Gary Horton: Of ducklings, Bucklings and memories

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Weeks back I wrote our story of the momma duck who nested in an ivy geranium bush above our pool, making said bush her protected fort for her and her seven eggs. How she found us we’ll never know because she wasn’t saying – but let’s just say that she found the right house to invade because Carrie and I gave up our summer use of the pool to the duck and those seven promising little duck eggs.

There the mother sat. Stoically. Day after day after day, ever the good mom, sitting on those eggs from her very clever and well-hidden nest. She’d burrowed deeply into the ivy geranium bush, essentially creating a nest-fortress so owls couldn’t see and critters couldn’t penetrate.

For 30 days, she guarded her post. Only for food would she depart, always flying to the south, perhaps to the Little V golf course ponds or to some trickling creek somewhere off The Old Road. But then she’d return, like a jet-bomber scrambling out of the sky – kerplunk, dead center into the pool.

Things worked according to nature and one morning we awoke to seven little puffs of fluff paddling around the pool. We built a ramp for the little guys to climb out and over the pool coping.

Nature is both kind and cruel, and by day four, our tribe of seven had been reduced to four. One was plainly gobbled by some creature from the Summit Park, and two might have either died from exposure or lack of food. Carrie gently placed their remains in a small box with bows and flowers and truly mourned their passing. Greater vigilance would be henceforth required.

A friend with a quail farm provided additional information. Seems there’s not enough food in a suburban yard to feed an entire hatch of ducklings. And most predators can smell a tender young duck from literally miles away and the sensation to them is like driving past In N Out Burger to us. Ducklings, I guess, is what an opossum meal is all about.

But you can’t cage a wild duckling without committing to long-term care, and while we loved our ducks we also wanted our pool back. Our babies would have to face the risks of whatever wild Valencia still maintains – assisted, of course, by their mom’s and Carrie’s nurturing instinct and efforts.

And so our four remaining ducklings grew. And grew. In the end, Carrie fed these guys nearly 40 pounds of duck feed – and by day 50, those little guys were hard to tell from their mom in terms of overall size.

During those 50 days Mommy Duck taught them all the tricks. She’d march them through the bushes, teaching to forage. She drilled in the pool, teaching to paddle, swim, and dive. Flying lessons were a hoot, as these guys looked like four little pre-pilots taking lessons from Captain Mom.

And through it all, the mother duck stood guard, always at their sides. Always watching, directing, protecting.

And then, finally, their time had come and one by one, they flew the sanctuary of our backyard. Yet now and again one or two drops in for a quick stopover visit. Not so much unlike kids stopping by home from college. And Carrie gets to say hello and good bye and again see her ducklings off.

The whole affair has been fascinating, start to finish. From eggs to teenage ducks, right in our backyard. Not unlike the entirety of raising kids, from babies to rowdy teenagers, then finally, off to college – but all condensed into 57 days and without the headaches of overpriced college tuition, ridiculous medical bills, or the worry of: “Where’s your teenage daughter when it’s 12 midnight and she’s still not home?”

Like our human children, I wonder if those ducks will ever really know all that their “moms” did on their behalf. They’ll never know the long trips Carrie took to the feed store on Sierra Highway for advice and food. They won’t know the bills. They won’t know her sorrow as she gently placed their siblings’ bodies in a carefully adorned box. They likely think they’re pretty tough ducks. But boy, it took dedication of their duck mom, and in this case, a loving human mother.

Like our own children, our ducks are out in the big world to live out their lives. Little doubt that some day they’ll return with their ducky “girlfriends” or “boyfriends.” And who knows – we could end up with grand-ducklings and great grand-ducklings.

Our backyard could look as full as a Buck McKeon Christmas card filled with four generations of McKeons – but with ducklings, not Bucklings, filling things up to the edges.

Life is full of good and full of wonder. Watching it play out again right here in town has been a great joy and even a reminder of raising kids way back when.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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