Welcome back to Magnetic North, where preparations for winter are underway.
With my winter’s hay supply nearly taken care of, I turn my attention to another matter of life and death in this part of the world: warmth.
I lost my old goat, Lucky, last winter during a particularly horrid spell of below zero weather. As the only goat left in a barn once heated by seven big fuzzy cashmere bodies, Lucky had to make do with deep straw bedding and the company of a small flock of feathered admirers, three chickens, two turkeys and two geese.
And he did well. I am certain that it was age, some sudden goat malady PLUS the forty-below night that did Lucky in. That allows me only a percentage of guilt. Enough to satisfy my eternal maternal need to suffer, but not enough to drive me to a warmer climate. Or to give up keeping goats.
Now, only six months after losing Lucky, the barn is once again fairly bursting with life. Six goats, two geese, a turkey, three chickens and a big - and I mean REALLY BIG - super fuzzy llama.
My llama, Summer, is named well. For it appears that she will extend the warmer months, at least INSIDE the barn, for all of the other critters. On a chilly morning just this week, I found the two youngest kid goats, Daisy and Dolly, snuggled against Summer’s shoulder. The six-plus foot tall camelid sleeps on the straw. Her long, long legs are tucked under her belly. And the generous lengths of her fiber on her flanks and shoulders and neck fan out around her like the coziest of shawls.
No wonder the little goats seek her out. The heat that emanates from her body would be enticing enough. But that thick, luscious fleece! Come to think of it, with Summer out there, I finally have a heated barn! And without spending a nickel on insulation or electricity.
Now if only there were an animal that could fill three water buckets twice a day and muck out the barn floor weekly. Alas, that animal, I fear, is me. But hey, with all those extra critters to water and clean up after, I’m thinking I’ll be baring arms as buff as First Lady Michelle Obama’s in no time.
My workout this past week came as I moved the dozen Mallard ducklings from their juvenile detention facility to our meadow pond. With Paul unable to drive the tractor trailer from the duck yard to the pond, I cheat and load two dog crates into the back of my vehicle, back it up to the pen and proceed with the roundup.
Just in case you ever need to relocate wild ducks - never say never! I’ll walk you through the process. It’s fun. Really!
First off, do not grab a duck by its wings or feet, lest you render them unable to live anywhere but by your back door. Catching them in fish nets or grasping their bodies is also out. Their bones are like china. Again, you break. You buy. That pretty much leaves the neck. The perfect handle for duck transport.
But won’t they hate that? Wild ducks hate to be caught in any fashion. So believe me when I tell you that as long as you carry them only a few feet by their necks they won’t be any the worse for wear.
They will hate you no matter how you carry them. And after a few feedings, they will forgive.
I’m into my sixth season of Mallard roundups, so I catch and carry two ducks at a time and no one’s ever passed out in the process. Me included. All in all it took less than ten minutes to catch and release the lot into the pond. Paul and our dog, Scout, rode down to the water’s edge with me this time and stood by while the flock bolted from their crates.
There are few sights more delightful than water birds enjoying their very first real swim. They roll. They dive. They flap their wings and seem to stand on their tail feathers amidst a shower of diamond droplets. It’s magical. But for my insistence on bleating out a stanza of “Born Free” it is almost spiritual.
Now, every day until freeze-up, we deliver the ducks their feed. Soon their first feathers molt and the green on the drakes will appear. The females color up less, but are still gorgeous.
Some years the flock flies up into our yard daily, seeking to steal food from the domestic birds. Other times, the mallards keep their distance. These always take off the soonest. None ever come to say goodbye. Maybe they resent that neck carry after all.
This summer has been a strange one for us. Paul is just now walking without the walker more than with it. It’s over five months since he broke his hip the morning of the last big blizzard. We call this his “lost summer.” No tending his three miles of trails. No riding mower. No putzing around anywhere but the deck and one floor of our home. Yuk.
With all these no’s in his life and mine, I questioned my sanity in bringing home more goats, rabbits and Summer, the llama. But long ago I realized that dreams are the stuff that keep us strong. That feed our souls. When Lucky died and then Paul fell, starting over seemed more like something I could only dream. Like moving from the cities to the North Shore, just because we loved it here? Yeah, just like that.
Paul and I are dream chasers. And apparently it takes more than a walker and some other inconveniences of life to change that. Oh, there are those confounded patches of ice thrown into the bargain.
But by a large, there are more pleasant surprises than not. Like getting a bit of heat in our barn. “Lost summer?” Just the opposite, my friends. Just the opposite.