AS I rose this morning and carried a cup of English Breakfast to the east porch, I found Beloved already there, with her big mug of coffee, admiring her surroundings wistfully.
"Fall has started," she said.
This was a shock. The really hot weather has only just begun, and we've become full-time waterers.
But I knew immediately what she meant.
The air smelled differently, somehow, than the previous morning, and a golden glow on the wall behind us, the telltale September glow, which I associate with Canada geese going up the river, suffused the whole porch area with sadness.
Where did the summer go, so soon, that we had waited so long to begin? And we have so little to show for our work, so far this year...
The brassicas went in too late to avoid the flea beetles, which are the current plague. We only did one small bed of peas, rather than the usual four in succession. The tomatoes have barely set fruit. We've just picked the first zucchini, and there's no crookneck squash yet.
Granted, we did get a crop off the early sweet corn, but the late variety should have tasseled by now and hasn't even reached waist high yet.
The second-year red onions were our only real show crop, making juicy bulbs six inches across. We took most of these to the Friends Meeting House, where there is a tradition of leaving surpluses for all comers on the back porch, but that looks like it will be our only contribution for the year.
There were no plums, and few apples; the Asian pears are too young to count, so there's just the one crop on the lone Bartlett to represent the orchard.
One thing we have a lot of, this year -- from our point of view, anyway -- is geese.
There are in the core flock two White Chinas, Abner and Amanda, and two beautiful gray Africans, Auntie One and Auntie Two.
Last year there were about 140 goose eggs, with Amanda producing about as many as the other two together, albeit smaller ones. Of these we left two to be hatched, which produced a couple of fine looking White China goslings, both of whom, however, died not long after fledging, from causes unknown.
This year, there were about 100 eggs, of which we left enough in the nest that seven hatched. These came in waves, so to speak.
Auntie One took over the brooding early on, hissing if Amanda got anywhere near the nesting box, and hatched three goslings which she took to be her very own. She was willing for Auntie Two to babysit them, or proud papa Abner, but Amanda was not to come near. If she even tried to share in bathing and drinking at the common pools, Auntie One drove her off with hisses, snake-like threatening movements of her long neck, and beating of wings.
It got so that poor Amanda was getting dehydrated, and we had to spread the various pools and "white buckets" over a large enough area that Auntie One couldn't cover the entire territory, making it possible for poor Amanda to jump off the nest, run for a drink, and run back. For Amanda had chosen to take on the remaining eggs, and stayed with them day and night.
Eventually four new goslings appeared, which seemed to us smaller at birth than those Auntie One was rearing. Three of these were larger than the last, whom we called Junior. It was now Amanda's turn to go on the offensive. Keeping the new babies close to her, she interposed herself between them and Auntie One at every possible moment, occasionally rushing over to give Auntie One a smashing peck in the back, between the shoulder blades, whenever she seemed to threaten to come too close.
We were impressed with Amanda's motherly courage, Auntie One having considerably more reach and strength, and about double Amanda's weight.
The children grew apace, but came a morning last week when I counted six at feeding time. Had Junior fallen down a missed post-hole somewhere, or had there been perhaps a fox raid? I searched, and before long came across his stiffening corpse -- neck broken -- he'd been severely pecked between the shoulder blades.
Amanda?? Oh, surely, not.
I elected to weed the upper garden, which is close to the fowl pens, and keep an eye on goose society for a bit. Amanda and her remaining three were cropping weeds and sipping water in one pool cluster, Auntie One and everyone else, including Abner, were doing the same in the other area.
Then Amanda, going for some stray bits of cob, was momentarily distracted. Instantly Auntie One, who had apparently been single-mindedly on the lookout, dashed across the invisible line of motherly enmity, and gave a slamming peck to the smallest remaining gosling, right at the base of his neck!
I must intervene.
Leaping over the fence of the duck pen (to the mild astonishment of the ducks), then over the goose fence, I chased Auntie One through the pool areas, overturning buckets, slipping in mud, rounding Auntie One in ever-tightening circles. We bowled over non-Auntie-One geese and goslings in all directions in our epic chase, which seemed to go on for a long, long time, though it was undoubtedly over in a couple of minutes. I held Auntie One's sleek, almost expressionless face close to mine, my fingers wrapped round her downy neck, and pronounced sentence: "Okay, you – in with the ducks." And dropped her over the fence.
The ducks scattered, goggle-eyed and squawking, then went about their business, which was mostly chasing flies.
At that moment I got the feeling one gets when one is being watched from behind. I turned. Abner, Auntie Two, Amanda, and the six goslings stood together in an amicable group, regarding me with mild curiosity. And just beyond them, our neighbors Mr. and Mrs. T. leaned on the fence. They had thoroughly enjoyed the chase.
Auntie One began treading up and down along the fence across from her three darlings and the rest of the flock, calling to them, and trying the wire at every possible point. The others, after getting over the discovery that the madwoman was not planning to kill them all, simply went back to grazing.
Auntie Two was the perfect aunt, spelling Amanda as needed in raising the six goslings, who from that moment looked to Amanda for all orders.
Beloved was away at a family reunion during all this. On her return from the Midwest, she got my report on goose events of the preceding week, then went out to survey the crime scene. I made tea, and brought it out to the shady side of the "veranda." Beloved returned, took two quiet sips, and said, "You know what? Every one of those babies is a White China!"
The three that Auntie One had fought so hard for, and been willing to kill for, were all Amanda's.
You may be interested knowing in what to do with a hundred goose eggs.
Last year, Beloved kept them in the refrigerator for, oh, all the way to this year. I asked about that.
"Well, we are going to blow them out and make holiday decorations out of them and things like that...and sell them."
"Sure, it's easy; you'll just punch a little bitty hole in each end with a little bitty nail and blow it out into a little bitty cup or something."
I tried the technique as described, and after about five minutes of blowing, had one egg in the cup and a severe headache.
A hundred and thirty-nine more eggs waited quietly on the table. I sat and thought for a bit, then went to get the high-speed mini-drill, and stopped by the sixteen-year-old's room.
"Got a pump and a basketball needle?"
"Uh, yeah, but what do you want 'em for?"
"Trust me, you don't want to know."
I selected an egg, and, using a cone-shaped grinder bit, opened one end and soften the other (the skinny end). I punched the needle in ever so gently, then pushed down the plunger, slowly, so as to avert an explosion, while holding the needle-inserted egg in the other hand above the cup.
The egg emptied itself in about three seconds.
Visions of a cottage industry danced in my head. I made quick work of the pile of eggs, emptying the cup after each one into a mixing bowl (this is in case you find a bad egg), in which the eggs would be later blended and moved into freezer bags -- when thawed, the batches are good in baking recipes that call for eggs.
But as far as cottage industry goes, well, we've never sold one yet. But after two years of this our Christmas tree looks splendid, and so do those of just about all of our friends....