Gertrude had had it. The last two years of nesting had ended in disappointments and grief. With Gus, her mate, they had carefully constructed their nests on the banks of the Skunk River east of the Salem Stub. Using tall dried grass and reeds, as they had learned from the other Canada geese in their flock, they had built what Gus and Gertie considered to be respectable brooder homes.
That first year, Gertie even spied a maverick brown egg lying close to her nest, probably laid by an immature female not ready to nest yet, and added it to her nest of four white eggs. Gertie believed in adoption and diversity. As she was supposed to, Gertie rotated the eggs every hour or so, and added down to the nest to keep the eggs warm while she took her breaks. However, an unexpected flood washed Gertie and Gus’s nest away. Gertie and Gus flew above the Skunk River bottom over and over again, along with the other Canada geese that had also lost nests, honking and searching. But to no avail. Gertie and Gus tried to mate again that season, but their time had passed.
The second year, Gertie chose some higher ground, against Gus’s beak-clicking protests, and laid six beautiful white eggs. Gertie and Gus were so proud. But a marauding coyote on the prowl, discovered the nest. Gus, on guard, went into action with his broken-wing act in an attempt to lead the coyote away, and almost had the coyote fooled. But he was a smart old coyote, being much experienced in egg/gosling hunting. He had spied Gertie on the nest and, after realizing he was being tricked, circled back. After all, he had a mate and a den of pups to feed, too.
Gertie and Gus’s grief was so great, that they cried to the others in their flock. The flock came forward and rubbed necks with Gertie and Gus to help them through their loss. Gertie and Gus didn’t even try to mate again that year.
On their flights around the Skunk River bottom and to area corn fields to feed, Gertie had noticed an old rusty grain bin, all overgrown with grape vines. She landed on top of the metal bin a couple of times and noticed the flat peak and camouflage of vines. No flood or coyote could get to her nest here! Gus knew from the look in Gertie’s eye that she had made up her mind, and it was useless to argue. The third season, they made their nest on top of the grain bin.
The eggs were about to hatch. Gertie could feel the slight movements within the eggs. Gus was standing close by on the ground in anticipation. Suddenly, Gertie looked down on Gus. How would her goslings get to the ground? A panic gripped her. They would fall and be killed! But she tended to her goslings anyway, assisting them with the shell, as they pecked and broke their way to freedom.
One by one, when it was time, the goslings left the nest. When they felt the hot tin of the grain bin, they rolled down the steep roof and, perhaps with their little wing buds flapping and helping some, fell into the clutches of the grape vines below. Only one of the six didn’t survive.
Over the course of 24 hours, Gertie and Gus led their brood the half mile to the Skunk River. Gertie would stop every hour or so and let them nestle and rest under her. She even picked up a stray gosling along the way, and cared for it. She was back to her six.
Once in the water, the goslings followed Gertie and Gus around in the cool, shallow water close to the bank. Other geese in the flock came forward with their goslings and honked their admiration at Gertie and Gus’s first brood.
Now, Gertie and Gus nest each year on the grain bin, while their brood search out cupolas, belfries, and domes, their goslings able to flap their tiny wings a little bit upon their fall from the nest. The Skunk River flows on.
• • •
Have a good story? Call or text Curt Swarm in Mt. Pleasant at (319) 217-0526, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit his website at www.empty-nest-words-photos-and-frames.com. Also listen to Curt’s recordings of Empty Nest columns on www.lostlakeradio.com.