As a family we talked about him often. The crazy adventures, his knack for stealing Rob’s tools, and all the times he snuck his way into the house. It had been at least two years since we heard honking echoing through our farm. We discussed getting another goose regularly but for some reason the timing never quite worked out the way we hoped it would, and we knew that life without Aspen wouldn’t be the same.
On a random Friday afternoon after having tackled farm chores, we decided to make a trip into town for essentials and extra feed for the farm. We had been hauling things to the nearby garbage dump so rather than take our usual route, we knew it would be more direct to take the back roads. The long stretches of farmland between scenic mountains and sunshine did my heart good. I let the windows slide down to the rim so the breeze could dance over my throbbing fingers and ease the pain from the injury I had obtained a couple weeks prior. The rolling hills were carpeted in rich shades of green and dappled with day lilies while the last of the spring blooms put on a show of pink and purple hues.
It’s funny how quickly an ordinary afternoon can become something more extraordinary. Rob was sitting in the driver’s seat with one hand on the steering wheel while the other caressed my non-broken limbs. His amber eyes sparkled, and he threw a cocky grin at me. We were secretly listening to Nikolai drift off in his own little world. Wiggly legs dangled over his booster seat; he had been making up lyrics to songs that he wrote himself. Something Niki said about redheads being dangerous had my husband and I roaring with laughter. I intended to write it down. I do this a lot to savor his words for a later date, but I was interrupted by a sign advertising the sale of a flock of chickens.
Two large cages filled with birds had caught Rob’s attention and since we could always use more chickens, it captured my attention as well. It happened so suddenly that in the middle of typing Niki’s lyrics, I dropped my phone between the seats. While fumbling to find my cellphone, Rob made a three-point turn to get us back onto the highway. My hand was already hovering over the buckle to release my seatbelt before my husband had the opportunity to throw the car into park once we had arrived at our rerouted destination. I was eager to leap from my seat so I could stretch my legs but more than that, I was curious over how much the asking price would be. If it wasn’t too outrageous, I figured we would probably load up the car and take them all home with us.
I lifted a hand to shade my eyes from the sun so I could see better. Three menacing dogs snapped at me behind a chain link fence that blocked the front door. I couldn’t decide where the best point of entry to ring the doorbell might be. Was it behind the dogs? I wasn’t about to jump the fence to find out. That’s when I heard a sound that instinctively had me snapping my neck to locate the source. Underneath a shade tree was a large coop and five long necks that were straining to get a better look at me.
“HONK! Honk, honk, HONK!” I gasped and slapped my good hand across the car window so Rob would roll it down to speak with me.
“Do you hear them?!” I asked excitedly
“They have geese?” He asked with wide eyes
“See if they will sell them! Forget about the Chickens, try to convince them to let us buy a goose.”
A young dark-skinned boy in his early teens emerged from the woods in a dusty red golf cart and inky shorts. His flip flops made a sloppy sound as he was walking towards me after parking. Yet his eyes were bright, and his smile was more inviting than the dogs who kept him company.
“Can I help you?” He asked inquisitively
“Hey there! I saw your sign along the road for chickens, I was wondering how much you wanted for them.” I asked even though at this point I couldn’t have cared less about the chickens.
“Ten dollars a bird.”
“Hmm” I responded, “what about the geese? Are they for sale by chance?”
“The geese? I’d have to ask my parents, but I might be able to sell one to you.”
“I’m not sure… twenty dollars sound fair?”
Twenty dollars wasn’t a fair price. Most goslings in our area cost around fifty to seventy dollars but I wasn’t about to question him. Instead, we would bring extra funds with us just in case he changed his mind. With that, an agreement was made, and we left to locate an ATM.
When Aspen entered our lives, it was through a woman that I meet on Facebook. She was an amazing person who quickly became a friend. Aspen landed in our lap as the beautiful gift he truly was. I believe that the best friendships happen when we least expect them. I find that to be true of people as well as the animals that enter our lives and live on our farm. Some of my most memorable relationships have occurred when animals (and people) have showed up on my doorstep like a dusty puzzle piece that I never knew had been missing.
When we got back to the chicken sale with cash in hand, the boy’s father had been waiting for our return. He wore a grim expression across his face, and he was rubbing his rough hands across his jeans. His lips were pursed, and his jaw was set tight. Either they weren’t selling, or the price was way off. My stomach churned as my hopes began plummeting.
“I hate to break it to you, but those geese cost more than twenty dollars.”
“I figured as much.” I responded with a shy but knowing smile.
“I’ll only sell the male and we’ll take no less than a hundred for him.”
The boy shook his head and mumbled an apology. “That’s way more than I thought they should be sold for.”
“Can I see the male?” I asked politely as his father left to retreat into the confines of his home.
When the boy pointed to the gander, he was a stunning grey and white beauty with a graceful neck but a messed-up wing. The wing wasn’t a dealbreaker, but the fact that he was a Toulouse was. Male Toulouse geese are known for being exceptionally aggressive during mating season and I refuse to keep aggressive animals on our farm. There was no way he would be taken from his girls without a fight.
Standing next to the Toulouse gander however was a goose that looked almost identical to our late Aspen. She was white with blue eyes and a hump on her bill. Something like a cross between an Embden and a white Chinese goose. Where Aspen had splatters of soft grey down, she had a more muted sandy brown. I believe they call the cross breed, a painted goose. When I saw her, I knew in my heart that we couldn’t leave without her. She was standing in a thick, soupy mess of a pen. Her feathers desperately in need of a bath but her eyes were soft and bright like the boy who raised her, and I knew that if I could talk the boy’s father into it… she would be ours.
“What about the white one? She’s a female, right?”
“Yes.” The boy sighed “She gets bullied all the time. Are you interested in her? I could probably convince my dad to let you buy her. I have talked about rehoming her several times before.“
“If your dad is okay with it… we’ll take her.”
One phone call later and my husband and I were switching positions in the car. I was driving us home to protect my broken fingers from further damage and he was sitting in the passenger seat… holding our painted goose. Other than the occasional honk and pooping on the door handle… she sat rather quietly. The boy had told us that she was a good girl who didn’t bite as he released her from his arms and into ours. Before we left, he stopped us one last time to plant a goodbye kiss along her slender neck. She had been well loved before, and she would be well loved forever more.
We tossed around names for hours. Some were funny, some silly, and some were positively ridiculous but none of them seemed to really fit her. As we were fixing up our big coop so that it could become her new home, it came to my attention that we should name her after a tree like we did with Aspen. As suggested by one of my best friends, we decided to call her Maple.
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