Wanting to try my hand at a container garden on my deck, I recently bought a large footed planter. I wasn’t the only one wanting to establish some roots in the pot. Within days of filling it with soil, a duck planted an egg. She showed up every morning for about a week to plant another egg while her man friend relaxed in the yard underneath, eating bugs and taking dips in our dirty pool water.
I don’t know much about ducks. I know boy ducks can be criminally, violently bad–sexually deviant little suckers. When they show up in my yard, I usually call the cops. I don’t need their kind of scene. But after seeing eggs and the possibility of being able to witness new life? My heart soared. I educated myself and read as much as I could find on momma ducks. A What to Expect When You’re Expecting Ducks, so to speak.
Her guy, and I use that term loosely, has since taken off to hang with the boys down at the ditch. She has hunkered down, plucked her feathers and nested, learning to weather the storms and Jason (because he can’t seem to remember we are fostering an entire family and keeps startling her with his clunky man shoes); and I have gotten the pleasure of getting to know her over the past few weeks. I know I’m not supposed to talk to wild animals. I get it. But I can’t help myself. She is not a buffalo. She is a mom. She is a guest. At my house. Besides, she seems kind of lonesome. I can’t just ignore her. That’s rude. So, every day I’ve been talking to her, making sure she’s comfortable, bringing her umbrellas when it’s hot, a worm or two when I’ve noticed she hasn’t gotten out of her basket for a few days, making it rain on her in the really hot weather—just to keep her cool. She likes me.
As long as I don’t make eye contact when I’m talking to her. Story of my life.
Then yesterday happened. Jason came home from work a little early because he got called in to work in the middle of the night. He was napping. I peeked my head out of the dining room window to check on Momma Duck and noticed she was out of her basket (something I haven’t witnessed for at least a week) and she was just standing off to the side, lopsided and paralyzed. Hurt? Waiting for her to move, I watched out the window for a few moments. Nothing. I ran up our stairs two at a time (something nobody witnesses, ever) and out our bedroom deck for an overhead view of her and her basket. A bull snake was crawling vertical up the planter and into the basket of eggs, his mouth open and eager. I yelled at my sleeping husband, “A SNAKE IS EATING OUR BABIES!”
Jason bolted awake and shot straight out of bed and ran downstairs on the hot deck with no shoes, scorching his feet. Jason, who is terrified—mortified of snakes, who refuses to even look at pictures of snakes. Jason, who once sprinted from a water snake. But Jason, the man who will tackle his worst fear for our Momma Duck. THAT IS MY HUSBAND. His face immediately breaking out in hives, his forehead dripping sweat, he grabbed a shovel and went to work trying to wrangle the snake out of the basket, instructing me to get our neighbor, Bill. In Jason’s mind, Bill is a professional snake killer, his hero.
Or maybe just a really nice guy who doesn’t have any irrational fears about a bull snake.
Bill knew immediately why I was knocking on his door. “I’ll be right over, let me get my pellet gun and an ice chipper”, he replied when I told him his assistance was requested. Before Bill showed up, Jason had wrangled the snake out of the basket and it had fallen off the deck, slithering away. Then Jason spotted it, screaming “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD! IT’S IN THE TREE! IT’S IN THE TREE!! OH MY GODDDDDDD!!! TREEEEEE!!!! EVILLLL!!!! BILLLLLLL!!! I’m surprised the police weren’t called to our house for a disturbance.
“911. What’s your emergency?”
“Uh. Yeah. There’s a guy in my neighborhood screaming like a little girl. Can you hear him? It sounds like he’s being beaten, tortured even. I can’t really make out what’s wrong with him, but you should send the police. Now. And maybe an ambulance. It sounds like he’s in severe pain.”
Bill shot it once. The snake fell from the tree and went out of sight again. A few moments later, my peripheral vision picked up some movement above. The snake was above me, moving to the top of the deck, crawling up another tree, trying to get back to the eggs. Momma Duck was waiting in the yard, shaking her head from side to side, wondering WTF. Bill took the ice chipper to it this time. Jason started to spit profusely, an action I have never once witnessed in twenty years. I asked Jason to come look at the dead snake. He threatened to divorce me. (He didn’t really. He was too busy dry heaving.) Okay. Not really. But he was terrified. That part is totally true.
Momma Duck eventually went back to her basket, where there were five cracked eggs (three beyond hope.) Tears in our eyes, we watched as she carried them off in her mouth, one by one—flying over the city with her dead babies. Where could she be taking them? Jason wanted to believe she was giving them a proper burial. I asked Google. Google answered with a response I didn’t want to accept as true. But by the time she got back to egg #3, she had enough flying and just took it to the pool and feasted. It seems they eat their broken eggs so that predators can’t. I liked Jason’s version a heck of a lot more. Funeral Burial Eggs are just more sorrowful, more comforting than I-Ate-My-Baby-Eggs. But still, I hold no ill will to Momma Duck. When you’re a momma, you do what you got to do and sometimes it just hurts.
There are four eggs left in her basket this morning, two of which are cracked but apparently Momma Duck believes are salvageable. She is quite moody and has been checking the underside of the planter on a regular basis now for snakes. She is one smart duck. I think it’s best to give her some quiet time. I won’t try to have a conversation with her today.
Besides, I have snake patrol to tend to.