There’s something wild and wonderful about autumn on our lake this morning. Relentless winds strip the leaves, and heavy rains drench everything. All the waterfowl are getting restless…preparing for flights south. In the autumn, the mallards leave first, but then the geese, and finally even the swans will seek refuge elsewhere. Everybody loves feeding ducks, right? Don’t you? My grand children sure do! When I was little, my brother, sister, and I had so much fun feeding the ducks along the Red Cedar River. Our favorite duck was a big domestic white duck, which we named Gertrude. My brother Wolle built a duck pond in our backyard and then brought Gertrude home with us one day, but my parents made us take her back to the river. 😦 Ducks—and all wildlife—are just like people. They’re happiest when they’re free. Today I want to share a little bit about the ducks on our lake. The most common ducks are known as mallards. Mallards are about 2 feet long and have a 3-foot wingspan. Males have glossy green heads with a narrow white collar, chestnut-colored breasts, buff underparts, and brown backs with bright blue wing patches etched in white. Mallard females also have the blue wing patches and are very beautifully colored, although their mottled coloring helps them blend in better. All waterfowl need open water, and so—although they can live year around in the Great Lakes region— once our lake freezes over, the mallards leave, usually from late December until early April. Mallards often come up on grassy areas to feast on seeds, insects, and snails, although their primary diet is seeds from sedges, marsh plants, & smartweed,so they love to live in shallow, marshy areas where the water is about 18″ deep and they can turn upside down to feed off the bottom, known as “dabbling.” Also, the “ducktail” hair cut was popular when I was little and refers to the curly end of the ducks’ tails, which are so prominent when they’re bottoms up! Whenever the mood strikes—anytime from March to July—the mother duck will build a bulky nest on the ground out of leaves and grasses, carefully lined with duck down pulled from her own breast! Nests are usually built close to the water’s edge, but we had one pair that insisted on building a nest every year under the juniper bush in our front garden. Not a good plan, because the coons and foxes all too often had a feast of the eggs. Thankfully, mallards are prolific breeders. In America, more than 4.5 million are hunted each year, which just nicely keeps the population in balance. The females lay 8-12+ light green eggs, and those who are cagey enough to outsmart the foxes soon have a nice batch of ducklings! Within hours, the mother leads them to water. This mama tried setting sail with her ducklings on a pool at Disney World, which probably wasn’t all bad, because so many of our ducklings get eaten within the first few days by our snapping turtles. 😦 Thankfully, it does seem like a nice batch of them do survive each year, and over the summer they grow into big, strapping teenage ducks who look just like their parents. Mallards share fishing rights with other shore birds very peaceably, and our great blue herons never bother them…although our swans will! And so, another happy summer passes all too quickly, and soon it’s autumn again! I’m glad the mallards can be free to come and go as they please. I wish people could be as free, no matter where they live around the world. I’m reading a book called Escape from North Korea and have been appalled at how Kim family regime has oppressed their people and will not let them leave.People need to be treated with at least as much respect as the birds of the air!Even more awful is the plight of those without spiritual sight and freedom.I hope that no matter what state your body is in, your spirit is alive and free! “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32).
Wednesday, April 6, 1977 We were sorry you couldn’t visit, but Alan consoled me by inviting me out for dinner Saturday night, our first official “date” since our anniversary two months ago! Then this Saturday the three of us went out for dinner and Aaron—for the first time ever—got his own burger and fries. He did a pretty good job, but his real favorite was our steak and baked potato! All this time we thought he preferred fries! Afterwards we went to Belle Isle and watched some children feeding breadcrumbs to the ducks. With a little patience, they will almost eat out of your hand. Now “duck” is the word of the hour, and Aaron calls every animal he doesn’t recognize a “duck” instead of a “cat!” We also watched a buck wandering through the woods. It came right to the roadside, not more than fifteen feet from our parked car, to eat some bread. It was not at all intimidated by Aaron’s excited “Hi! Hi! Hi”s! I guess all children are animal lovers. Aaron certainly is. On the way home, we saw a motorcycle gang riding their choppers into the “Black Pirate Bar.” Quite impressive in the dusk, just as a spring thunderstorm was settling over Detroit. Lots of variety in this old town.
Hi from Aaron!
How are you? I am just fine, and I’m learning new words every day. Now I’m saying “big” words like cracker, cocoa, and cheese, and I jabber all the time. I also like to carry around Daddy’s Bible and preach.
Mama took me to the doctor yesterday, and I was such a brave boy—I didn’t even cry when the nurse have me my shots. I had a wonderful time conning the other children out of potato chips, exploring the men’s room, etc. Mom was ready for a nap when we got home.
Love, Me Tuesday, April 12, 1977 Alan took me out to a cozy Italian restaurant Saturday night, and it was just great. Easter it was 78° out and all the children from our building had an outdoor Easter egg hunt. Aaron slept through most of it, but we get to enjoy the tail end. Yesterday it was 82,° and today is going to be another beauty. Aaron and I were already outside by 8:30, it was so warm. Now it’s 10:30 am, and we’re still outside. He’s been playing with a nineteen-month-old Japanese girl and a fourteen-month-old Chinese girl. Mehujo’s mom and dad have only been here four weeks, and it’s fun talking to her; she knows so little English—yet does amazingly well. I’m over my morning sickness and feel energetic and up to cooking and entertaining, so please come for as long as you can!
Tuesday, April 19, 1977 Hi! We just got your letter and will be hoping to see you April 29th. Aaron’s beside me “reading’ an animal book. He knows almost all of them, and the sound they make—geese, chickens, cows, horses, pigs, ducks, etc. Everyday he learns two-four new words and loves to jabber. He is at such a fun age that I know you’ll enjoy him if you can come. Yesterday morning our first conversation went like this: “Good morning! Did you have a good sleep?” “Ya!” “Did you have sweet dreams?” “Ya!” “That’s good! Mama loves you.” “I yove you.” He’s really taken a turn for the positive. Of course, he also is more emphatic about negatives too, and is very sure when he doesn’t want to do something—like come inside after playing!
Alan has a big exam this weekend and plans to spend Saturday studying for his board exams. I had a picnic in mind myself, but if he wants some time off for the 29th, I guess I can’t expect miracles! The weather’s been super lately, and I dressed Aaron all up to take some pictures of him sniffing flowers. He squats way over and looks so cute! But alas, no luck. As soon as he’d see the camera, he’d run and try to grab it! I guess the best moments of spontaneity must go uncaptured!
Tuesday afternoon, May 3, 1977 No sooner had Aaron gotten up from his nap yesterday than he tried to call Papa on his telephone! How was your trip home? Alan said he really enjoyed your visit and took it as “a great honor” that you’d come to see us! I agree! My only regret is that you couldn’t have stayed about a week! My one worry was that Alan would get tired, but he got to study a reasonable amount and really rested much more than he would have had you not come! Now we are ready for the last month of grind before the end of the year. It’s hard to believe that Alan has only two weeks of class left.
Thanks for the form block for Aaron. He has been practicing and practicing on it. He dumps out the shapes and has learned (so far) how to fit them all in if I give him the three that fit into whichever side is up. He can find some shapes and holes, but it takes him a long time if he has to look through all eighteen, so this compromise makes it challenging and still fun. He worked on it, doing the “puzzle” about six complete times while I folded laundry this morning. Thank you! Friday, May 6, 1977 Yesterday it was a sunny 80° and Aaron, and I were just plotting to pack a picnic and go kidnap Alan during his lunch break when he appeared at the door and offered to take us out for burgers and a walk around Belle Isle! He’d gotten off a bit early and had the same idea! The beds of tulips were in full bloom—hundreds of red, white, purple, yellow, and mixed colors, and borders of hyacinths and lilac bushes. The fragrance and colors were a little overwhelming! We’ll have to be sure to take you there on your next visit. Aaron is busily working on his form box right now. I showed him a picture of you two and explained I was writing you. He said excitedly, “Papa! Nana!” and wanted to hold the picture.
Monday afternoon, May 9, 1977 Glad you had a good Mother’s Day, Mom. We had a good day in the end, though it started out pretty slow! I always get depressed on holidays because Alan doesn’t play up special occasions the way our family always did. He offered to take us out to dinner and the park, but he got too tired, so we came home and ate dry cereal and bananas. He then fell asleep until I called him for dinner, and then it was too late to go to the park! So, I was a bit discouraged when I called you. However, I’m sure after a few more holidays I will learn to stop expecting anything, and he will start having a little party spirit, and we will have meshed in this area too. I don’t think men are quite the “sentimental slobs” that women seem to be (or at least when it comes to this man and this woman)! Alan only has this and next week in class, then two weeks to study for comprehensives and two more weeks to prepare for board exams!
Someone sent me this story, but I just love it, especially because it reminds me of Alan’s office, where every spring a mother duck makes a nest in a totally enclosed courtyard, and when the ducklings all hatch, there is a parade to escort the mother and her ducklings into the hospital building, down the corridor, and out the door to the pond across the road!
Michael R. is now an accounting clerk at Frost Bank and works downtown in a second story office building. Several weeks ago, he watched a mother duck choose the concrete awning outside his window as the unlikely place to build a nest above the sidewalk. The mallard laid ten eggs in a nest in the corner of the planter that is perched over 10 feet in the air. She dutifully kept the eggs warm for weeks, and Monday afternoon all of her ten ducklings hatched.
Michael worried all night how the momma duck was going to get those babies safely off their perch in a busy, downtown, urban environment to take to water, which typically happens in the first 48 hours of a duck hatching. Tuesday morning, Michael watched the mother duck encourage her babies to the edge of the perch with the intent to show them how to jump off!
The mother flew down below and started quacking to her babies above. In his disbelief Michael watched as the first fuzzy newborn toddled to the edge and astonishingly leapt into thin air, crashing onto the cement below. Michael couldn’t stand to watch this risky effort. He dashed out of his office and ran down the stairs to the sidewalk where the first obedient duckling was stuporing near its mother from the near fatal fall.
As the second one took the plunge, Michael jumped forward and caught it with his bare hands before it hit the concrete. safe and sound, he set it by the momma and the other stunned sibling, still recovering from its painful leap.
One by one the babies continued to jump. Each time Michael hid under the awning just to reach out in the nick of time as the duckling made its free fall. The downtown sidewalk came to a standstill. Time after time, Michael was able to catch the remaining 8 and set them by their approving mother.
At this point Michael realized the duck family had only made part of its dangerous journey. They had 2 full blocks to walk across traffic, crosswalks, curbs, and pedestrians to get to the closest open water, the San Antonio River . The on looking office secretaries and several San Antonio police officers joined in. They brought an empty copy paper box to collect the babies. They carefully corralled them, with the mother’s approval, and loaded them in the container. Michael held the box low enough for the mom to see her brood. He then slowly navigated through the downtown streets toward the San Antonio River . The mother waddled behind and kept her babies in sight.
As they reached the river, the mother took over and passed him, jumping into the river and quacking loudly. At the water’s edge, he tipped the box and helped shepherd the babies toward the water and to their mother.
All ten ducklings safely made it into the water and paddled up snugly to momma. Michael said the mom swam in circles, looking back toward the beaming bank bookkeeper, and proudly quacking.
May we all be there to catch one another when we fall, and may we all have friends to help us when we’re about to take a an incredibly difficult leap! Notice that the ducklings were being obedient but still in grave danger! I can’t help but think of my dear children and their spouses, newly married daughter and son-in-law, and engaged children and their fiancees…especially Gerlinde, preparing to leap continents in order to follow her God and soon-to-be-husband! All prayers and care appreciated!
“Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and everyone that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God” (1 John4:7).