Runcible Blog

goat birth


The high-pitched bleating echoed off the barn and alerted my ears to a special event. In the dark, I walked over to the greenhouse to find a miniature goat hopping around, making his first cries on earth. Mama goat calmly (or exhaustedly) observed, while the little one found his way to the nipple. The first hours are crucial, because the mother goat can't protect the babies from the weather; it's sink or swim. Nearby, his brother lie, with rear legs splayed out, looking dead, but breathing slowly. Occasionally, he'd lift his head and wearily look around. I don't know why he couldn't or wouldn't walk, but his future looked dim unless he could muster the energy to stand up and drink milk. Mama seemed to have given up on him, though she sometimes looked to him and licked his head. How could they survive the night?

The didn't survive the night. When I eagerly walked over in the morning, I couldn't hear a sound from the greenhouse. Looking in, the other goats stood around in a somber mood. Mama nudged her motionless baby, not yet convinced that he'd never move again. She stood there, confused. I tossed some hay in to distract the other goats so that I could enter the greenhouse and see if I could do anything. I felt both baby goats for breathing, looked into their eyes. Glazed-over eyes, tiny tongue sticking out, frozen dead. The splayed-out one never had a chance, but how did the dancing baby die? Not enough milk or enough cuddling to stay warm when it dipped to 27ºF? I have no idea. Mama sniffed at me, looked at me as if there were something I could do. We stared in each other's eyes; I pet her, as if it were some consolation.


Floyd had separated her from the others when he noticed the birth, and he gave her extra grain. I felt like she wanted to join the rest of her family, so I untied the fence to let her out. The other goats immediately ran in straight to the grain, almost stepping on the dead baby goats. Mama wandered past them, bleating loudly. I had no idea what to do. I could have called Floyd for help, but now I felt responsible somehow. I picked up the goats by the leg; they were surprisingly heavy for being less than a day old. I tossed them over the wall, onto the snow, figuring that they'd only be trampled on if I left them there. I jumped out of the greenhouse and moved the siblings closer together on the snow. Mama goat cried out inside, but after a while, she joined the small herd, standing together, with some after-birth hanging from her, and with a full bag of milk that'll never be drunk.

Outside, snow started falling a little heavier, and I worried that the babies would be covered, hidden – somehow that seemed undignified. What would Floyd do when he found them? I didn't want to see him and talk about it. All I could do was drive away from the farm.

siblings in the snow

Gospel of Thomas

I've been writing short responses/commentaries on the Gospel of Thomas recently. There are 114 verses, which means I've got another 50 days of blathering to do! Follow along and tell me what you say!

new poems (and a site)

I've been working on a new, experimental site for writing. I suppose it's like tumblr, except less spammy, customizable, or social! It's intended to mimic how thoughts appear and connect to each other. Try it out!
Here are some poems from there:


the blue wool sweater unearthed
from the wooden winter clothes box.
it hibernated under my house for the summer,
becoming home to earwigs, spiders,
and dust.

shaking the sweater forms a cloud of memories
sawdust of past productivity fills the pockets,
never completely empty.

initials sewn into the collar
evoke an unknown "J.B."
even the earwigs and spiders have died.

all day, the dust sneezing persists
while the must makes me smell older.
we carry on together
sharing warmth and purpose
for a time.

captor in a dream

as always,
you are the captor of reality
on a declining planet

when the sullen eye opens,
the captives dance like flames

captives and captor ensnared,
it may hurt less to see
nothing at all

put forward what threatens you

At the meeting, the message came:
“Put forward whatever threatens you”
So I put forward in my hands, nothing.
The voice said, “that's right, NOTHING
And between my hands became a void.

The meeting was a Quaker meeting, sitting in silence on a chair for an hour, surrounded by other people doing likewise. One can experience the various states of consciousness: distraction, daydreaming, sleepiness, but also stretches of total quiescence and meditative absorption. I found it interesting that "friends" (as they're called) are allowed to break the silence to speak messages that they feel are worth speaking. Beforehand, I'd wondered what these messages could be, but it turned out that nobody had anything to say at this particular meeting. It occurred to me that I could've spoken my message at the time. It came to mind within a hypnagogic state, on the cusp of sleep and wakefulness. It didn't seem worth mentioning because hypnagogic hallucinations are usually gibberish and quickly forgotten. Although this one had a different character, I don't currently see the value of announcing a message while other people are experiencing the quiet. I also think it's unwise to attribute to God whatever rumbling comes to mind -- even if messages do emanate from Spirit, the announcement as such suggests a kind of definitiveness, when perhaps a better attitude should be unknowing.

But, put forward whatever threatens you seems apt for this anniversary of a day that felt quite threatening and confusing. I remember hearing the news when my sister called me while I was reading a book by the Charles River -- only my second week of college. (I still regret, later on, when she asked me why somebody would commit such a heinous act, explaining that it must've been their religion. Well, what did I know at 18?) In a way, the events of that day and the nation's response changed the course of my life, opening my eyes to a world outside of the hermetic bubble of Boston University and awakening an activist side of me. After the mourning period ended and it was time to resume the busy work of academia, I couldn't close the venetian blinds which had been opened. Out there, the suffering, confused world felt more pressing and significant than pointless introductory physics experiments and Riemann sums. I had to drop out and change course, though I didn't have an alternative in mind. The course continues to course...

Nowadays, what's threatening to most people is economic uncertainty rather than terrorist sleeper cells next door. Whether it's the prospect of suddenly being blown to smithereens or not being able to pay the mortgage, living in fear constrains a person, isolates one from another. We accept unequivocally what our bosses -- political or economic -- tell us, in order to latch onto a sense of security. It's obvious that living in fear stunts growth and eliminates intimacy, yet we do it again and again, in a million different, subtle ways.

How can we live where nothing threatens? All I can say is that it's an inversion -- to remake oneself inside-out, to expose the nerves and "go into" the idea of threatening things -- with absolute questioning and curiosity -- and thus see their unreality. If one can find a way to live without the psychological protections, somehow the threats vaporize, along with the accumulated ideas about an entity called "me" who stands to be threatened. Then, what is left between the hands? Unknowing!

Incidentally, the message at the start has a funny double meaning, which might be a topic for a subsequent post. :)

how many tigers should there be?

How many tigers should there be? This hilarious question came to mind when I read that many tiger species are becoming extinct, and the remaining numbers are very small -- only hundreds or thousands left in the world. So I wondered, "well then, how many ought there be?”

When I walk out my door, somehow I'm not tripping over rabbits or encountering a pack of hundreds of wolves. Even the insects, as numerous and diverse as they are here, are not taking over the place. The remarkable thing is that every creature fits into the ecosystem, and it's through the cooperation of the ecosystem that there is any kind of balance. I'm often struck when seeing some relatively rare insect, like a praying mantis the other day. In fact, I had never seen one previously. The ecosystem doesn't support millions of praying mantises -- there's no need for them. I hear coyotes calling nearly every night, but I've yet to see one. They're out there, doing their thing, and there's a limit to how many coyotes can survive in any one place.

Humans aren't like that. We just run roughshod over almost any ecosystem, growing until we chase everything away and ruin the environment. Sure, there are some limits -- people want to have enough space to fit all the crap they accumulate, and they want to have a spot of grass to remind them what the earth looks like. But if given the opportunity, we'll eagerly wipe out huge swaths of ecology for our pleasure. I wish I could imagine what pre-colonial New England looked like, covered with dense old growth forests. Europeans arrived and said “we'll take it!” and proceeded to clear cut the whole countryside, first for lumber, then to make pastures for raising sheep so that they could have a steady supply of thneeds socks. At what point can we step back and say, “oops!”?

finback whale

How many whales should there be? After seeing a whale in person for the first time, I wondered what their lives are like. Imagine having 100 million square miles to make your home, with very few natural predators (except, of course, humans). Females live in small groups and raise their young collectively. Adult males spend their lives in solitude, hundreds or thousands of miles away from another whale, until it’s time to mate -- then they use their enormously loud voices to call females across the ocean. There might be a million whales left in the world, but it's impossible to know for sure.

What is the passage of time like for sperm whales, who possess the largest brains on earth and live past 70 (or, for baleen whales, past 120 -- no one knows)? What do they experience and think, as they spend day after day alone, in the icy polar waters? Do they lust for more giant squid than they could possibly eat? Do they plan war against other whales or maybe dolphins?

No, whales are the living saints of the sea. In our history, we've martyred millions of them, so that we could have makeup, transmission fluid, and margarine. And we're the intelligent ones?

So, how many tigers, how many whales? The answer seems to be: "as many as humanity accepts." We loved the Passenger Pigeon so much that we reduced their numbers from billions to zero. Nowadays, we love putting palm oil in everything we eat; as a result, we just can't accept any more Orangutans on this planet. Sorry, cousins -- get your own planet! After all, we're trying to give ourselves heart disease, here!

quechee woods

I wish it weren't so depressing. When I drove into Vermont recently, the first thought was, "this is how it's supposed to be" -- where people are outmatched, outnumbered, and outclassed by trees. It's a reassuring, if hopelessly naive thought. There's no virgin land here. The trees can speak to our clear-cutting even in verdant Vermont. It's only a difference of degree between suburbia and Quechee gorge and between a toxic dump and Manhattan. But there's a point when differences of degree become differences of kind; my hope is that we don't bulldoze past that point in the pursuit of happiness, growth, and progress.

looking into the abyss
the tree submerged, beneath the shadow of man -- a glimpse into the future