After Poe died, I wanted to give myself time to grieve. I wanted to not take on anything more for awhile, but the universe, as it often seems to, had a plan for me. There are times I feel like I would be thankful to take a break from all of the lessons life has to teach me.
I’m slow. Let me process these lessons. But, sometimes, there is just no time.
I have an amazing farmer friend who wrote me shortly after Poe died asking if we would be interested in taking on an Indian Runner duck who had been injured by the flock. We have six Indian Runner ducks, and I love them to the moon and back. In fact, our one male, Antonio, is very much like a dog to me. He will come running from anywhere and everywhere when he hears my voice and loves to be pet and just sit at my feet.
Last winter, we had rehabilitated one of our female ducks, Ana Sophia, from a broken leg injury. It was no easy task. It took two months and lots of care for her to heal. During that two months, we found out that Ana Sophia loves cello, and during those two months, Ana Sophia became my friend. At first, she was upset about living in the guest bathroom, but it didn’t take long for her to find her groove. She would hang out with us almost all day, listening to classical music and listening while our son played cello. When she started laying eggs each morning in her little nest basket, I would make a fuss over her, and she would be so proud. She purred. I knew chickens could purr. I didn’t know ducks could.
Ana Sophia was just that kind of experience.
When my friend told me about her injured duck, I thought I could surely do it again. We had worked a miracle healing little Ana Sophia, and since Ana Sophia had moved on and let me go when she moved out to live with her people again, I thought I could go for that feeling of closeness with an animal again, especially after losing Poe.
The day I was set to pick up the injured duck, my friend wrote me to prepare me for the duck’s condition. She was not in good shape. She had been extremely over-mated, and though she was doing better overall, she had been through some extreme trauma. She had lost most of her scalp, and her eyes had been buried behind injury and scabs.
I’m not going to lie. I was feeling nervous. I have cared for many chickens over the years, but I had only ever healed one duck. I was worried I was in over my head but was determined about this, especially when I found out the duck’s name—Ana Maria. This had to be meant to be.
When I went to my friend’s farm to meet Ana Maria, I was a little taken aback at what I saw. My friend had tried to prepare me, but it was still a lot to take in. Ana Maria’s skin was growing back, but her eyes were tight and pulled up too high on her head. They didn’t sit where duck eyes should sit due to the shortage of skin on the scalp. Her feathers were missing and broken in many places, and when I picked her up, I could feel her bones. She was thin, very thin, just like Poe at the end, and I cried holding Ana Maria in my arms.
I think I cried out of fear that I wouldn’t be able to help her, but I also cried out of sadness that this maybe felt too much like Poe. The pain from losing Poe was still very raw. Surprisingly, it still is.
But her name was Ana Maria, and she seemed to feel safe in my arms. I could only move forward.
I stayed awhile on my friend’s farm, and Ana Maria rested in my arms the whole time. It’s like she felt safe with me, and I thought we could do this. We could do this together.
And I would love to tell you that I took Ana Maria home and she continued to love me and trust me and let me help her heal, but this is not that kind of story.
Ana Maria was weak and seemed to appreciate the cool bath and fresh food on the first day. She ate some treats, and though she was cautious about me, she seemed to trust me, which felt like a kind of miracle since Indian Runners are so suspicious and cautious. However, as soon as Ana Maria got some strength from eating well for a couple of days, she decided it was time to give me hell.
Of course, I didn’t blame her. She had been through so much trauma, and here I was expecting her to move into our house and go along with everything I was doing to her—cleaning her eyes, checking her skin, moving her from our bathtub to her nest basket. She came to hate all of it.
She hissed and bit and made as much of a scene as should could any time she could. Thankfully, duck bites do not hurt too badly, but they do not feel good. My right arm was covered in bruises from Ana Maria bites, and I was worn. Of course, I would never give up on her, and, of course, I understood all of it, but it was taking a toll.
Still, even though she was letting me have it, she was healing very well.
We put her on high protein food, and after about a week of cleaning her eyes, her bubble eye healed. One of her eyes dropped down to its normal position and then the other. Her little strip of feathers and skin on her head were spreading, and most importantly, she was gaining weight. When I picked her up, she felt thin but not boney. We were making progress, despite Ana Maria’s protests, but I had to figure out something that was going to be emotionally less stressful for Ana Maria. She has a wild spirit, and the guest bathroom just wasn’t cutting it for her.
So I wrote my friend and asked to borrow the giant dog crate Ana Maria had been living in. My friend is wonderful and said yes. When I went to pick up the crate, she had filled it with fresh straw, and I had a fresh plan.
My husband had built a temporary fence next to our fenced duck area, and we put Ana Maria and her crate out there. Part of me felt nervous. Our chickens and ducks live in nice, sturdy houses because we worry about predators. We live on the edge of the Maine woods, so I was worried about putting Ana Maria in the crate at night. But she would be inside a fence, and the crate was big, plastic, and sturdy. Plus, Ana Maria would be able to safely play outside all day on the grass, under the trees, and inside that fence. It seemed like the best plan—for both me, who was wearing down, and Ana Maria, who hated being in the house.
Thankfully, it worked! Ana Maria has continued to heal, and most days, I get one of our females to hang out with Ana Maria. Ana Maria loves the duck company. And, importantly, through seeing how our ducks act toward me, I think Ana Maria is learning to trust me some. I still have to pick her up every night to go to bed in her crate, and there have been no more bites. Hopefully, in about a month, she will be well enough to move in with the rest of the ducks. In the meantime, we are learning each other’s ways.
Sometimes, you have to love on someone else’s terms, to let them be who they are, not who you need them to be. Ana Maria is a good reminder of that for me.
But here’s the best part: One day last week, when I took one of our females over to visit with Ana Maria, the female duck got into Ana Maria’s pool and just played and splashed and enjoyed herself in the sunlight. Ana Maria had never done this. She drank the water from the pool but never got in. I saw Ana Maria watching the scene closely.
Then, not ten minutes later, I looked outside to see Ana Maria in her little pool. She was ducking her head in and out of the water, and I watched the water roll off of her back in the sunlight. It was the first time I had seen Ana Maria enjoying herself. Ana Maria was playing, and, I thought to myself, “boy, doesn’t she deserve that?”
The moment filled me with joy and hope. And don’t I deserve that?