Friday, April 6, 2012

Mallards and Me

I have a thing for ducks, especially mallards, that began years ago when I went to the local nursery to get some bedding plants and came back with a mallard duckling. To this day I couldn't tell you what came over me, except that it was love at first sight. I named the duckling Scobie after my favorite character in literature, an elderly transvestite admiral in Lawrence Durrell's, 'Alexandria Quartet'. It was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Scobie imprinted on me right away, which meant that I couldn't be out of his sight or he would panic and run after me peeping frantically, his little feet making a pattering sound on the floor. Carrying a duck with me all day really cramped my style, but I managed it for about a week before hitting on the solution of getting a friend to keep him company. When I went back to the nursery, there were no more mallard babies, so I got a  little yellow Pekin duck whom I named Butter. Scobie and Butter took to each immediately and my life became a bit more normal. They took their first swim in the bathtub, and eventually went to live outdoors in a specially constructed raccoon-proof house adjacent to the small pond in the back yard. To keep them safe from predators I had to be home before sunset every night to herd them into their house, and sometimes it meant leaving my job at a local insurance agency, doing duck patrol, and then going back to work. Fortunately it was a very low-key office, and my boss was a willing co-conspirator.

Scobie and Butter, who turned out to be a female, were devoted companions. Butter laid an egg every day, and I was fascinated by how different they were. Some were large, some small, some round, some oval. I loved my ducks and delighted in their company. Somewhere in a box of old photos is one of me holding the adult Scobie with his wings spread around me. One Christmas the wife of the man who owned the insurance agency surprised me with a paperweight she'd made using a picture of Scobie and Butter, which is still one of my treasures.

One time the adult Scobie injured his foot, or so I thought. He and Butter were large and inseparable, and there was no way to manage taking them both to the vet, so I arranged an after hours house call. Just before the vet arrived I put them in the kitchen and spread newspaper on the floor, for obvious reasons...Scobie was limping dramatically until he saw the vet and was miraculously cured. There was no sign of a limp as he ran around the kitchen quacking. The vet laughed and left, but sent me a bill for $75.

Both Scobie and Butter loved snails and soon had eaten all the ones in our garden. To please them and enhance their diet, I began scouting the lawns of all our neighbors after dark with a flashlight in one hand and a coffee can in the other, collecting their snails. I became a welcome and familiar sight and everyone was happy, except the snails. Scobie and Butter would always start quacking very loudly when they spotted me with their coffee can of treats, and would take turns feasting. It was more than a little gross to see them covered with snail slime, but I felt about snails then the way I feel about voles now.

These mallard memories, and many more, came flooding back this morning when I drove down the driveway and found three mallards there, most likely tourists who'd visited the pond in the horse pasture across the road. When I inched the car forward they flew off, but if I hadn't been on the way to an appointment, I would have stopped for a while to visit with them. I still love mallards.

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