As a rule, I think of myself as a person slow to frustration and, I hope, never to anger, but sometimes that is a difficult mantra to achieve. Recently, I have been challenged in that arena on virtually a daily basis.
For the past 15 years I have tended to all of Gladys’s needs. I serve her meals every day. I make sure that she has plenty of water, and lots of room in which to exercise. In return, all she has given back to me is loud honking, which I translate as meaning, “Why haven’t you done more for me?”
Henry, on the other hand, is a prince of a goose. Reminiscent of Lou, Gladys’s late spouse, he is affectionate, polite and never obnoxious. His mellifluous honking resonates throughout the entire barnyard, and beyond. He is one of the most cultured and refined ganders I ever have known, constantly evoking the fondest memories of Lou.
He has been with us for two years now, and he has acclimatized himself to our surroundings with aplomb. Initially, he took a somewhat subservient role to Gladys, following her lead around the yard, but he wised up very quickly, and now he and she do their own things. Gladys is almost twice his size, and she prefers the company of Quack, the Khaki Campbell drake, enjoying his sycophantic behavior in her presence.
To her credit, Gladys has a distinctive regal air about her. Except when eating, she constantly holds her head up high and literally “stoops to conquer” in maintaining her supremacy in the barnyard. In its collection of farm animal stamps issued several years ago, the U.S. Postal Service depiction of the Cotton Patch goose looks as if Gladys had posed for it.
Gladys is a Southern species, originally bred to keep the cotton fields clear of weeds and grass, thereby allowing the cotton plants to grow unencumbered by competing vegetation. Gladys lives up to that role quite successfully, but unfortunately for us, she also likes to eat fruit and vegetables.
Perhaps I could serve as her agent and lease her to Balance of Nature for promotional purposes, demonstrating the benefits of a natural vitamin rich diet. The company seems to have no dearth of human spokespersons, and having their claims corroborated by a goose might expand their market opportunities.
Previously, I have described Henry’s ardent desire to come inside. Gladys expresses no such domestic interest. In all the years she has been with us, she never has come up on the porch, whereas Henry would opt to live there if he could. He clearly would view such an accommodation as a step towards full domesticity.
Maggie, our Pembroke Welsh corgi, true to her membership in the herding breed of dogs, basically ignores the fowl, except for voicing her objection to Henry’s presence on the rear stoop. Her breed came about to maintain control over sheep, goats and cows, by nipping at their heels to keep them in line. Fowl simply are not interesting to her. As a very smart animal herself, she recognizes that staying clear of Gladys is the right thing to do.
Our two ancient chickens, Esmerelda and Prunella, long since have been retired, that is, they have stopped laying, and being chickens, they do not challenge Gladys’s strident supremacy. Their lives consist of eating and drinking, after Gladys has finished her own consumption.
Hierarchical structures exist all throughout the animal kingdom, and in our small part of it, Gladys is the reigning monarch. She views herself as a privileged individual, one who deigns to allow others, be they animal or human, to serve her, and that is how we cope as fellow travelers on our earthly journey.