The goats were a complete surprise. To be sure, I plainly saw the large goat symbol on the map, but I expected something more like a monument to a special goat, a local hero perhaps, or maybe just a peculiarly goat-shaped rock. Instead, I rode into an alarming situation: dozens of little children with goats - playing on teeter-totters, gallivanting through grassland, climbing wooden structures. With goats, I said. As many goats as children.
I had been cycling just outside of Amsterdam on a rented bike, following a rough plan to ride through some of the biggest parks. At the entrance of this, the Amsterdam Woods, I found the trail map that had so piqued my interest with its depiction of a goat squarely in the middle of an otherwise run-of-the-mill green field. No explanation or legend to suggest its meaning - just a cheerful, bearded bovid.
The park was beautiful. The first part followed the long side of the Bosbaan, which is the oldest artificial rowing course in the world. Afterwards, it plunged into thick green forest. It was a rainy day - perfect for riding. The clouds scattered the light just how I like it, and in the heavily-wooded area, I felt I was lost in a dream-land. I could have ridden like that forever, but my bike was due back at the rental office in three hours.
When I arrived (and after recovering from the amazement of what I had come upon), I locked up my bike and went into the little hut which served up various foods and drinks. I got myself a nice frosty drink and stepped outside to find a picnic table.
The families were adorable. The children were so happy to be playing with goats that I couldn't help but be happy with them. After all, is there anything more joyful than a pen full of primates and cloven-hoofs getting along so famously? The surrounding land was interesting too - small gardens, some pasture, a little pond, and of course forest all around. I decided to stay a little longer, so I went back inside to find a snack. I picked up what looked like a traditional filled pastry.
The woman at the cash register smiled pleasantly. "Is this all?" she politely asked. "Yes, this is all. Say, what do you call this, exactly?" I pointed to the alleged pastry. She made some sounds that are for me impossible to replicate with the 26 letters of the English alphabet. I nodded thoughtfully, as if I better understood her culture for hearing the name of my food spoken aloud. "And what is it, exactly? A traditional dessert?" She looked a little embarrassed. "Oh, no! It is savory. It is, how do you say-" she waved her arms vaguely around the room a little and consulted with a co-worker. "Yes, it is goat," she finished, and then looked around somewhat abashedly: "You know, from around here." She smiled a nervous smile.
I returned to my picnic table with a profound sense of guilt weighing upon me. Suddenly, the cheerful, squealing kids and balancing teeter-totter goats took on a baleful significance which did not escape me as I bit into my goat-snack. It was delicious. This made me feel worse, but I finished it anyway, along with a cup of coffee.
And maybe it was the infectious giggles of the children or maybe the stimulants in my coffee, but I decided that if the goats were to die anyway, it was best they died in this condition: presumably happy, bathed in a climate of mirth and youth. I imagined these goats had no regrets about their fate, and this cheered me up considerably. Wiping my smiling mouth, I stood up to bid the place a fond farewell. Then, I hopped back on my bicycle and rode out of the woods, along a stunning lake, past an old windmill, and and right on by a sign welcoming me back to Amsterdam.