The Duck Sanctuary at no. 17


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Three ducks.

Two ducks, one drake, actually. As long as I can remember, they have been inhabiting the puddles of the forest, out there in the wild, with the deer and the squirrels and the buck-toothed muntjacks.

If I am walking alone they do not trouble. They sit there, minding their own business, quacking gently amongst themselves. They are often huddled against the cold. Or sampling the rain. And sometimes, more of late, they begin to glory in the early light of the Spring morning.

Their demeanour never changes. They are insular, pulling their shawls closer and grumbling irascibly about the price of pondweed.

But all too often, the ducks’ meeting can be kiboshed. Because these days, as well as squirrels and deer and muntjacks and creepy crawlies, the forest is all too full of dogs.

Now most of the affable dogs who gambol through the forest here are not like Mr Fox. They have dog bowls full of dog biscuits and warm dog blankets waiting at home. They have no urgency.

But they do like a good chase.

The squirrels lead them all a pretty dance. They set up something like the police shooting-practice galleries, dashing out from behind trees, charging vertically up a pine , flying from a hitherto unguarded branch. The dogs charge hell for leather after, impotently barking at nothing for minutes after their tormentors have vamoosed into the forest ether.

Yapyapyapyapyapyap. Barkbarkbarkbarkbark.

The duck: now the duck is a different experience all together.

You get one charge at a duck. If your eyesight’s not all that good, your charge may not start until you see them and that could be quite close to their small, temporary puddle-pond. Mac gets a few feet at most, but oh, the unbridled joy of the acceleration. The elation of launching yourself after the crossly retreating tail feathers, that snap at fresh air in which you can almost taste your quarry.

And then the ducks are just silhouettes against the sky. They fly off somewhere else. Because , as we all know from Prokofiev’s Β Peter And The Wolf, the duck has the power to control its own destiny. It can simply take off and scarper.

Recently, though, I have sensed a world-weariness in my ducky friends. There is a sense of “here we go again” as they sail off to pastures different. Once, just once, it would be nice to start and finish a conversation in the same place. To enjoy the same view for more than ten minutes. To relax. Kick back the webbed feet and chill.

I was cycling to the shops. It is a municipal little route. It goes past little houses with their window boxes and their hanging baskets, past playing fields and swings, benches and village greens. This is the land where dogs stay firmly on the lead.

And opposite number 17, on a little patch of grass next to the car park, huddled the three ducks of the forest.

Clever ducks. For here they really were uninterrupted. They had chosen a little enclave of mature residents who would nurture such creatures. I noted that a little dish of water had been put out for them and some food in a bowl.

I came back twenty minutes later and they were still there, unhassled, unhurried, conversation complete.

Just occasionally the Wild loses its allure.

And the parochial pleasures of Little England are comforting indeed.


42 thoughts on “The Duck Sanctuary at no. 17

  1. Ducks wander around the outside tables of cafes and restaurants here. The owners leave out bowls of water soaked bread for them. The ducks are not frightened of Vendeens who are the biggest producers of duck foie gras in France:)

    1. Thanks, Lisa! There are plenty of arguments for dogs on leads in wild places. We have no-go areas in our forest for dogs, but I don’t think the ducks have worked it out yet!

    1. They do. I was listening to an article about the effect the creeping housing developments are aving here, on our toad population. It’s decimation: 100 per cent loss in some cases.

  2. I have noticed this too – in both Edinburgh and here on Block Island – especially the mallards – cars and people, no problem… A good read as always, thanks

  3. Dear Kate, like “the call of the wild” there must also be within most creatures “the call to the tame–to security and the steady heartbeat and the calm breath.” At least I’ve felt that in my recent years. A call to find the home within myself. To come home to myself and to embrace the Oneness of my life. And perhaps those two ducks and one drank at No 17 are living the comfort they knew when their mother’s breast was their warmth and her quake their home.

    I’ve been away for a while due to a minor problem. So no posting or reading blogs. I’ve missed your take on life and history. Your postings, Kate, can become an addiction! Peace.

  4. I do enjoy seeing the ducks paddle on our pond. Most of our birds are really big – Great Blue Heron, Sand Hill Crane, White Egret, etc. Not to mention some of the birds that prey on others. I hope your ducks continue to enjoy the good life and avoid the big birds, dogs and fox.

  5. A Kate Shrewsday hinterland, just missing a little flute piece in the background.

    First ducks on the fly are the wise ducks, the later are sitting ducks,

    Ducks are chatty and gossipy, if they think no one is in earshot.

      1. More of a loon man myself, still, if not for ducks we’d have not fowl weather -Dam d’em DUCKS.

  6. There must be a very deep message in here somewhere. Civilization brings ducks unbridled – er, leashed – dogs to the country. Ducks to civilization, where they are controlled, and let them rampage in the country unducked.

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