Cruising toward Essex Junction, I snuck a peek at my customers. It was not readily apparent whether the two girls — one ensconced in the front and one in the rear of my taxi — were dressed up for Halloween or just being generally festive. On Halloween night, it can be surprisingly hard to tell.
The girl sitting beside me wore a bright-blue skirt and matching kerchief. She had braided her black hair into long, curled pigtails that extended onto an embroidered peasant blouse. Whatever she was, she was cute as a button. Her friend in the back was similarly attired. Shepherdesses? Barmaids?
These two were sharing the cab with, and thanks to the courtesy of, two regular customers, a couple who live near Five Corners. No question about their intentions that night — unless they regularly dressed as Fred and Wilma Flintstone, which I knew was not the case. As we motored along, they sat happily side by side in the backseat, a little in love and a little drunk. Stuey, or Fred, balanced a wooden club on the floor between his legs — de rigueur weaponry for the husband in your modern Stone Age family. Yabba-dabba do.
“So, I gotta ask,” I started up, “are you girls, like, some kinda Eastern European peasants?”
They both laughed. “Eastern European?” My seatmate was incredulous. “Where do you get Eastern European? I’m a Scotswoman, and Megan there in the back is an Irishwoman. Can’t you tell?”
“Really?” I countered skeptically. “Don’t get me wrong — you both look fabulous. But I don’t exactly get it. Are you, like, refugees from Lord of the Dance?”
“Nope, we’re being milkmaids — which, believe it or not, are our jobs in real life. Megan and I work on a goat farm in Westfield.”
“Well, that’s very cool. How’d you get into that gig?”
Megan, the “Irishwoman” in the back, jumped in. “I grew up in Derby and my folks knew the Westfield farm owners. I think they, like, went to high school with my mom or something like that. Anyway, they needed some hands, and Dorey and I love this kind of work, so we’ve been at it since the spring.”
“How’d you girls get so interested in farm work?”
Dorey said, “I grew up on a small farm in Westfield, Mass. I know — it’s a crazy coincidence. My folks managed a herd of alpaca.”
“Wow, that is wild. Alpaca are sort of mini-llamas, do I got that right?”
“Sort of. Alpaca are smaller than llamas, but not, like, Mini-Me-sized. Basically, they’re gentle creatures, but they can get nasty, especially the males. The testosterone builds up and they get to biting and wrestling for dominance. Sometimes they spit at each other, which is kind of gross. Their fleece, though, is awesome — it produces a soft and beautiful fabric.”
We cruised past the St. Michael’s campus. Just as they had been at UVM, costumed students were milling about despite the late hour. It’s great to be young, carefree and, no doubt, caffeinated, I thought.
My mind drifted . . . Alpaca, goats — it’s a new world of husbandry coming to the fore over the last couple of decades, along with the growth of organic and heirloom agriculture. I’ve heard that Vermont has more than 20 percent of its arable land in organic production, apparently leading the nation on that score. Anything that helps keep the green in the Green Mountains is cause for celebration in my book.
“So is the work year round?” I re-engaged my seatmate. “D’ya go through the winter?”
“No, it’s already winding down. Next week I’m moving to another goat farm in Oregon.”
“Then she’s traveling to Indonesia to hook up with her sweetie,” Megan interjected from the back.
Dorey bowed her head modestly. “Well, that’s the plan, anyway. My boyfriend is over there working on a rural development project.”
“So, gettin’ back to those goats,” Stuey said, jumping into the conversation. “I’m interested in the milkin’ process.”
Stuey, who grew up on a dairy farm in Alburgh, had all kinds of questions about the care and tending of goats. His back-and-forth with the milkmaids quickly grew technical and lost me. My understanding of dairy farming — cow or goat — begins and ends with the dispensing of the white stuff over my Cheerios in the morning. It was, however, amusing to watch a caveman discussing Holsteins with two St. Pauli girls.
The Flintstones got off first, and we moseyed over to Lincoln Street to drop off Dorey and Megan, two bright and engaging young women. Not every person desires a desk job, it occurred to me. I’m glad that the economy is beginning to generate new and rewarding opportunities for folks who feel a pull to work on the land.
Paying me the fare, Dorey said, “Burlington sure is a fun town.”
“Yup,” I agreed, “but no goats.”
“Sad but true,” she said with a sigh. “Not even on Halloween.”