That day was a lazy, rainy,
cold December Sunday.
We didn’t get back to the farm till late,
and we slept deeply
until I woke up late
and ran out to do the bird chores.
When I came back, I made this
of hash browns
and eggs, mushrooms and greens
Later I took you back down to the city
And I wasn’t back before dark.
When I made it back, there was no sign of the ducks. The snow quickly dusting the ground was so fresh it was blank and untouched by duck feet. I walked all over the farm calling for them, looking for prints and listing for quacks. To be honest, after an hour, after dark, and without a good flashlight, I came inside and told my farm mates what was going on. I thought about giving up. I sat down. But I couldn’t relax. I put on some gloves and went out.
This time, I heard a quack. A muffled, far away one. So rare to ever hear just….one.
It was coming from the west, straight across the half-frozen swamp woods. It’s a chunk of the land to the south of the barn that leans with dead ash trees. It’s thickly understoried with sharp buckthorn, prickly ash, and honeysuckle barring the entrance, not to mention 5 foot tall brush piles along the edge. I briefly wondered if I imagined the lone quack, maybe from straining so hard to hear. But I stomped through the brush in the direction I thought I heard the sound. I concentrated on the next best step, to avoid the ice and the sharp branches, which was impossible anyway. I concentrated on listing for a sound. And finally I heard them, because they heard me.
They were huddled up in the water under a honeysuckle thicket on the edge of the Crescent Garden. I was relieved to find them, and my voice already felt weak from calling them in the cold air for so long, but I suddenly realized how difficult it was going to be to herd them outta there. Branches crossing their path in the dark at every turn. They were panicking and thrashing against brush so forcefully that I thought for sure one of them would end up with a broken leg or wing (they didn’t though). I picked one up that was stuck in a branch web and tried to carry her for a bit, but it was difficult because I was also weaving through branches to get through, and trying not to step on any suddenly stuck ducks.
We pushed back through the swamp woods, towards the coop, and this time I was not listening. I was crying out loud to the sky, totally at mercy of the darkness and the freezing water. I yelled directions and curses to the ducks as if they could understand me.
Finally, I looked up and saw an open sky through the trees. I busted through the the brush pile on the edge of the path, and watched each duck find the way through the pile. They were frantic, though. They wouldn’t even go right in their coop at first. I had to wade out again into a small pond to get them back into their coop.
By now, I had become a frozen footed swamp beast. Numb feet, watery eyes, mud up to my shins, and no patience. I put their food and water in for them, closed up the coop, and felt suddenly relieved that I had gone back. They were not spending the night as sitting ducks in a swamp of hunger mooning wild animals. I had been crying in the rain, wading in the swamp.
I had thought that I couldn’t find them by myself, and that they would just turn up in the morning. They might have. But since that night, they have always been at the coop on time for sundown. Either inside already, or easily persuaded with their evening meal and water. I found out that my farm mate had gone out to look for them, but turned back once he heard me yelling and knew I found them. I’m extremely grateful all around; for the ducks, the land, and people. Still, I take this as a lesson in why to have other options besides free-ranging! And not giving up when the going gets rough.