They came to me as gangly, fuzzy little yellow nuisances. I didn’t want them – I was only supposed to serve as the chauffeur for the last leg of their journey to new homes. A friend’s daughter had used them as living props for her photography business during the Easter season, and her father asked me if I would be interested in adopting them. I told him no thanks, I already had way too many animals and couldn’t take them, but I’d find folks who could. When you own a farm, you become a sort of clearinghouse for critters, and I knew some people who would give them good homes.
This act of kindness became only slightly less of a logistical nightmare than say, invading Normandy. It was for the sake of critters, though, and baby critters at that, so there was no way I could refuse to help. At last the deal was struck; willing owners were found, meeting places mapped out, date and time of the transfers scheduled, pickups and deliveries arranged.
Twelve chicks and twelve ducklings in varying states of hysteria arrived in the back of a mini-van, and were unloaded, unboxed, and doled out to their new families. They were then re-boxed, reloaded and off they went. Except, that is, for those last six little ducks, one of who was blind in one eye. They were riding with me to some friends’ nearby farm. I would drop them off and my part in the Great Poultry Pass-Off of 2007 would be done.
It was a long drive home. The poor little things were totally freaked out by this time, and I did my best to soothe them in a calm, quiet, Mr. Rogers voice, telling them that they were going to love their new home and their new owners. They weren’t buying it, and kept trying to flap out of the box. This proved quite a challenge to my hand-eye coordination at times, to say the least, but we managed to finally make it to the home stretch.
I called ahead to alert their new owners that we were on the way, only to be told they wouldn’t be home for several hours. By now, some of the ducklings were becoming lethargic, and knowing they hadn’t been fed or watered all day, I worried about the lack of nourishment on such little bodies. Okay, I thought, we’ll make a pit stop at my house and I’ll give them some food and water, they can rest a little, and I’ll take them on down to my friends’ farm later that evening.
A New Act Joins The Circus
My critters provided their usual exuberant welcome when I got home, the dogs meeting me at the gate like they hadn’t seen me in years, jumping and barking and sniffing and vying for my attention. Several of the cats typically join the welcoming committee, and Toonces, named after the cat in the old SNL sketch, likes to jump in the truck and ride with me down the driveway. This usually makes me smile, reminding me how glad I am to be home. It did this time, too, but it also roused the ducklings to renew their shrill peeping and fluttering escape attempts. I must have looked like some sort of deranged ringmaster trying to get back into the truck, holding off the dogs and preventing a very persistent cat from jumping into the middle of the box full of baby ducks. Getting from the truck to the house was equally festive, but at last the ducklings were safe inside.
After laying down plastic and newspapers in the half-bathroom, I tipped the box slightly and the weary little ducklings tumbled onto the floor. Laughing as I watched them stretch their tiny wings and jostle for position around the water bowl, I wondered what in the world I was going to feed them. I finally decided to cook them some oatmeal, and after some initial confusion they gobbled it up and promptly fell asleep. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen sleeping baby ducks, but they should be pictured in the dictionary beside the word “cute”.
I still had every intention of giving the ducklings to my friends. Really, I did. Then I noticed that the little half-blind one would cock it’s head and swivel around so it could see me when I spoke, weaving slightly back and forth as it peeped a reply. It reminded me of Stevie Wonder, so I laughed and crooned “Hey, little Stevie…” Realizing what I’d just done, I clapped my hand over my mouth in dismay, and anyone who has ever rescued a stray critter knows why – it’s nearly impossible to relinquish an animal once you’ve named him or her. The ducklings were here to stay.
I’ve come to realize that keeping those little varmints was one of the best decisions I ever made. They are the undisputed comedians of the farm, never failing to make me laugh. I don’t know where that expression “Like a duck takes to water” came from, but whoever coined it had obviously never tried to teach baby ducks to swim. Sitting beside their pool has become a favorite way to relax in the summer, watching their aquatic antics and giggling like a fool.
Watching then during a storm is funny too, but there’s a lesson in the laughter. They take obvious delight in the pandemonium, facing the turbulent wind and driving rain head-on, extending their wings and quacking loudly. It’s as if they’re daring the storm to defeat them, absorbing the energy and reveling in it. They take something scary and negative and turn it into a test of will and perseverance. When it’s all blown over and everyone is accounted for, they congratulate each other with smug little peeps and quacks and go on with their day.
They’ve got the right idea, I think. Like the old Kansas song says, “…nothin’ lasts forever but the earth and sky.” In the grand scheme of things, we’re only here for a short time, every moment counts, and those moments slip away quickly. Face adversity with a fierce resolve to beat it, learn what you can from it, then go splash around in the pool for a while.
I taught my ducks how to swim, but they taught me how to fly. And now that y’all will be humming that song for the rest of the day, my work here is done.