When the world was new and I was young, I ordered a dozen Rouen ducklings from a game farm and began my love affair with ducks, blessed by its moments of joy and cursed with inevitable tragedy. The box of downy babies was delivered directly to my door much earlier in the day than our mail normally comes as the mailman had wearied of their incessant peeping. I took the new arrivals from the grateful carrier and transferred them to a corner of the family room under a warm light bulb.

My two oldest children, now young adults, in elementary school then, were delighted with their new playmates, but soon joined me in the discovery that these tiny creatures were incredibly messy. The ducklings reveled in their food, spewing a mixture of feed and water on themselves, the box, and the walls. This led to their speedy removal to an unoccupied rabbit hutch in an outbuilding. Here they grew in sheltered bliss until we deemed them ready for life on the pond, unaware that our charges needed parental guidance. The unchaperoned youngsters soon slipped under the fence and lost themselves in the neighbor’s grassy meadow. We tracked their frantic quacks and carried them home, only to have them forget and stray again.

Sadly, unwary ducklings do not know to be on guard against snapping turtles, something their mama would have taught them. By summer’s end, just two grown ducks remained and were fondly named Daphne and Darlene. They were inseparable and divided their day between the cows and geese in the barnyard and forays to the pond. The next spring Daphne and Darlene built a mutual nest inside a clump of gold-button tansy at the edge of the garden and patiently sat on the eggs that would never hatch. It was time to find them a suitable spouse.

One fall evening 'Don' arrived in my husband's pickup truck. The girls took an instant liking to the handsome drake, and he to them, though he showed a slight preference for Darlene. As spring neared again, we noticed a wild mallard drake observing our little band. He dashed forward for a bite of grain at feeding time, only to be driven away by Don. We pitied Dwayne, as he soon became known, and tossed a handful far to the side for him. Besides the free lunch, it seemed that Dwayne was attracted to our Daphne, much to Don’s strong disapproval.

Undeterred, the small male eventually won acceptance, amusing us by his attempts to mate with Daphne, twice his size. Persistence won out, though. That year the girls had separate nests, Darlene at the base of a bittersweet vine, while Daphne went back to the tansy. Don and Dwayne bonded, swapping stories as they awaited imminent fatherhood. The ducklings hatched in late spring and grew quickly. All survived with excellent care from their mothers. By fall, we could see Dwayne’s influence on the flock. His offspring were much smaller.

This was a happy, golden time. Late afternoons we quacked loudly, calling our ducks for feeding. Heads popped up from the seeding grass and they answered back, then waddled single file behind Don, their noble leader. If we were late with dinner, they gathered to complain about the lack of service and were not averse to heading up to the house to fetch us if necessary.

Autumn in all its’ splendor passed into a winter that was our most severe in years. We tromped faithfully through the deep snow every day to scatter feed on the frozen pond. Then one morning after fresh snowfall we could not find a single duck. Our anxious calls came back to us empty on the wind, searching revealed only spatters of blood and dog tracks in the snow; the silent witness to their grim fate. Still, we hoped that some birds had escaped the attack and combed the neighborhood, finally locating a pair of Dwayne’s offspring. Only the smaller ducks could fly well. We had unwittingly fed the others up to be sitting ducks, an expression I now understand all too well.

A week later Dwayne returned, but it was a bleak time. How empty the pond seemed without the gang. That May, Betty, our lone remaining female, hatched a fuzzy brood. Familiar quacks again filled the air and gladdened our spirits. It just isn’t spring without ducklings.

By Beth Trissel

6 comments

  1. Holly Greenfield // March 5, 2008 at 9:24 PM  

    Lovely post, Beth. Glad to hear you have new duck fmaily. They sound very special.

  2. Mary Marvella // March 5, 2008 at 9:38 PM  

    Beth, you are a great storyteller and you touched my heart with this story.

  3. Beth Trissel // March 6, 2008 at 8:24 AM  

    Thanks, ladies. The pond is teeming now with geese and ducks! Too early for ducklings, or goslings, for that matter.

  4. Mona Risk // March 6, 2008 at 8:36 AM  

    What a lovely post so full of emotions. You made your ducks so real. I felt sad for them. Your story reminds me of the March of the Penguins.

  5. Beth Trissel // March 6, 2008 at 10:13 AM  

    Thanks, Mona. My son, very young at the time, was so grieved at the loss of our ducks that he wrote a sort of ode to them and drew a picture of the gang.

  6. Helen Scott Taylor // March 7, 2008 at 6:05 PM  

    Beth, what a sad but delightful story. You had me entranced.