Well, this is not an easy story to tell. But I’ve managed to tell it a few times now, and I even see the humor in it – hell, part of my brain even saw it in the moment, so I’m going to give it a go. If you’re exceptionally tender-hearted, then I suggest you go look at chinchillas and come back another day.
For those following on all fronts, you might have seen some exasperated plurks/tweets earlier this week (Tuesday), in which I screeched about a particular bird that was making a ruckus outside, so loudly I wanted to go and shoot it. Said bird kept up the racket all afternoon. When James came home from work, he noticed it, and decided to investigate. Turns out? We had two baby ducklings hanging out by my herb bed, and he got a small net and a box, and scooped them up.
I immediately changed from “goddamned bird” to “omg! SQUEE THEY ARE SO CUTE!” and while he went off to look for the momma duck, I tried to pick them up in the box. Fleet little creatures, ducklings are, but eventually, I scooped one up and delighted in its softness, beauty and fluff.
Tripper, meanwhile, walked by and saw the other duckling and went, CHOMP, and scooped one up in his mouth. Horrified, James and I both screamed at him, he dropped the duckling, I put him back in the box – where he died, 15 seconds later.
Fuck. My. Life. James took the dogs inside, and I removed the duckling from the box, and burst into tears. Now, see, most people, at the very beginning of this story, where I say, “Two baby ducklings…” have an instant transformation in their expression. They know. They understand, the doomed nature of ….. Nature. But not me. I think everything can be rescued, everything can be saved, just work hard enough and everything turns out alright. And so, suddenly, this dead duckling exploded into a personification of all the stress and angst with job-related things, that no matter how well-intentioned or hard you might be working, a giant black lab can come along and just pluck you out of your existence.
I pulled myself together, put the (now lonely) duckling in the box, and went inside.
Somewhere in the next fifteen minutes, a small case was made (again) for chickens. If we had a chicken tractor, we could just throw the duckling in there, and he’d be fine. We discussed options. Keeping said duckling, raising him. But I searched online, and there wasn’t a lot of hope or options there. Plus someone made the point that one duck is a very lonely duck. We still have a goodly number of feral cats around, and those probably created this very predicament in the first place. James boiled it down to two choices – he could take care of things, or I could take the duckling, try to find a pond with a duck family on it, release the duckling, and hope for the best.
I put some paper towels in the bottom of a Costco-sized Contadina Tomato Paste box, put the duckling inside, and into the Murano we went. James advised me to drive along Blue River Road, which truly is a beautiful stretch of asphalt tucked away in the city. I’d never been on it, so after veering off Bannister by the Federal Complex, I found the road and headed south. There were parks, and even some ponds, but I couldn’t spot any ducks, and even though there were cars parked in places, I also couldn’t see any people. Because it felt pretty isolated, I didn’t feel completely secure just getting out and tromping around. So I kept going. And going. And going. Until I got to Blue Ridge, and then I knew I had to start heading back towards home. I drove up Holmes, and spotted a great pond – but no ducks. And there was a strange woman parked there and the signs said “No Trespassing”, so I continued to look. I figured I wouldn’t be able to just roll on in to a golf course, but then I thought – Mt. Moriah! Yes! Cemeteries often have ponds, reflecting pools, etc. And as the sun inched towards the horizon, I found myself rolling through the placid hills and then – yes – there it was. Two large pools of water. I made my way towards them.
The good thing about hanging out in a cemetery is that nobody really pays attention to you. Most of the people there are dead, and the ones who are alive are focused on one or two spots. It’s a serene place, and I actually used to study in cemeteries in college, just to find complete isolation (and I was in my Harold & Maude stage). So I drove around, waited for some people to leave that were nearby, and approached the pond furthest from the grave sites. No ducks, but there were a large number of geese. Birds of a feather! The ugly duckling. Surely, these feathered relatives would take on a lonely duckling.
Now, again, a good percentage of you have changed your facial expressions. I’ve watched it happen this week, again, at this point in the story. But I didn’t know. I know geese can be territorial, but I had no idea they’d be so discerning that they’d immediately know this ball of fluff was NOT of their species, and would proceed to peck him to death.
But that didn’t happen. Because that would have been pretty horrifying for me, yes, and I would have probably gotten into a goose fight and I really cannot imagine how that might have unfolded, except I probably would have been brought home to my husband by the South Patrol and asked to never enter Mt. Moriah Cemetery again. Yet, tragedy was still inevitable, though I didn’t yet know it.
I released the little duckling within a dozen yards of the geese. He immediately turned and started running back at me. I thought, “OH SHIT, he’s already imprinted on me and now I’m going to HAVE to take him home and raise him, there is no other option.” Except he kept running. Past me. Towards the car. OK, dude, you really wanna go back with me, hm? No. You want to run away from me, and we’re going around and around and around the Murano.
I did stop and think, well, I’m in a cemetery. People who are grieving do crazy things. If I don’t do this TOO long, it will just slide by and people will not come over here to figure out what in hell is going on and why this fat lady is going around and around her car with a large Contadina Tomato Paste box, scooping at the ground.
Pretty soon, the duckling figured out that the same run/hide/evade experience could be had by just going around and around the back wheel.
We did this for fifteen minutes.
Finally, I gave up.
I told myself, “Ok. I’m going to get in the car. He’s on the inside of the wheel, so I will edge forward very slowly, and he will either be adopted by the geese, he will wander off on his own, or – worst case scenario – I will run over him, but at least it will be quick.”
And I look in my rear-view mirror, fully expecting to see a wandering duckling.
I ran over him.
Of course I did. If we were going to sustain this giant emotional snotball of a metaphor, OF COURSE I HAD TO RUN OVER THE DUCK.
I just shook my head. Went home. James came in from the yard and said, “So, how’d it go?”
I replied, “The only way it could have gone, really.” And cried in his arms.
See, I know. I KNOW this is funny in a tragi-comic sort of way. But at the same time, I marvel at my naivete. My desire to fix and solve, a desire that is untouched by reality. I don’t think I would change that part of me, there’s enough inside me that is jaded and bruised and sharp. But oh how it stung. I thought of how the circle of life is sometimes just a car wheel.
And then, changing subjects after telling this story last night, I (completely unwittingly) said, “So! Extra Virgin is SO good. I had duck gizzards!” and everyone collapsed around me in hysterics.
Circle of life, indeed.