Prairie Memories by Gary Heintz: Daisy
It was a warm summer’s evening the first time Daisy visited our home. She came waddling around the corner of our garage, unnoticed until she quacked. The suddenness and nearness of that quack, breaking the silence, echoing across the valley, startled us and we were a bit concerned when the duck kept moving towards us. We wondered if she was hurt or sick, nothing else seemed to explain her actions. After concluding she would be gone in the morning, we went to bed. When Patti let Scooter, our little dachshund out the next morning, the duck was sitting on our step, and only moved across the yard when the old dog tried to chase it. And so the routine began. Patti would go out in the early morning to feed the horses with the dog and cat following behind, joined by the duck, waddling and quacking contentedly, bringing up the rear. After a few days the duck knew the routine and would fly ahead of Patti to the bale stack, wait until Patti started back across the yard to the feed bunk, and again fly ahead to wait for her. When the cat roamed out into the pasture, the duck would follow behind, with the cat acting like this was perfectly normal.
Scooter’s name was Pumpkin when we adopted the dachshund. Patti quickly changed her name, adamantly saying she was not going to stand out in the yard and call, “Pumpkin, here Pumpkin,” for all the neighbors across the valley to hear. Scooter was easier to say, and fit the old dog who would scoot across the yard on three legs, favoring a back leg injured early in her life. The duck, now with the name of Daisy, would nest across our big yard, and when Patti would come out of the house, Daisy would quack a greeting. Before too long, Patti was quacking right back, carrying on a duck conversation as she fed the horses. Apparently quacking to a duck was more acceptable than calling a dog Pumpkin.
We put a large rubber tub under the tree just outside our front door, kept it full of water, threw some cracked corn in the tub and on the ground, and Daisy set up house. She would allow us to get near the tub, but she would shy away if we reached out to her. We had quit trying to shoo her away early on, so we made her part of our life.
We knew this routine wouldn’t last long, that Daisy would, hopefully, fly south in the fall, and maybe visit us again next year. We were used to seeing her every morning when we opened the door. One night, late into the summer, Patti was filling the wild bird feeder next to the driveway, where Daisy always cleaned up the seeds that dropped out of the feeder. Patti said “goodnight” to Daisy and went to bed. The next morning Patti paused as she stepped out the front door. No Daisy, no quack from across the yard. Patti called and “quacked,” hoping the duck was out in the pasture somewhere. As she passed the bird feeder stand, she saw feathers strewn on the ground under the feeder. She came in the house and quietly told me Daisy wasn’t in the yard, and it looked like a fox or an owl had gotten her in the night. My heart sank as I watched Patti fight back tears and I choked on mine. The yard seemed empty, even Scooter and the cat moped around the water tub, looking for Daisy.
We don’t know for sure what happened to Daisy. We hope she didn’t suffer. We mourned for her. She was a friend, being so on her own terms. I never thought I would ever say this about a duck, but we sure loved her and still miss our Daisy.
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Earl cartoon by Big Dry Syndicate for the May 14, 2022, edition of Tri-State Livestock News