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Magnetic North: Wisdom from the beaks of birds

Mallard ducklings
Mallard ducklings

FinalCut_MagNorth_20100521.mp39.85 MB
Welcome back to Magnetic North, a place that people who absolutely, positively HATE hot call the best place on earth...usually.  This past week, temperatures inched above 80 degrees waaaaay too soon. And that makes most of us more than just a little snarly. Fact is, we really don’t expect more than a handful of sauna-like days in a whole summer. And here we are, well BEFORE Memorial Day weekend, sweatin’ like prize piggies at the State Fair. All I can say is, this better be short-lived. 
Despite wanting to do nothing more than curl up in the cool and comfy downstairs level of the house with a good book last Monday, I dutifully readied the outdoor pen for the mallard ducklings. That means stringing a tarp - for shade - over the top of the wire enclosure built onto our chicken coop: a job calling for flexibility, working overhead bent over backwards, and the willingness to ingest spider webs and their winter leftovers. 
In the process of doing that I find numerous breaches in the wire perimeters. My new electric staple gun closes the gaps in minutes. A good thing, since I’m seriously considering ripping all my clothes off just to cool down a bit. To complete the duckling palace, I lay a deep layer of straw on the dirt floor of the pen, plunk a big old round rubber stock waterer in the center of the pen and place a plywood panel up against the coop for their bunkhouse. I’ll transfer the little darlings from their nursery in the garage later tonight. One of my favorite to-dos, as I get to catch, cuddle and release all 21 ducklings in the process.
Paul and I have raised mallard ducklings for years, putting them on our pond and feeding them until the leaves turn and they strike out for warmer places. We watch them paddle around all day, obsessively count the flock, worry about raptors and land predators but, best of all, just sit on an old bench close to the water’s edge, and the growing ducks and drakes swim and bob for food as the cattails and duckweed grow taller and then go to seed. One or two birds stand out, usually drakes. This year, that one will be the duckling with a super-dark face. We haven’t picked a name for the bird yet, but it will be gender neutral. Like the one we gave our oldest Blue Swedish, Bubba. When Bubba began to lay eggs, she became Bubbles without any strain.
Doing seasonal chores like duckling transfer is one of the joys of living as we do. Less fun are the unexpected break-downs and -outs. I think of the six-hour-long llama chase last Sunday that had Summer, our gorgeous llama, leading me and our friend Nick up and down Caspers Hill Road and through two neighbors’ property before she allowed herself to be penned up. 
But not even that compares to being dragged to the ground by a hungry goat, Bosco, who decided to plant both his front hooves in my right coat pocket in his quest for grain. I’ve had many a pratfall courtesy of my critters over the years, but this was a first. And thanks to WTIP news director Barbara Jean, who just happened to be doing a feature story involving our farm that morning, this ignominious moment is yours to behold on video on the station website. Note to self: Be aware that ANYone these days is possibly filming every move I make, so no matter how hot it gets, keep clothes ON.
Frankly, I’d sooner concentrate on the beauty all around us now that heat and moisture has arrived. The wild strawberry blossoms underfoot in the meadow, the red buds on the tamaracks, the bullfrog channeling Pavarotti in the vicinity of our rain barrel and the wild song of Canada honkers overhead. When first I heard them this year, I felt a stab of envy for my earthbound White Chinese geese. Descended from wild swans, my noisy pets can fly, but only high enough off the ground to lightly sweep the grass with their feet. “Don’t look up,” I muttered as the honkers soared and taunted us. But my gander, Touch Me, just rubbed the underside of his beak on the ground while making his “I need - I need” noise. I pick him up, lifting him farther off the earth than his wings will ever take him. And for him, that’s enough.
Me too.
Just a little critter wisdom on a much-too-hot-day in the best place on earth.
For WTIP, this is Vicki Biggs-Anderson with Magnetic North.