San Juan Capistrano has its swallows. Pacific Grove has its monarch butterflies, and Maui its humpback whales.
Here in Benicia, we have our goats.
Granted, our town’s billies and nannies do not migrate here seasonally as these other creatures do in these other places. They arrive here by truck in the winter and spring to chew down the tall grasses and reduce the fire threat to adjoining homes and neighborhoods. They do their chomp, chomp, chomping in greenbelt open spaces around town, but where they really attract attention is in the hills around Community Park.
“Oh, look at the goats! Aren’t they cute?” an elderly woman says while stepping out of her car at the Community Park parking lot. “Do you hear them? Baaah,” she continues, chatting not to her grandchild or another adult, but to her Chihuahua.
Goats are not nearly as romantic as fluttering butterflies or spouting humpbacks, but they do turn heads.
Children come and gawk. People get out of their cars, point in wonderment, and click pictures as if they’ve happened upon buffaloes grazing in a Yellowstone meadow.
The herd consists of 150 or so, in a variety of shades. Black, brown, white, black and white, brown and white, black with white splotches. They are curious animals. If you come up to the fence around their grazing area, they will step forward expecting a handout. If you instead pull out a phone to take their picture, they back warily away.
On their way to ride at the skatepark, a thirtyish couple stops to gaze. Seeing me sitting nearby, the woman asks, “Are these your goats?” I laugh. “Do I look like a goat herder?” “Yes,” she replies matter of factly, “you do.” She adds that it’s a compliment and her boyfriend agrees. “I wish people thought I looked like a goat herder,” he says.
The actual goat herder is a rakish-looking fellow in a wide brim hat and outdoorsy plaid jacket.
He is as shy as the animals he tends to, who regard him as a kind of Sun King. When he walks amongst them, they follow obediently; when he runs, they all hustle to catch up. Nearby at all times is his trusty Australian sheep dog, zealously guarding the perimeters to make sure none of his subjects get out of line.
At night the goat herder sleeps in an RV camper parked near the dog park. After ravaging one swath of hillside the goats transport their chompers and bottomless-pit bellies to another section, penned in by a movable fence erected by their dashing Sun King. The fence is electrified by portable generators. It provides a sharp little blast of current to any person, dog or coyote that dares to challenge it. The goats get their water from a hose hooked to a fire hydrant along the park’s walking path.
In his down times, the goat herder can be seen relaxing on the grass, gazing at his phone.
It is not known if he is active on social media, but #beniciagoats would surely attract lots of followers. One interesting goat factoid you will find nowhere else in this magazine: Both male and female goats are born with horns, although it is a common practice to remove the horns—“de-bud” them—when they are young.
A curious little boy steps up to see the goats, his mother standing protectively behind him to make sure his fingers don’t touch the fence. His first question is a good one: Why is it electrified? Another question follows her answer, and another question after that. Meanwhile the goats just chomp on obliviously. Nature lessons don’t interest them, only stuff to eat.