Our rescued Canada goose, Gertie, and our pet mallard, Doc, continued to entertain my husband and me. Gertie the goose stretched her neck, getting her head as close to me as possible, and told me stories. I loved hearing the soft, whispery wiggle-wiggle sounds. When I gave them their favorite treat, watermelon, Gertie gave me an extra wiggle-wiggle-wiggle thank you.
At our home in the Dells, Gertie and Doc only had a kiddy pool inside a dog pen so I let them run free in our back yard as much as possible. One afternoon, when Gertie heard the neighbors across the street talking, she streaked off and crossed the road to make new friends. The duck followed Gertie, and I brought up the rear, chasing after them. I managed to herd them back that time. The second time they wandered, they snuck away.
I should have been suspicious. They’d been preening all afternoon. My husband Frank was grilling out, and we were checking on them every few minutes. When I realized they were gone, I called my usual “Duck-duck.” Previously, they’d come running when they heard that call, but this evening there wasn’t an answering honk-quack or flapping of wings. We searched the fringe of woods, their pen, the front yard, the neighbors, and their favorite resting area where I often set out watermelon. But they were gone.
I searched harder, stepping into the heavy poison-ivy laden woods bordering our property. Calling Duck-duck, I hiked through neighbors’ backyards. When people appeared, I told them about my rebellious pets and asked them to let me know if they saw them. Finally I drove around our neighborhood trying not to imagine seeing their flattened bodies.
When I heard a neighbor’s caged dog barking, I had high hopes. They were surely near the dog pen on the edge of a woods. I parked the car and ventured through thick brush until I reached the dog pen, but no goose and duck in sight. Where could they be?
I returned home to check the woods near our house more carefully while Frank took a turn driving around. After searching for two hours, we were sure we’d never see them again. They wouldn’t survive the night if they got into heavy traffic and without being able to fly yet, they were in danger from roving coyotes and foxes.
Heartsick, I stood on our deck not sure what to do. Then, precisely at 8:15, their usual bedtime, I heard a honk-quack. With an extra excited flutter of wings, they scooted to the back door. They’d come home!
After a finger shaking and a scolding, I studied them. Where had they gone? What adventures had they had? They weren’t revealing. Darn those teenagers.
I tucked them into their pen. I might have been overly generous with the duck food and watermelon treat that night.
Our teenagers obviously needed more adventure, so shortly after their sneaking out, we brought them to our northern Wisconsin cabin. There, they had an entire lake to explore. One day they followed us on a kayak adventure. When we paddled too fast, Doc got tired. My husband swept his arm behind her, scooped her up and settled her on the back of the kayak. Doc rode on the kayak until she’d rested, then slipped off to paddle alongside again. When she tired once more, she hopped up on her own. Our teens still needed us, but they were becoming more independent all the time.
On August 6th both goose and duck could fly short distances. That night, we didn’t pen them up in the garage. How would they handle the lack of curfew, the freedom to stay out all night? We hoped for the best.
I slept fitfully. When they were in the garage, they both could rest knowing they were safe from predators. But in the wild, one would have to stay alert. Could they keep watch all night? If they were hiding in the grasses and a coyote or weasel attacked, would they be fast enough to scoot into the lake? Would they be able to handle the challenges of the scary and wild world?
At 5:00 a.m., I hurried down to the water. Heavy fog made it hard to see. “Gertie! Doc!” I called. I stepped toward the shoreline of grasses. When a flock of ten wood ducks flushed, I jumped. Gertie and Doc swam out of the mist toward me.
They’d been sleeping around with strangers, and I couldn’t have been more proud.
If you’d like to read the last Gertie story, click the link http://laundrie.com/gertie-the-conclusion.