Yesterday we were given a very odd, but amazing gift. I was working in our back yard, pulling weeds and Jonah came out to help me. I asked him to please water the plants around the edges when suddenly I hear him yell. I stopped what I was doing, ran to where he was and he pointed to…
In case it isn’t clear, that is a picture of a mama mallard duck and she has ten little babies. For those of you who might not know, our backyard is completely fenced in, there is no water area, and by non-Bay Area standards, it is actually quite a small yard (for here, it’s pretty decent!). I was astonished.
How did they get in? How would they get out? Where could they possibly go to find water near here? There is a creek about 3 blocks away… they could probably walk to it, but it is completely dried up. There’s no water in it.
But the first thing I did was open our gate. Again, I couldn’t figure out how they would possibly have gotten IN, but I had a suspicion that maybe the babies were actually born here, in which case, the mama could have flown in. I had seen her and her mate in our yard once before, but had no idea they had taken up residence somewhere within it. Was it possible the babies had actually been born under a bush here? That was the only way I could fathom they had gotten in.
The second thing I did was that I called the wildlife hospital at Lindsay Museum. But I had to leave a message. (This was Sunday afternoon, after all). In the meantime, I saw the mama duck basically pacing back and forth in the corner with her ducklings and I began to worry about them having water. I took the bird-feeder bowl that we have on a pedestal (we made sort of a fountain out of it) and I put it on the ground near the corner where the mama duck was. I refilled it with water and stepped back. The mama immediately walked over and climbed into the bowl.
Okay… but there was no way the ducklings would be able to climb into the bowl. Hm.
So, still waiting to hear back from Lindsay Museum, out of worry, I finally got out a cookie sheet, filled it with water and put it next to the bowl. Within seconds the ducklings were all playing in the tiny bit of water:
Both of those are under our big tree that has a bird feeder under it, and I noticed they were nibbling on some of the seed that had spilled out of the feeder. So I took a scoop of birdfeed, put it on a plate and set it near the cookie sheet. They immediately ate some of it.
All this time I was talking to the mama duck. She would tilt her head and look at me as if she was working to understand what I was saying. She was not afraid of me at all, not even really cautious, which was both flattering and concerning.
Finally, Lindsay called back. The woman told me I needed to shoo them out of my yard. They are wildlife and do not belong there. I told her I was worried they would get hit by a car and that there was NO water source nearby. She basically said “Too bad. That is what you must do. It’s not your responsibility if the mama duck is a bad mama.” Ugh.
So we tried. We told them they had to go and tried to encourage them to go out the gate by getting closer and closer to the ducks and trying to herd them in the proper direction. This did not go so well…
They basically sat down and were not moving. Nope. No way, no how.
I started to really worry about them. Jonah read that it takes 5-8 weeks before the babies are ready to fly. I did not think our yard, with its lack of a real water area, enclosed, was a really good place for the ducks to live.
So I got on the phone again and started making other calls. California Game and Wildlife isn’t open Sundays or Mondays, but I left a message. Contra Costa Animal Control also wasn’t open but I left a message there too. I asked around. Someone suggested I catch them and take them to Heather Farms Park (about a 15 minute car -ride away) that has a couple big ponds with lots of ducks and geese. But I had read (in my search) that it is illegal to catch and relocate wildlife, even from improper places.
I kept my eye on the ducks for most of the time, and they seemed to just be exploring the yard. The mama walked them here, walked them there. They followed her around, but none of them seemed particularly anxious. Still, at one point I had to get up and go into the other room for a couple minutes. When I got back, I could no longer see them in the yard. We went out to see if we could figure out where they went, but couldn’t find them anywhere.
While I think it is extremely unlikely that they went out by the gate, which was quite a ways away from where the ducks had been hanging out, we could not find them, nor could we find any other possible exit. No holes in the fences that we could see, no holes to under the house. This remains the case. I haven’t seen them at all today.
They appeared unexpectedly. They disappeared unexpectedly.
And while I know that their journey is their own, and that our yard was not a good place for them, while I spent most of the time they were with us trying to figure out how to help them leave, I still found myself unexpectedly disappointed and sad at their leaving.
I found myself reflecting once more on the story Lost and Found about a little boy’s encounter with a penguin, his hard work to get the penguin back home and his final realization that the penguin wasn’t lost at all, just lonely and wanting a friend. The boy in the story only realized in the end that he, too, was lonely and needed the penguin as much as the penguin needed him.
That story became real for me over the last two days. I spent the entire time of this amazing gift of a duck mama and her babies, trying to help them move on, only to discover when they were gone how much their afternoon with us had touched me, had blessed me, had given me a gift I was very sad to see end. I found myself wondering if we had been too mean, trying to chase them out of our yard, despite the instructions of the Lindsay Wildlife worker (and though we were unsuccessful at the time). I worried they had felt unwelcome. I worried I had missed the whole thing: spending it in being too concerned for the duck and her babies.
But the thing is, this is how the Divine, God, mystery, blessing, or (for the non-religious) serendipity shows up. It can’t be summoned, and it lasts an unpredictable amount of time. We have no control over when it comes or when it goes. Our call therefore (and this is for our own sakes, as all of our calls ultimately and most deeply are!) is therefore, very simply, to keep paying attention so that we do not miss the blessing, the face of God, the gift of mystery when it shows up. Our call is to be open to seeing it, because sometimes it comes in a flash and is gone just as quickly. If we miss it, we can’t get it back. It is gone.
Don’t waste those amazing moments, those unexpected visions of life and mystery, those incredible and unanticipated wonders that sometimes come our way.
I almost missed this gift. I didn’t appreciate the depth of it when it was mine to behold. But the gift continues through the lesson. So I step into a new day. Eyes open. Ears open. For that next amazing wonder that comes my way.