The precarious life of ducks

Our family wild wing acquired four ducklings in an effort to expand their menagerie, which to this day consists of a mouser cat built as an NFL linebacker, an extremely energetic black lab who, in a mellow mood, serves as a pillow for the little ones and a Drop-eared Rabbit released into the wild as it is dragged into a litter box.

Theoretically, the rabbit is trained.

I do not dispute the theory; I just watch where I’m walking.

A wave of activity gave way to the ducklings. The first came to build a duck house, a simple wooden structure surrounded by aging black hickory trees nestled near the edge of the pond. The Duck House has an inviting porch, eastern exposure to the morning sun, and a roof that catches the crackle of the rain. It’s a miniature of the lake house of my dreams, although the lake house of my dreams is not surrounded by mud and mud where a misstep sucks the lead boots from your feet.

Either way, the idea behind the Duck House is to give the ducks a place to roost and shelter from predators – and I would include the rowdy black lab in that group.

The Cayuga ducklings arrived just days after hatching, four irresistible balls of brown down that will eventually turn a striking greenish black. They stayed in a box first, then got promoted to the tub. They zipped the length of the tub back and forth like Olympic contenders in the mad race for gold.

Everyone who saw them was like, “You know, the ducklings in the tub would be a nice addition to our house too.” No one admitted it out loud, but we all fed the duck envy.

A few days later the cold and nasty weather returned and we received a photo of one of the boys sitting in a chair reading a book, a duck huddled against his chest.

Oh, to be that boy. Or even be that duck.

Unfortunately, the Sunday morning after the ducks arrived, we learned that the smaller one was dead.

Several days later I had a video call from our son and their youngest daughter, who just turned three. I tactfully said that I was sorry to hear that one of the ducklings had passed.

“What do you mean past?” our son asked.

“I’m trying to be sensitive to the young ears present,” I said, nodding to the tow head swinging in the hammock with him.

“The duck is dead,” he said in a neutral tone.

“A duck is dead,” said the little one, echoing her daddy.

They both gave me pitying looks.

“OK fine!” Did I crack. “The duck is dead!”

Silence.

The little girl patted her long eyelashes and said softly, “We put a duck in a hole.”

And to think that I was trying to protect her. It’s probably better for her to be exposed to the harsh edges of life now, rather than growing up protected, overprotected, and taken by surprise as an adult.

She said it well: a duck is dead.

Grandma was taking it hard.

I will try to harden myself before the arrival of their chicks.


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