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Possumhaw: Making hay with the ducks


Shannon Bardwell



It was time to glean leftover hay and stuff it in a black garbage bag. I always wear black rubber boots, summer or winter. You never know what you might encounter in the fields, and I feel safer with the rubber boots rather than, say, flip flops. 


A Styrofoam board with a piece of plywood on top floats in the lake; two ropes attached to anchors keep the platform reasonably in place. Every night when predators prey, the platform provides safety for the three Pekin ducks. The ducks and I make a ritual of adding hay to the platform. The ducks love the ritual.  


Pulling the kayak from the side of the cabin, I invariably find tiny American tree frogs hiding. The frog's skin is lime-colored and as slick as a rubber toy. Their finger pads spread out like suction cups. I've read they make easy pets. When I drag the kayak from the dock and edge it into the water, the frogs spring and attach to the cabin wall.  


Eight frogs sat on the lip of the kayak; they touched tip to tail. Seven jumped to the wall and stuck there. One jumped into the back of the kayak. "OK, fella. You're in for the ride." 


I slid into the kayak -- boots, paddle, rake and the bag of hay, followed by one small lime green frog. 


The ducks came and swam around the kayak; they made squeaky murmuring sounds, not quacks. They are anxious for new hay, and as soon as I rake off the old hay and spread out the new hay they hop aboard the platform. They do it every time. 


The ducks explore the hay, preen their feathers, stretch up tall and flap their wings. Eventually they settle into the new hay, each duck facing outward, folding their head backwards, and nestling into their feathers where they fall asleep. Two will sleep and one will stay awake, like a watchman.  


Weeks ago one of the ducks wandered off into the field, laid eggs, and remained on her nest. It was a dangerous for her. She'd return to the lake to feed and then waddle back across the field to the nest. I fretted over her. I watched as she made herself so low to the ground she was hard to see, but to an overhead raptor, a white duck is, well ... a sitting duck. 


After a week or so, she no longer returned to the field. Walking to the nest I found only an indention in the grass. Perhaps a predator took her eggs. Perhaps it was for the best.  


Last week, there on the duck platform, was a solitary Canada goose. She stood on one leg like a flamingo. I don't know what to make of her. If she stays she'll have to make room for the ducks, share the platform and take her turn as watchman. 



Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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