Hello, dear readers!
I'm in the midst of revising my next book (which I still can't tell you about till everything is finalized!) I've given you a few glimpses here and there, though... A few months ago, I did a post about my writer friend, Ron Cree's, pet skunk that he had as a kid. Not only is there a devilish rescued baby skunk character in my next book, but there's also a rescued duckling character... and wouldn't ya know it, Ron *also* had pet ducks as a kid. Ron's vivid descriptions of his relationship with his animals and their fascinating behavior were helpful to me in my research...
So, without further ado, I shall paste Ron's incredibly moving childhood duckling recollections (really, I got a lump in my throat at the end...):
"I was in the fifth grade (around 10 years old) when I convinced my parents to let me purchase two duck eggs from the local hatchery. Eggs were a much easier sell than two live ducklings, and they were cheaper, too. I think I only paid a buck or so for each one. They were about ¾ incubated, and due to hatch in just a few days.
I set up a cardboard box in my bedroom and focused a strong, 100 watt bulb on the eggs, which I’d carefully nestled in some towels. I made sure to turn them at regular intervals and stayed up late most nights, staring at them and dreaming about how amazing it was going to be when they finally produced ducks! I was very impatient for them to hatch…it was worse than waiting for Christmas.
Even now, nearly forty years later, I clearly remember the excitement of the day my ducks were born. I watched in awe as the eggs trembled and cracked. It took a huge amount of willpower to not help them out of their shells. (I had a book that explained what to do, and it stated very forcefully that you should never “help” your ducklings during the hatching process.) I could see their bills breaking through the eggs, and the urge to reach in and assist was nearly overwhelming.
After what seemed like hours, both ducklings had fully emerged. They were wet and peeping up a storm. The warmth of the lamp dried them off pretty quickly, though, leaving them fluffy and yellow and unbelievably cute.
I named them Puddles and Sunbeam and couldn’t resist picking them up and playing with them, even though they’d just hatched. It was sort of love at first sight, both for them and for me.
My book had explained the concept of imprinting, and I was eager to try it out for myself. Less than an hour after they were born, I put the ducklings on the floor and started walking around. I was amazed (and still am) at how they immediately began following me. No matter how fast I moved, no matter how I zigged and zagged, they kept right up with me, peeping all the while.
Over the next couple of weeks, we grew even closer. They’d follow me EVERYWHERE. I loved taking them outside and showing off for the other kids in the neighborhood. Even in a crowd of people, Puddles and Sunbeam never lost focus—they always followed me and only me. I took them to school for show and tell one day and they followed me up and down the hallway and into the classroom. Even the teacher thought they were adorable.
It was interesting to see the change in their personalities as they grew. When young, they were easily spooked and tended to stick very close. I had to be careful not to step on them. They were always visibly excited when I came home from school and played with them.
As they grew into adults, they became hilarious. They still followed me everywhere, but now, instead of being tiny and yellow and fluffy, they were gangly, white, and weirdly independent. They remained quite protective of me and had no problem facing down other animals, like my dog, cats, squirrels, whatever that tried to come between us. They’d get into the face of anything they perceived as a threat to me. They were my protectors!
They had their own small swimming pool that they’d spend the day in (during warm weather), and a secure hutch they’d sleep in at night. They ate plants and worms in the yard, and I had to pay attention to keep them out of my mom’s garden. (I spent a lot of my allowance on Purina Duck Chow…little pellets of who-knows-what that was the staple of their diet.) They liked being carried, and I can still remember the feeling of tucking one under each arm like a football and lugging them around town. Of course, whenever I did put them down, they immediately fell into line behind me and just followed me wherever I went.
They drew a lot of attention from people, but whenever someone would approach us, they’d get all ruffled and start quacking aggressively. They’d run in circles around my feet. No one else could pick them up.
They really didn’t have time for anyone except me and each other.
I can’t say that they were particularly “loving” pets. I couldn’t cuddle with them or sit with them in my lap. They couldn’t sleep with me or even come inside the house, once they were grown. But they were extremely loyal and I couldn’t get enough of them.
For my Mom and Dad, it was another story. As the ducks became adults, they became messy and smelly. Lots of poop everywhere. My parents didn’t like that. Plus, they were loud. Their cute peeps became annoying quacks and honks. They considered themselves the “bosses” of me and of the yard in general. They were surprisingly territorial. Most strangely—it was as if they “knew” somehow they belonged to me, and as my pets, they acted “entitled” or something. It was weird.
I didn’t have them long…maybe a year. It got to a point where it was impractical to keep them. We didn’t live on a farm. We lived in the suburbs of Cincinnati.
So my parents finally convinced me that my ducks would be happier at the city lake with the other ducks. I didn’t want that, of course, but I was only 11, so I didn’t have much say.
I can remember the evening we took them to the lake and let them go. They very quickly merged in with a whole group of other domestic ducks, making them impossible to identify by sight.
That night, I tossed and turned and cried and cried and cried. It was horrible.
I went back to the lake almost every day for a month, hoping to see them. And I did a couple of times. They actually broke from the crowd of other ducks and proceeded to follow me when I showed up!
But the day finally came when I showed up and they weren’t there. Or they simply decided not to follow me anymore. I eventually stopped going and never saw them again.
I still remember them, though. Two of my favorite pets ever."
*sniff sniff* This is Laura here again. You know, I got inspired to have a rescued baby waterfowl character in this book after I found an abandoned Canadian gosling in the road last year. We brought her home and named her Grape, but soon had to deliver her to the wildlife rehabilitation center. I cried like crazy, and I'd only known her a few days. Here she is:
Oh, and one more thing-- if you're in the Fort Collins area, please come by and see me (and wonderful writer friends Laura Pritchett and Kayre Cattrell at the Old Town Book Fair on July 12! Here are details:
Saturday July 12, 1:00-2:00 pm, Local Author Tent, Old Town Book Fair,
Old Town Square, Fort Collins, CO
Ask a Writer – or Three!
Have questions about the writing process, finishing your novel, or finding an agent? Or perhaps you'd rather talk about plot, character, pacing, or setting. Whatever the questions, three acclaimed Fort Collins authors will do their best to answer them while chatting about writing and the writing life.
Free and open to everyone!
(See here for details and the full line-up of Book Fair activities.)
P.S. Besides, Baby Goose Grape, the other waterfowl in the photos here were randomly found through an online image search... I didn't have any pics of Ron's actual ducklings, but you can only imagine their cuteness.