Things Are Ducky On Swallow Lake
Keith, my husband's brother, is the family poultry specialist. He arrived at Swallow Lake with a laughing apology: "I know you said not to bring a housewarming gift." Then he explained he had already promised to bring Gerald this gift of six ducks for our little lake.
The lake was iced at the time, and one duck immediately got herself splee-legged on the ice. Gerald went onto the ice and rescued her, but she was weakened. The next day she was gone. Keith had warned that a coyote or a hawk might have her for his middle-of-the-night snack. Thus, began Gerald's pursuit of successful duck husbandry.
Not wanting anymore caught by the coyotes, Gerald became super vigilant, taking care of the remaining five ducks making sure they had corn and a safe place to go off the ice when the lake completely frozen over. Watching those five ducks became Gerald's premiere winter and spring leisure time occupation and the object of much conversation.
Seeing them line up and swim the length and breadth of the lake leaving the trail of their wake behind them was indeed a beautiful sight. When wild ducks flew in to join them, we became excited and grieved when they flew away.
Despite our pleasure at watching them, I was somewhat nervous when I heard Gerald talking to them from the deck one morning, "Come here, little ducky, ducky, ducky." His summons brought back unhappy memories. Our only foray into raising waterfowl a good many years ago when we lived over at the other farm ended in disaster, and consequently I really do not want our little ducky, ducky, duckies coming up to my patio.
The summer our son got married, Keith had given us two beautiful white geese, which we named Geronimo and Victoria in honor of the bridal couple, Gerry and Vickie. All went well, and we did so enjoy the sight of them on the pond bank by the house. I was even tolerant when they started coming closer and into the garden. But as August and the wedding date approached, they became more and more bold. Soon they were on the porch leaving behind what they could not help, but neither could I help but dislike the leavings. By this time friends were coming and dropping off wedding gifts for the couple.
Our 17-year-old artist daughter Jeannie had been commissioned to do an art project and was being paid for it by our neighbor, who was teaching Lamaze birthing classes at that time. Thus, once more our family room floor was covered as in the past with her artwork. As the gifts started increasing, I opened up a Ping-Pong table in there to display the gifts.
By this time Geronimo and Victoria were very much doing their thing, and friends and neighbors were having to step carefully both on the porch and inside the family room filled with Jeannie's large poster board drawings all over the floor. We had lived with the posters all summer and grown quite used to them as she corrected and added and made yet one more poster for the series of teaching aides. Only after the fact, did we realize that the subject matter--the life-size exhibit of the birth canal and its developing infant--might have been a little shocking to our kind gift-bearing neighbors.
Finally the posters were completed and paid for--Jeannie's first money earned as an artist. The neighbor came and got the posters and even volunteered to take Geronimo and Victoria off our hands and put them on their pond, which was a little further from their house than ours was. I gladly relinquished the geese and the posters. So with these memories in mind, I began to shush Gerald's wooing of the ducks and reiterate that these birds have to stay at the lakeside and not come up to my house.
After one entire family of babies disappeared the first day down at the lake, his winter dreams of all the little ones he hoped to be hatched were foiled. But he got busy with lumber and empty oil drums to create floating maternity wards to keep predators away. Finally succeeding in seeing eggs hatch and then watching those tiny ducks grow into nine beautiful adolescent ducks was a first-summer pleasure. Seeing them take flight for the first time was a late summer thrill our first year here.
Also that first summer, a wild white duck joined our brown ones, and a grandchild named her Aflack. At first she was shunned by the other ducks, and I suffered her social stigma with her. However, although sterile, she lay in their floating nests and helped the other mother ducks with setting. They began to allow her to swim with them. Her eggs were a different color, and Gerald would bring them to the house for me to fry for the grandkids, who thought one of Aflack's eggs was a special treat.
All good things end and when winter came, the parents and young ducks and Aflack all took off for warmer climes. Although we never saw Aflack again, the next summer some returned so we liked to believe they were "our" ducks. Unfortunately, by the second summer, the racoons and opossums began to swim to the floating duck nests and take their breakfast. Gerald was very disturbed.
So we were all delighted on Mother's Day standing on our front porch, when we looked down and saw a nest with one egg right against the foundation in the corner flowerbed. Since we had grandkids coming to spend the summer, we couldn't help getting excited at the prospect of baby ducks so close. We watched until there were eleven eggs, and the day before the grandchildren were to arrive, Gerald let out his beloved bird dog for a romp and its usual joyful swim in the lake. Sadly, King found the nest beside the house and reacted with natural instinct and ate the eggs. Gerald reacted with his natural instinct and gave his prized bird dog back to our son to use at his hunting lodge in Mexico. To thoroughly express his anger, he removed the dog pen.
We did finally see a nest or two hatch and grow up last summer, and with the mild winter, most of the ducks stayed with us all year. Especially pleasing was the day the wild geese came and joined the ducks and surprised us by staying on until the end of May.
Now in our third summer here, once again Gerald is spending an inordinate amount of time suprervising hatching ducks. Once again, not only did the varmints find the nests in the grass beside the lake, they also fed off the nests floating in the water. He grew more and more depressed as eggs disappeared as soon as they accumulated. Twice he found dead mama ducks beside the lake, where evidently they had tried to fight off the marauding animals.
You can imagine his elation when he found we had three nests created and being filled up against the foundations of our house. So far the ducks have stayed off our patio, but I am not sure I could run them off if they appeared there. As I told the grandchildren, if we bother Grandpa's mama ducks, we might end up in Mexico with King.
About the Author: Sue Glasco writes of farming in the 1960s in Down on the Farm: One American Family's Dream. She features their retirement on the farm on http://sueglasco.tripod.com and shares her journal at http://sueglasco.blogspot.com. She is researching Priscilla on the Trail of Tears and asks for help at http://sueglasco.tripod.com/trailoftears.