July 12, 2005

Trailing Goats

High on the west side of Sikinos I sat next to a chapel and watched the sunset in silence. The final warmth of the sun drifted across the sea and out of sight. Far in the distance the silence was broken by a herding cry on the goat trail. Within minutes the farmer and his stock were upon me, nimbly edging their way through the ancient village walls, urged onwards by the fatherly calls of the little man.

The trail weaves among terraced gardens that yield a multitude of primary produce. Dusty beds for grape vines, narrow strips of irrigated vegetables, rocky pits with established olive trees or simply untended earth over run with wild herbs. The purple flowers are of particular note as they fill the air with a sweet scent like honey sweet rosemary. I follow the herd with my camera, the light now reduced to a soft echo from over the horizon. The goat trail is well maintained with stone walls to encourage herds to continue forward and avoid distraction. Further back from the trail remains of homes lie in a state of organised decline. They are buildings which have never seen the white and blue paint these islands are famous for, the dry stone walls expertly constructed so that centuries later the goats and tourists can enjoy the view.

Where the trail cuts back along the contour of the hill I get a closer look at the herd. It is my first chance to appreciate the distinctive personalities among the mob. One goat is almost fixated by my presence, starring at me intently and needing constant reminding to move forward. Others are only partially concerned about me and the rest pay little or no attention. These differences are accentuated once we arrive at the old village. The herd is closed in before being run down into a pen for the night and the females take turns to watch gaurd while the males take turns to watch the females. Each goat has it's own set of mannerisms, such as nervous observations, indifferent posturing, or annoying the other goats as a power play.

The farmer rattles his milk tin and heads down into the pen. Grabbing a female by the back leg he starts milking the goat in an efficient but gentle manner. One by one the females are relieved of their full udders. A little lamb calls this pen home as well, and it follows the farmer around in hope of milk. There is a tone of loneliness from it's bleeting too. Sheep are smarter animals than most people realise and they have a capacity to form attachment. None of the female goats oblige the lamb for a feed anymore than the farmer does.

I take my photos of the proceedings in the ever dimming light. Occassionally the farmer looks up at me and smiles or greets me with "Yassis". I reply the same. As I head off back to the main village I pass the sounds of chickens and goats and donkeys in their lock down pens for the night. The air is finally cool and pleasant as the hot summers day retreats into nightfall.

I am mindful of a very old Hollywood movie and make a small adaption to one of it's more famous quotes - Winter must be cold for those with no warm livestock.

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