Dec 12, 2014 - How-To, Writer's Life    6 Comments

The Trouble With Ducks

15819055027_363651c437_zRecently, we acquired some ducks. They were a wedding gift. This is how it is if you marry a farmer. You give her a ring. She gives you….ducks. Three ducks to be exact. Three beautiful white and gray Ancona ducks. Actually, she says she is giving me a “lifetime supply of ducks”, since ducks are as tempting as chicken to most predators. I have high hopes for my ducks anyway; that they will live long and happy lives. So far, so good.

Today’s blog may be more parable than post. The ducks came from a place called Duck Dance Farm. Visiting Pat and Andrew, the owners of Duck Dance, was a treat. There were ponds and pens with little houses and baby swimming pools scattered all around the place. Geese honked, ducks quacked, chickens clucked and there seemed to be much general happiness amongst the feathered tribes. Andrew, who seemed to be knowledgeable in all things watery, told me about ponds and ducks and minnows and how all these systems worked together. He said a little food and a lot of water were essential for a waterfowl’s happiness. I thought, “How hard can that be, right?”

Andrew explained that ducks form affinity groups and they do not like to be broken up. This is why, he said, we were getting a one-eyed duck with our little group of three. It was either that or he would have to break up their trio and add a different duck, leaving little One-Eyed Fiona for the pot, I feared. Leigh was more disturbed by our little misfit than I was. After all, it was her wedding present to me. But I have always loved an underdog, or duck in this case, so we packed her in the crate with the rest. Besides, ducks are funny creatures and Fiona was pretty hilarious as she could only swim in circles and had to really crane around to have a look at you. I saw endless hours of entertainment to come.

Leigh had renovated the Frankentractor, which I really thought we were done with once the new henhouse was built. Oh, but our ducks loved it. They trooped in there, nestled into heaps of straw, and stared at us. They didn’t even quack. So began one of the longest stand-offs between human and animal in history. You might be able to see how frustrating this was for me. I immediately made the metaphorical connection between the ducks and my Muse. They sat there like blocked writers in front of a blank page. Zen-like, they remained in a happy state of meditation for days on end. I’ve always worried about meditation and writing. I mean if meditation makes you content with life as it is, what is there to write about? My ducks happily proved the point.

I had given them good, honest, active duck names. The big white girl was the Unsinkable Molly Brown. My gray-tinged girl I called Glenda, Good Witch of North Carolina. And then there was the prettiest of all with her soft gray angel wings, One-Eyed Fiona. I love that Lyle Lovett song. Who knew I would ever have occasion to name anything after it? I talked to them constantly. “Hey Molly. Come on out, Glenda. Fiona, you sweet thang, come swim.” No response. I could tell they were learning their names only by the nodding and soft chuckling that occurred when I called out to them. Nodding back, I felt like Japanese cartoon characters constantly bowing, “Thank you.” “No, thank you.”

We filled up an oval tank from Tractor Supply for their swimming pleasure. (It takes a lot less water area for a duck than one would think.) When they wouldn’t bother to check it out, I put a smaller pail next to it. No dice. Perhaps the sides of their pond were too high, so we built them stone steps, then a ramp, then a larger ramp. Then a ramp with a deck at the top. I bought them special kibble which they ignored. Worried that they would dry out into some kind of shrunken head replicas of ducks, I finally put a chicken watering can in their “house” with them. Warily, they approached and began blowing bubbles into the trough around the bottom. I supposed they were drinking.

The ducks were beginning to make the chickens look smart. Finally, it rained. I remembered the old saying, “It’s great weather for ducks!” Sure enough, they ran out of the house to play in the rain. I mean, they absolutely adored the rain! Of course, it couldn’t last. Soon they were tucking their heads under their wings in the “If I can’t see you, you don’t exist” position. We would be out there for hours encouraging them to get in their “pond.” They’d venture out. If a bird flew overhead, back inside they’d run. If Ada the dog approached, back inside. If the wind banged the chicken house door shut, they flapped and ran. These were incredibly high-strung animals. Leigh worried. Here was my wedding present, refusing to respond to me, refusing to swim or eat,  or do any duck-like things. And then of course, there was Fiona.

One afternoon they approached the smaller pail of water. They motored their bills around it. They ducked their poor dry heads to the bottom of it. Glenda even tried getting in, but it was so small her feet banged the sides and out she came. Progress! They began to eat. Finally, Glenda (leader of the pack) made her way trepidatiously up the ramp. She dipped her head in. She thought about it. She spread her wings in the sun, and then finally, FINALLY she made her leap of faith. Molly followed and they splashed and swam happily around and around. It took Fiona awhile; head cocked to the side, walking around the pond many times, getting depressed and going inside until she, too, spied the ramp and made it into the pond! (Watch video of water frolic below.)

There was a set back one day when the precip froze on the ramp and Molly slid back down to the ground. Another couple of days in the house. Once again, we had to go out and hang out with them until they were brave enough to get back in their tank. If anything at all untoward occurred, they would not go near the pond. These were the biggest chickens ever! Today, I will go out and fill up the pond. And wait. And quack. And call. And spread kibble around. I’ll watch them dip their beaks, walk away, then walk up the ramp to the deck Leigh built. Then they’ll go back down again. Eventually, they will get in the water and clean the mud they’ve created, and which they love, from their lovely little white and gray bodies.

And so everyday, my three little amusing Muses remind me of how hard it is to be an artist or writer; to take the plunge and make that leap of faith. We creatives love to procrastinate. We pray and meditate. We get close to writing, then we run away. We hide from ourselves. We take to the fainting couch should we hear the flutter of our Muses’ wings in close proximity; should we see her shadow pass overhead. We have nothing to quack about. We wait for a rainy day. We require constant reinforcement and admiration, and no criticism or loud noises, please. We keep looking for our affinity group, our safe house.

Given enough dream time, though, and a little personal praise, we will head for the deep end. We really can’t help ourselves. We are drawn to create–well, the way ducks are drawn to water. Persistently, we dive for treasure at the bottom of the pool. Occasionally, we forget ourselves completely and motor around with our muddy pens creating tracks and signs which read, “We are here. We have something to say, and it is this. Life is incredibly mysterious. We love it.”

Unlike Glenda, Molly, and Fiona, though, we must create our own safe space. We must encourage ourselves to swim, and search out our affinity groups. Even if we are the one-eyed Fiona of our coop, we must feel loved and led, even if we must circle and dip and do it ourselves. Once we take that scary step off the ramp and into the dark water, we will set our souls free to soar, no, swim. Whatever. This is self-fulfillment. This is what all that meditation leads to. Motoring around in the mud, looking for answers to the Grand Mystery. That’s what we do. That’s who we are. Now I gotta go feed my ducks.

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  • Love it, and miss you guys!

    Cat D.

  • I can just see it all in my head (the video helps), and I believe you are right. The little joys, the folly of our muses that inspire us to continue on. I am sure Leigh-Bee was mortified of the unbecoming unduck-conduck of her gift. She is smart, knowing you would find inspiration and a-muse-ment from the trio of tribal feathers flocking in the midst. A wo-menagerie of fun and excitement to come. Now you know you have to have a male duck to get babies, right? Write on sister you always inspire me and set my mind at peace. Write on….and on….and on. MULU

  • I’ve been in a seriously serious mood today, even got myself blocked from someone on Facebook I don’t even know (a friend of a friend) with whom I’d only exchanged 3 comments regarding a social issue, police brutality to be more precise. I needed a good laugh and got more than one while reading of your, dare I say it, inducktrination by your feathered friends. Now, not being a farm girl myself, only visited my country cousins part of each summer as a kid, I have a couple of questions: 1) what is a chicken watering can and does the name accurately describe its use? Do chickens need watering and if so, how often and under what conditions? 2) Do you quack using your own voice or do you have a “duck quacker” that more closely imitates the sound? In addition to the laughs and appreciation for your amazing written portrayal of your training, I may also have gotten some inspiration and lost some of my fear of the dreaded blank canvas. Tomorrow, I am determined to begin a painting after a long dry spell. Maybe there should be something like a watering can for artists, one containing washable colors for painters, and one filled with letters of the alphabet for writers, a kind of alphabet soup. Sending love and Happy Holidays to All! Judith Petree

  • Oh, Sister — you make me laugh. Can’t wait to meet the girls. They are a great wedding present! There’s a Lojong slogan that goes: Of the two (pleasure or pain), choose patience. Perhaps the girls are helping you with that one. My love to you and my new nieces. Marianne

  • I always root for the Underduck!!! Thank you for inspiring me wit these words. And I love the comment about the artists’ chicken watering can. Brilliant! I need to take a peck!

  • Trepidatiously!!!!

    Off to order a t-shirt.