Staring at Goats VIII: the In-situ Field Guide

[Anonymous text at the Belmont field, as we saw it just prior to the return of the goats.  We are fond of this sign’s shrewd use of materials consisting of a plastic 3 ring binder with the back ripped off and its binder clips retooled as clasps.  Delivered without punctuation, it has a wonderfully ambiguous phrasing that seems to float amongst expectancy, desire, and curiosity.]

In the process of looking after the goats on this field, our curiosity is often split between what is occurring within it, as much as as what happens around it.   The fenced edges of the field where the goats meet the public domain is where a variety of communications and un-choreographed events happen.  As an example, you may recall the banquet signs we put on the fence last October.  It seems that the ambiguity of the term “banquet” lent itself to a variety of ‘B.Y.O.B.’ interpretations.   Or maybe not.  The same phenomena might have happened without the signs.  Yet earlier this month when we put those signs back up for the return visit of the goats, the very same day we were surprised to see a responsive collection of these signs placed along the entire length of the meadow.

As I approached the field the other day, I was asked if I would like to pay a dollar to feed the goats.  These entrepreneurs had a cooler full of ziplock sandwich bags which contained what looked like lettuce and sliced cucumbers.  Interesting.  These offerings are quite healthy foods for the goats.  But we have seen some other imports that we are more suspect about – like dog food (goats are primarily vegetarian) and sprayable easy-cheese smeared on saltine crackers.   In looking out for the goat’s health and pursuing our original intent of having the goats eat the meadow, we installed new signs at the field’s edges:

Rather than just adding text to politely ask passersby to refrain from feeding the goats, we tried to add something to the observer’s experience by calling attention to the richness of what already exists within the field. We begin with the goats:

Capra aegagrus hircus is a subspecies of goat believed to have been domesticated by Neolithic farmers nearly 11,000 years ago.  Goats were one of the first intentionally domesticated animals, and today there are over three hundred distinct breeds dispersed throughout the world.  Humans have long used goats for their milk, meat, hair, skins, companionship, and (most recently) to clear land.  Likewise, goats have utilized human ingenuity (as applied to their bodies) to effectively colonize the globe.  We have co-evolved and continue to benefit from one another.

This introduction is followed by photographs of distinct goat breeds that can be identified amongst our motley herd, including Nubians, angoras, Nigerian dwarfs, Pygmies and Alpines.  Next to the images text describes their distinguishing physical features, where they were designed, how and when they arrived in North America and also how they typically fit into the anthropogenic schemata of their applied use:

[click on poster images for a larger view]

After identifying the goats, we then we focus on the unique collection of plants that the goats are foraging upon in the field:

The collection of living things in this field is the result of human collaborations with other species.  Most of the plants in this meadow arrived from other continents by our predecessors – either intentionally for specific uses or as unintended stowaways.  Weeds are typically defined as plants growing where they are generally not wanted –a definition that is more complicated than it seems.  Our collective endeavors of developing cities and trading goods have both intentionally and inadvertently spurred a global reshuffling of species.  Additionally, the novel habitats encountered in urban landscapes have given rise to unique ecologies that are well-adapted to these challenging conditions, complicating what a “native” organism is.

Unlike the goats themselves, people have rarely asked what it is that the goats are actually eating in the field (in contrast, we get many questions about the goat breeds).  The sign provides field identification for sixteen of the many plant species growing in the meadow.  Information regarding their distant origins, their human uses (historic and contemporary), and which ones are favorite fodder for the goats are listed next to the images.  We selected those species that are currently blooming and are most prominent in the field:
As an in-situ text, the sign attempts to reveal what otherwise might go unnoticed from a casual or passing gaze. It provides a window on the internal liveliness of the field by calling attention to the novel interactions happening within it; an identification of a particular embodiment of urban modernity.  Whether or not the signs will alter or edit the culinary events happening at the field’s thresholds is a sideline exploration to the larger intention of simply providing this information to those that visit the field.

One comment

  1. This is absolutely awesome! Brilliantly done.

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