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Posts Tagged ‘ducks.’

You never know when a thing will turn out to be a ‘God-thing’ (that’s Christian-speak for “a mysterious coincidence that must have been ordained by a higher power”). I don’t like the theology that teaches that everything that happens in life is a lesson, or even that everything happens for a ‘reason’, but sometimes things do happen in a way that you can look back and see how it all lined up in the cosmos for the end result to come together. If I were the author of a story, I would call this the plot line: one seemingly innocent action takes on a domino effect until everything comes to a climactic end that could not have happened without the original action.

I’m probably over-simplifying what happened. But, as miracles go, it had a start that seemed quite unlikely to go anywhere.

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A pair of puddle ducks wandered into the parking lot at work. These are relatively tame mallards that reside (most of the time) in a small pond along Meyers Road, between an apartment complex and a church, right off a busy thoroughfare. This particular pair, however, visited our office frequently enough that I started putting out dried mealworms for them to gobble on. They even wandered into the office once, much to my boss’ dismay and my laughter.

The kids at the gas station nearby named them “Duck-duck” (her) and Goose (him). Goose has a particular marking on the front that makes him readily identifiable. DD could be any old mallard hen.

I take at least one walk per day, during my break period. The pond is less than five minutes’ walk, so I can go down there, visit with whatever puddle ducks are about (or the resident nutria), and return to work well within my allotted time. It’s a nice nature break, even though I am not fond of nutria (non-native, invasive species), or of the mottled mallard/domestic duck mixes that make up most of the puddle ducks that make the pond home. There’s a kingfisher late in summer, the pond is a designated lamprey hatching ground (I’ve never seen a lamprey, but that’s an important conservation point), and the occasional Canada goose will take a gander (haha – pun intended) around.

Duck-duck hatched nine ducklings and I briefly attempted to follow their life story. Nine ducklings is a fair amount – maybe one will make it  to adulthood. Mortality for mallards is high in the wild, and in town. DD eventually melded with the other hens as the total duckling count (22 in all that first week) went down. The hens either moved their babies further downstream and out of sight, or the babies were picked off and the hens sought out a new mate for a new batch of eggs. I was left with a hen and five ducklings, then three, and, finally, one.

The one duckling, I am happy to say, has passed through pin feathers and is maturing into a pretty mallard hen. At some point, her mother abandoned her, too.

Several years ago, on a different worksite with more ponds, a friend and I watched a hen duckling raise itself. It was orphaned the first week of its life, and its siblings were picked off before they were five weeks old. Yet the one survived, raising herself, and when autumn came, she flew off with the rest of the migrating mallards. They may have a high mortality rate, but they are not incapable of surviving the greatest odds

I have been posting updates on Instagram and Facebook, gaining a small cult following – mostly of my good friends. Friends leave me photos of ducks or wild birds.

Last Wednesday, a friend sent me a video of some firemen rescuing a hatch of six ducklings out of a drain pipe. I can’t find where to share the video, but I’ll recap it briefly for you: the grates were lifted and firemen hung upside down into the darkness to catch the tiny buggers while mama duck quacked hysterically from the safety of some grass nearby. These ducklings even swam under the road to the other side where more firemen dangled down, their backsides and legs above ground – all to rescue a clutch of six. Then they put the whole family in a bag and took them to the safety of a stream to be released.

Thursday, I took my walk. I had my windbreaker on, but it was a tad warm. As I neared the church parking lot, I observed a mallard hen acting strangely, quaking and flying in circles – she nearly attacked a car pulling out of the drive!

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I could hear peeping emanating from below the water drain in the driveway. There were three babies down there, and I could not easily reach them!

My first thought was to walk on by – what could I do? Nature is cruel. There’s no obvious way to remove that grate to reach down into the shallow space below. But I’m the woman who cries when the dog catches and kills a fledgling sparrow in the backyard: how could I walk on by?

I dialed the non-emergency number and explained the situation. They’d send somebody, sometime. Meanwhile, an elderly woman with a cane had joined me and we determined there were actually five ducklings under the cement – and mama duck was nigh on hysterical. We had to do something.

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I’m not terribly squeamish about spiders, but there were a lot of spider webs between me and the babies. The holes were just over 1.63″ wide. The space underneath was about a foot wide and a foot deep, and only ran the length of the driveway: there was no end exit.

Even *if* I got my arms down there, how would I catch one and how would I bring it back up through that narrow slot without hurting it?

I had a system: I put both arms in and brought my hands together onto the huddled and frightened babies. One at a time, I caught them and brought them up, carefully using both hands to extract them from the grate. The first two, I nearly lost because they bolted for the street as soon as I had them free. The third one bolted up the drive so fast that I had to throw my jacket over it to stop it.

Fortunately, mama duck caught on and huddled near a tree, clucking as each baby found its way to her. My cohort kept mama from bolting toward the road, just by standing there.

The last two scared me. My arms were already turning purple and swelling where the skin had been pushed and forced down the holes. The babies in the hole were frantic. I could get one – but could I get the last one?? So many thoughts – and that video – ran through my head, but in the end, I managed to snatch both babies at once. I wasn’t sure how I’d ever get them up through that grate, but by some miracle of physics my hands and ducklings fit through.

I carried them over to mama duck who was apparently counting how many we’d rescued. She booked across the church lawn as soon as she had five ducklings to lead.

The photo of my right arm doesn’t show the whole glory of the deep red-purple bruise I earned. My new found friend posed for a victory selfie and a hug before we parted ways.

I called non-emergency back and canceled my request. They hadn’t even dispatched anyone yet.

It was exhilarating, crazy, heart-pounding, desperate, adrenaline-pumping, and amazing. It was made profound by the realization that someone had just sent me a video on rescuing ducklings the night before, and that video played in my head the entire time. She sent that video because I started following the adventures of the ducklings on the pond, and I started doing that because of a pair of puddle ducks that wandered into my office when the doors were open one sunny Spring day.

God, Who was authoring the plot of this story, had His eye on the ducklings. It was never about me or my crazy heroics and somersaults (I did somersault at least once, tripping over a fleeing rescue) – it was always about the five ducklings that slipped through the cracks in a driveway on their first trip away from the nest they hatched in. Just little puddle ducks that have a low survival rate anyway – but five babies that were important to the way the Universe works. Five little ducks were destined  to make it as far as that pond, to enter into whatever wonderful (or not-so-wonderful) things Life had prepared them for.

Listen to this song, and replace the word “sparrow” with duckling. It seems almost silly, but it makes my heart swell to understand that no life is insignificant.

His eye is on you.

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She was fourteen. I was going on seventeen. We hated each other, and we fought. She was out of control, spiraling away from family. I was making plans to leave home forever as soon as graduation rolled around the following spring. She was drinking heavily, immersing her pain in drugs and sex. I blamed her for the anguish I saw in our parents’ eyes when they searched for her or she stumbled home, drunk, again, long after curfew.

There’s a lot I blame myself for: I was the older sister. I should have been an ear for her, but she never felt safe confessing her troubles to me. I was as much an enemy as the parents were, or maybe more: I was everything she was not: the A student, the over-achiever, the college-bound, the “good” girl. I took advantage of that, as only a teenage older sister can.

But there was this one night – this one hallowed evening. She was grounded. There was a carnival in town. She wanted to go; I didn’t. Frankly, I get motion sick and carnivals are *not my thing*. But my parents told me I could take her to the carnival (as if it were a great favor bestowed upon me). So I made an effort: we’d be like we were before drugs, alcohol, sex, and the move to a new town blew us apart. We’d be sisters. We’d have fun.

I can tell you exactly how much Sam cost, 43 years later. The smell of cotton candy. The sounds of the Carnies hawking their games. The array of plates you had to land your dime on to win a prize (and that prize was somewhere in the pen below, peeping and frightened: a duckling).

“I want one,” she declared.

“Dad will never let you keep it.”

“He will if I cry.” She had large, dark brown eyes. She’d gifted me a kitten a couple of years earlier, and I got to keep him because I shed alligator tears and Mom went to bat for me. It was possible, I reckoned.

“I’ll try.” I tossed dime after dime. At ten dimes, I began to hesitate.

“Pleeeze…”

“Okay, but only two more dimes. No more.”

He cost $1.20. He fit into a 16-ounce paper cup. He bonded instantly with the human carrying him. She named him “Sam”, after herself. She’d been “Sam” since a backyard baseball game when she was four, and the umpire (a neighbor) gave us all boy names so we could play baseball with the boys (“They’re girls! They can’t play!!”). My “boy” name never stuck, but hers did: she was ever afterward, “Sam”.

And now her duck was Sam.

And Dad was not happy.

And no amount of alligator tears, pleas from me, or any other begging gesture would sway him: the duck would GO. NO DUCK.

It ripped a tear into our family fabric that took ages to mend. Dad took the duck (forever named Sam) to a rancher friend of his, some 60 miles away, near Baker, Nevada. Sam would live and grow old with the ducks in the pond. My sister continued to spiral out of control, feeling unloved, lost, and betrayed. It took me years to understand and forgive Dad myself: what’s a duck worth? Yeah, Dad had the duck’s future in mind, but did he have my sister’s future in mind?

Did my parents understand the small gesture that might have swayed her out of her self-destruction? Did I?

I’ve never forgiven myself for those 12 dimes. I knew better. I knew Dad would not bless the duck. I merely hoped. And I so wanted to have a fun night with my little sister, a moment to remember – fondly.

Tonight, when I was painting this duck, he began to speak to me.

Sam - image is smaller than seen on the screen: 2x3"

I’m forgiven. By my sister and by the duck.

She died before we ever sat down and talked about The Damn Duck (as I refer to him in my memory). I assume she and Dad came to a place of forgiveness as well, as they were close when she died.

They are all gone now: Dad, Deni, the Duck. Sam, however lives on in my mini painting. And my heart. Because at that moment, at age 17, I never meant to betray my sister’s trust. It took me a long time to forgive our father for that betrayal. I got the reasoning right away, but the emotional impact…

I’m not sure I understand his reasoning tonight. It was a duck. It imprinted on my sister. It probably would have had a shortened life if we had kept it and she had to care for it, but… maybe it could have changed her life. Her self esteem.

But if her self esteem had been elevated, would I be aunt to the amazing nieces and nephews i am aunt to?

Maybe Sam was the sacrifice that had to be made for my nieces and nephews to exist. That would be a good reason for a duck to be hatched, sold to a carnival, and purchased for $1.20 in dimes.

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