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The Artist and the Billy Goat

Lead Summary

By Christine Tailer
HCP columnist

Friends, and family, and folks who were curious about living with solar energy recently stopped by the creek.

It was the first day in what seemed like a month of Sundays that not a single drop of rain fell on the valley, and I could not have been more thankful.

We had spent the entire week straightening up the barns, dusting the cabin, shop, and sugar shed, weeding our creek world, and generally setting things in order.

I noticed that our billy goat seemed a bit lethargic and was lying down a lot of the time, but there were things to do. I took him on a few solo walks around the upper field and he seemed to perk up. "He'll be all right", I thought to myself. Perhaps the heat and humidity were getting to him.

As I hurried up the hill to clean up for company, it still seemed to me that there was so much more to do, and as I looked back over my shoulder, I was certain that I could see more purslane than crop in my garden.

With the help of our East Coast – moving to West Coast – daughter, and her fellow, we had managed to hoe several of the garden's longest rows, but the time had slipped past us, much like the sweat from our foreheads, and folks had begun to arrive.

I imagined that I could tell our guests that I let the purslane grow on purpose. It really is quite edible and has a crunchy lemon-like taste. I have added the young leaves and stems to our salads, and I have even read that it can be blended with basil in a food processor to make a wonderful, less oily pesto. The moisture, in the almost succulent purslane, means that the pesto requires less added oil.

If I had thought ahead, I would have added purslane to my cucumber salad, but the time slipped away, and I did not make it back down to the garden once folks began to arrive.

I had already lain out my wardrobe. I was wearing my newest overalls (every two years I buy a new "dress" pair) and put my hair in braids. I have decided that with age I am gaining the freedom, if not the wisdom, to do those things I choose.

One of the very first vehicles to come down the road was a 1960s VW van driven by a wonderful 81-year-old gentleman who planned to energize his central Ohio weekend home with solar power. He hoped to borrow ideas from us and we were glad to share.

He easily mingled with our other guests; and after dinner, he bathed in the passive solar outdoor shower before turning in to sleep in his van.

Our nephews jammed with amplified acoustic guitars on the side deck. The creek valley echoed with their electric lullaby.

It was a clear, starry night and as the fire died down, folks gathered around as the young ones, and even a few older ones, toasted marshmallows and smashed them between sticky fingered graham crackers and chocolate bars.

Earlier in the day, when my dearest friend arrived from the city, I had given her a quick hug and then dashed off to tour our solar world with our other guests.

Most of the afternoon, she sat by the goat yard, drawing a pastel portrait of our sleeping billy goat. I would look over and see the billy lying still as my friend drew.

When we passed in the dinner line, she exclaimed how well he had posed, barely moving. I walked over to the goat yard. Another friend stood there. "I think he is dead," he said.

As the afternoon had worn on, and as folks had come and gone, my friend had sketched, and unbeknownst to her, the billy had died.

Greg quietly lay him in the straw inside his house, out of sight of the children.

Later that night, after most folk had left and the campers were heading off to their tents, I took an armload of serving platters into the cabin. There, on the table was the billy's portrait. It was beautiful.

White clouds drifted across a blue sky as the billy slept, peacefully in the foreground. The next day, after the last of our company had driven back up the creek, we got out the backhoe and laid him in the ground beside our first two dogs, Rooster Red, and the baby goat that had been still born last year.

If I had thought ahead, I would have added purslane to my cucumber salad. If I had thought ahead, I would have called the vet, but time had slipped away.

I do not know how many folks stopped by, easily more than 100, but I do know that they all took a bit of our world back with them, and they all left us, each and every one of them, with hugs, and thanks, and a far richer, for the sharing, life.

Christine Tailer is an attorney and former city dweller who moved several years ago, with her husband, Greg, to an off-grid farm in south-central Ohio. Visit them on the web at

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