He wasn't always a gimp. When hatched, the little Muscovy duckling was strong and healthy. It was only later, when he matured, that he was struck a glancing blow by a car that didn't slow down, whose driver maybe just didn't care if a duck on the road was hit. Well, what were ducks doing on the road anyway? Were they stupid?
In his case, he just liked to feel the warmth of the asphalt under his body, especially when it was cold. The road was just about the only place he could get warm and, no, he wasn't stupid. He just didn't know that those loud, lumbering things that came upon him so fast could kill him. The thought never entered his mind.
And so his hip was dislocated. It healed, after a fashion. As long as he wasn't stressed, as long as he could just walk normally, it stayed in place. But if he was scared or forced to move quickly, then it came out and he floundered around, flip-flopping from side to side like the accident victim he was.
He had spunk, though, that one did. After the accident he was rejected by the others who sensed he was no longer quite right. But unwilling, or unable, to leave the flock completely he stayed on the edges where he would not be chased away by the older, more aggressive ducks. He stayed there, the outside looking in, wistfully, sadly, but he kept to himself and lived his life, searching here and there for delicate tidbits of plant matter and maybe an insect or two.
My heart went out to him. He was the one I loved more than all the others. Despite his disability he kept moving on, kept on truckin', never giving up. During the harsh winter with its severe cold, snow and wind, I made sure to throw corn his way so he wouldn't have to fight for food. Each day I looked for him, making sure he was all right, that he was at his place along the edge. Sometimes he stayed to himself, not getting near the other ducks, as though solitude was not by itself a problem.
Then came the morning when I drove back to the Hermitage and there he was, smashed flat, run over in the road where he'd been warming himself on the asphalt. Either the driver didn't see him or didn't care or maybe even tried to avoid him but the gimp went the wrong way. Whatever the reason, he was gone. That courageous little heart, the beautiful soul, was gone.
Death is the one irreconcilable force which I cannot come to grips with. Now, I've known creatures to die who were ready for death, who longed and prayed for it. The gimp was not among them. One moment he's alive - the next, he isn't. And no matter how hard we try, we cannot put the pieces back together again. There is no glue powerful enough to do that. We stare at death, helpless, and it hurts, and it angers.
Our big tom turkey died the other morning. I found his lifeless body on the floor of the chicken house. He was our oldest turkey, the only survivor of a massacre last year that took all of our other turkeys. They had started wandering down the road into the woods to meet some female turkeys nesting there. Then they stopped coming back in the evening to roost. Then they wandered all the way to the next village. And we never saw them again. Whether they were shot or killed by animals, we don't know. Only the tom returned and he never left the barnyard after that experience.
His death was caused by an infection in his lungs that made it difficult, then impossible, to breathe. Needless to say we are close to our birds. They are family. And the loss of any one diminishes all of us.
Like the recent morning when I drove into the barnyard and saw a duck down by the spring, not moving. I could tell something was wrong so I went to see him. He looked up at me, dazed, uncomprehending, but I couldn't see anything wrong until I picked him up and realized his side had been ripped open by a wild animal that had eaten part of him while still living. I carried him to the barnyard and killed him. His eyes were still open though dull. I've seen that look of bewilderment on people when they die, it must be the same look medics see on the lethally wounded in war. "What's happening to me?" they ask. And there's no answer.
There was also no answer to the carnage I found in the chicken yard; whatever killed the duck somehow, maybe by climbing over the chain-link fence, killed three turkeys and six hens. A few bodies were gone but most were left where they fell. It's moments like these, the senseless violence and death of helpless, innocent creatures, that are among the hardest moments I face. There is no answer to their "Why?" One can only mourn, and remember. Which is why I remember my sweet gimp, pushing himself along, hard as it was, step by difficult, faltering step on the path of life.