The goslings have been growing almost visibly over the last month, their baby fluff almost entirely replaced by feathers. They are almost as big as their parents, and sometimes I have to look twice to tell the difference.
But today I came home from picking my Mum up from the station (she has come up to attend the Summer Gathering) to a horrible shock: something had killed one of the goslings.
It must have happened while I was out, otherwise I would have heard the commotion. Almost anything sets the geese off shouting, and an attack on one of them would have caused a huge uproar.
When we got back, I took the afternoon grain ration down to the chickens and geese, and knew something was wrong immediately by the silence - the sight of me bringing food always causes a hubbub of excitement. The geese were nowhere to be seen, the chickens strangely crestfallen. I went immediately into the goose run, anxious as to what I might find.
The buzzard flew up as I approached, but vegetation obscured the view until I rounded the pond. By now I could hear goose murmurs from their shed, and my first thought on seeing the pile of feathers on the bank was that the buzzard had killed a pigeon in the run and the geese were freaked out and hiding. But as I got closer it was clearly too big for a pigeon. And too torn up for me to identify which goose it was.
I went to the shed, and found Angel, Buffy and Sunny huddled together. The victim was Snowy. I immediately decided to shut them in for the night with their grain, while I (a) cleared away the corpse and (b) checked the fences for breaches - at this stage I wasn't sure if the buzzard had been merely taking advantage of left-overs from someone else's kill (e.g. a fox).
Unfortunately, as I went to get the grain, the bereaved family chose to follow me out, perhaps sensing that it was now safe. They immediately saw Snowy's remains. It's hard to imagine that a goose has facial expressions, but believe me, I saw Buffy's face as she looked at the torn and broken body. And in her eyes, I saw her heart break. This is the moment that keeps coming back to me. Not the clearing away of feathers, flesh and bone. Not the search for evidence of fox involvement (there was none, no breached fences, no paw prints). Not the resigned quiet of the remaining residents of the goose shed, or the hysterical clucking that erupted from the chickens when I finally got around to feeding them. Poor, poor Buffy. Somehow, I feel I have let her down.
Sometimes I regret that I have not been able to have children of my own. But sometimes, very occasionally, I get a glimpse of the unbelievable pain of a bereaved parent - and I think perhaps, just perhaps, I am lucky that I will never ever experience that depth of grief.
Sorry, Angel, Buffy and Sunny. And Rest in Peace, Snowy.
(The photo shows Snowy and Sunny together in happier times. Snowy in the foreground, Sunny behind her).