It is with hand signals, head-nodding, my ridiculous pocket-sized French travel phrasebook and dictionary (the French word for “before” is not listed, but I can find the word for “belt”) and lots of laughing that I have survived my first few days on the farm. Yet, it is the sheer goodwill and openness of my host and his family that I have actually enjoyed my time here. Lucie, one of Jean-Yves daughters, has painted quotes, many Gandhi and a few Native American, in bright colors on various walls throughout the house and barn. This one is painted above the barn entrance to the goat milking room:
Ne regarde plus le monde avec inquietude. Tes yeux dispensent la lumiere du jour ils sont le miroir de monde.
Not knowing anything about Jean-Yves or his family, the very presence of these quotes, all about world peace and understanding, put me at ease that very first night.
After a breakfast of oatmeal with raisins and Yannoh, an organic coffee substitute made from ground chicory, barley, rye, and acorn flours, Jean-Yves handed me a stick and motioned to the hillside. Was he asking if I would lead the goats onto the hillside near their home? Oui. Of course I would. Jean-Yves then explained in rapid-fire French all the details of tending the herd. I understood none of it and stared back in bewilderment. Hand signaling ensued. Here’s what I could gather:
– I would leave now and return about three hours later. That would give the goats just enough time to graze on the wild grasses before they got sleepy.
– Sleepy goats are not good. I should return before the goats start lying down in the grass.
– I should always walk ahead of the goats.
– I should lead the goats high on the hillside. Then I could sit on my blanket and read.
– The goats will follow me at the sound of the goat call, “YEE DOOO LOO DOO LOO YOOO! YEEEP YEYYOOOH!” Or something along those lines.
So, off I went, bellowing my goat call, stick in hand, leading more than 20 goats up the hill. The morning progressed without much fanfare. The goats were curious, nuzzling my book from my hands and stepping on my blanket. I was high enough on the hill so I could see the little town of Belmont below, another town in the valley, and the snow-covered Alps peaking over the green hills in the distance. When it was time to return to the farm, Jean-Yves met me at the road below and helped me herd the goats into another pasture behind their barn. Voila! Goat herding success!