Lifetimes: life & death on the farm 

We lost this pretty female black Swedish duck last week. I’m not really sure what happened to her. She always had a gimpy wing that stuck out straight from her side but other than that she looked healthy.

I went out with our dog Soju for a walk around the pond sometime in the afternoon. As we came around the back most of the ducks swim out into the pond to get away from us. I noted however that one was missing from the flock. I looked around and saw her near the edge of the pond. Even when Soju and I got close she just laid there in the dry leaves and watched us. A duck that doesn’t run from a dog is not a good sign.

I took Soju back up to the house and came back to check on the duck. This time when I came close to her she did get up and walk away. She looked a little wobbly but otherwise OK, so I left her be.

Evening fell and here came a line of duckies waddling up the hill from the pond. I watch them through the window and counted as they scooted through the little door into the coop. As I had suspected, we were one short.

So back down I went to where I had left her earlier. At first I couldn’t find her and I worried that maybe something had carried her off. We have lost a duck or two to coyotes. Just as I was about to head back up to the house, I saw her little fluffy butt sticking out from under a great big tree that had fallen over long ago. She was tucked in behind a bramble of wild black raspberry bushes. It was difficult but I pushed my way in and picked her up. 

She felt so very light and her tiny black  eyes were barely open. She opened her bill to quack but no sound came out. I knew then that things were very dire for this sweet little bird.

I carried her up to the workshop and set up a bed of straw for her. I tried to get her to drink some water or to eat something but she just wanted to lay down and close her eyes.

At least in the workshop, she would be safe from predators and warm and comfortable on her bed of straw.  I told her good night and said a little prayer that she would be there to say good morning to the next day or that, if it was her time to go, she wasn’t in any pain.

When I came out in the morning, she had passed.

It is surprising how much affection you can feel for an animal that you didn’t even give a name.  We try to be gentle and respectful with our animals, but also to understand that they are here in this place to provide us with nourishment and food, not to be our pets.  It’s hard not to get attached to those funny little ducks though. They have so much personality and such soulful little eyes. 

I took her out by the pond and dug a hole to bury her. I picked a spot where she could watch her flock swimming in the sunshine.

When I was teaching and we lost a pet or a child had a loss in their family, we often read a book called Lifetimes.  This lovely children’s book talks about how different types of creatures have different natural lifespans.  A gerbil won’t live as long as a person and a person probably won’t live as long as a healthy hardwood tree.  Hopefully we get to live out our expected lifetime but sometimes creatures also die early.  Everything that is living will eventually die; death is a part of life.  

I love this book because it is so matter-of-fact and honest about life and death.  I thought of it as I buried our little duck.  She didn’t get to live out her expected lifetime, but the time that she had was full of good living: days spent with her flock swimming out on the pond, afternoons spent foraging for bugs in the yard, and nights tucked in safe in the coop.

Such is life everywhere but especially here on the farm: lots of good living and sometimes some death too. It’s all a part of the cycle of the natural world, and we give thanks for the time that we have together, here in this place. 

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