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Wednesday, August 5, 2009
We've had our ducks for about 5 or 6 years and in all that time they've been free-range, but have never left our property. They're Pei kin ducks, the large white ones that you see in local parks and petting zoos. Most people think of them as domestic ducks, but they were originally bred in China for food. Their bodies are too heavy for their wings to support, so they can't fly.
Our pond is one of three at the end of our road. They were all dug by the same man who also built our house, as well as the empty house next door, which he's been trying to sell for the last nine months.
I was at work Tuesday evening, at about 6:50 pm getting things wrapped up to go home, when I heard the intercom: "Steve, you have a call on 51. Steve, line 51, please."
I picked up. Paul was checking to make sure I'd be leaving on time. "The ducks are in the neighbor's pond. I need you to help me get them back."
At the end of my 40-minute commute, I pulled into the driveway to find Paul loading the canoe into the back of the pickup. "Oh my god.", I thought. "He's got a plan."
The thing about owning ducks is you have to watch out for predators. They have to be kept in a coop at night. Over the years, two were attacked by raccoons. One survived, one didn't. There are also bobcats, foxes, coyotes, bears and neighborhood dogs to worry about.
After some training, our ducks have gotten into the habit of wondering back to the coop at sundown and putting themselves to bed. All we have to do is close and lock the door behind them. We always have to make sure one of us is home before dark. If we want to go to a movie or a party and have to leave home before sundown, we have to round them up and herd them to the coop.
If they're in the yard, no problem. You just get behind them and flap your arms, walking slowly but steadily toward the coop saying, "Go on, ducks! Go on!", and they scoot right in.
If they're in the pond, however, it's a lot like what we went through last night.
While Paul drove next door with the canoe, I parked and went to the back yard to get the hunting gear: two very large beach towels to throw over them and two long sticks to prod (not hit) them with. As I turned to leave, I looked over to the left to see all four ducks right there in the yard. I shouted to Paul, "They're right here!"
"Get over here, now!", echoed through the woods.
"What the fuck?", I muttered to myself.
I arrived at the pond next door to find Paul with one foot in the canoe and one on the bank, trying not to fall in. Wishing I'd brought my camera, he tells me, "I got two more ducks today, but the other ducks ran them off and they ran over here."
"You did what?", I asked.
"I went down to John Paul's place and bought two females to give Sunday a break."
Sunday is our last surviving female duck. Being the lone female among three males has been hard on her. She got her name about four years ago after she'd been attacked by a raccoon. When we took her to the vet, the girl at the counter needed a name to put on the forms. I told her, "For what this is gonna cost me, she should've been Sunday dinner, so lets just call her Sunday." She didn't laugh.
As Paul paddled out into the pond, he called out his plan to me. The ducks were on the island in the middle of the pond. I would cross the foot bridge to the island, and shoo the ducks into the water. He would herd them over to the bank as I ran back around to get there first and herd them back over to our yard.
The ducks had other plans.
I did my part and the ducks jumped into the water -- in opposite directions. One headed to the right side of the pond and the other headed down to the far end of the pond to the left.
I held onto the canoe as Paul scrambled to get out, again trying not to fall in. Still wearing my blue and purple "Shminko's" uniform, I headed off to the far left end of the pond, carrying my trusty sticks, a large bright green and blue beach towel flapping in the breeze as I ran. I was quite a site as a neighbor drove by an waved.
For the next hour we chased the ducks in and out of creeks, brambles, raspberry thickets, poison ivy, swamps and woods as the sun set lower and lower. Finally they were nowhere to be seen. The little fuckers had given us the slip.
Defeated, we decided to head home and try again in the morning. As we walked to the truck, I glanced over towards another neighbor's driveway to see a lone white duck waddling along by the fence, fifty yards from where we had last spotted her.
Paul whispered, "I'll get behind her, you come up along side and we'll herd her back to our place."
She darted ahead of Paul, as I, holding my big green and blue towel stretched out, got her to move in the right direction. Like a boarder collie, I herded her up our driveway, past our pond, around the house, into the back yard and towards the coop.
After everything that had happened so far, this was too good to be true. But, as we closed in on our target, the little bitch hooked a right turn and darted into a rhododendron thicket. I yelled to Paul to get a flashlight.
Again, I found myself creeping through a tangle of twisted branches. Crouching, crawling and getting just close enough before she'd scurry away into the dark. I was done.
At least one of them was back on our property. Neither of us knew where the other duck was and I, for one, didn't give a damn any more. As I made my way back to the house, I said, "We'll deal with it in the morning, if she's still alive."
The other four ducks were already tucked snugly in the coop as trained. I closed the door and remembered Paul's words from six years ago, "Let's get some ducks. They're so cuuute!"
"Bite me!", I grumbled under my breath.
For the rest of the night, Paul went out now and then to look around, but no sign of our slippery prey.
This morning at 7:30, the alarm sounded and I began my usual routine. Start the coffee, turn on the laptop, get the paper from the mailbox by the road, let the ducks out and feed them.
As I approached the coop, I could see two white ducks in the bushes next to it. The other four were still inside, squawking to get out. During the night these two had found each other and ended up where we wanted them to be in the first place.
Ducks are like that. They do things in their own time, on their own terms. It's usually what you wanted them to do in the first place, but they can't resist making a fool out of you first. The icing on the cake is that one of the new ducks is actually a male.
They all spent the day getting to know each other and working out the new pecking order. When it was time for bed, I went out to find three already in the coop and three milling about outside. I circled around behind them, walked slowly but steadily toward the coop, flapped my arms and said, "Go on ducks! Go on!" They filed into the coop and I shut and locked the door.
I can still hear them fussing with each other as they work out the sleeping arrangements.
They're so cuuute!