WEST FORK KICKAPOO - Today has been quite a day for Wilma, a stoic tufted Roman goose with a quiet, gentle soul. Quiet, that is,until she’s alone in the Duckhall, without her fellow feathered companion-since-birth, Eleanor.
I came home to find Wilma screeching for Eleanor, a large buff goose, and Eleanor answering her back. In fact, the whole flock was in the creek, as near to the Duckhall—and Wilma—as they could get and still remain in the water.
Eleanor was presiding over the flock and making it known, before I even stepped out of my car, that she wasn’t happy.
“Free Wilma, free Wilma!” was the chant I imagined I heard in their cacophony, while Wilma countered with “Eleanor! Eleanor!,” reminding me of Rocky in his famous movie, yelling for “Adrian... AAAdriiaaann!”
Wilma and Eleanor came to live with me in the beginning of June. They spent their early days basking under the heat lamp until they were old enough to go out and soak up the sun. Soon, they were spending all their days in the creek, mostly lounging in or near the Hidey-hole.
But from the moment winter began, mild though it has been, Wilma has had issues. On one of the first cold days, Dane called me as he came into the house with dear Wilma in his arms. “Jane, come here—we have a problem.”
Thinking she was too cold, we put a blanket in the bathtub, turned the heater on, set her down, and closed the door. At bedtime we carried Wilma down to the Duckhall and set her inside with the others to sleep. The next morning, Wilma followed the flock down to the creek and life seemed good again for her.
Luckily, I’m in the habit of counting my ducks, and so is Dane. It was on his shift that Wilma went missing again. Down to the Hidey-hole he trudged, only to find Wilma stuck on an ice floe like Sir Shackleton's boat, the Endurance.
With the finesse of any 68-year-old man in heavy winter boots and coat, Dane tried every which way to urge Wilma to get up and move. She resisted. When Dane enlisted my help, I brought with me my trusty pool noodle, while Dane carried a stick.
“Shoo, shoo,” I called as I waved the wobbly noodle as close to her as possible without falling into the water myself. Meanwhile Dane used his stick to splash water in hopes of getting her to move; his encouraging words weren't nearly as kind as mine.
As the sun set and darkness fell on the valley, Wilma was having no part of a rescue. Gallantly, if not gracefully, Dane stepped into the icy water, grabbed her, and carried her back to the Duckhall.
A few days later, when the other geese and ducks came out of the Hidey-hole at dusk and waddled single-file to the Duckhall for dinner, a sip of fresh water, and lights out, there were only 11 soldiers when there should have been a dozen.
Up to the house I went to fetch my headlamp and change into my rubber boots. This time, with gentle but persistent persuasion I was able to urge Wilma into a shallower part of the creek and nab her.
Not many days later, Wilma was again MIA when everyone else was safe and sound in the Duckhall. This time we found her easily enough, but between the two of us we just couldn't reach her. Wilma stayed in the middle of the deepest water in the Hidey-hole and refused to get out.
Dane performed moves similar to an Olympic gymnast as he hugged the snow-covered boulders, grabbed the top of the culvert, and swung himself into the gigantic metal tube that frames the Hidey-hole. It didn’t work.
Eventually the darkness came to our aid. As Wilma drew closer to the land, we were once again able to pick her up and carry her back to the Duckhall and to her beloved Eleanor.
This latest prank earned Wilma a time-out in the Duckhall the following day. However, just like when a child is sent to her room, it was harder on us than on her. She screeched all day long until the flock came back home in the evening.
Nowadays, Wilma seems to alternately spend her days in my bathroom, in my arms, stuck on an ice floe, or isolated in the Duckhall. Her foot seems lame, but she can walk when we follow her. She can swim, but that foot appears to act more like a rudder. And yet upon careful examination, with me holding her and Dane studying her foot, we can’t see any obvious problems or injuries.Dear Wilma has become a high-maintenance goose. Luckily, she has a sweet, silly disposition. But I can’t help wondering, was dear Wilma meant to be a snowbird?