Beware the Goats — Twists, and Tossing in the Unusual When You Write

In a recent article, there were aggressive mountain goats approaching hikers in the Olympic National Forest in Washington state.

I happen to like goats. I’ve milked them, and had them lovingly nibble at my jeans and jackets. In fact, my husband and I were married by a goat farmer. He was a full-time goat farmer and part-time minister. His wife made the best tasting goat milk fudge. Yes, goats make me smile. But the goats of my fond memories are of domesticated goats, not wild ones roaming National Forests. I find a HUGE difference between domesticated animals and wild. The fact that in 2010 a 63-year-old hiker was killed on an Olympic National Trail by a 370-pound mountain goat proves that. (Read the goat article here.)

When we lived in NY, on a family day trip to “The Grand Canyon of the East,” the four of us were eating our lunch on a picnic table when we were distracted by exclamations from a couple of women and several children a few tables away from us.  We two groups were the only ones in the picnic area. Their shrieks of delight with seeing the cute raccoons meander out of the woods turned to shrieks of worry as the animals they were feeding got closer and closer. We four Carlsons swallowed our lunches whole and got back into the car after witnessing three very disturbing things. One, these ignorant city-folk were feeding wild animals people food from their table. And two, it was noon! Raccoons are nocturnal! Also, raccoons are known to carry rabies. We were so out of there.

When we lived in SD, we were just an hour from Custer State Park which is home to a herd of about a thousand bison. The fact that every year someone is gored by bison gives me a healthy respect of, and distance from, these magnificent animals. One time when my husband and I traveled the four hours north to ND’s Theodore Roosevelt National Park, we starting chatting with a park ranger in his vehicle as we watched part of a bison herd mozy through the Visitor Center parking lot. As we were talking, an older man approached us and asked if he could put his granddaughter on the back of one of the buffalo for a photo. I didn’t answer because my jaw cracked from falling onto the asphalt. It wasn’t my place to respond, anyway. When the ranger told the man, no, they were dangerous, the visitor stormed angrily away, saying they should be behind fences if that’s the case. Well, they were, miles and miles of sturdy fence surrounding the park, along with dozens of signs warning not to approach the animals.

When I worked in Yellowstone National Park in WY, we heard of many stupid tourist stories, like of the man who poured honey over his daughter’s hand so he could get a picture of a bear licking her.

People. Wild animals. Back to goats.

It is suspected that the reason the mountain goats in Olympic National Forest are not afraid of humans because humans have fed them, or allowed the goats lick their hands for their yummy salty sweat. Humans taught the goats to come to them, and now goats come to humans with expectations.

I still say domesticated goats are cute, but I strongly suggest staying respectfully away from wild animals who may look docile chewing on grass or lumbering through the woods. And about those big cute living teddy bears? I say, any wild animal with teeth or claws or horns, either vegetarians or carnivorous, stay respectfully away.

However, when you write fiction, stick it to your characters. Let them be the stupid tourists who must dash behind a tree when the docile bison suddenly charges when s/he got too near. Let them feed wild animals who then break into their car or home to get more of that human food. It’s all about cause-effect-consequences. Go ahead, have your character make a decision which gets him/her into so much trouble. What fun. Remember, it’s all about the story twists.

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