The ducks I hatched from eggs are proof that life throws you little delightful surprises along the way.
They are going through puberty now. I know this, partially because they are feathering out and changing from tan downy balls of fluff, to rich, earth toned adults. Mostly, it is because their voice is changing. I hear peep, peep, peep, QUACK. It is sort of like listening to Kent talk. His boyish voice prevails, but every once in a while you catch the hint of a man’s deep vibrato slipping through.
I had six eggs in the incubator when they started hatching. Five hatched within a 24 hour period. Very exciting. But the last egg took it’s time. I could hear peeping from inside, so I knew it was only a matter of time, but we didn’t see the shell crack for another day. Then it took a full day for this duckling to break free. It was all I could do not to peal him out of that egg myself, because he seemed so exhausted from the immense effort.
He was different. His beak and feet were not gray like the others, they were pink. His down was lighter too. It was almost as if he had been in the incubator too long – like when you stay in a bathtub for hours, so you come out with bleached light skin and wrinkles. Neva and I were rather delighted because this one stood out as an individual. We could name it and actually keep track of which one he was. We called him “Johnny Come Lately” for a day or two. Then Neva wanted to name him (her) Rose because of the pink beak. Then, when it was obvious he was going to stay a lighter color than the others, he was named Cheese. The other five were named Quackers. Now, we had Cheese and Quackers, more specifically: Ritz, Nabisco, Melba, Graham, and Trisket.
As their soft down turned slowly to feathers, we moved them from the little incubator cage inside, to the grand freedom of the creek and woods beside our house. Each night, we lock them in a huge dog crate, to protect them from poultry eating creatures. It was simple training them – the first night, the entire Hendry family chased them squawking and flapping, shouting as we darted in and out of the woods to head them off, until we caught them and shoved them into the crate. Big ordeal. The second night we repeated that craziness. The third night, I went out there, but I couldn’t find them. I bent down to discover they were are all tucked in, nestled together in the crate as if they knew it was bedtime. They do this every night now, and all I must do is walk down, whisper goodnight, and shut the door. Mark finds this interesting. He said, “Hey, we could turn our house into a bed and breakfast lodge and train the ducks to walk through the living room every night on their way to the crate. We’ll call it the Peabody Cabin.”
Might be fun.
As the ducks grew, the difference between them became ever more evident. The family would stand there, watching them swim in the creek, speculating on why one was so much lighter than the others.
I said, “Maybe that one is the boy and the others are girls. Nature often makes the boys more colorful or pretty, so perhaps it is a sex thing.”
Denver said, “I think it’s a swan. You have the real life version of the ugly duckling story happening here – that duck is not like the others. I think it’s cool.”
Kent said, “Mom probably just overcooked that one.”
Neva said, “Some creatures are just born special.”
Mark said, “I think the person who sold you those eggs pulled a fast one, and threw in a wild card just to meet the dozen egg quota.”
I wondered about that. I bought a dozen eggs (some exploded, you may recall) but they were all supposed to be of a certain wild breed. I wanted ducks that blended in with the environment, for their safety. But one of my ducks turned out snow white. Perhaps the seller gathering the eggs had no clue that she was including one different breed. Or perhaps the mother duck had an affair with a handsome, white, fast quacking male duck just passing through. Maybe this duck was a family member that drew from some distant gene pool, like me being a redhead when everyone else in my family has dark hair. Or maybe this one is just an albino, a case of God forgetting to throw in a dose of color when he created this particular creature.
Anyway, I have five beautiful ducks with white and grey feathers, brown breasts, tan heads, and white rings like a necklace about their graceful necks. I have one cloud white duck that looks like a negative of Daffy. I adore them all.
Each morning, at around 6:30, I walk down the driveway in my robe and rubber boots (it’s a sexier look than it sounds) to open the door to the crate. The ducks greet me and waddle out to where I feed them. They move as a flock at all times, never venturing anywhere independently. They are people-shy and nervous, and yet at the same time, friendly. I guess this because they are still so young. They spend the day swimming in the creek, nestling together for naps in the woods when the sun is hot, and staying near the crate and running inside whenever they ever feel in danger. We watch them from the porch of the house, or walk down with a cup of coffee to enjoy their antics. It is amazing how much pleasure can be had from watching a few ducks go about the business of living.
I have a special affinity for these feathered pets, partially because I hatched them myself, and partially because they are nature’s representatives of peace and freedom – the very elements of life I was chasing when I chose to move to the quiet woods of Georgia.
Sometimes, it only takes a little thing to turn your world upside down.