Watching Baby Ducks Last Summer

The Sun’s warmth does not touch the water at the bottom of the lake, keeping it cold like ice as it passes through the dam and enters our river. That is why our part of the river, a mere two miles or so from the dam, remains cold even on the hottest summer days. That is why we love our river and we are drawn to it when the Texas air hits triple digits. We are water people, summer people. We have a good life and we appreciate it.

The river where we are starts wide and deep, usually slow-moving until it reaches our little wall where rapids form and “toobers” squeal as they float by. We sit on our island, usually beer in hand, and watch. Today, though, we watch the best kind of river life, not people.

Sitting on the wall is a mama duck and her six babies. She teaches them how to hop off the wall, maybe a five-foot drop, and let the river move them to the rocks below. The ducklings are not eager for this adventure, they do not want to learn this lesson. The ducklings prefer the comfort of the nearness of mama duck. Mama duck is patient. They swim above the wall, always returning quickly to mama. One perches on her back. She manages to keep an eye on all her babies even as busy as they are. In duck language, she encourages them. She knows how important this is, she knows they must learn the ways of their small world. Finally, the bravest peaks over the wall, takes one last look at mama, turns and leaps. Brave duckling bobbles on the tiny waves and makes her way to the rocks. Soon a second joins her. Proudly, they both look up at mama. “We did it!”

We watch this tiny drama, cheering for the ducks, wanting to help them but knowing this is a ritual and it must happen in the duck way, without human interference. We hold our breath as each duckling makes their scary leap.

Finally, only one duckling remains on the wall with mama duck. Mama keeps a keen eye on her babies down below while still encouraging the one.  The babies below on the rocks skitter about, one falling from a rock and quickly swimming back, then another.  After a while, Mama duck jumps from the wall herself, leaving her last baby behind.

Again, we worry, we want so badly to help. Finally, the remaining baby hops down to mama. They are all reunited. Mama duck gathers her six ducklings and they follow her down the river. We sigh with relief and cheer.

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