Goats In All Seasons

Note: This article originally appeared in the May 20, 2005 issue of the Peninsula Pulse.



It’s not the sap running from maple trees on those “around freezing” nights and comfortably mild days in late February, that herald the first sign of spring in Door County.



Nor is it the confused robins in mid-March, dazed by snow showers, freezing rain, feeling more than a little led astray, off their usual course in their annual pilgrimage — due North.



It’s not the ice cover on the bays, slowly melting, teasing the shore in their back and forth motion, finally moving out into Green Bay to become water again.



Crocuses in April are nothing to crow about either. Or those daffy Door daffodils clamoring for attention up and down the peninsula.



It’s not the sight of honeycombed snow holding on till the last moment along the north-side of all the ditches on all the back roads of the county—slowly changing, slowing leaving, almost gone.



Signs and signs and more signs of spring in Door County—but not quite yet.



Forget the official calendar date: The First Day of Spring.



Forget the groundhog’s shadow.



And for god’s sake, forget the legendary swallows return to San Juan Capistrano: March 19th every year — a long way from here.



The one sure sign of spring up and down the Door Peninsula happens around Memorial Day every year in Sister Bay: The miraculous return of the goats to the grass roof on Al Johnson’s Restaurant. (Not quite the distinction of Swallows Returning to Capistrano — yet. But the Coming of the Goats Upon the Grass Roof Al Johnson’s in Sister Bay—a national rite-of-spring in the making, for sure. See it on the Fox network or the Today Show — soon!)



Only when they’re THERE — standing tall, heads lowered nibbling grass, prancing, bucking, smiling down at the masses, posing to have their pictures taken—only then has IT officially arrived in Door County. ‘The Season’ begun.






I’ve been an inveterate goat watcher since Winky Larson gave Al Johnson his first goat for a birthday gift. (You would have to have known Winky to appreciate the full measure of this gift.) (You would have to appreciate Al’s annual birthday concern: ‘What the hell is Winky going to give me this years?’ to imagine his reaction.) Season to season, year after year, I have watched, I have listened, I have recorded voluminous notes, fragments of conversations, photos, commentaries, concerning this most amazing Midwestern phenomenon of Man-On-The-Street in Sister Bay confronting Goats-On-the-Roof outside Al’s. Here is a small sampling:






“Where are the goats?”



“When do the goats arrive?”



“Hell, there ain’t no goats up there yet!”






“Look!. Didn’t I tell you! Goats, for god’s sake.”



“Hey, Joe, look at dem goats.”



“Honey, take a picture of the goats.”



“Kids, stand there. Daddy’s going to take a picture of you and the goats.”



“We should get some of them goats for the front lawn.”



“Mommy, can we get some goats? Huh, Mommy, Please, Can we? Can we?”



“Ask your father.”



“Can we get some goats, Daddy?”



“Shut up.”



“Did you ever drink goat’s milk?






“Will you kids stand still? Move over a little so I can get the goats in.”



“This guy’s got a gold mine.”



“No, a goat mine.”



“Where are the goats?”



“It’s raining. The goats aren’t up there when it rains.”



“How come?”



“How the hell do I know? “



“Who’s that guy on the roof?”



“That’s him.”






“The goat man. The guy who owns the place.”



“That’s Al Johnson?”






“I thought he was dead.”



“Look at them eat that grass.”



“I wonder what they’re thinking?”



“They’re thinking they don’t have to wait two hours to get in the restaurant and eat Swedish pancakes.”



“”Look at those goats!”



“Are those real goats up there?”



“George! Get the camera.”



“How do they get up there?”



“They bring them in by helicopter.”



“I heard they throw them up there from the ground.”



“Why would put goats on a roof?”



“Look around you.”



“Are those Swedish goats?”



“I don’t know, lady. Goats are goats.”



“What do they do with them at night?”



“Whoever threw them up there, must throw them down.”



“You means the goats aren’t up there today because of the fog?



“Maybe they can’t see in the fog and might fall off.”



“Will somebody go in there and find out what happened to the goats?”



“I didn’t drive over a thousand miles to stand in the fog and look at some damn goats. Let’s eat!”






“Look at the goats.”



“That goat’s on a rope. Why?”



“To keep him from falling.”



“Goats don’t fall. That’s why they’re goats.”



“What ever happened to that good looking old goat?”



“You mean the one your sister married the third time around?”



“What do the goats do in winter?’



“They fly South.”



“How come they don’t say anything?”



“What do you want them to say? This grass is good?”



“Don’t they say ‘baaaa’ or something?



“Sheep say ‘baaaa”. Goats say something else.”






“Damn if I know.”



“We drove by last night around midnight, and there were no goats up there.”



“You probably couldn’t see them. Goats sleep on their side at night.”



“How do you know?”



“I’m guessing. That’s how my dog sleeps.”



“I’m surprised they don’t fall off.”



“Look at the goats.”



“How do they get them up there?”



“They throw them up there from the back of a pickup.”



“They do not. They’d break their legs. They’d kill them”



“Where do you think they get those Swedish meatballs?”






“Where are the goats?”



“Where are the goats?”



“Where are the goats?