Odd Duck

The daily round brought many gifts this week, each of them a lovely surprise and all the more savored for their inbreaking, unexpected joy. “Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise,” wrote Alice Walker, a philosophy that fits our slow life at Full Moon Cottage very well. This week, though, was all about an abundance of surprise.

A lost manuscript was found through the wizardry of a computer detective’s hard work. It came back to me disguised by layers of alien encryption, but I’m slowly extracting my original words, and very happy to be doing so. The prodigal story has come home.

The second gift was brought by our UPS man one afternoon: three huge boxes containing a lovely old china set were sent to me by a dear friend. The china had belonged to her grandmother and I had admired it when I visited my friend last February, and then, true to my waning retention abilities, forgot about it. While it doesn’t suit my friend’s lifestyle, she wanted the china set to find a home with someone who would honor the history and connections it represents, and chose me. How wonderful is that? My spirit was overwhelmed and drenched in joy. And I love that it’s come with stories and pictures of the feisty Irish woman who originally owned it. These are safely tucked beside the china, ready to be shared and celebrated when we break bread with guests.

The third gift was learning that our duck friends have decided that the lupine-daisy-tulip garden is a fine place to build a nest and hatch their ducklings. This discovery came with its own adventure.

I took a break from my writing one morning. I was still in my pajamas, as I’d been writing since dawn. The day was overcast, so I thought I’d dash out, take a photo or two, stretch my muscles and return to my writing. I grabbed my camera and walked down to the garden where the tulips were brightly blooming.

Now, I know that telling myself I’ll just check a garden for a minute or two is always a lie. I kneel, or crouch, and begin to weed; my mind settles; I begin to meditate, wander to the next garden…the day ends and there I am, out in the gardens, all other tasks neglected, orphaned, forgotten.

So there I was, crouching beside the edges of the tulip garden when the female mallard suddenly flew out, a bluster of feathers and quacks erupting in my face. Both of us seemed to be miming the receipt of electric shocks for a few moments, and then she flew away, while I brought my breath, limbs, and heart back into a less adrenaline-fueled tachycardic rhythm. I crept a few steps forward and could see eight eggs in a nest, cleverly concealed. I used the telephoto lens to snap a quick photo before backing carefully away and returning to the house.

Now I was concerned I’d caused the vulnerable eggs to be abandoned, so I kept pacing and peeking from every window to see if mother mallard would return. She did, quickly, with her mate. (Their friend, whom I wrote about last week, was not with them.) They stood on the roof of our home and surveyed the territory.

I walked through the house, scanning in every direction, then back to the front door to search the southern wall of white pines. Oh-oh. The murder of crows from the woods were gathering; their scouts had sent word about the “Wild Woman,” as I’m pretty sure they refer to me, as we’ve had other run-in’s.

They’d observed my clumsiness in exposing the duck eggs and triumphantly cawed the news to the surrounding “murder.” Their gang had now flown in and were sitting high in the pines, waiting for their chance to attack.

You may have seen the episode of the PBS program, Nature, that featured crows and shared studies validating their startling intelligence. (http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/episodes/a-murder-of-crows/introduction/5838/) The program also discussed crows’ ability to recognize faces and send messages regarding prey and enemies across miles.

They know my face, and they know we’re not on good terms. I don’t appreciate their attacks on songbirds’ nests, their harassment of my owl friend, their incessant cawing when something of apparent “news” is occurring. I find them interesting, brilliant, but rude and greedy. They don’t share well and they gossip.

I’m married to a biologist and we’re both keen on environmental and habitat protection; I know I’m not supposed to interfere in the natural order between predator and prey, but since I caused the mother mallard to flee the nest, my guilt made me feel I needed to protect the eggs till she was able to return. I stepped back into the yard. The crows began to scream. I walked forward and picked up a stick from a fallen ash branch. Their screams increased, so I mimicked them and waved my branch. “Get away! Get away!  Leave these young ones alone! Caw-caw-caw!”

Walking and waving, cawing, threatening, and eventually out-scaring the crows, they flew away. I turned back to see the mallard parents eyeing me with a mixture of concern and fascination. I assured them all was well, using a softer voice and pointing with my ash wand towards their nest, down the hill. “It’s OK, now; you can return…”

It was then I glanced beneath the skirt of pine trees and saw the legs of a neighbor, about an acre away, walking a dog back towards her home.

I realized my entire performance had been witnessed. Leaping around in my pajamas, cawing and waving branches, intimidating crows and then speaking duck.

I’ve never worried I’d become my mother; my fear has always been I’d become  my crazy “Great-Grandma Annie,” a thorough and distinct character in our family lore. It seems I can set aside the fear and embrace the reality.

In a week full of surprising gifts, I tried the idea of odd-duckness on for size. It fit.

And I like it.

Mother duck returned to her nest; we await the ducklings and hope their fragility will survive the dangers that greet their birth as excitedly as we do. I’ll try to respectfully let nature take its course.

But look out crows; and all you wild ones who would harm these ducklings: Great-Grandma Annie is watching. And she’s got a stick.

 

6 thoughts on “Odd Duck

  1. Giggling in delight I am encompassed by your sharing…the leaf doesn’t fall far from the tree. In other words, you sound like me!
    🙂 What a perfectly ‘murderous’ sharing Catherine. I so enjoyed looking at your sacred space. As for the Crows, I love them so, but I know most people are irritated by them, and rightfully so. I did see the show you speak of and they are some of the most intelligent creatures on Creator’s Green Acres. I always speak with them when they gather round me, cawing their way into my awareness. They are the Keepers of Sacred Law, you know, and all of Creator’s creature’s are at one time or another an outlaw…even Wild Annie, You and Me, ha ha ha.
    What an awesome sharing Lady! You just made my day!
    Cascading SuperMoon Blessings…
    Love, Akasa

    • Thank you, Akasa. I’m sad I can’t see the Super Moon through the clouds tonight, but enjoyed my little bonfire all the same…oh, yes, I do harbor a love for my crows; they make me laugh, but I wish they didn’t steal eggs and act so uncivilly to others in our community…still, we are in relationship…we remind each other of our shadows 🙂

      Joy to you this magical night!

  2. Great story, Catherine! I’m still chuckling. Those moments always seemed to be witnessed, don’t they? I had a friend who was relaxing in her hot tub when deer entered her garden to feed. She leaped out of the hot tub, naked as a jay, and chased them off her property. Then realized that a hunter was standing in the next field, witnessing the scene. At least you were in your pajamas!

  3. Thank you for a very charming story, Catherine, and beautiful pictures. I do get along quite well with the crows around here, who are usually quite respectful… perhaps because of my cat who takes a walk with me each morning. I do love ducks, and we have very few of them, and I can definitely feel for you, worried about the eggs… let’s hope that all works out all right.

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