I’m sitting on the floor of the duck coop, where I’ve taken Chris outside for the first time. We don’t have an adequate housing for her outside, so she’s been housebound for these first weeks.
Bella, the muscovy, is sitting on eggs in the upper “deck” of the coop, so I’ve shut the door between the two so she can have her privacy. Earl, meanwhile, is standing in front of the coop, watching all these proceedings with great curiosity. Carter, too, is wondering what I’m doing sitting in duck poop, watching Chris…
I didn’t want to set her outside by herself alone. I knew she would be very confused and scared, so, here I sit as she wanders up and down the ladder to the upper coop deck. With me here at her side, she seems just fine and quite brave about it all.
The past few days she has mostly had free range through the house. This requires that I wander the house a few times a day with a rag, toothbrush, and cleaner to mop up her poop trail, which is extensive.
In the mornings now, she has figured out that I’ll be sitting with Carter at the treadmill, so she joins us now, perched in my knee, as I share my breakfast cereal with her, and she watches me on the computer.
This morning, we had “peanut lessons.” We have still not convinced her that peanuts are for eating. So, this morning I sat with some peanuts, showing her me biting the shells and nibbling the nuts. I handed her one, and she got very excited about breaking it open, which she finally managed to do!
The nut, however, held no interest for her (yet!), but she was very pleased with herself for breaking the shell, which she proceeded to carry around the house as she ran in dizzying circles.
She has come to see me as the disciplinarian, the one who places her back in her cage, and she has this hysterical little “plea cry” she uses as I chase after her in the house, trying to get my hands around her fast moving little body. It is a sorry cry, and one that pulls at the heart, much like the plea of a child: “Oh, can’t I stay up just a bit longer! Pu-leeeeeese!” But eventually, I get her in my hands and put her to bed where she settles quickly into sleep. We never hear a peep out of her all night.
Chris is inviting me to question everything I think I know about..well..everything. In wildlife rehabilitation, I’ve always been taught that release to the wild is the golden mean, and that everything you do with a wild creature in your care should be done with that end in mind. So, don’t introduce the creature to your animals, or to friends. Keep the creature wisely afraid of unknown “others.” Offer wild foodstuffs to the creature, offer lots of outside time for it to learn who it really is.
With Chris’s arrival in our lives, I am asking myself if “the wild” is indeed the golden mean for her. With us, she has a very different kind of life with very different sources of stimulation and learning. Suddenly, I’m not seeing this as so bad. People ask me constantly, “Will you be releasing her?” and I answer, honestly, “She’ll make that choice, not us.”
If she chooses to leave, we’re fine with that, and if she chooses a life of part-wild, part family, she can come and go as she pleases, with the benefit of always-available food and safety for the night.
When wild creatures come to MillHaven, I believe that they have an opportunity to expand their consciousness. Not having to concern themselves with finding food and running from danger, different aspects of their selves can emerge. I had a backyard turtle once who seemed to love music and would come and sit by my transistor radio when I was a kid. Benny learned how to play with Carter in his short life—a relationship he would never have made in the wild.
Even insects seem interactive when they feel safe with you.
When I release wild creatures, it is never “the wild” I fear will hurt them. It is cars and people and polluted waters and yard poisons. It is kids with BB pistols, and drunks on dirt bikes.
And so I’m not shielding Chris from our pets, and from all the wonders of modern life. She can sample all of it, and she can sample all the wild she wants, as well. How her life will unfold is a mystery, as is the unfolding of each and every life that has ever been. The twists and the turns along the way that surprise, delight, and horrify us—all these are blessedly kept from us so that we take each step into an utter unknown wonder.
These steps into the Now of our lives are precious, and we are taking them with Chris as she tip-toes cautiously into each new adventure. Our lives, too, are in a place much like Chris’s. We have no idea what is coming and what it will look like. Will it be wild, will it be safe, will it be livable?
I’m grateful to Chris for providing me with a reason to question everything I think I know, because as this new Covid World unfolds around us, it seems that everything I used to believe, trust, and base my life upon is shifting beneath my feet. It is scary, but I watch Chris navigate her uncertain life with great curiosity once her initial caution is relieved, and I am hopeful I can do the same.