I’m Your Mama

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From Jane’s World

It starts with a phone message from the Viola post office: “Your ducks are here and they're loud. Come pick them up.”

It’s almost noon, and the post office always closes for an hour so the postmaster can eat lunch. I step on the gas.

The CLOSED sign is up when I get there but I can hear someone talking, so I call out: “Hello, it’s Jane Schmidt. You called to say my ducks were in, but they’re geese. Can I get them?”

On the way home I talk to the goslings, telling them “I’m your mama.” I’m almost the first person they’ve seen, as they’re only a few days old, and I want them to imprint on me.

I name the American Buff goose Tickles, because she loves to be petted and scratched under her chin. The white Roman goose I name The Professor. She’s all white with a tuft on top of her head, and she walks with her head cocked to one side and her beak up. Both of them are friendly and eat from my hand. Soon they’re honking whenever I come home or when anyone stops to visit. And they watch over my flock of ducks like a couple of guardian angels.

I’ve heard plenty of stories about geese chasing people and biting them, but never Tickles or The Professor. When they approach anyone they’re looking for a pat or a handout—preferably tomatoes, their favorite.

On a typical day, Tickles is lounging on the porch, The Professor by her side. Or the two of them are splashing and bobbing in their kiddie pool, looking like synchronized athletes. Coming home from work, I often see these two buddies up near the road, while the flock is down below either playing in a rain puddle or eating the leftover seed I toss out for them every morning from the parakeet cage.

For over ten years now I’ve been entertained and kept company by these two, and have never once been angry with either of them. Sometimes Tickles might take a piece of lettuce too fast from my hand and I’ll feel her little bitty goose "teeth" scrape my finger, but I only have to say, “Easy, easy girl!” and she gently backs off.

Watching Tickles and The Professor along with my flock of ducks brings me endless joy. They’re an integral part of my home, and I love watching them play in the creek, poke around the yard looking for tasty treats, or hunker down out of the sun under the crab apple tree.

But now they’re both gone, along with all but two of my precious ducks. 

When I came out to feed them yesterday morning, the smell of blood was thick in the air. It was clear Tickles had tried to defend the flock: her head was pulled through a small hole the raccoon had made in the chicken wire, and she lay half in and half out of the pen. The Professor was standing nearby but leaning to one side, her head down at an unnatural angle, blood dripping from her mouth. I carried her gently to the kiddie pool that I’d already filled with clean, cold water.

Dane drove over right away and helped me find the other survivors of this horrible coon attack. The small duck door had been moved about five inches, and six ducks were dead inside. The ones that were still alive stumbled outside or sat in catatonic fear. 

Some limped to the creek; two fled into the tall weeds. Téte, the dog I refer to as naughty, helped track them down. We never found Clara, one of my new Blue Swedish ducklings.

We carried each duck carefully back to the kiddie pool and set them in it with The Professor. Dane went to his car for his.22. We had to do the merciful thing—The Professor would never have recovered from her broken neck. Next Dane shot Dalva, the duck whose eyes were torn out and who had a gaping hole behind her head. Before long Charlotte flipped over in the pool. I quickly pulled her out but she stayed on her back, legs shaking, and died.

Dane cleaned out the Duckhall, gathering the broken birds into three bags, which he placed outside the door. But he couldn’t remove the stench of senseless violence and death from their little house. 

The whole time Louisa, the pig, made a low guttural noise, unlike any sound she’s made before. The Goat Palace where she and the goats live is right next door to where the massacre took place. Louisa, the donkeys, and my cats and dogs all seemed despondent as Dane cleaned up and I cared for the six wounded ducks.

Eventually I dragged myself to work, feeling like bricks were attached to my shoes, each step a heavy effort. I felt wobbly from so much grief and the carnage we had witnessed.

All day I thought only about coming back home—but when I did, one more duck was dead. 

Last night we patched the chicken wire and nailed the duck door shut until we can make it coon proof. This morning Dane pulled the nail out and three ducks, still covered in dried blood, came down the ramp. I had to go inside and get the other two—one hasn’t moved at all since we found them, and the other has a badly broken leg.

I filled the kiddie pool with fresh water, set these damaged ones carefully in the water, and whispered, “I’m still your mama. I’ll take care of you.” But I can’t heal them, and I worry that I can’t even keep them safe, now that the raccoon knows where they live.

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Originally Published August 1st, 2019 in the Crawford County Independent & Kickapoo Scout