The Goat Herder, The Fox, and The Owl
Once there lived a goat herder who came from a large family. The tenth of eleven children, he was gentle and good natured, but he had been born with a tiny pair of horns. At first the horns were barely visible, but as he grew, the horns grew, too. People stared. The family was well known in the community and could not stand the gossip. So when the boy reached adolescence, the eldest son sent him to a hillside to tend the goats, so he would no longer embarrass the family.
One day the young goat herder made friends with a fox. The fox was charming and made the goat herder feel special. They played together, and the fox told him how beautiful his horns were. The goat herder relished this new sense of belonging. He looked forward to visits from the fox. For the first time in his life, he appreciated who he was.
That spring eleven baby goats were born. Each evening at dusk, the goat herder counted the babies. Then he watched them fall asleep peacefully. He curled up under the branch of a willow and slept for the night. When morning came, the goat herder counted the babies again. This time he only counted ten. He cried out in horror. He felt so ashamed of himself for falling asleep. The fox came to him and said he’d heard an owl in the night and that was what most likely happened to the baby. He promised to help the goat herder watch over the babies while he slept. The goat herder was grateful for the help and a good night’s sleep.
That evening the goat herder counted ten baby goats. He smiled knowing the fox had his back. The next morning, the goat herder counted the babies again, but one was missing. He cried until the fox came and told him there had been a terrible storm, and one of the goats had run off in fear. Although the goat herder was devastated, he was encouraged by the fox.
This went on night after night. Each time the fox told the goat herder a convincing story about why one of the baby goats had disappeared. Nevertheless, the goat herder became so discouraged, he couldn’t think straight. His only comfort were the reassurances from his friend, the fox.
On the eleventh night, the goat herder was down to just one baby goat. He was determined to keep this baby safe, but he grew so sleepy. He called out to the fox, “I can’t stay awake. Please, watch out for my last baby goat. I just need a few hours of sleep.”
“Of course, my beautiful friend,” the fox said, “it would be my pleasure! You rest, I will have your back.” And so the goat herder drifted off into a peaceful slumber.
The next morning the goat herder woke to silence. No sounds from the valley. Now all the baby goats were gone! The goat herder cried in horror. He sobbed loudly, hoping the fox would soon be by his side. He cried and cried, but still the fox did not come.
The goat herder cried all day and all night until his tears formed a river around his house. He decided he had no choice but to drown himself in his own tears.
Suddenly, just as he waded into the river, he saw an owl fly over head. He became frightened, then angry.
He remembered that the fox told him the owl had eaten the first baby goat. He screamed at the owl and shook his fists in rage. The owl stopped in front of him, his large, unblinking eyes stunned the goat herder into stillness. The owl told him what he knew about the fox and what he had seen. The goat herder realized he had been tricked.
He understood that he’d so desperately sought approval, he paid attention to his pride and not the feelings in his heart. The owl said, “you have a big heart and need to accept your goodness. Trust yourself. Avoid those who only want to fill you with a false sense of pride.”
From that day on, the goat herder and the owl became good friends. Unlike the fox, the owl was not full of flattery and praise. The owl used his wisdom to help the goat herder gain confidence in himself. Eventually the goat herder found companions that were kind to him and did not take advantage of his innocence.
The goat herder learned to trust his heart and value his love, generosity, and sweet nature – horns and all.