yoga with goats: a carding chronicle

So the yoga classes on a west-facing hill at the Tennyson farm in Carding, Vermont are finally going to happen.

Jacob Brown, who’s been caretaking the farm while the Tennysons are off camping in Vermont’s Champlain Islands, plans to mow the field and make sure that the fence meant to separate the [goat] kids from the [human] kids is secure.

Of course, outdoor yoga classes in Carding are sure to draw a local audience so we’re glad you’re here for this third of a three-part tale.

Even though he and Cassie had agreed to hold yoga classes at the Tennyson farm in order to take advantage of the last warm days of the year, Jacob wouldn’t feel easy about it until he’d cleared it with Christina.

“So, you’re sure you’re you okay with Cassie doing her afternoon yoga classes on that west-facing slope while you’re away?” Jacob asked during their daily phone call.

“I’m sure it will be fine,” Christina said. “Though I would check that portion of the fence with extra care, just to be sure it will hold if the kids start butting it again.”

“Already on the case,” Jacob said. “I was thinking about putting up a temporary curtain there, just so Houdini wouldn’t get any ideas.” He added two pairs of vise grips and a drop cloth to the cart attached to the mowing tractor as he talked. 

“I’ll ask Cassie to wait until you get home if you’d rather,” he continued. “It’s just that the weather is going to be perfect, and…”

“…we don’t have many more warm days,” Christina finished. “And the view of the changing foliage from up there is the best on the whole hill.”

Despite her reassuring tone, Christina sighed heavily as she ended her conversation.

“What’s up?” Lee asked when he noticed the pucker in his wife’s face.

“Yoga with goats,” she said.


“Cassie wants to do those yoga classes she was talking about on the slope by the apple orchard this week,” Christina said.

“Oh.” Lee thought about that for a minute. He knew, better than anyone, what havoc their cantankerous billy, Houdini, was capable of wreaking. But they so rarely had the chance to get away from the farm, and he’d been looking forward to more “just us” time with his wife and their two boys.

“Jacob and Cassie are sensible people,” he began as the cinch in his wife’s mouth grew tighter.

“Yeah, but Houdini isn’t.”

Lee sighed. “If you really think we should go home…”

“Hmph, I don’t like being ruled by that old goat,” Christina said. “And we agreed to give Jacob a try-out to see if he likes the farming life.” She slid her arms around her husband’s waist. “I don’t want to go home just because of him. I think we should let the yoga classes run their course.”

Jacob rose the next morning girded for battle. He watched carefully as the goats skipped and walked out of the barn, trying to determine which of the nannies was the dominant member of the trio. As the caprine family headed toward the high pasture, Jacob followed them up the slope,

Houdini glanced over his shoulder more than once but Jacob ignored him, turning his attention to the play of the young ones. They pranced close enough for him to reach out and pet their flanks, and it took less than a minute for the smallest one to find the chunks of carrot in his pocket.

Houdini shifted around noisily as he watched his children eating from Jacob’s hand. He understood why the human was attracted to the kids. He liked watching them too.

But none of the humans he knew ever fed baby goats by hand. The interaction made Houdini deeply suspicious.

Jacob was busy all day, mowing and grooming the yoga space at the edge of the apple orchard. He cut the grass close, gathered up the clippings, and then walked the whole area looking for stones. 

Cassie pronounced herself pleased when she came to have a look at her outdoor yoga studio. Her daughter Tupelo ran to the center of the field to test her favorite yoga poses, downward-facing dog and eagle.

Satisfied that all was ready, the Jacob, Cassie and Tupelo stood to watch the sun droop over the western hills, enjoying the sky-high display of pink and peach and gold.

“What time does your class start tomorrow?” Jacob asked.

“Three-thirty” Cassie said. “It’s not quite sundown but it gets chilly fast once the sun hits the hills across the way so I figured earlier was better. I told folks that if they wanted to stay to watch the sun set, they’re welcome to do so. Any sign of Houdini and the clan today?”

Jacob glanced over his shoulder as he pinned the drop cloth to the fence with vise grips. “Nothing at all.” 

Cassie’s eyebrows rose. “I don’t know whether that worries me or not, frankly.”

Jacob laughed. “Yeah, me too. Amazing how that old guy keeps us in his thrall, isn’t it?”

Next afternoon, the class went off without a hitch. The goats were curious but they stayed put in the high pasture as Houdini gazed down the hill like an ancient tribal chieftain.

The next day was just as trouble free. Still up north and camping, Lee and Christine felt genuinely relaxed, and all the humans involved congratulated themselves on, for once, circumventing Houdini’s rules.

The number of students in the third class swelled because word about the beauty of the location had spread throughout Carding, attracting a lot of drop-ins. Cassie was thrilled when three of them signed up for her regular classes. The additional income would help with heating bills during the winter.

On the day of the fourth and last class, the air temperature rose to the mid-70s, making it the warmest day of the week, a perfect day for “yoga in the meadow.” What had begun as an experiment had become a local event, and all sorts of non-yoga types were making the trek up Belmont Hill to the Tennyson farm to see for themselves what was “going on up there.”

Jacob was glad to see that Cassie’s partner, Hunter Glass, came with her to help direct parking along the winding dirt road. Some people spread blankets on the ground while others coagulated in small knots against the backsides of their pickups and cars. 

Armed with extra yoga mats, Tupelo meandered among the Carding-ites, persuading more than one of them to “give it a try.”

At seven years old and wearing a big grin, the little girl was hard to resist.

“All right,” Cassie called to quiet the hubbub, “make sure there’s six feet of space all around your mat.” She waited for folks to make the necessary adjustments. “Okay, let’s begin with a few simple breathing exercises.”

Jacob leaned against the fence to watch the class but his thoughts soon turned inward as he thumbed through his memories of the past week. He liked the work, that much he realized. But did he like it enough to make the switch from driving truck for his father’s company to farming?

“All right, let’s move into doing a little dog and cat,” Cassie said as she placed her hands and knees on her mat, arching her back in a classic “Halloween cat” posture. The class followed her.

“Hey Jacob.” Hunter sauntered over to lean on the fence next to him. “Where’s that old goat that Tupelo’s always talking about? I’m kind of curious to see him.”

“Houdini? Oh, he’s up…” Jacob turned to point at the high pasture. But it was empty.

Sudden squeals made the two men whip around to see the youngest member of Houdini’s harem, Boo, chasing her kid into the middle of the class. 

The kid skipped from mat to mat, sniffing sneakers and experimentally tasting a sweatshirt or two. 

Tupelo clapped her hands. “Look Mom, they’re all here.” The two other nannies, Bippity and Boppity, had followed Boo, their four kids prancing and jumping from person to person. Everyone standing on the sidelines aimed their cell phones at the scene hoping to snap a picture of the oncoming mayhem.

One kid leaped on the back of the school superintendent, David Tarkiainen, and began chewing on the earpiece of his glasses. Another began to tug at Faye Bennett’s long hair. The tone of her squeal went up a notch when she realized the end of her ponytail was disappearing into the little one’s mouth.

Jacob, Hunter, and Cassie rushed in but the kids, now as excited as children high on sugar, began to run even faster, under folks, between legs, and over the mats.

Some of the bystanders rushed in to help but the tumble of kids and nannies and grannies and kids provoked a lot of laughter, making it hard to run.

Jacob finally managed to corner Boo, and grabbed her by one horn. But she turned on him, butting her head into a place no man wants to be hit. Jacob doubled over on the grass with a low moan.

As he tried to catch his breath, he heard a breathy nicker in his ear. His head snapped around and he lowered his shoulder, ready to counter another head butt from Boo.

But he found himself face-to-face with Houdini. The old goat and the young man stared at one another for a tense, elongated moment.

“Get them out of here,” Jacob said.

Houdini took a step closer, and narrowed his eyes.

“Please,” Jacob said.

Houdini stepped back, his eyes never leaving Jacob’s face. Then he raised his head and bleated a harsh “Maaaa.” The nannies paused in their havoc. Then they raised their heads.

“Maaaa. Maaaa. Maaaa.”

With a few last kicks of their heels, the five babies retreated, following their mothers back up the hill. 

Jacob watched, momentarily stupefied. 

With a last look over his shoulder, Houdini sauntered off, stopping to pull an apple from a tree in the orchard as he left.

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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