24 January 2006

Vivre La Chevre!

My last post produced a wave of outrage. How could civilized people slaughter sweet Pat, the goat from Corossol? Relax, fans, Pat is safe, and in fact has a great story to tell. (Well, I speak as much Goat as I do French.)

First, Pat is really Babette. She is four years old. And she is a "rescue goat." In Paradise, one is not required to go to the SPCA to adopt a goat. There is no goat ARF. You need no permit, need pay no fee or tax, need no veterinarian's certificate to bring the goat on island. What you need is a boat, some fresh water, lettuce or other green leaves, and a free morning.

The Isle de la Fourche is a t-shaped hunk of rock about a mile at its longest dimension, sticking up out of the Barthelemy Channel about three miles northwest of Columbier Point, on the westernmost tip of St. Barths. It is uninhabited, but for the occasional sailboat that may spend the night tucked into the bay fashioned by the southwest crook of the "t." The island has no fresh water, very little vegetation, and strangely enough, is home to a herd of wild goats. How did they get there? I need to do more work on that. How do they survive? Not very well, it would seem. In dry periods, they drink seawater, get sick, and die. They are spindly, sickly, stunted creatures. So every now and then, a St. Barthian goes over with his boat and brings home a critter. Enter Babette.

I met Alain yesterday. I went down to Corossol harbor to take the dinghy off the seawall and make my first attempt to row out to Fish Faster in the teeth of these seasonal 30 knot "vents de Noel." Alain lives directly on the small road adjacent to the seawall, watches all harbor doings from his front porch, and that, so far as I can tell, is his primary, if not sole, occupation, other than caring for Babette, of course. He was chatting with Dolphie (who I thought was working at my house at the time!) as I drove up to park my car perpendicular to the seawall. (Most of the parking spots are taken up with the boats taken off the beach two weeks ago when we got the forecast of the big swell to come. We got only a little swell, but until the winds quit, nobody is going anywhere anyway.)

When Dolphie and Alain learned what I was up to, their faces lit up like kids on Christmas morning. Despite my earnest assertions of absolute competence, they
stripped off shoes and socks, and took over the management and execution of the launch. They lowered the boat onto the beach, carried it into the wash, and held it steady for the old man to climb in and attack the sea.

On my return to the beach several hours later, Alain spied my arrival and came down to help me prop the boat on the wall so the rainwaiter would drain out the transom plug. He showed me how the locals secure the boat to the wall by running a line or cable through a drain hole in the sea side of the wall and out the other side of wall which is at the level of the parking tarmac. When I started to put a lock on the cable I brought for that purpose, he smiled and said "Don't worry, I am here, I see everything." I have no doubts.

It was after we tied the dinghy that Alain gave me the details of Babette's rescue. At least that's what I imagine he was saying but Alain has less English than I have French, so watching the two of us converse can be dangerous to third persons standing within the radius of our arms. But I was able to ascertain basics such as age, milk production (Zero,she need babes first? Hey, I've been a local only for a few weeks. I'll find out.) and that she is Alain's dear family pet. It is his plan to see if he can get Babette in a family way soon. Babette looked happy when she overheard this confidence. I asked Alain what she ate. He looked at me as if I were mad. Doesn't everyone know what goats eat? "Tous." Everything, that's what. If it's green, it's gone. Period.

Btw, the row out to FF was more than a little scary. The dinghy is a light Walker Bay plastic 8-foot boat with an inflatable collar around the hull at the gunnel. This makes it far more stable when 100 kilo klutzes get into and out of the craft without paying attention to the lessons learned at the waterfront at Lake Whatchamacallit in Camp Lakota. But the collar serves to make the boat fat, and there is nothing the wind loves more than a fat small boat. It is no exaggeration when I tell you that at one point I was pulling those oars as hard as I could to get the boat to make headway into a sustained gust, and the very best I could do was fight the wind to a draw. Sorry now I joined the gym in Gustavia. Who needs a rowing machine when you can do the real thing, in the sunlight (and in the wet.)

I will continue to follow the adventures of Babette. She is just adorable, and is a major problem for me in the continuing battle with Pinks over how many animals should live with us. I think the fact that our garden is at risk may be my trump card, but I have understimated Pinks before and am determined to keep my guard up on this one.

A bientot.

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