Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Notes in the Midst of Grief

Hi Folks. Thanks for stopping by.

As I've struggled to come to terms with the death of Pretty Boy Duck, I've stuggled, too, with my memories of him, and my inability to articulate the sights and sounds that made him so special to me. There are no words to describe the noises he made while in my care: the snuffling, honking sounds that were his warning to me to stop touching him; the throaty, glottal noises that actually sounded more like a croaking frog than anything else, as he chomped repeatedly on that offending hand of mine. The closest I can come is to borrow from Bob Tarte's description of his own ducks, muttering something along the lines of, "duck, duck, duck." I miss those noises.

There's another noise I miss just as much: the sound of my own voice hollering, "GOOD MORNING, PRETTY BOY!!! HOW YA DOIN', HANDSOME BUBBY?" It was the same thing I yelled every morning. He'd come running from wherever he was, intent on being the first to get to the corn I'd dumped out on the ground. Even if he was the last duck to arrive, he'd still shoulder his way to the head of the hand-out line, coming to a stop right in the middle of the pile of corn. He was usually no more than a foot away from me, and I often reached out to stroke his feathers while he ate.

There was an incident which took place in my bathroom that I think I'll cherish the most among all my memories of that goofy duck. I had asked boyfriend John to come over and take pictures of Pretty Boy and I during one of his stays last summer. I like to document my critter adventures so that I can show you - not just tell you - what I was up to. So I stood in my bathroom holding Pretty Boy as John snapped away with the camera. Things were going well enough until I felt a strange presence against my neck. Pretty Boy was up to something, but I couldn't tell what. "What's he doing?" I asked John.

"Nothing," he replied. Like hell!

Calmly, I pressed the issue, "Are you sure he's not going for my jugular?"

"I'm sure," said John. Hmmmmm. It sure FELT like he was going for my jugular!

It wasn't until I got the film developed that I saw exactly what Pretty Boy had been doing. Look for yourself - scroll up the photos on the right side of this page until you get to one with a caption underneath that reads, "Apparently, I've been forgiven!" John was right: Pretty Boy hadn't been going for a vein at all; instead, he appeared to be snuggling up against me. It's something he never did before or after that day. It was a wonderful moment, and I'm thrilled that it was recorded on film.

In the weeks immediately following Pretty Boy's death, I had to endure two other losses. First came old Mikey out at the horse barn. I'd been away from the barn for a few months, and just assumed that when I returned, I'd find everything the way I'd left it. Boy, was I wrong. I walked in one Saturday in late March to find Mikey pacing frantically up and down the aisles. When I asked Nancy about it, she told me that he was dying. I don't know about you, but my mind doesn't easily wrap itself around something as frank as, "He's dying." But when I pressed her further, it started making sense. Old Mikey was thirty-two years old. He'd been decrepit for years. And now, his organs were shutting down.

Nancy had put a call in to the equine vet, who came out and euthanized Mikey a couple hours later. We'd finished cleaning the stalls by then, and Mandy, feeling a bit overwhelmed, I think, by the prospect of watching a horse die, decided to head home. I stuck around, hoping that by being a part of the end of Mikey's life, death would somehow become easier to bear. I turned out to be wrong about that, too. Death - or, more specifically, loss - hurts like hell. And you can't cheat your way out of that fact no matter how hard you try. As the drugs coursed through Mikey's veins, I sobbed quietly, as much for the loss of Pretty Boy as for that old horse. Mikey'd had a good long life, all right, but I hadn't been ready to say good-bye.

A few days after Mikey passed, I was at McKinnon's Pond feeding the ducks when I noticed that white Pekin Peepers was missing. Being fairly certain that Peeps was male, I felt sure that he wasn't sitting on a nest of eggs somewhere. And no matter how big that pond is, it's very hard to miss a big white duck. I made a mental note of his absence and continued with my day.

I got home to find a voice mail from Pat Mitchell. There was something in the sound of her voice that told me bad news was in the offing, and I said as much as I left a message for her. When we finally connected, she said, "It is bad news but probably not who you think." She thought I'd be worried about Ducky, but I already knew better. "No," I replied, "it's a white Pekin, isn't it?" She answered in the affirmative; Peepers had died.

She and Pete had found him acting strangely at the pond that morning. Unable to balance himself, he appeared as though drunk or drugged. Pat managed to catch him - and normally, those domestics can run pretty fast - which told me that he was really badly sick or injured. She brought him back to the house and put him in a quiet place, where he died later the same day. Now Pat was asking whether I wanted the body. When she offered to bury him on her property, I thanked her and agreed that that would be best.

Like Pretty Boy before him, I'd known Peepers since he was an egg. He'd been one of the last ducklings hatched before I'd instituted the Planned Duckhood project. Because Pretty Lady had popped out a few more eggs after he arrived, Peeps spent a lot of time on his own, following the other Pekins around and learning from them how to be a duck. He was an intrepid little soul, and braver than most ducklings: he approached me at feeds much earlier than usual with young ducks, which charmed me no end.

Peepers and I were never close in the way I was with Pretty Boy. But he learned his name, and was among the handful who trusted me enough to get close at the feeds without worrying about the hulking human sitting among them. I would have been sorry to see him go under the best of circumstances, but these were not, as we already know, any kind of good circumstances to begin with. The loss of Peeps was yet another straw on the camel's back.

So it's been a difficult time, lately. I still go feed the ducks three times a week, but it's with a heavy heart, and lacks the enthusiasm I enjoyed all those years I'd stand watching that big goofy duck racing toward me, Girlfriend Duck in tow, flapping his bill in anticipation of food and a visit. I just don't have the same relationship with any of the remaining ducks, so my joy is muted.

I'll continue to feed the ducks, though, and make my rounds during egg-laying season. I'll continue to holler things like, "GOOD MORNING, DUCKS! EVERYBODY COME HAVE CORN!" I'll continue to be a little embarassed when humans overhear me talking to them. And I'll continue to miss that funny, enigmatic, big, black, bossy duck, Pretty Boy.

That's all for now, folks. Thanks so much for stopping by. Until next time, please be kind to all the critters!

1 comment:

kctschida said...

I'm so sorry. Having three animals die on you so close together must be really hard to deal with. I know feeding the ducks seems empty without Pretty Boy and Peepers, and that can be disconcerting, but keep up the good work you do and hopefully another duck will come along to help fill the void.