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Possumhaw: Frozen lakes can be fatal




The lake was frozen solid and there, in the center, was a pile of white duck feathers. I ran for the telescope and stood at the window to see if the ducks were moving at all; it was hard to tell. I panicked. Could I save them if they weren't already dead?  


The kayak was on the dock. I'd have to suit up warm since I was still nursing a cold. I could break the ice in front of me and inch my way toward them. It wouldn't be easy. 


Sam was already at work. I could call but he'd say don't do it, or he'd come home and do it himself. I googled "can ducks freeze on a lake." The answer was "yes." One answer said, "Ducks will fly before freezing." But Pekin ducks can't fly. 


The night before was to have been colder than any of us could remember, single digits. We prepared as best we could. Water dripped, cabinets opened, outside water turned off, faucets opened, light bulbs turned on to keep motors from freezing. Lights would help as long as we kept power. 


For several nights the goldfish pond had frozen over. I broke through 2 inches of ice with a hammer. Fish swam underneath, but it was the oxygen supply I worried about. I sprinkled fish food, but they showed little interest. 


Plants in the greenhouse were succumbing one by one. The angel leaf begonias that Willis Pope had given me were wilted. I had propagated three of them myself. My airplane ferns were gone, the ones that originated from Nick Hairston's mother. Last year white flies infiltrated the greenhouse and now frigid temperatures. Prairie life is hard. 


In the front yard between me and my pile of white-feathered ducks, deer fed. The deer moved frozen leaves, nosing for golden morsels of corn slung out by the feeder. The deer looked back at me watching from the window. They are less wary when it's cold and they are hungry. It was the doe and her two fawns. We call the fawns "Frick and Frack" 'cause they are silly and carefree. They've not yet learned to be wary. Another set of yearlings joined them. It was mid-morning and sunny and a whopping 17 degrees. 


I still struggled with what I could do to save my ducks. I remembered news stories and imagined headlines: "Idiot woman dies trying to save ducks on a frozen lake." 


For about an hour I watched the ducks until I started to see movement. Within a short while all three ducks were standing on the ice at the edge of an opening. They preened and stretched and flapped their wings like waking from a long winter's nap. A coot huddled beside them in open water in the center of a seven-acre frozen lake. The ducks had managed to keep a small opening from freezing. It would be three more days till the thaw.



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