wild strawberries and goats

The wild strawberries ripened early this year. While out on my daily walks, I’ve been picking them for at least three weeks now. In fact, they’re almost finished for the season — which is a shame, as there’s nothing quite like a sun-warmed wild strawberry. They’re like ruby-red beads packed with all of the energy of summer and sunlight. Cultivated strawberries pale in comparison. In fact, they aren’t even on the same scale, or perhaps even in the same universe.

Wild strawberries bring back many memories for me. When I was young, my grandmother used to spend summers at our cottage and would take the (human) kids out berry picking for a couple of hours each day. Ostensibly, we were picking berries for dessert that evening, but in truth, I think our forays were intended as a way to keep us quiet and occupied. If you’ve picked wild strawberries, you’ll know that it takes a couple of hours to amass any quantity, so the prospects of collecting enough for any project are dismal, especially when the pickers are eating at least half of what they find. However, our goal was always modest. We were each given a plastic cup and asked to try to fill it. If we got into a really good patch, we could usually fill the cup while satisfying our desire to munch down the ripest berries.

More recently — perhaps about 15 to 20 years ago — wild strawberries came to be associated with our herd of goats. On sunny afternoons, I would take the entire herd out for walks through the fields and woods. At that time, the goats numbered upwards of 80 or so counting all of the kids that would be frisking about (above is a photo of just a small group of the larger herd). I would walk at the center of a great sea of goats that crowded around, occasionally bumping against my legs as we moved en masse from one end of the farm to the other. On the distant highway, the occasonal car would slow or stop. No doubt, some passing motorists were astounded to discover that there still exists such a thing as a goatherd – and a woman goatherd at that. I eventually discovered that people in my area referred to me as The Goat Lady. With the passage of years and the end of my goatherding days, I’m not quite sure who I am these days.

On our daily walks, we’d stop from time to time while I filled a small container with wild strawberries. Remaining within sight of me, the goats would use the opportunity to browse on pasture, wild plants, bushes and even small trees. And yes, it’s true… goats are great at clearing brush. Think of them as the caprine variation of a “controlled burn”. In fact, I’ve heard of them being so used to remove highly flammable brush on steep hillsides in California and elsewhere. The only catch is that goats can entirely destroy a small tree in minutes, so you really need to supervise… otherwise, they may follow their own initiative to take out something you’d rather not see devastated – like your apple or cherry trees. Their modus operandi is for the largest goats to stand on their hind legs while pushing the tree to one side. As the top bends toward the ground, the waiting crowd of onlookers yanks at the branches to help topple the foe. Then everyone piles atop the poor tree, exuberant kids often spring-boarding off their mothers before launching themselves into the descending branches. Once subdued, the tree is rapidly defoliated, all edible branches nipped off, and tasty bark stripped from the trunk. Then, like a cloud of locusts, the herd abandons the scene of destruction and moves on to the next target. But I digress… back to the strawberries.

Following our walk, I’d make a batch of wild strawberry ice cream using the heavy cream that I’d separated from a couple of days’ worth of milk. This was a very special treat for us as it was the culmination of a considerable amount of work — milking the goats, separating the cream, picking the strawberries, then churning and freezing the ice cream. But it was well worth the trouble.

Sometimes I miss the goats and the wild strawberry ice cream. I especially miss the goat in the photo down below. This was our buck, Streak, who lived here for many years until the end of his days – which was quite some time ago. When we went walking in the fields he would always tag along beside me. While I picked berries, he would lie nearby to watch while grabbing the odd mouthful of grass or chewing his cud. He was a gentle old soul as bucks go. These days, as I pick sun-warmed wild strawberries, I am reminded of Streak and the other goats and those summer days long ago.

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2 Responses to “wild strawberries and goats”

  1. Leslie Says:

    What a warm nostalgic post. There’s a slight touch of melancholy to it – or maybe that’s just me. Nostalgia and melancholy often go hand in hand in my heart.

  2. burning silo Says:

    Thanks, Leslie. Yes, I think you’re right about the touch of melancholy. Part of me still misses the goats and my horses (my mare died a few years ago at around 30 years old). Sometimes, I start thinking that it would be nice to have the farm animals again, but they were quite a bit of work and we were very tied down for so many years (especially by the dairy goats). Still, I miss their company. I suppose the other thing that sometimes strikes me as a little bittersweet is that we put a lot of time and effort into the farm and the goat herd for many years. Those days are over and we’ve moved on to pursue other interests, but the goats were such a large part of our lives for about 25 years that it is difficult not to miss them just a little.