by Henry Lane Hull
For the past dozen years, I have made a concerted, indeed I might even say “heroic,” effort to understand, to relate to, to emphasize with, to bond with Gladys, my pet goose.
Each day I have served her meals with alacrity. Thanks to me, she never has gone hungry or thirsty. For all this attention I have not received any expression of affection or gratitude on her part. I especially notice her reaction in comparison with that of her late spouse, Lou, who rushed to greet me whenever I entered the barnyard, delighted in being held and carried around the farm, and was the nicest goose I ever knew, and I have had some lovely ones over the years.
Gladys arrived as a present from Michelle Simmons, the preeminent fowlist of the Northern Neck, to be Lou’s companion. Geese like to be in a gaggle and are not loners. As I have written previously, she is devoid of many basic instincts that one would expect to find in a goose, most particularly until this year the ability to make a nest. In the past she would lay her eggs all over the barnyard, leaving me to gather them to try to give her the idea of what to do, with no results until this year.
Lou died in October, and this past February Gladys began laying her eggs in a single spot. As they were not fertile, I brought them inside, and my Good Wife reprised her splendid goose egg frittata. In mid-April, over two months ago, Gladys made a nest where the eggs had been, and began setting on it. I began serving her breakfast, as well as all other meals, in bed, so to speak.
Concerned about her state of mind, I put several fake hen eggs next to her thinking she would set on them until I could come up with some fertile eggs. I have found that most fowl do not care who laid the egg; the important part is who set on it. To date I have not gotten any fertile ones, and I was becoming concerned that Gladys was not eating. The limit came one day last week. We had a slightly decrepit head of iceberg lettuce, and my Good Wife suggested that Gladys might enjoy it, as she could munch on it whenever she chose.
I placed the head of lettuce next to her, but instead of starting to dine on it, she got up off the empty nest, and with her beak shoved the lettuce into the nest, cushioned it with straw, and recommenced setting on it. I need not allude to the old Russian proverb that it truly was a rock in the bed.
After a day in that position, the chickens could not stand the situation any longer, and began trying to get to the lettuce to eat it. At one point she got up off the nest, and at that all 17 of the hens pounced on the lettuce. It was gone in no time, leaving three of the fake eggs in place. Originally, we had seven fakes, but four have disappeared. I assumed that the lettuce scenario would be the end of this year’s setting for Gladys, but I was incorrect. She returned to her post, leaving me more confused than ever.
Although I have no training in animal psychology, I do have decades of experience in living with and caring for a wide variety of domestic animals. I always have treated each of them as a pet, a member of the family. Perhaps my Good Wife should prefer me to say “extended” family, as she tends to be a bit more distant in her relationship with the fowl. In part, her thinking contributed to my reasoning in hoping Gladys could be presented with some fertile eggs, as I do not envision being able to use the utility room again as a cold weather incubator for small fowl until they can join the crowd in the barnyard.