I thought it was my imagination when I first noticed that the decorative metal goats moved. I was driving by during a busy time of the morning, watching for children and school buses along the route to Ordean East Middle School. So I couldn’t get a good look each time.
But after a few days of remembering to check, I knew I was right. They were in a different spot every day.
It became a game for my daughter and me, turning the corner to see where the goats were. Sometimes they’d be on the sidewalk, sometimes in the grass, sometimes in a tree. Like real goats behave, I suppose.
Then winter came, the city banked in snow. I missed seeing them, but it wasn’t on the top of my mind.
Then this spring, they returned.
“It’s the goats!” I yelled. “They’re back!”
After dropping of my kid, I looped back and stopped to take a picture. The goats seemed to be dressed in their finest that day.
A school bus stopped. A woman got out.
“We love your goats!” she said.
I explained that they’re not mine; I’m just taking a picture.
The woman was Kathy Latture, a bus aide.
“We love it,” she said. “’Cause she moves them every day.”
I stepped into the bus to say hello.
“Between us and the kids, I don’t know who has more fun watching your goats,” said driver Jim Polzin. He was laughing, a huge smile on his face.
I explained again that they’re not my goats. But by now, I knew. In journalism, we’d say this is when “the story finds you.”
Polzin drives a special ed bus, and he said his whole crew looks forward to driving by.
“These are always moving,” he said, “and the kids, they look forward to it. We’re comin’ down, and everybody’s looking out the windows and stuff, and can hardly wait to see the goats and where are they gonna be. They’ve had them up in the tree, up on banks. It’s a lot of fun. They dress them up. Wintertime, before the snow came, they had sweaters on them. It’s just a riot.”
“That one time it was up in the tree, that was really hilarious.”
I left my business card in the yard. “I’d like to talk about your goats,” I wrote on the back and tucked it behind a metal ear.
Graciously, Susanne Avello of 622 N. Hawthorne Road called me back.
“It took me a year to find those things,” she said. “I had to go out of town.”
She got the idea from “a lady on Vermilion Road,” she said. “Oh gosh, that’s really cute,” she thought, and decided to have a bit of fun herself.
“People have left notes, people have mailed me a note, people have left things at my door,” she said. “I’m touched.”
Avello started setting the goats in the yard last summer and moved them almost every day for awhile. Come Halloween, she bought a couple of outfits at the pet store.
“And then I did it for Christmas,” she said.
When the goats made their debut April 4 after the long winter, they were celebrating the marriage of a neighbor’s daughter.
“That was the bridal party that you saw,” she said. “The wedding was that weekend.”
Speaking during the days before Easter, she had already bought little bunny ears.
I asked Avello if it was starting to feel like a chore, tending to the goats almost daily.
“So many people tell me how much they love it, I don’t mind,” she said.
I had a few cellphone photos of the goats, but I told Avello I’d like to arrange for a News Tribune photographer to visit to take a proper portrait.
“Do you really need a picture of me?” she emailed back. “You can use my name, but I would rather be the mysterious goat herder of Hawthorne.”
And somehow, that seemed the perfect ending to this story.
Beverly Godfrey is features editor of the Duluth News Tribune. Write to her at email@example.com.