Thoughts like goats
The capriciousness of ideas
The first time I saw an image of goats in a tree, I thought it was photo-shopped. Having investigated further, I’ve learned that it’s a real thing.
The goats are encouraged to climb argan trees in Morocco to eat the leaves and fruit. Not only does the tree provide a valuable source of nourishment in this sparse landscape, but the nuts that the goats spit out later help the trees’ seeds to grow in different locations. The nuts are crushed by local workers to form expensive argan oil, used throughout the world in beauty products and cooking. It’s the perfect symbiosis of goat and man, each benefiting from this extraordinary practice.
During my reading, I was reminded that the Italian word for goat is capra. Inevitably the word and the image of the goats in a tree made me think of the capriciousness of goats — of their skittishness and flighty behaviour. However, etymologists say that the word capriccio, giving us caprice and capriciousness, was a combination of the the words caput and riggio, the head of a hedgehog, and that it originally meant horror (a hedgehog’s hair standing on end). But caprice has certainly evolved to mean an impulsive or unpredictable change in behaviour, or acting on a whim. I think most of us would see goats as far more whimsical and playful than hedgehogs.
Then I got to thinking how capricious thoughts and ideas can be — how they can skip goat-like through one’s mind and be difficult to catch. I used to be envious of writers who said airily they had hundreds of ideas, that their minds were brimming with them, and that their principal problem was knowing which ones to choose. I felt that I was pretty barren on the ideas front.
Only very recently have I come to realise that I am constantly having creative ideas, and that my problem all along has been not writing them down. I needed to catch hold of these elusive beasts before they skipped off to potentially greener pastures.
It’s so important to pen those thoughts, to stop them slipping way, just as argan farmers anxious to maximise their crops have to pen their goats until the season is right to release them into the trees.
And more often than not, it’s the symbiosis of two different, apparently unrelated ideas, that can spark the creative process. Plots don’t just drop fully-formed like fruit into a writer’s lap (well, not often). Instead, we may have to gather a little inspiration from here and a little from there, and let our scribbles sit near each other in a notebook for a while. Then in a few days’ time, when we read through these random jottings, we get a spark of a connection. And that spark forms the basis of our creative work.
But it will only happen if you’ve written something down. Like most work, writing requires a lot of effort, a bit of organisation, and some luck.
Go catch your goat and encourage it to climb a tree. You never know what unexpected benefits it may bring.
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