Eat, Sleep, Float: The Ducklings At One Week Old!

Morning breaks with busy sounds of mowers, pool splashings, distant music, drive-way saws buzzing….and the ducks just float on! At one week old, we see stronger more spindly legs, longer necks, thinner faces and elongated eyes that identify them more as their mother’s breed. The ducklings move fast, making it more difficult for me (a novice) to capture them in pictures. The picture taking, over all, has been minimized due to the tree branch wall that we put around the pond to shade the water. It’s been a little frustrating. But…this family of ducks will be here for awhile, and I suspect the ducklings will be breaking away from the moms in predictable mayhem before long…as all our little ducklings do!

Temperatures here in south Texas have been high, often reaching into the triple digits. Promising gray clouds hang over these humid days but our yard has seen no rain. We are busy sanding our kitchen cupboards as we return to a long-over-due remodeling project, getting summer things down around the house, and the ducks just do their thing…in and out of the pond, scurry for food, scramble back to the pond then under the cool shade of the bush in late afternoon. After the evening quiets down, cools and darkens, mother duck sits with the ducklings around her or close under her wings and, for all we know, she stays that way all through the night.

More and more we are seeing only one adult duck staying with the babies, and a few times both adults leave. The ducklings move together in a swirly, striped mass like a sworm of bees, from the pond rocks to the bush. They have learned the power of the group.

While the duck world outside is simple and serene, my house inside is topsy-turvy with summer projects to do, to finish, to start! There are times that I look at those ducks and can see how our human world is just too complicated. No wonder we all enjoy sitting at the beach, basking in the sun, floating down a river in a tube or canoeing in quiet waters; just ‘being,’ not doing. It seems more the normal course of nature. Eat, sleep, play in the water, crap, eat some more, sleep, float; I could do that! Couldn’t we all?! Ha!

Happy one week survival birthday, ducklings!

The Summer Settles Into a Hum

The season of summer means different things to different people. In Michigan, my home state, summer is a break from the other seasons which dramatically contrast each other. The changing landscape from green to golden to gray to white to a richer green again creates a natural rhythm, where change is anticipated, celebrated, and cherished. Northerners know that by the time they are sick of one season, another one is about to bring change!

A Texas summer landscape

In Texas, summer begins in May, after a brief flowery-fragrant spring in March and April. Temperatures rise quickly and it stays hot for months! The summer’s end is vague on a dry brushed canvas…thristy and still. Changes that speak of autumn are subtle and simple, the Sawtooth maple’s brownish gold, the crape myrtles with a touch of red; not at all the drama of the north. I have observed that ‘autumn’ (as we know it in glossy magazine pictures and Hallmark cards) arrives around Thanksgiving, but only if all the elements are right. It takes years to adapt one’s inner clock to this kind of unpredictable, inconsistent rhythm. It took me about 10 years to stop grieving for the loss of all four seasons, another five to start ‘seeing’ the quiet changes of this landscape, and have learned to appreciate what ‘is here’ at this point in my life.

Like poets and writers before me, I can’t help but see the similarities between the changing seasons and the journey of womanhood. When I left home, at just 20 years old and still in the childish spring of my life, I grieved for the loss of my home state and close family ties. Then more personal changes and motherhood enveloped my daily doings, and life became thick and too busy to miss anything except a good night’s sleep! I was adapting to a less dramatic inner life, and the gentle changes of growing babies took over. Dreaming, dancing, moving, struggling, developing my career with children in tow, defined the summer of my life. It seemed long when I was in the middle of it, yet brief as it is coming to an end.

In the last few years, I am now beginning to appreciate being where I am, in mid-life, accepting all the subtle changes and embracing this season of slowing down. I am not ‘in the winter of my discontent,’ as I had thought when moving through the questioning and searching time of menopause. Like false labor, menopause can make you confused and anxious, like something you are not ready for is about to happen!  I didn’t go insane or run away from my life, though at moments I thought I was going to! Instead, the struggling brought an awakening to the season of truth. I discovered my long days of summer were coming to an end. I am, indeed, changing into an aromatic autumn day, rich with wisdom, wrinkling around the edges, a rosy round apple, carefully stepping along a golden path of reflection and awareness. Like all the seasons of the year and of life, it’s lovely if you are ‘present.’

My sisters and northern friends share pictures of boating on the great lakes, shorelines lapping with waves, picnic parties in liveable heat. Yes, I still yearn for the summers of my life that were painted on that same canvas. But here, summers are slower, like a lazy river; mesquite BBQ smoke warm and heavy in the air, bedazzled dances at rugged dance halls, and the notable ‘sizzle’ of mid-day heat that slowly draws out into a warm, still night. It’s different, longer, perhaps a less celebrated season than it’s northern cousin. It’s a gentle kind of dance, a lively two-steps that glides into a slow comfortable waltz.

Like my ducks and ducklings, I am settling into this Texas summer with a slow, quiet acceptance. I’ll take a little man-made pond and a dry patch of grass, if that is all that is available, and hang with my babies….who may be the real secret to staying young and spirited! Icy sweet tea in the afternoons, light grilled dinners; summer here is an easy-going country song, a story worth singing.

Our visitors are southern ducks. Ha! They know nothing else. And the stranger duck, that has returned again today, is less and less threatening to the mother ducks. Thin and pensive, it may be a lost teenager looking for a home. Like our hobo cat, Squeak, who now has been in and out of our yard for water, she just looks at the ducks and slowly walks away. No struggle for territory, no ownership of this space, no aggression to retrieve what was hers. It’s too hot to do anything else. Like an aging woman leaving her summer behind, we are in the season for languishing in the shade of acceptance.

Day Four: The Loss of LD

The loss of the Littlest Duck this morning.

This morning we found LD, the smallest duckling who seemed to grow weaker every day, dying and isolated at the side of the pond. He perished shortly afterwards. We knew, as the adult ducks must have, that this one wasn’t going to make it in the world. Our human intentions to try to save it would have been in vain. In the early morning light, already sizzling hot, we went about our business with a solemness that we didn’t anticipate when the ducklings first made their appearance. Suddenly our dog started barking, back hair up, and nervously running from window to window! It appeared the ducks were moving more freely around the yard, closer to the patio! But, instead, it was ANOTHER adult whistling duck that had landed in our yard and was taking a little stroll. Was there some kind of newscast in the duck world that we were a refuge?! We laughed, thinking about all the stray cats and dogs over the years that we had given food and water to, and then more of their ‘stray friends’ would appear at our door, too! Ugh!

He left.

The duck drama seems to have mellowed this mid-day, with temperatures reaching 110 degrees. Everything and one seems to be laying-low. Even a squirrel, spread out flat on it’s belly in the cool dirt he scratched down to, has made a little napping bed for himself under one of our trees. LD’s spirit flew away with the other little duckling we lost, and life moves on, albeit…as slow as a muddy southern river.

Day Three: As Evening Sets In

As we suspected, by early evening the mother ducks seem to be rejecting the littlest duckling (LD), as it can’t seem to keep up with the flock. This is hard to watch. It’s even harder to know whether to step in and help LD or just follow the mother’s lead. As humans, we know we wouldn’t leave a sickly child to die, yet the ducks know that perhaps that little duckling won’t beable to fly on it’s own some day and must let it go. Maybe it is sick, and the mothers are protecting the rest of the ducklings. This is where the human world and animal kingdom collide. Crossing that line is not always wise.

More and more we are witnessing one of the adult ducks flying away. Perhaps looking for grown-up food, or perhaps it is looking for another location. But where could they go? In a similar situation, our grown daugther called animal rescue and they couldn’t do anything with the ducks unless they were in danger. In this case, considering that we don’t live near any lakes or parks, the family of ducks seems safest here in this guarded environment. Time will tell. The summer is suddenly feeling

LD sits alone as the mother duck shelters the other ducklings under her wings

longer and hotter as reality sets in. We are faced with questions like, “What happens as the ducklings start getting bigger and running all over the yard?” What kind of chaos will that cause for them as well as us?

For now, they are managable. But, in the end, we’d want what is best for their survival. We’ll sleep on it again tonight. Mothers or parents (we are still not sure if they are two mothers or male and female) sit like cement statues is the cooler night air with ducklings under their wings in the darkness. We do a last check and rest alittle uneasy, worried if we’ll find LD perished in the morning. Nature’s way is showing it’s harshness in the happiest moments.

In The Morning Light

I am up close and more personal now. Sitting on a blanket about three yards from our ducks, waiting. The temperatures are climbing fast here, near 100 degrees and it isn’t even noon. If the heat isn’t enough, the mosquitos could possibly eat me alive! Ants have taken over my water bottle. But, I wait. The mama ducks know I am here, peeking their protective heads out from under their veils of green leaves. Saturated in sweat, I lay back and listen.  Cicadas rattle the trees in the scorching heat. Their cresendoing buzz is deafening. A usually bright green yard seems colorless, bleached in the blinding sun, except for the nesting bush that remains green with life. I feel like a child again. Alone on the grass, but being carefully watched. Even the birds are quiet.

There is always risk in getting attached. We’ve had our share of joyful hellos and tender good-byes. Yesterday, in the late afternoon, one of the ducklings was left floating in the pond. Though we are on watch almost 24/7, he seemed to slip away unseen among the fluff balls bobbing in the pond. We scrambled to fetch him out. I held him in my hand, rubbing his little chest, then back, with gentle vigor. But, we were too late and had to accept nature’s way. A little doubt slipped into our good intentions.

This morning, with added dried tree branches from a disgarded brush pile, the pond has more shade. The sprinkler on and off every 30 minutes to keep the pond cool. The mothers have cautiously emerged, with their bold little babies. Once again, they are in and out of the pond. The ducklings stand up on the rocks and shake their little bodies, run for food, and go back into the moving water. They gave me the ‘okay we trust you’ signal by coming out of hiding. I click away, and they take care of themselves in peace.

It is 105 degree outside now. In the course of two hours, and with a closer view, I noticed one little duckling (LD) not quick eager to join the others. He’s smaller, doesn’t run or go to the feeder. He often sits or floats next to one of the mother ducks, but then seems purposely left behind. We’re worried about him. I respectfully rarely call my husband at work, and visa versa, but we are both attached now to ‘our’ babies. LD is still fast enough to follow the others, though he tags behind, and is yet to be completely isolated. So we agree that we will scoop him up and nurture him on our own if his mothers give up.

We laugh, remembering 22 years ago raising baby chicks and ducklings in our Minnesota farm kitchen. We can do this, because we have. It’s amazing what comes back or comes forth when nature changes course. Right now, with morning turned to a deathly hot afternoon, it’s all about survival.  But isn’t it always.

A Summer Surprise!

Cynthia: teacher, writer, photographer, mother, and not-so-casual observer of life!

Sometimes, in the dry of a hot summer, something comes along to inspire a person to pull up the shades and embrace the season for all it’s worth. I’ve never been a summer girl. I prefer the warmth of a roaring fire, the crisp of autumn air, the aroma of bee laden mountain laurels in spring. For me, a tired teacher with busy grown kids, summer generally means hiding from the sun in a darken house, cleaning out closets, watching movies, and reading. It’s good for my sensitive skin, but plays havoc on my sense of adventure, making me question, “What the heck am I doing with my summer?!” I’m resting from the busyness of teaching and staying cool….with a fluffed pillow and a good book. Yeah, boring.

But, yesterday, much to our surprise, two adult ducks and about 20 new born ducklings were waddling around our backyard! Shades went up, binoculars and cameras came out, bird books opened; we have visitors! Hello there!

Two Whistling Tree ducks, birds that we usually see in spring for about a weekend…sitting in trees and on roof tops…had nested under one of our bushes and have now created a little home in our sleepy suburban backyard. We are charmed, as well as concerned. We have a big dog who calls the yard his, and a few regular hobo cats that hang around our neighborhood that might find the ducks more tasteful than beautiful. So, we’ve been walking the dog in front and patrolling the fence for any intruders that might disrupt this little family of ducks. We watch…and contemplate each step.

In an effort to keep the ducks cool and fed, we’ve created a small pond, run the sprinkler, and have put out two small feeders of starter duck food. They seem to have settled in, basking in the sun, spashing in the shallow water, and taking regular outings around the yard…the two adults hovering in alert as the row of striped ducklings trail behind. From what we have read, it could be as much as 50 days before the ducklings can fly. And so we continue to watch and nurture with as little intrusion as possible.

It will be interesting to see, here in the beginning of this slow-moving hot Texas summer, just how nature will direct this little blessing. Their appearance has certainly added a little color and excitement to mine. I have been glued to windows in my night gown, hidden behind the fence like a peeping tom, creeping along the patio… snapping pictures of these little fuzzy babies and their guard-dog moms. Just when I thought life was losing it’s zest again, as I often do in the deadness of summer, the blinding sun seems soften and the sound of spashing ducklings, bobbing up and down in the pond, has revived my spirits.

We’ll watch, together if you like, and see what nature has in store. It seems summer is full of surprises and inspiration! I’ll read those books later~