by Henry Lane Hull

Over the three-and-a-half decades that I have written this column, or, as instructed by the late Gilliam Lewis who worked at the Rappahannock Record for over 60 years, to use the proper journalistic term, “this item,” the pieces that have generated the most comments have been those on our barnyard pets. For the last 15 years Lou, who, as both senior and largest of the assembly, presided over the motley crew, was my special friend.

He thought of himself more as being a dog than a gander. He came when called, rushed to greet me whenever I entered the pen, delighted in being patted on the head and found his greatest pleasure in being tucked under my right arm and carried about the extended yard on tour.

In personality Lou most closely resembled the star of the 1995 movie, “Babe,” in which a pig became a champion sheep herder. He was utterly innocent, viewing everyone as his friend. To paraphrase a trite expression, he did not have a mean feather in his body.

Perhaps that simple naïveté is the reason for his demise last Friday. When I went out early in the morning to feed the flock, I found Lou dead in the pen, the victim of a brutal attack by a weasel that had gotten into the pen through a small slit in the foundation. Without being graphic, weasels, as every farmer knows, attack their prey in such a way that their culpability is readily apparent.

Lou came to us 15 years ago at the age of 10, as a present from Paula and Tom Teeples, who were moving to new quarters where farm animals were not allowed by the covenants. He adjusted to his new home immediately, becoming a patriarchal figure among the chickens. Ten years ago, following many conversations about him, Michelle Simmons presented us with a goose to be his mate and companion. We named her Gladys, after Gladys Watson on whose birthday she came to live with us.

Gladys is a far more distant pet. Unlike her beloved eponym, she eschews human contact and is quite bossy, the quintessential opposite of Lou. In addition, she is the paradigm of the nagging spouse, but Lou took her in stride and did not seem annoyed by her constant honking at him, or at anyone else for that matter.  

Each year in February she begins laying eggs, but with no sense of how to make a nest until late April, when she gathers together three or four eggs and commences to set. Once she would be on her nest, after having laid many random eggs around the pen, Lou would stand by her as both a sentinel and a protector. In a nice way, he even would let me know that she was not to be disturbed.

Last winter we almost lost Lou, as I described at the time, when I found him upside down in a puddle of freezing water. I admitted him to the I.C.U., which stands for the Intensive Cage Unit, whereafter a couple of weeks I brought him back to good health. He liked the I.C.U., probably seeing it as a respite from Gladys. He came back with a flourish, becoming once again his usual self.

Several months ago, as I usually did, I had let him loose in the larger enclosed barnyard, which is a sloping hillside, and at 8:30 after dark, I suddenly remembered I had forgotten to bring him back to the pen. I went outside, saw him nowhere and yelled at the top of my lungs, “Lou!” Far away in heavy brush he raised his head, saw me, got up, began honking and rushed to me. I picked him up, apologized and placed him back in his home digs.

Now at the age of 25 he is gone and I miss him at every turn, as does Gladys. Her honking has become subdued and she is visibly unhappy, not knowing what to do. Normally, with a mated pair of geese a survivor will not mate again after the spouse has died, for they usually mate for life.

Lou was a dear animal, and as I often have said, “the most highly cultured and refined goose I ever knew.”