VERNON COUNTY - Sitting at my desk writing, the sun just having come up, I’m enjoying the peacefulness of dawn when I hear a duck calling out. I wonder if it's Little Bitty, my independent mallard, returning home. The excitement I feel at the possibility of seeing her again makes me stop writing, slip my rubber boots on, and head outdoors.
I don’t see Bitty as I walk to the Duck Hall to let the rest of the flock out. I keep calling for her though, and I’m positive that when she hears me opening the garbage can to get food for the gang, she’ll fly over.
Louisa and the goats are awake and out of the Goat Palace, so I stop to greet them and give Louisa her morning meal: yogurt, vegetables and a banana, part of the new diet for my pig with congestive heart failure. I notice that she’s looking sleeker these days—when I look at her from above she now has an hourglass shape. Feeling pleased at her transformation from a sick girl to a healthier one, I move on.
Finn is sitting near the basement door waiting for his morning meal, but Téte is running back and forth, in and out of the shed. I’m not certain what’s going on with Téte. She’s a bit of a mystery, bright, sensitive, and moody.
I walk over to the shed to get the donkeys their hay. Téte rushes back inside it before me, and I stop in my tracks. There is Little Bitty—dead.
My heart plummets. It’s still dark in the shed and I don’t want to believe my eyes. Maybe she’s sitting on a nest. Maybe it isn’t my Little Bitty. Didn’t I hear her calling out just minutes ago?
But I know. I know it’s Bitty and I know I left the shed door open for her last night in case she might come home. Téte also recognizes that this is not good. She gently noses Bitty, turns to look at me, and sits down.
I pat Téte’s head and tell her, “It’s Bitty, girl—she’s dead.” Together we walk to the basement where Finn is still waiting to get his breakfast. Both dogs gobble up their food. I have no appetite.
I call Dane to tell him the sad news, and he assures me he’ll drive over to put Bitty in a burial box. He guesses Bitty’s life ended with a raccoon encounter. We agree we’ll bury her with the rest of the gang here who have gone before her.
My pet cemetery is overflowing. What started with burying Lewis, my rescue yellow lab, with his tennis ball, has turned into a huge area of departed feathered and furry friends.
I’m surprised at the sorrow I feel at never again anticipating Bitty’s return home. She was a free agent, coming and going, and I was learning to make peace with that. Bitty’s death hits me hard.
Reflecting on Bitty and all the others buried here on my property, I slowly get ready for work. I know death is a part of life that can’t be avoided. I still mourn my dad’s death from many years ago, along with my friend Pat, who recently passed on, and many other friends. I think of my sweet Riley, Lewis, Moses, Gambo, and recently Raime, all the dogs who at one time or another made my life brighter.
Tonight, Dane will bring Bitty out of the shed so all the animals here can say goodbye. We’ll bury her and then carry on as usual.
Isn’t that part of life? The part that rips us in two and leaves us only with sweet memories.
Fly free, Ms. Bitty.