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Copyright © 1999-2016 Aline Fourier
     

This is a reprint from La Joie, In Appreciation of All Animals

On A Wing And A Prayer
by Aline Fourier
from June/July 1992



This is a peaceful spot that I have come to. There is a silent natural beauty on this island. I have recently "come home" in Newagen, Maine. I live on a salt marsh pond, fed by the regular ocean tides. It is a haven to wild birds of all varieties. Winter has just set in and I am up early to load the wood stove. The air is still, except for the sound of the continual lapping surf. I reach for a log and hear a loud sound, like a gunshot, although I thought hunting season had just ended. Before I can finish placing the log on the glowing coals, another shot breaks through the silence and my sleepiness. Startled and now alert, I look out the window and feelings of alarm, confusion and a sense of intrusion envelop me. About 200 yards from where I am, three hunters stand, one with his shotgun aimed directly at the center of the pond in front of me. Several more shots invade the silence as without hesitation I open the sliding door that separates us and scream, "Stop shooting! Stop right now!" I had not thought of my own safety. In fact, I had not thought at all. Instinct ran through my blood as if my own child were in danger. But my words did not have the power to stop the bullet from hitting the Mallard, as she struggled in the icy waters. To this day I do not know how she was able to make her way to the edge of the pond by our home, onto the matted grasses, almost driven by a knowing that we were sanctuary. By this time, my husband Jonathan had thrown on some clothing, ran onto the marsh and made his way to the struggling mallard duck. He lifted her into his arms. The hunters had made their way to our door, demanding "their prize." My husband's response sent chills through me for his safety, "Over my dead body. Now get off my property."

Fredericka (my husband named her immediately), wrapped in a towel and resting in my arms, was stunned and yet very alert. If I released my grip even a little, a feisty mallard struggled for life. Her wing was invaded with buckshot and her neck was grazed. As I held this wild being I felt a deep commitment to fight as hard for her life as she was doing. As I look back I realize that it would not have occurred to me to name this wild creature of the air. She is untamed and free and somehow naming her feels like an act of domestication.

The marine ranger came and took the mallard duck to our local veterinarian who suggested to me that it might be best to put her to sleep. Jonathan and I knew this was an untenable position. I prayed for help in knowing what would be best for this creature of the wild. I did not want to place my human emotions on this animal. If she were crippled, would I be able to find a safe protected environment for her? Can I make the choice to amputate the compound fractured wing (the vet neglected to tape the simple fractured wing until I arrived the next day) or if she had not found sanctuary with us would she have died in her natural environment or maybe at the hands of the hunters? Her life was now in my human hands that felt her soft down, the steady unfaltering rhythm of her mallard heart, the blood welling in her wounds.

I found myself in the wrestling ring with more than one opponent- the hunters, the animal rights activists, the anthropomorphists and the realistic pragmatists. My instinct to interfere between hunter and prey placed me in a position where I was being asked to make human decisions on behalf of a wild living being. My dilemma was to make the decision that would be in the best interest of the mallard duck.

That week, Dr. Amy Woods, a veterinarian who operates on ducks, amputated her wing. At the same time, I was told about a woman who takes in disabled ducks and has done so since 1985. The Wildlife Rehabilitation Center has given this "lover of ducks" many of their wounded wild ducks after they had healed. My prayers were answered for she was willing to take Fredericka when she was well enough to travel. It felt important to me that this mallard duck be in a protected environment with other ducks. The pond by my home would have left her prey to local foxes.

A one-winged mallard waddled through my home. As she reached the windows that looked out on the pond where it all began she tried to reach out to the freedom that had just, a week and a half ago, been there for her. Again and again she tried to fly, her feisty resilience filling the room with an aura of survival. This mallard duck would do more than survive. And in my heart she murmurs, reminding me that we may be wounded and still be whole.

Postscript: The mallard is doing fantastic and rules the roost at Elaine Crockett's home (the other duck lady). I am so happy I made the decisions I did concerning her and find myself affected by the incident. Our lives are truly connected in ways we do not always recognize.