Working with the duck photos in my last post made me think about the flock of Mallards that lived on the lake behind our home in Georgia in the early '70s. There were so many of them that they sometimes became problematic. They were fond of snacking on expensive, freshly-sown grass seed, and their per-unit output of slippery duck poop was phenomenal.
The ducks gave my daughters, then seven and nine, quite an education. My girls saw eggs hatch into sweet, fluffy ducklings. They saw mother ducks fuss tenderly over straight lines of babies, and they saw the ranks of those ducklings thin alarmingly as some of them became lunch for the lake's population of snapping turtles.
The ducks' mating rituals were a particular source of awkward embarrassment for the parents of young girls. Each evening we'd have a nice family dinner, sitting around the dining table behind glass doors that offered a clear view of the backyard and the lake beyond it. And each evening during mating season, our yard was full of lecherous drakes. As we ate our pork chops and mashed potatoes, they'd work in pairs to corral an available female, then take turns having their way with her, one mounting her enthusiastically while the other darted from one side of her to the other, pecking at her to keep her in her place. Ahem...pass the gravy, please, and tell me, how was your day?
You might think that this "drakes-gone-wild" scenario would top the list of my duck-related memories, but it's another, more tender one that always comes first to mind. One special pair of ducks we knew shared a fairy-tale kind of story: a damsel in distress, a prince who rescued her, and a love strong enough to take on the world.
The feminine half of this pair was a Plain-Jane kind of a gal, neither more nor less attractive (at least to my eyes) than the rest of the mottled-brown females on the lake. On top of that, she was crippled. One of her feet had been mangled, her leg twisted, probably by a snapping turtle. The injury was an old one, long-since healed, but it left her with a severe limp. Though she swam with apparent ease, walking was a struggle. She lurched along at a much slower pace than the rest of the ducks. The good news was she didn't walk alone; her prince was right beside her every difficult step of the way.
The prince was a handsome fellow, as all Mallard drakes are. As he strolled with his lady, he held his brilliant green head high and moved it slowly from side to side, watching their surroundings closely, protectively, always alert.
Sometimes we threw breadcrumbs to the ducks. When one of us stepped outside with the bread bag, the ducks came running. That's how we became familiar with this particular pair, because that's when the prince went into action.
When the food came out, he left his lady. Half running, half flying, he raced to the front of the flock. Once there, he turned and faced all the other ducks. He made himself as tall as possible, flapping his wings and stretching his neck forward in a menacing manner, quacking loudly, running back and forth in a semi-circle to drive the other ducks back away from our steps. His display was so ferocious that the other ducks respected it. They stayed back, looking like a crowd of spectators at a rock concert, all eyes focused on the star of the show.
As the prince staged his spectacle, his lady quietly and slowly made her way into the space he'd cleared behind him, the space where the breadcrumbs fell. He kept up the commotion while she ate her fill. When she finished, then--and only then--he dropped his aggressive stance and let the other ducks move forward. He ate while they did, with his well-fed lady waiting off to one side.
Time after time we witnessed this display of protective love and affection, and every single time, I had the same thoughts: This is the kind of love every girl grows up wanting. This is the stuff of which dreams are made. This little speckled brown girl is one lucky duck.