Field Trip: of goats & poetry at Connemara

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine

how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”

― Carl Sandburg

3-day old nubian goats at the Connemara Farm, Carl Sandburg National Historic Site. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

It’s no joke that I have a thing for goats. Ever since my eighth grade class took a field trip to poet Carl Sandburg’s North Carolina home they have fascinated me. I think that trip was the first time I realized that there were other people, even famous people, who lived their life sort of like my family did. In as far as my father was no Pulitzer Prize winning poet and we did not raise goats (like Lillian ‘Paula’ Sandburg), my father was a business man, my mother worked as a dietician but we did not live in a suburb; we lived in the country.

The Sandburg’s most definitely lived in the country too and they raised…goats. Well, Paula Sandburg did and my mother raised quail… at one time, at least. My three older sisters also had a goat at one time, although it was not around by the time I arrived on the scene. My well-intentioned sisters had over fed the little guy and well, he expired. His short life is a story told many times in our family, with the result being that I would never be getting a goat.

The Sandburg’s could have lived any place they wanted but they chose Flat Rock, NC, located among the picturesque, green rolling hills about one hours drive south of Asheville. I also noted that the Sandburg’s simple farmhouse was filled with bookshelves, down most of the hallways, with every cranny filled with books and reading material. They loved books too. And the furnishings and the personal effects were left in tact. It was as if Paula Sandburg just left to tend her goats and would come through the kitchen door with a big glass jar of goat’s milk at any moment.

Carl Sandburg’s study. The interior of their home is warm, comfortable and appears as if Carl and Paula will be home any minute, well, if it was 1965. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Paula Sandburg took up goat–keeping as a necessity when her husband was a struggling poet in Michigan. She continued to raise and breed goats as her husband became successful, having as many 200 Nubian, Saanens and Toggenburgs in her herd (called the Chikaming herd) in it’s hey-day. While Carl spent most of his time with words, Paula spent most of hers with her goats. By the time they moved to North Carolina in 1945, Paula was as famous for her goats as he was for his poetry and writing. In 1960 her champion Chikaming Toggenburg doe, “Jennifer II” set a world record for milk production with 5,750 lbs. of milk in ten months.

The National Park Service manages their home, “Connemara Farms”, today and you can visit it and Paula’s goats. There are around a dozen or so, reportedly some with the original Sandburg champion bloodline.

The goat barn at Connemara Farms on a foggy day. Photo courtesy of the National Park Service.

Visiting the Sandburg National Historic Site made quite an impression on me. After my visit there, I read up on raising goats AND Mr. Sandburg’s works – Rootabaga Stories was a favorite. I checked, A Sandburg Treasury: Prose & Poetry for Young People, out of the public library and poured over the tome, reading its entirety within my allotted two weeks. The simple beauty of “Fog” created a poetry fan for life and moved San Francisco to the top of my “must see” travel list. Visiting that city, and the adjacent wine country, years later, inspired and reignited my love for cooking and writing.

My husband will wince when he reads this, but I still hope to someday own a goat or three. But even if that never happens, we will take our girly girl to Connemara in a few years. I think she’ll love it as much as I did. In the meantime enjoy some poetry,  I’ve got to the get to the library to check out a book…

Fog by Carl Sandburg

THE fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.

Stars, Songs, Faces by Carl Sandburg

GATHER the stars if you wish it so.

Gather the songs and keep them.

Gather the faces of women.

Gather for keeping years and years.

And then …

Loosen your hands, let go and say good-by.

Let the stars and songs go.

Let the faces and years go.

Loosen your hands and say good-by.