Unexpectedly, the ferocious rain and the wind arrived nearly 24 hours early, catching us at nightfall. We had no choice but to bundle up, grab flashlights and set about wrestling billowing tarps and too short bungee hooks hoping to secure a waterproof rooftop for the run and at least one side wall. It was frustrating and freezing and took much longer than expected to tie down the roof of the chicken run, bolster the coop door against the wind, battle fresh blowing hay into the nesting boxes and preform our nightly chicken tail count before finally securing the doors for the night.
So anxious to get back inside and warm our hands, our thoughts simultaneously turned toward the duck pond. The ice was already forming along the shore line. It could be only hours before it bridged a walkway to Duckwing's safe house
More concerning was the fact that Mrs. Duck normally would have joined us for the winterization of the chicken coop no matter what the weather was like. In spite of the distance between pond and chicken coop, she was a curious and determined participant in all outdoor activities. Recalling Spring and her decision to nest and lay eggs beside the foundation of our front porch, we had set an old dog house on the porch, filled it with fresh straw hoping Mrs. Duck would winter up close to the house this year. She had attached not only to our family, but also to the brood of chickens. Sadly, the makeshift duck house was empty, food and water undisturbed.
Steve whistled for Coop our Weimer. Flashlight in hand, they headed down the hill toward the pond.
Mrs. Duck was not in her floating island, nor could she be found snugged amongst the reeds. They checked her usual hiding places as best they could in the wind and sleet without success. Duckwing was nowhere to be found.
By the next morning, the temps stayed low but the winds were calm. Chickens were dry and happy to leave the safety of the run and begin acclimating to winter in their fenced field. Satisfied that all was well, Steve and Coop cheerfully set out on a long morning walk in search of Mrs. Duck. If this was like any other morning, she would waddle from a new hiding place along the bank of the stream with loud quacking and greeting; goading Cooper to step out into the pond and join her in a swim. He would run along the bank in a wagging frenzy, goading Duckwing to join him for a run on dry ground. Coop would win and the duck would follow the dog slowly up the hill; dog matching his pace and step to her determined waddle.
But this was not like any other morning. I'm not sure if it was Steve or Coop that first discovered Duckwing's final hiding place along the stream bank. All I know is that there was no carnage, no upsetting scene of the natural order of animal life. Winter simply came upon us suddenly and some creature motivated by the same instinct as ours, moved to gather in food; finding Duckwing to be a great providential blessing.
No, there was nothing unsightly in her remains. In fact, it looked as if she had shed not her outer feathers that so deftly blended her colors against her backdrop, but her inner feathers; the ones closest to her breast. There, almost arranged in her small nest were feathers of royal blue, emerald green black onyx and white. It was as if she left us with a parting gift, a remembrance of herself. Steve gathered these and brought them up the long hill to the house, Cooper matching his pace and step.
Duckwing's gift of feathers are arranged in a small clay dish in our kitchen windowsill. The feathers represent happy memories.
Duckling swimming lessons in a bucket of warm water in sub zero weather.
Leaning to peck at the front door to get our attention.
Insisting on sitting or roosting on Steve's foot, Summer evenings on the deck.
Bonding to Coop the dog, following him and putting so much effort into roosting on his back.
Freaking out when we first stocked the pond, quickly calming and putting on 2-3 pounds.
Duck pretending to be a chicken and almost making it into the hen house...almost.
Many more memories and great thanks for her life, her friendship and the richness of life we gained in caring for her.
Farewell, Mrs. Duck.
along with the simple joy we experienced in caring for her.