Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Our Sunday lunch path took us past a nice little pond in front of a big industrial building---the fountain was spraying, and all the ducks and geese who had fared grimly all Winter were paddling and preening and enjoying the sun. I looked for little fuzz-haired babies, in their waddly parade, but there were none to be seen, since the temperatures reached above freezing only this week.

We raised mallards once. On the lawn. My Dad had ordered a hundred babies from one of those mail-you-poultry places when my children were very young, and as soon as he could tell drake from hen, he brought us two boys and four girls. They were great pets, waddling around all the acreage, wading in the little stream formed by forty years of erosion outside the pumphouse.

They were beautiful creatures, those iridescent green heads gleaming in the sunlight, quite companionable and conversational, gathering at the porch steps several times a day and awaiting a treat. I'd always cook extra pancakes at breakfast, cut them into neat bites, then go out and sit on the steps, holding out bite after bite on a fork, as each one came up and took a dainty selection. They didn't push, they didn't squawk or flap, and except for their naturally-untidy bathroom habits, they seemed to be the perfect pets; even the dozen or so seasoned old bird dogs would just open a lazy eye at the little flock, sigh gently, and go back to sleep.

They nested that first Summer, and came parading around from the outbuildings, leading a line of tiny yellow puffs on stick legs along right up to those big-jawed hounds. They were precious little things, following in their straight line behind Mama, ducking into the grass for a bug, paddling their tiny feet across the stream---they were small enough to swim in it, and I wondered what they thought when the stream got too shallow for their growing legs.

Then those sweet, poufy babies grew up to be big old quacky squawky ducks, eating their weight in cracked corn, stealing the Purina Chow right out of the mouths of the dogs, and leaving their gooey calling cards from pillar to post, right up on the porch. Especially on the porch, if I were eight minutes past daylight getting out there with their breakfast.

And after several years, our flock was reaching mammoth proportions, luring in stragglers from their flight pattern every now and then, and multiplying to more than Daddy's ninety-four. So we decided, since his flock had not fared too well in the wild environs of the lake, falling prey to turtles and foxes and other wildlife, we'd just make the sacrifice and give him all of ours. We loaded them into cages and boxes and a few went into the far back seat of the three-seater station wagon. (Hum a little Chevalier here: "Thank Heavvvven, for vinyl SEEEEATS. . .") Away we went for the twenty-mile journey, our progress heralded by mutters and quacks, and our trek through the towns between was a cause of much pointing and hilarity.

Especially the ducks being chauffeured in style. Two of them were vainly trying to flap-balance atop the back seat, and one hen fell astraddle for a while, her wildly flapping wings and can't-get-a-grip slick duckfeet giving her the look of a ride-em-cowboy rodeo star. Another brown little beauty had made her way into the far back window, and sat cuddled nest-fashion, greeting passersby like one of those little Ken-haired noddy dogs.

They'd been in a couple of our farm ponds, but when they saw that lake, they'd gone to Heaven. They all took off, skimming the fields like dive-bombers, hitting that water with the force of a bellyflop diver. And they were home.

For years after, I'd go out and visit "my" birds carrying a big bag of stale bread loaves---making a detour past the camphouse kitchen for a glass plate and a fork. A step to the end of the dock, a few quick clinks of fork to plate, and a great flurry of waterfowl would come from all bends and curves of the shoreline, making their way to the familiar call. I could always tell which ones had been ours---they'd swim up to my feet, then walk right up onto my lap, accepting their bites from the fork, just like when they were babies.

and moire non . . .


Mrs. G. said...

This is such a beautiful post. I love the image of feeding ducks pancakes.

racheld said...

Oh, Mrs. G.!!! What a lovely compliment!!

More to come re: ducks---we've had quite a lot of encounters with the quacky dears.

Tonja said...

A lovely story. I can just imagine the ride in the car!