell who spearheaded the park’s goat grazing program, said the response to the goats has been overwhelming. The group paid for the goat foresters through a GoFundMe campaign and were easily able to meet and surpass their goal. She said people have flocked to check out the goats since their release and local news has also been quick to pick up the story of the ruminant clean up crew.
“I think it’s because since absolutely everything has been cancelled lately, it’s been fun to have something that can actually move forward,” she said.
If I can get a little woo-woo for a second, I think it’s also because it feels really freaking good to be a part of a system that’s working. You can’t help but feel a sense of harmony: The goats get to eat, the park gets its grass mowed and weeds trimmed, the neighbourhood gets to experience joy, and people get a chance to get outside. (If there’s something bad about the goats that I’m missing, please break it to me gently.)
It’s worth noting that the park’s board had to crowdfund their goat venture. And though it costs nothing to visit the goats, Goats on a Slope is taking place in a fairly affluent and mostly white neighbourhood near a prestigious university. It sharply contrasts with a city that’s majority-Black and has chronically underfunded public services and outdoors spaces. In a just world, there would be abundant public money allocated for park management and outdoor leisure, so that all people could experience the joy of open space in cities. A herd of goats in every park, if you will.