Goats on the Water
It was another nearly perfect motorcycle ride into work. Cool, very little traffic, the usual back road, and the sun lipping the gauzy horizon like a blood orange. I know the road well enough to understand where the 45 mile per hour speed limit is honest and where it’s more of a suggestion, especially on two wheels. But, in one of those spots, something caught my eye and I eased off the throttle.
It’s a rural stretch and this location in particular is a quick left-hand curve cresting a hill, the kind of turn that makes you grin a little while you’re leaning into it. To the right, the trees gap to reveal a small farm pond, not more than a half-acre, or so. A faded and long-forgotten pier juts thirty or forty feet toward the center of the pond. No rails on the pier, no raised pilings. Rotted boards remaining visible only an inch or so above the water, and near the end, where the structure T’s, the boards slip beneath the surface completely. I notice most mornings this time of year, even in the middle of the turn, because the mist threading upward creates a surreal-ness that, for some reason, I find soothing.
Surreal being the key word, here. When I rounded the curve on this morning, there were three goats—not the cute little pygmies or feinting goats that have become popular with the nouveau country folk (the same demographic responsible for ruining country music), but the big eat-the-tin-can, stinking-to-high-heaven kind of goats—standing on the end of the pier. The very end of the pier. The section that was underwater. And in unison, the cleave-hoofed triumvirate turned to look directly at me as if I was the one out-of-place. Yeah, I slowed down. I briefly thought about karma. See, we once owned a goat as a pet. Buster. After he’d eaten all the honeysuckle and morning-glory vines along the fence, the azaleas, the lattice-work, and then started on the wood siding of the house, he had to go. I sold him to some migrant workers. “Si, si,” they nodded, “Cabra tiene un sabor muy bueno. Muy Bueno.” My Spanish is barely serviceable, I can order a cerveza and ask where the bathroom is located, but I had my suspicions that Buster’s future was bleak, at best. Remembering that, the site of these three goats reeked of otherworldly retribution. At best, a kind of a New Testament miracle moment, you know? At the least, not the sort of thing you expect to see.
I know, optical illusion, but you get my point. It’s that “wait, what? No way,” reaction we all have when we see something that registers but at the same time our logical brain says, “Dude, that ain’t right.” What? You think Peter didn’t have a similar thought when Jesus stepped out of the dinghy for his little stroll? Wouldn’t you? Sure, that’s kinda over the top, but those moments are all around us. Like seeing Mitt Romney in blue jeans (I bet he calls them dungarees) or a Lexus in a WalMart parking lot. Justin Bieber at a Phish concert. The Queen of England in a crop-top, flashing a tramp stamp and a whale-tail thong riding high as she regally strolls toward the palace. Okay, I doubt the Queen has a tramp stamp, but who knows, she seemed to be a good sport about that Olympic commercial (and Harry gets it from somewhere).
Maybe the sight stuck in my mind because I’ve been thinking a lot about Neil Armstrong passing away this weekend. Talk about a “no way” moment. The man walked on the moon. The moon. That’s like 220,000 miles, give or take, none of this “honey, I’m gonna run to the store for a pack of Salem Lights and some scratch-offs” business. I know, some still say it was staged, but some still say a woman can shut down a pregnancy after a legitimate rape, so, no, the man went somewhere. We’ve all heard the comparisons—today’s cell phone contains more technology, a more powerful computer than NASA had at the time. Probably an apples to oranges comparison, but still. That’s a long, long way from home, from safety. Talk about big brass ones…
An advantage to being of a certain age, I was fortunate enough to watch that grainy first step, heard the scratchy audio. Yes, it was a “no way” moment that left me speechless. What could I say? I was a kid, a study in contradictions. All boy, skinned knees, pocketknives, baseball, and models of the Eagle landing unit and the Apollo rockets on my dresser, plenty of books on my shelves. Trying to make sense of hippies protesting on the evening news followed by the rolling body count, the killed, wounded, and missing in action reduced to a nightly scrolling of numbers. I had stared into the night sky ever evening since the launch, trying to imagine. Then, watching those first steps, I felt…something. Something strange and wonderful and even a little frightening. What to call it? Awe? Wonder? Potential? Yeah, potential. A man walked on the moon, anything was possible, right?
Where did that potential go? I’m wondering… Let’s say it’s late January, 2013. Let’s say the newly elected Republicrat announces, as Kennedy did, that by the end of the decade America would put a person on the surface of Mars. What if that newly elected Republicrat, be it Obama or Mittens, channels Kennedy by saying, “We choose to go to [Mars] and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone”? Would we agree, as a whole, or immediately mire ourselves in pointless “us and them” debate? Or, Republicrat and Democan notwithstanding, would we, seven years later, stare in unified awe at our monitors, our iPad’s, and murmur, “Dude, no way. That’s Mars”?
Me? I think I’ll turn down the volume on all the political vitriol for the next few months, keep waiting for those little moments that remind me I was once a naive and inquisitive boy who could still find wonder and amazement almost everywhere. Think I’ll keep looking for goats walking on water…
Until next time, Peace.