Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Chick. Chick. Duck.

My sisters and I grew up on a small farm just outside Little Rock, Arkansas. My father raised cows and pigs and we always had a few chickens and ducks. The ducks liked to swim in the stream behind our house, which we called "the creek. The chickens had the run of the place and there was usually a rooster in the mix to wake us up in the mornings. In the spring, we often had baby chicks and every now and then, we had ducklings. 
Life on the farm. Me at age 2, feeding the chicks.
(Note the designer patch on the bottom of my romper.)
  Ducks, being water fowl, like to make their nests near the water whereas chickens tend to find a nice dry spot in a barn. So, by comparison, the mortality rate for duck eggs was quite high. Duck eggs were an in-demand delicacy for a number of critters, including snakes, opossums, raccoons and turtles. And the soft mud near the bank of the creek made these prized eggs easy pickings. 
   But our Dad knew a sly way around this predicament. If he had a mother chicken go "broody" (ready to sit on and hatch off her fertile eggs) and he found a clutch of duck eggs in the tall grass near the creek, he'd take matters into his own hands and transfer the duck eggs into the chicken's nest. Of course, duck eggs are somewhat larger than chicken eggs, and the gestation period of a duck egg is 28 days as opposed to a chick's 21 days, but sometimes the hen wouldn't mind the addition of a very large egg beneath her and the timing would be such that the chicks and ducks would hatch off together. As remarkable as it sounds, this really did happen—at least once.
   One fine spring day, a proud little hen strolled out of the barn with a half dozen fuzzy, butter-colored chicks bobbing behind her. Bringing up the rear: one waddling, gawky duckling. 
   First the hen showed her children how to peck at the ground to find choice morsels of bugs and seeds and grains. The chicks had no problem mastering this task with their sharp little beaks. The duck did his best to imitate his Momma, but his funny, rounded bill just could not find purchase in the hard ground.
   Then the hen marched her brood down to the shallow edge of the creek and demonstrated the ginger art of drinking water. The lesson was going fine until one of her babies walked right into the water and began to swim away! 
   The mother hen squawked and chided the duckling. She even boldly stepped out into the very shallow water near the bank, demanding that he return to dry land. When this didn't work, she boldly hopped onto the flat rocks that served stepping stones, trying to coerce him out of the water. Of course the duckling had found his element and was not going to return to dry land anytime soon. Swimming was a blast compared to waddling around on dry land. His "siblings" chirped and called to him from the shore as if egging him on (sorry couldn't resist that pun) to keep swimming. The further out he swam the more irritated the mother hen became, but there was nothing she could do to change her strange child's nature. 
   As a parent, I have a new perspective on this barnyard drama. I wonder if this is how my mother felt when I went off to college, diving into the strange pond of a liberal arts education, and then into the even stranger waters of media and marketing. It must have been scary to see her chick leave behind the familiar life I had known on the farm. And yet soon enough, I'll be there too, standing on the shore frantically watching as my own little duckling swims off into his future. I wonder how I will feel ten years from now or so when Jack makes his own departure from the safety of the shore to find his element?

1 comment:

  1. Good story, good job, good insight!
    Betty

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