I was anxious to return to our cabin that August three years ago to check on Doc, the mallard, and Gertie, the orphaned goose we’d raised. Get a grip, I told myself during the long ride. Gertie is only a goose, one of the thousands we Wisconsinites hear honking and watch flying in their classic V-formation as they head south.
But after arriving at our cabin, I immediately looked for Gertie and Doc. My feathered friends weren’t by the shore. I called, but there was no answering quack-honk. A week ago our neighbor had phoned us that the other two ducks had disappeared. I hoped the mature ducks had gone off on their own. Had Doc and Gertie chosen to as well?
My husband and I took the speedboat out and found Gertie and Doc in a nearby bay. They swam right up to us and followed us back to our shoreline. Doc limped. Was the injury from a snapping turtle, musky, or one of the weasels or mink we sometimes spotted near our shoreline?
Gertie and Doc happily hung out with us anytime we were outside. Doc’s limping walk didn’t improve.
When Frank checked on them at 10:30 that night, he saw only Gertie’s silhouette on the water. In the morning, Doc wasn’t alongside Gertie. Sadly, I investigated and found feathers nearby. It was very difficult to deal with guilt feelings, wondering if I should have taken her to the vet for her injured leg or penned her up for the night.
Gertie, who had always wanted to be with us, was clingier than ever. She’d lost her friend and seemed to want to tell me all about it. That evening, when she hung out near our back door instead of near the lake, we let her spend the night in the garage.
Gertie continued to want to be with us. We were her flock. One afternoon when we took the grandsons for a boat ride, she swam along. Previously she’d only flown in short bursts, but this time, when Frank revved the motor and sped away, she ran on top of the water. And then—
something that we wouldn’t have imagined in our wildest dreams—she lifted off and flew alongside us. We were flying together, human and goose.
She flew behind us for several seconds, then caught up and flew alongside us. “See what I can do!” she seemed to say.
We cheered. Encouraged by our excitement, Gertie showed off even more and flew over our heads, honking all the while.
Gertie used the boat’s draft at times so she could fly without effort; fly for the sheer joy of it; fly with us, her peeps.
At other times, she would take the point position believing she was cutting the draft for us. Then she’d fly to help us out, fly so that we could experience joy, flying together, humans and one remarkable goose.
Over the course of the next several days, we “flew” with Gertie several more times. Friends and family, including grandchildren, got to experience this. It never ceased to thrill us, or, I believe, her.
We had hoped that other Canada geese would fly in and Gertie would join them, but the only flock that landed was far away and she didn’t take notice. After many phone calls, I found what I hoped was the perfect setting for Gertie, a humane zoo which has multiple ponds and many flocks of Canada geese. The night before bringing her to the zoo, Gertie and I had a private moment in the back yard. I sat on the ground next to her. “We had fun, didn’t we, girl?”
She stretched her neck so her head was close to mine. She gave me the contented wiggle- wiggle-wiggle coo that I’d come to love.
My eyes stung. She’s only a goose, I kept reminding myself.
The next day, after we’d set her down in the middle of a flock of geese at the zoo, I couldn’t stop the tears. I kept repeating only a goose, only a goose, but it didn’t help.
My heart ached. Walking away and leaving her was unbelievably difficult.
“I’ll keep my eye on her,” the zookeeper said gently.
On the ride home, we were quiet for a long time. “How about coming back in a few weeks to check on her?”
My husband agreed.
We did go back. I feared that we’d find a lone goose walking the sidewalk looking for a human companion, but happily, that wasn’t the case. Even though we visited all three ponds populated with geese and ducks and called her name, she didn’t come. I kept telling myself to be happy she’d joined her kind and was living the good life.
Sharing time with Gertie, especially our moments of flying together, will live in my memory as one of the most amazing experiences of my life. Godspeed, my feathered friend.
Days after I finished this column, I visited the cabin. Gertie would be three years old and mature enough to mate. Check out www.facebook.com/AmyLaundrieAuthor for an update on this story.