I’m not a city boy by any means, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool suburbanite. My folks were city born and raised and, beyond the occasional hike in the woods, I didn’t have a lot of contact with animals that weren’t dogs or cats. I mean, I went to petting zoos, sure. In fact, we had working farms not for from my childhood home, although now they either are shopping centers or condos.
Even when they weren’t, though, the animals were completely other. I hadn’t been living in Worcester County more than a few months before I learned that that wasn’t the case here.
Traveling home late one evening along Snow Hill Road I nearly hit a pig. It was just out a-wanderin’ from one field to another. I started down the driveway nearest where I’d seen the pig, but recalled that people here owned shotguns and, seeing Jersey plates coming up your driveway after dark was an acceptable use of deadly force.
I turned around and headed into Snow Hill to inform the authorities. After all (I guess?) that’s protocol.
To be honest I still don’t know. This was in the 1990s and the police station in Snow Hill wasn’t open 24 hours. To this day that boggles my mind. Can you imagine being chased by a maniac, seeing the police station ahead and using your last burst of energy to get there only to find a sign that said, “If you need service please call…”
Fortunately, I wasn’t running from a maniac. I only even considered stopping because I learned from E.B. White that pigs are vaguely expensive animals and I didn’t want this one run down if I could help it. I just drove to my house and, with a great sense of stupidity and humiliation, called 911 to report a wild pig on a country road.
Even as I replaced the phone, there was a vague terror stirring in me that I’ve since identified. When I see an out-of-place animal, it gives me the heebie-jeebies. I wasn’t afraid of the pig, per se. Nor was I afraid of the deer with their spooky elven eyes staring from the side of the road. What I was concerned by was their lack of boundaries.
They don’t know where they’re not supposed to be and that, for some reason, offends my nascent sense of order. Mostly, I am comfortable in chaos, but I’ll never get over animals in the streets.
It’s a goat in the Road
In the intervening decades I’ve seen plenty of animals in the street: horses, otters, the more-than-occasional bald eagle, foxes, if it is indigenous to Maryland’s Eastern Shore I’ve nearly run it over a dozen times or more. Still, it is the goat that I worry about the most. The first time I nearly ran over this particular goat was around 2005, when I first started working in Berlin. I found a sweet backroad where there were never any police and rarely any people so I could speed at night with impunity.
There was gunfire, a lot of it, but no screaming or running. In fact no one even flinched. Kids and adults alike posed before antique tractors, ate popcorn and generally wandered around taking in the county fair. If you’ve never been, let this serve as fair warning.
The flash of white came upon me very, very quickly and I yelled, punched the brakes and swerved. I was on the phone with my wife at the time and she asked what had happened.
“I nearly ran over a goat,” I said.
The goat was out on the road, having escaped from its pen. The road actually split the goat owner’s land and he or she had horses on both sides of the street. The farmer also had a goat (I came to discover) who occasionally escaped from one field to visit the other, beating the electrified fence Jerry the Mouse style. For years I drove slowly around that corner on my way to and from work and came to regard a road-goat sighting with a different kind of fear.
The goat belonged there now, so it didn’t give me that sick, animal out of place feeling. Instead, I developed a sense of dread that the goat would be dead by the side of the road one day and that I would mourn it.
Five years passed and the goat got bigger and fatter. Once, my wife was driving me to Berlin and I warned her about the goat, which she nearly hit anyway. Apparently, she thought the goat in the road was a running joke between us for half-a-decade. Whenever I see the man and the woman who run the farm out with their horses, goat and dogs I’m tempted to stop and let them know I’m worried about their goat.
Instead, I just demonstrate how slowly I take the turn, wave and smile. The goat will be fine or he won’t, but at least he’s in a place I expect to see him.