I made arrangements this week to give away my duck pen. I’ve been raising ducks for twenty-some years. I started it as a project in my elementary classroom and finding it enjoyable, continued it even after I retired. Back in March I ordered mallard eggs from E-bay. I incubated them, watched as they hatched out, and as they grew. Popeye and his Gang, so named because of their love of spinach, wove their way into my heart. I love how they can spot me from a distance and, as a group, will joyously run-fly toward me. Now that they have their flight feathers, they can lift a few inches from the ground. By the time you read this column, they’ll be at our cabin’s northern Wisconsin lake. I expect they’ll test their wings and go off exploring. In the fall, they’ll fly south. Hopefully some of them will return to the lake in the spring.
Raising ducks, or having any pet, ties a person down, and I’m hoping, as I know you are, too, that travel will open up soon. I’m eager to flap my own wings and break out.
I remind myself of this while carrying a duck bathtub to the recycling bin. I slow my steps. Rais-ing ducks has given me many joyous moments. Several years ago, I picked up a baby bathtub at St. Vin-ney’s. My husband and I used to bring it, along with the ducklings, to visit elderly people either in their homes or in assisted living centers. We’d fill the baby bathtub with water and let the ducklings splash around. People loved it. I still recall one woman who said, “This has been my best day ever.”
I may not raise ducks any longer, but I’ll think about them. Any time I cut up a watermelon, I’ll bemoan the fact I can’t set the rinds down and watch ducks run toward the treat.
Opening a bag of Doritos will remind me of how my husband hand-fed chips to one of our most beloved ducks, Happy Feet. The only Runner duck hatched in the spring of 2009, Happy Feet craved companionship and eagerly greeted us anytime we stepped outside. She loved to peck at my yellow gar-den shoes and when I launched the kayak, she hurried in the water so she could paddle alongside. We’d stop at sandbars where she’d peck at bugs and other tasty treats. I also have fond memories of snorkeling with her. From my underwater angle, looking up and watching her paddling feet is a treasured memory.
Happy Feet is also the duck who helped my son-in-law train for a triathlon by swimming alongside him while he practiced his front crawl. Anytime the duck pulled ahead, my son-in-law swam harder.
Revving up our ski boat will bring back memories of Gertie, the orphaned goose we raised along with ducks two years ago. Gertie gave us an extraordinary memory. She was paddling in the lake when a small group of us decided to go for a boat ride. When my husband hit the throttle, Gertie took flight. She flew alongside us, sometimes taking the lead goose position to help deflect the air for us.
I’ve reached the recycling bin. The lid seems especially heavy as I lift it and set the bathtub in-side. I return to the duck pen. I’ll also need to dispose of the kiddy pool, humorously nicknamed “the duck pond.” Watching young ducks splash and dunk under for the first time was always a treat.
I’ll have to break down the predator-proof box. After losing five ducks to a fox years ago, my husband built the box and added webbing to the pen. The extra protection eased my fears a week ago when, at dusk, I spotted a coyote lurking around the pen. It must have realized it didn’t have a chance get-ting them, since I haven’t seen it back.
Popeye and his gang spot me looking at their kiddy pool and half-fly over to see what I’m up to. I’ll remember this group because of their love of spinach and their sweetness. Since they haven’t wan-dered—okay, I did catch them in the neighbor’s yard twice, okay, three times—they’ve enjoyed free range. They also have a sweet way of standing outside our back porch anytime we’re inside. They have a cute way of tilting their heads as if they’re trying to figure out what we’re saying.
Popeye and his gang have brought laughter, too. They have traveled back and forth from the Dells to our cabin several times now. When they see us loading up the car, they hang close. “They’re hoping we’re heading north,” my husband said, chuckling.
Inside my pocket is the phone number of the man who’ll take the duck pen. He’s prepared to break the kennel down and haul it off. The day that happens, I might choose to stay inside or maybe I’ll clean out my clothes closet. It’ll be a good reminder of a life truth. Once something is removed, some-thing else, sometimes something better, often takes its place. It explains why, after decluttering, I often get the urge to shop.
No doubt about it. I’ll miss my curious, friendly ducks, but I won’t view it as an ending. And next spring, I’ll be sure to spend time at the cabin where I can watch for old friends returning from the south, flying in to say hello.