Might I bestow some wisdom upon you? Here goes… I have learned that there is a way to live well and a way to behave like a fat duck. Before you become indignant at my choice of words, just hear me out. We actually have ducks. Ducks that are, in fact, fat. I will also say that the way they handle stress is entertaining but not to be emulated. I’m getting ahead of myself. My hubby, our three children, and I live on a tiny piece of land in northern California. At our mini-farm we have quite a few offscourings that have become a part of our reject menagerie of farm animals. These include (but are not limited to) several bottle baby sheep, a horde of obnoxious ducks, eight laying hens, and one goose of unknown gender. It’s a hobby farm and a tiny one at that, but we love it. One day as I watched our wool babies and fowl lose their minds over their breakfast, I had an epiphany; there are serious parallels that could be drawn between these animals and the behavior of people. Particularly during a pandemic. Our darling rejects have been both a terrific example of rest and a terrible example of panic. Maybe you can relate to one or all of them. Let’s peruse my list together, shall we?
#1. The fat duck.
Our introduction to fowl farming came packaged in a tiny little cardboard carrier that contained four of the cutest little Pekin ducklings that you’ve ever seen. The goal was eggs and, if we ended up with drakes, meat. We had also heard that ducks “make great pets” so when we arrived home with our new babies I was flying high. I had such dreams of ducklings trailing behind me where e’er I went squeaking for affection. Then the cold, webbed, poo-covered foot of reality slapped me across the face. They were cute alright; and filthy. They also spiraled into a panic every time we dared come near them. I felt my dreams of a lovey-dovey farmer/duck utopia dashed to pieces but I resolved to endure their terribleness until they started laying. Then, over time, even without eggs or meat, I grew to appreciate our feathered frenemies in all their ridiculousness.
We only had two females in that first group of ducks so we :::ahem::: dispatched the boys to Hades and added more ducks to our sordid, panic-ridden flock. They are all similar in size and behavior with the exception of those two females. This pair we call our “big ladies”. They are by far my favorites of our fowl collection. The big ladies are enormous and unwittingly hilarious. Their stout, round bodies sit centered on stubby, orange legs giving the appearance of a pillow of white held up by two baby carrots. When the big ladies want to eat, they push up to the trough (and keep pushing) until the more petite fowl desert their meal simply to avoid suffocation. Trust me, it’s funnier than it sounds.
The way they waddle is what makes them especially delightful. The big ladies don’t walk anywhere; they saunter. Their fluffy tail feathers sway side-to-side in larger movements than that of the other ducks. When the smaller ducks are in an uproar, the big ladies are always the last to join the panic. This is not because they are more calm, but because their particular girth simply will not allow it. But join the panic they do. Sometimes the big ladies don’t even know what they are panicking about. They observe the other ducks losing their minds and follow at, what is to them, an accelerated pace; making as much noise as possible to accentuate their distress.
On some level, I think most people can relate to the big ladies, especially during this pandemic. They enjoy sitting around and lack motivation. (As I type this, I envision myself slowly raising my hand in embarrassment while eating ice cream straight out of the carton and wearing leggings because I don’t have to unbutton them after a large meal.) But there’s more. The big ladies throw their weight around with the sole purpose of getting what they want heedless of who they trample. They would be the screaming lady at Wal-Mart that would get in a fist-fight over the last package of Charmin Ultra. When there is panic in their midst, the big ladies don’t assess anything; they simply look around, see turmoil and join in. Oof. I think we all have either known someone like this or we are guilty of it ourselves. Social media is a notorious medium for this kind of behavior. If we can’t scream about the ‘Rona or social justice in person, we might as well scream about it on the world wide web and do it with very little information. I am trying my darndest not to be a fat duck but no one is perfect.
#2. The back-from-the-dead goose.
In early Spring, we packed up the kids and headed to the local feed store to see if they had any meat chickens in stock. No such luck. What they did have were lots of ducks. Naturally, the kids begged for more ducklings to which Hubby and I guffawed and demolished their tiny little hopes of an even more filth-saturated future. My eldest, not to have her afternoon ruined, ignored us and continued to gush over the adorable babies. One of the employees came over and asked if we had any questions.
“Why is that one so big?” my daughter asked.
“It’s a goose,” the worker replied.
It looked a bit shaky on its feet and the feed store employee proceeded to unravel a terrible tale about the poor thing’s introduction to life and of its probable demise. I was riveted. This sad little goose was the only one to survive a shipping mix-up. Not a mix-up due to the farm or feed store but due to the mail carrier. The pathetic creature wobbled and swayed on its giant webbed feet in the middle of a sea of ducklings that apparently didn’t like geese very much. The young lady helping us said the little gosling wasn’t likely to make it—so we bought a good-as-dead goose. We didn’t go in for a goose. We didn’t have any desire for a goose before that moment, but I love an underdog and it would fit right in with our reject menagerie were the goose to miraculously survive.
The kids wanted to name it but we had no idea what the gender of this good-as-dead goose was. Also, in an attempt to be realistic, I emphasized to my children that the little gosling was, in fact, as good as dead. (To answer your question, yes, I am a terrific mother.) He made it through the night, but he was still in dire straits the next day, and I continued to tell my loinfruit not to get attached. If we could give him a comfortable place to live until he passed, that would be a good thing. (I don’t know that Goose is a ‘he’ but referring to him as ‘it’ is exhausting and he’s my goose so…) Then, the next morning, I woke up to a revived good-as-dead goose. He was now a back-from-the-dead goose; a Donner party goose; a zombie goose that was adorable and had no desire to eat our flesh. (I suppose that works for zombies and Donners alike.)
We started to take our back-from-the-dead goose outside and snuggle with him on the couch. We would use a towel because, as it turns out, geese are just as disgusting as ducks. He was quite the lover and embodied what I had hoped for with our nasty, obnoxious ducks. The affable gosling squeaked a hello from his little bin every morning; he followed us everywhere; he would happily climb in our laps… then he reached adolescence and became a punk, emo-teen back-from-the-dead goose. Our once loving, adorable goose would sit with his back to us in the corner of his pen and would not let us touch him. We would have to cut off all avenues of escape just to pick him up and put him in the pasture. I had to lure him over with mealworms to be able to pet him. He still wanted to be near us but didn’t want to be held or loved. He started attacking the kids’ mud boots whilst said boots were attached to their feet… Ugh. Waterfowl: strike two in the friendliness department. Goose continued to grow and eventually he was big enough to join the other animals in the pasture for good. The “hair in the face and write scream metal in a dark corner” phase ebbed a little and he became more mellow. One of his legs is still a bit shaky and Hubby and I don’t think he’s quite right upstairs, so he pretty much belongs here. If he was a totally normal goose with no issues I’d be afraid he wouldn’t jive with the cool kids on the reject farm.
Basically, Goose is not a lover anymore but he still seems content. Goose will take a treat out of your hand but will run if you try to touch him. He’ll honk at you if you talk to him and run next to you but it’s always on his terms. If you come near him, he leaves; he has to come to you. He can be parched and you can rush water out to him but he would rather die of dehydration in the corner than drink the water right next to you. Goose doesn’t want help. Goose wants food. Goose wants water. Goose wants you to leave him alone, but Goose wants you around just so he can have the option of being near you. Even with Goose’s ungrateful ‘don’t touch me’ behavior, I still love the little schmuck that’s not so little anymore. He remains my favorite animal to watch in our pasture because he talks to himself all day and chases our ill-mannered lamb. If Goose was a person, he would be a lot less fun to observe. If Goose was a person in the age of Coronavirus, he would take meals from a meal chain because you owe him that food. He’s had a tough go of it and you should bring him that casserole. He would ignore every call or text on his phone and post on Facebook in all caps about how no one cares. He would troll people on social media with insults because, sitting in his dimly lit apartment in between Zelda and Cheetos, it made him feel awesome. Sheesh… Person Goose is the worst. I’m so glad he’s a goose and the fact that he’s a jerk only adds to his hilarity.
#3 The blind bottle-fed sheep
For a while (pre-goose) we only had two California Red bottle baby sheep. We added the ducks not long after but the sheep were our gateway drug to the world of hobby farming and our neighbors were the drug dealers. They have a sheep farm full of California Red and Shetland sheep and when they had a couple Red babies without mommies they offered them to us. It took literal restraint to not squeal with excitement. With the exception of Baby Yoda, there is nothing cuter than a lamb. Sheep are a blast. The awesome thing about bottle baby sheep is that, unlike zombie geese, when they’re full-grown they still want attention. They’re basically dogs but you don’t have to pick up their poo and they don’t leave their hair all over your couch. To say we were content with our two gregarious quadrupeds would be an understatement. If we needed a baby fix we would just go next door during lambing season.
One weekend, during Shetland lambing season, our neighbors asked if we would take care of their farm while they were away. They gave us free reign of when to come over and encouraged our kids to play and socialize the new lambs. Let’s be honest—you’d have to be bananas to decline. (Bananas is a technical term. I’m here to help you grow grammatically.) If you have not seen Shetland sheep before, Google it, homie. They are beautiful and wonderfully unique looking. Almost primitive. In contrast to our California Reds with their brownish-red, short, curly and coarse wool, Shetlands have longer and softer wool and can be brown, white, black, gray or any combination of the four. The rams have beautiful horns that curl close to their faces and they make you think that they should be on a green hill somewhere across the Atlantic rather than a golden pasture in northern California. As you might guess, the Shetland lambs are totes adorbs. (I learned that from a millennial and can openly admit that typing it felt wrong.) Shetland lambs are incredibly soft and tiny compared to the Reds and we naturally jumped on any opportunity to be around them.
The kids, the hubby, and I walked next door to feed the flock and one of the Shetland moms had two beyond cute babies that looked no more than an hour or two old. My daughter shrieked with delight screaming at us that there were new babies; a male and a female. The male was decidedly smaller and his eyes looked very strange. I climbed into the pen, checked him out and called our neighbors. I informed them that I thought something might be wrong but what did I know? My expertise was limited to bottle babies and fat ducks. A friend of the farm came to look him over and said, “He probably won’t make it. Depends on if he keeps eating.” That may seem so harsh to those of us that are agriculturally challenged but people who farm for a living can’t afford to be the bleeding heart. When our neighbors came home, I hinted at the fact that I could be the bleeding heart and asked them to call me if he went downhill. The next morning I got a text.
Your baby is hungry.
I gathered a plastic bin and some towels and picked up our new, blind, newborn addition to the reject farm. We named him Stevie Wonder. Not only because he’s blind but also because he’s awesome.
Much like Goose, the first day that we had Stevie was touch-and-go. Our neighbor even had to intubate him for us. As sad as that was, that bit of direct nutrition into his grumbling belly gave Stevie the pick-me-up he needed to keep going and figure out a bottle. I was up every two hours to feed him and we developed quite the bond. He lived in our house and endured the indignity of a diaper. It was pathetic and terrific simultaneously. Eventually Stevie graduated to the barn where he could be clothed only in wool and dignity. With more time, he was ready to be out in the pasture with the big kids. Well, ready-ish. Stevie was severely challenged in the ways of sheep etiquette. To our other bottle babies Stevie was, what we call in the uppity-ups of hobby farming, a turd. He couldn’t sheep. If there was a human equivalent in personality to Stevie, it wouldn’t be the original Stevie Wonder— it would be the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail—jumping all over the others (when he could find them), crashing into things, lacking eyes while seeming to scream, “‘Tis but a scratch! Have at you!”
Part of this obnoxious behavior had to do with the fact that he was still a baby. I like to think that our OG Reds knew this and that’s why their reprimands of his belligerence were fairly light. Stevie just wanted to play and because our older two were a bonded pair they would do little more than tolerate him. We eventually added a yearling that our neighbors supplied us with to see if Stevie could bond with her. No dice. Then our new yearling had a baby and suddenly Stevie got a taste of his own medicine. He is now older and the new baby, Verna, is the new turd. She pesters him constantly and he tolerates her. She’ll run at him but he of course can’t see her coming and endures it. Verna wants to be friends but Stevie, in his more relaxed young adulthood, just wants peace and quiet. In our reject menagerie, Stevie is the lone wolf… but… a sheep.
It sounds sad but I promise you, Stevie lives a good life. He runs and plays (even with Verna on occasion) and he is always excited to see—I mean, hear us. Stevie knows he needs help with day to day endeavors and he doesn’t mind yelling at us when those occasions arise. When we go out to the pasture, he follows our voices just to be near us. He wants scratches and leans on us for affection, but during the day he’s content to graze or lay in the shade. Stevie trusts us with his well-being. He knows we have his best interests at heart. When loud noises spook Stevie, we speak kindly and comfort him and he calms. When he doesn’t know where he is or is in an uncomfortable situation, he calls for us and waits. He knows we care for him and rests easy. I think we could all take a page out of Stevie’s playbook. His trust in us reminds me so much of the 23rd Psalm.
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
Stevie is not perfect to anyone but me, but I feel like he has this right. What would Stevie be like if he was a person? He would be flawed like so many of us are. He would not have an easy life, like so many do not. He would need help and he would ask for it unlike so many of us. He would be devoid of pride unlike so many of us—and that lack of pride might just make it a little easier for him to recognize his need for a savior. I don’t know if you were picking up what I was putting down with the 23rd Psalm, but that Savior is Jesus, yo.
God has used Stevie to illustrate to me what I often take for granted in His care— the concept of real rest. Life is not easy but there can still be rest. You can have a hard day, or month, or year, or decade, or life but there can still be rest. You can be unsure of where you are going, but there can still be rest. When the world is in an uproar, there can still be rest. You can not fit in, but there can still be rest. You can struggle with fear, but there can still be rest. Jesus is the only person that can give you real and meaningful and lasting rest. He says in Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”Matthew 11:28-30
Who wouldn’t want rest like that? The best part is that you don’t have to be exactly like Stevie to have it. God wants you where you are… but He wants all of you. He wants you to belong to Him. He wants to make you new. Let that blow your mind for a second. It should blow your mind even if you already belong to Him.
While Stevie thinks his own deep, Socratic thoughts, he is still mine. Stevie may choose when to graze or when to nap but he is still mine. His day is totally in my hands. He will not be in the pasture unless I direct it. He will not be in my barn unless I lead him there. And wherever I lead him, there Stevie is content. The big difference is that the Creator of time and space loves you much more than I could ever love Stevie. He won’t leave you in the pasture to go grocery shopping or ditch you to water His vegetables. He is always there. Friend, His burden is light; let Him direct your steps. Let Him lead you to real rest. Not fat duck selfishness or back-from-the-dead goose entitlement, but rest.
Here you thought you were just getting a fun little hobby-farm read. I bet you didn’t sign up for a sermon, eh? Hang tight; I’m almost done. Here’s the moral of this admittedly long-winded post, dear reader:
In a world full of fat ducks and zombie geese, be a Stevie.
My name is Christine; follower of Jesus, wife of Seth, and mother to Joanna, Isaac, and Faith. I homeschool my kiddos and absolutely encourage weirdness. Not a “stand behind you and breath on your neck” weirdness, but a one-of-a-kind, “deviate from the norm” weirdness. We live on a mini-farm where we are making it up as we go along. Even if our plans flop, we are learning together -all five of us- and that’s how we like it.