safe enough: a carding chronicle

In this second of two parts, Jacob Brown has agreed to watch over the Tennyson farm so that owners Lee and Christina can take their two sons on a camping trip to the Champlain Islands.

But there’s a rather prominent fly in the ointment—the Tennysons’ irascible billy goat Houdini.

Lee and Chris are about to take off. Let’s see how this goes, shall we?

So glad you’ve taken time from your day to stop by.

“So, what do you think? Will Jacob be okay here for the week?” Christina asked her husband as they cleaned up after supper. “I know he’s a Carding boy so he’s familiar with the life. But he’s never actually run a farm before.”

“I know what you mean but things are relatively quiet at the moment,” Lee said as he stacked plates in the cupboard. “He’s helped me fix the fences around here a couple of times, and he’s smart and steady.”

Christine sighed. “But there’s always Houdini. He’ll know we’re gone and…”

Lee nodded. “Believe me, I’ve thought about that a lot, and I’m betting on the fact that the nannies are on high alert with their kids still so young. I even saw Boo butt Houdini away the other day when he tried to rough house with her little one. He’s not getting any cooperation on the nanny front at the moment.”

They looked at one another for a long moment. “And if anything happens, we’re only a telephone call away,” Lee said. “We can get back from the campground in good time if we have to.”

Jacob was at the farm early the next morning, his favorite backpack stuffed with enough “bang-around” clothes to last the week. He’d noticed a couple of small repairs that needed to be done on the barn, the chicken coop needed to be winterized, and he planned to walk the fences with his toolbox. He was not a man content to sit and watch the sun rise and set.

“There’s plenty of food in the fridge so please help yourself,” Christina said as she strapped her two sons into the back seat of the family car.

Lee jangled his keys as he handed them to Jacob. “The tractor and mower keys are on here too. Don’t feel obligated to do any chores…”

Jacob laughed. “You know that sitting still is not my style.”

He waved at the Tennysons until they were out of sight, and then pocketed the keys. Their dog, Pippin, and their cat, Hodge, perched expectantly by the back door waiting to be let out. Out toward the barn, the hens cooed and clucked contentedly in their pen. Jacob shaded his eyes to scan the highest ridge of the pasture, looking for the goats. Two of the nannies sauntered from one clump of grass to another while the five young ones sparked around at their heels. While he watched, Houdini appeared at the field’s highest point, the youngest nanny, Boo, by his side.

“Please don’t escape on my watch,” Jacob whispered. “Please don’t escape on my watch.”

A few minutes later, Jacob set off on his fence inspection, Pippin at his heels, her long graceful tail swaying in time with her hips.

It was a perfect late-summer-into-fall day, the kind you want to bottle up to enjoy in the middle of winter when freezing temperatures trap you inside. The air warmed from chilly to “a bit cool” to pleasantly warm as the sun made its trek across the sky.

Jacob moved methodically from post to post, giving each of them an experimental wiggle to make sure it would stand up to the snow, ice and wind, replacing the wire fencing as needed. Just about the time he started thinking about lunch, Houdini showed up on his own inspection tour, the five little ones massed around his feet, his harem standing a discreet distance away.

Jacob pushed his hat back, never breaking eye contact with the goat. “Look, I know you think that fences are just a challenge but I’m new here so give me a break, okay?”

Houdini shifted his weight and as if on a signal, two of the kids lowered their heads to run straight at the fence.

Wham! The wire structure shuddered a bit at their impact but held just fine.

“What’s this, a training course?” Jacob asked.

Two more of the kids took a run at the fence.


Jacob glared at Houdini who flicked his tail and turned away. The kids followed. The nannies chewed, their eyes flicking from Houdini to the fence and back again.

Jacob shook his head as he gathered up his tools to head back to the house. On the one hand, he was glad to know that his fencing held. On the other hand, he couldn’t shake the notion that Houdini was testing him, and Jacob had no idea whether he’d passed or not.

By the time Cassie Handy and her daughter Tupelo arrived for the end-of-day milking, Jacob had the chickens inside and fed, the cat contentedly full of cat food, and the goats were getting ready to file into the barn.

“So how’d your first day go?” Cassie asked as she helped him guide the nannies into their stalls.

“Just fine,” Jacob said, “except for this one thing with Houdini.”

“Let me guess—he set the kids on you,” Cassie said as she washed her hands in the barn sink.

“Yeah. I was fixing the fence when he showed up, and four of the little ones ran at it,” Jacob said. “Does he do this sort of thing often?”

Cassie laughed. “Every day. I have to admit he’s a smart old codger. I think he gives us tests that we think we’ve passed in order to lull us into a false sense of security so that when he does make an escape, he’ll catch us off-guard.”

“Hmm, that’s not encouraging.”

Suddenly the two of them heard Tupelo laughing and squealing with joy from the barnyard. “Mom, come see, come see.”

The two adults stumbled outside just in time to see one of the baby goats climbing up on the little girl’s back as she stood steady on all fours. “They tickle,” Tupelo squealed. “They’re doing yoga with me, just like you saw on TV.”

“Yoga with goats?” Jacob’s eyebrows arched high as he looked at Cassie.

She shook her head. “Yeah, it’s this new-new thing, holding yoga classes with young animals. It started with goats and now there are some folks doing it with alpacas.”

“Is this something you’re planning to try?”

“No, though I have talked to Christina about holding a class on the slope at the edge of the orchard. It faces west and it’s the best place to watch on the whole farm the sun set ,” Cassie said.

Jacob shrugged. “If you want to do that, it had better be soon. There aren’t many warm days left in the year.”

“Yeah. Do you think it would be okay if I did it this week? The forecast is clear and sunny all the way through Thursday.”

“Sure. I’ll get over there and mow tomorrow.” He nodded his head toward Houdini who was taking his sweet-old-time getting into the barn. “The goats will be able to watch from the pasture but the fence will keep your kids safe enough from their kids.”

Safe enough, Jacob repeated to himself. I hope I’m right about this.

Sonja Hakala lives on a river in Vermont and is the author of the Carding, Vermont novels and the upcoming Red City mystery, The Deadly Noose.

The Carding, Vermont novels, in order of appearance:

The Road Unsalted

Thieves of Fire

The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life

Light in Water, Dancing

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