Welcome back to Magnetic North, where the first fingers of fall tickled us awake on the very last days of August. Even the State Fair down in St. Paul couldn’t seem to bring back the sauna weather of the past months. And, along with Fred Smith of Wildersmith on the Gunflint, I am nearly delirious with joy. Ahhhhhhh, cold weather is so close I can taste it!
Of course, there are a few drawbacks to our six months of hard winter weather. For me, the first is the departure of my little band of mallards. Having finally found our pond two weeks ago, the seven drakes and 10 ducks spend more and more time away from mama duck. They show up for breakfast and dinner, as usual. But fewer hours are spent snoozing under the deck or asparagus fronds. Now, more often than not, when I hear their raucous quacks, the sound comes from afar. Either high in the sky as they strengthen their young wings. Or from away out on the west meadow, where the cattails and duckweed on the pond hide the birds from the eyes of circling hawks and eagles.
In keeping with my resolve to raise the mallards for the wild, not one of them has a name. They are all simply, “Baby.”
And yet, this year, I’ve crossed a line I swore I would not. I’ve fallen in love with a little female mallard. One who stands out from the rest because of her honey color. Her feathers are so different from the other females that I couldn’t help but notice her. And before long, I began looking for her first thing in the morning, before I even took a beak count to see how many had survived yet another night outside. Three of the original flock have gone missing since June 4. So far, the only predation we’ve had this year. Knock wood!
Now, as the mallards inch closer to their migration date, I dream of keeping that one pretty little honey duck - and, of course, a mate. My rationalization for such a dastardly act is pitiful. I tell myself that if I keep her and a drake I won’t have to buy ducklings next spring, saving about 40 bucks. No, I have not factored in the cost of feeding a pair all winter and the prospect of losing both to illness as they’ll be cooped up with the domestic ducks and a couple dozen snarky chickens. As I said, pitiful!
I ask for prayers that I do the right thing and let her go. Or, that she is wily enough by now to avoid my clutches in the event I weaken.
My other dilemma involves my recent goat cheese making success. Each batch of delicious chevre leaves me with more than a quart of whey. Whey is the liquid that drains off the curds as they hang in the cheesecloth. I poured the first few quarts down the drain before realizing that surely such nutritious stuff would be useful. It is! Thanks to Google and a community of obsessive cheese heads like me, I now use my excess whey for soup stock and baking. Very cool and very yummy.
Soup and real bread are two more reasons to love winter at our house. That and stoking the wood furnace and cook stove, standing over the grate where the warm, maple scented air rises in the morning, and letting my robe billow out around me like a dirigible about to ascend into the clouds. Hardly a likely outcome for someone who has taken to stuffing herself with goat cheese and crackers twice a day!
Ahhhh, the joys of winter. They are so many and so delightful, what need have I of more ducks? Even one the color of honey who I’ll miss more than all the rest.
Airdate: September 6, 2010