WEST FORK KICKAPOO - Driving home in a thunderstorm on the meandering road, faster than the posted ‘safe’ speed, both hands clenching the wheel, I tried to keep my panic at bay. My car hydroplaned right where I knew it would after years of driving these winding country roads.
The windshield wipers worked overtime, the left one making an obnoxious squeal at the peak of its arc. For the hundredth time, I thought about how I need to replace it.
Life is like that lately, continually reminding me of things I should have done. Like how I should have turned on both heat lamps in the Duckhall, and changed out the automatic watering bowl for a less-spillable dish. With the drop in temperature from the thunderstorm, I was sure my new ducklings and goslings were dying from the dampness.
By now, they’d have drained their automatic watering bowl, making their wood-shaving floor soaking wet, adding to their chill—and I hadn’t turned the second heat lamp on. Covered in only their baby downy feathers, goslings and ducklings can’t stay warm on their own, especially when wet.
I gripped the wheel harder and slid around another curve on the wet pavement. I was almost home.
Worry, worry, worry, guilt, guilt, more worry … images of a bundle of soft bodies huddled in the corner, taking their last breath, and I was out of the car, racing to the Duckhall, where I flung the door open. The sweet sound of tiny squawks and quacks greeted me. The goslings and ducklings looked robust, while I stood there, an emotional mess.
Perhaps my fear is understandable: the massacre of my flock by an intruder last year was devastating. While it was the raccoon’s doing, I blamed myself for not securing the tears in the fence sooner. Seeing my ever-friendly geese mangled andthe ducks bloody beyond recognition ripped the optimistic Pollyanna out of me.
Since then, I’d missed seeing the flock underneath the crabapple tree when the leaves changed color and the fruit had fallen. I’d missed looking out the kitchen bay window in winter to see them bathing in the creek with unabashed joy on a below-zero day. I missed Tickles and The Professor, my two inseparable geese, and their thunderous ‘Welcome home!’ as they’d rush up to greet me in a feathered flurry.
While gardeners spent the winter fantasizing about seeds, I thumbed through the catalog from McMurray Hatchery, dreaming about waterfowl. But an overwhelming grief would settle in my heart, and I’d put the catalog aside.
Finally, late this spring, filled with trepidation, I placed an order for two goslings and ten ducklings.
Now, here was Sushi, an abandoned duck I had taken in three weeks before the rest of the gang came home, acknowledging me silently. Once the loudest and loneliest duckling, she rarely makes a peep these days, content in her comfy home with her new friends. Watching me scurry about—removing the wet bedding, turning on the extra heat lamp, closing the windows, switching out their fancy water bowl, refilling their grain dish, and picking fresh grass for a treat—she remained nonplussed.
Stepping over Sushi, who acted more like a meditating monk than a once-wild duckling, I could almost hear her say, “Mom, you gotta chill. We’re pretty warm and not even too wet.”
I stood at the door and watched everyone get settled down again, dry now and with their bellies full, and thought about fear. Living out in the country brings me plenty of opportunities to feel afraid. Heavy springtime rains make me rigid with fear of more flooding, where neighbors lose their crops, basements fill with water, and houses cave in. Going a few steps off the well-worn trail into the tall grasses to photograph tiger lilies makes me shudder at the possibility of another tick-borne infection.
As I stepped out and closed the Duckhall door, Eleanor, the larger of my two new goslings, seemed to call out to me, as if quoting her namesake, Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”Yes, Eleanor, you’re right. I vow to fear less and love more.