Gladys’ first day in New York wasn’t going swimmingly. As the other hatchlings settled down to a semi-nap, she struggled with everything. She drank if I helped her, she ran to the GroGel but then sat in it, she kept throwing herself against any available surface, including her not-too-receptive fellows, and I began to wonder about that “nip” on her head. In the patchy light of the garage, I couldn’t see well enough to figure out exactly what the deal was. I knew, however, that she needed to master the knack of dipping her bill in the water and putting her head back, indicating that she was, indeed, swallowing. The crumbles could wait. If she didn’t have food she wouldn’t thrive but if she didn’t have water, she would die.
As a part of my “convert the conventional lawn to organic homestead” program, I had hired a sympathetic landscaper to help me wrestle the existing collection of rhododendrons and roses into something more edible and eco-logical. She and her team had started work just before D-Day and were at the house as I fussed and phoned, looking for answers to Gladys’ woes. The support materials warn new owners to remove the ID bands from their ducklings’ legs as soon as possible after arrival. As our littlest hatchling stumbled around the pen, I began to worry that maybe the band itself was bothering her. So I very gingerly picked her up again and attempted to remove it. Easier to diaper a baby in the back of a Greyhound on a bumpy stretch of I-95! You have to pry open this bit of plasticized wire that doesn’t want to stay open as a wriggling bird objects peepily to the treatment—not easy for one person, at least not this person.
Very good-naturedly, my landscape designer (not normally in her job description!) soothed the frantic duckling and I finally managed to pry off the leg band. Then I got my first clear look at the top of Gladys’ head. Not good. To my layperson’s eye, it looked like there was a split in her scalp, not bloody, but sticky wet. It didn’t look like an injury; it looked like she might have been hatched that way. I realized immediately that this probably wasn’t only stress—her brain itself might be dysfunctional.
I trudged back to the phone and called the website where I had ordered the ducks (only my 3rd call that day!) and reported these new details. We had already told them about the missing duck and now we had much glummer news. Although www.ducksforbackyards.com provides a 48-hour guarantee, I was not trying to cash in. As the kind young woman listened to my story, I realized that I just wanted someone to help me process my own sadness. I scarcely knew these ducks but already they were no longer anonymous cute animals on a web video. They were ours.
And then I also knew I had to tell Pamela at least part of the story when she came home. My fourth-grader had tripped off to school, excited about telling her friends: the ducklings are here, the ducklings are here! But now it looked like our happiness had been slightly downsized. We went from expecting six ducks to getting five and quite possibly fewer. We had prayed the ducks would get to us alive; we hadn’t prayed they would all be whole. By some oversight in my elaborate planning, I had not envisioned this possibility. If the little one doesn’t make it, should we order more? I wanted all the ducks to be about the same age and they only ship on Mondays so we have two days to decide, is that enough? What if she dies and Pamela finds her? What will the other ducklings do? If we order more (the minimum per order is two ducks) and she survives—do we really have room for seven ducks?!!!
Copyright 2012, Lori Fontanes