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photo by Sheri Dixon

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Becoming a Tiger

Ward's comment came out of the blue, out of silence, completely random.

"So, El Nino's a tiger now."

El Nino was our billy goat, and he just died a few weeks ago. He'd been born on our place almost 10 years ago. He was a good goat- not aggressive at all, even before he crippled himself by going through a sheet metal wall and cutting the tendons in both front legs. His legs healed, but put a permanent hitch in his giddyup.

He fathered many goatlings and was patient with them- they'd take turns bouncing off his back while he tried to maintain the dignity his stature as Head Billy implied. He was never mean or pushy with the girls.

As he got older, he developed arthritis in those scarred front legs and I retired him to live with Alec's wether Lazarus and our sheep Conrad. He still had a hearty appetite, which is my primary benchmark for quality of life- our farm tends to attract the old and infirm- lack of perfection does not equal sickness or pain.

In his final 30 days he was still eating, but had started dropping weight. I suspect cancer had started up somewhere, since that's what got his dad before him.

One dark and stormy night he just laid down and died.

Not knowing what do do with a large dead animal is an unpleasant fact needing to be dealt with on any farm. When you don't have benefit of a huge amount of land or a tractor with a backhoe it becomes doubly problematic. I've only lost 3 other goats (and no horses...yet) and 2 of those were hauled away by friends with a "back 40" to leave animals out for the food chain. The last one we carried deep into the woods and left- within weeks there was no trace of him.

The circle of life spins quickly. And silently.

This time Alec and I had just been to Tiger Creek Wildlife Center outside Hawkins- they are home to many big cats, but mainly tigers- rejects from small zoos and circuses, a horrifying number that were surrendered because people bought them as "kittens" and then were astounded when they ended up as...freaking tigers.

They have some with rare bloodlines and they work with zoos on genetic preservation, although they do no actual breeding there.

They run purely on donations.

When we were there they mentioned that some of those donations are in the form of meat. Cattle, horses, pigs wild and domestic, sheep...goats. Tigers eat a lot.

So I called them up and we loaded El Nino's body into the truck and Joe and I delivered him to Tiger Creek on a cold and rainy morning. I told the girl there I'd had him since birth and petted that big shaggy head one last time as they transferred him to their cart.

But I never thought about what Ward said until he said it.

We are what we eat/we become what eats us.

It appeals to me greatly that El Nino- who spent a good part of his life with limited mobility, is gliding effortlessly across a large wooded enclosure and leaping silently onto a lookout rock. Stretching languorously as only a cat can do and looking at the world through metallic yellow eyes.

I've always said that when I die I want every part and parcel that someone else could use taken and disbursed. I always assumed the next step would be cremation of "the rest" and scattering over the land I love and is so much a part of me.

But now I'm not so sure.

Maybe I'd prefer being a tiger first. For just a little while.

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