19: Why Do We Care About Ducklings?

Why do we care about ducklings? There are so many of them. And yet, we still care.

“He is already dead,” the waiter said as I twisted my key in the mailbox. I had stepped out our hotel’s side door where the staff take their smoke breaks.

“Who?”

“Him.” The waiter pointed at a still mound of yellow and umber down. A duckling lay on his back on the asphalt, his torso twisted, his head flung back so his thumbnail-sized bill pointed upwards, exposing a yellow plume at his throat. A handful of ducklings scattered over the walkway, their cheeps punctuating the street sounds. The waiter explained he heard a loud bang and then saw the dead duckling roll off a van parked by the hotel. We were on the Suze River canal walkway where service vehicles sometimes park. The canal had 15-foot deep walls. The ducklings could not have come from the Suze. With the recent rainstorms, the canal water rushed too fiercely for any duck to get lift from it, much less featherless ducklings.

The waiter reached a latex-gloved hand over the van and drew back with a live duckling. We looked up. Would a duck have nested at the top of a five-story building? It didn’t seem possible.

But then, why not? They have wings. About 20 feet away a stout woman pointed us toward the mother duck calling for her young.

Another waiter appeared, the father of a newborn boy. He looked down at the dead duckling and echoed the first waiter.

“He is already dead. It is nature,” he said with a shrug, but then he and the other waiter in their starched white and black uniforms circled the van to shepherd the ducklings toward their mother.

When all her babies were gathered around her, the mother duck stood quacking for a moment more, as though she knew one was still missing. Do mother ducks know how to count out their babies?

She turned and hopped the low stone pedestal that rims the canal; her babies clambered at the ledge to join her, but for them it was too great a height. She slipped through the wrought-iron railing and readied to leap the 15 feet down into the churning green water, but then realized her babies were not at her belly. She threaded back between the bars, but she did not come down from the ledge to join her young.

Instead, she waddled east toward the lake, while her babies followed, fretting against the stone, keening pitiably to join her. The lake was still a mile and many busy crossroads away. Her path would take her fledglings through the thick of the city.

A small audience formed in the apartment balconies above the canal.

Under their watch, I followed the family and I wondered, why do we care so much about ducklings? The restaurant where the waiters work serves duck.

The mother duck was nearing the street when she seemed to reach a point of decision. Here, the stone pedestal sloped downward, so a few of her ducklings were able to make the leap and cluster around her belly. She slipped under the fence onto the edge and dropped down into the hurrying water.

Some of her babies trusting their mother, tumbled over the wall with her.

The remaining ducklings threw themselves against the stone and quickened their cries. The current forced the mother duck and her babies downriver, but they fought their way back up to where the crying babies scrambled at the ledge.

The balcony audience shouted and made sweeping motions with their hands, indicating I should send the babies over the edge. As I bent down, one duckling cleared the stone and with little featherless wings outspread, fell down into the water.

I gently cupped the last duckling in my hands, lifted him onto the pedestal, but he would not jump. I nudged him closer to the edge, but he only bleated louder and struggled back into my hands. I pushed him over then, feeling sick as I did it. Below, the ducklings swirled around their mother. They were all together.

I turned around and said, “C’est bien, tout c’est bien.” Everyone raised their hands and shouted in joy. For them it was over, but when I turned back I saw one duckling carried away by the current, her mother hurrying to catch her, but forced to circle back to gather her brood who could not keep up. The separated one bleated, her little dark wings outspread, facing her mother, as the water pulled her backwards tail-first and farther away.

It seemed for a moment as though the mother and her brood would close the gap, but then two merganzers appeared and pecked at her babies, teasing them away from her in the swirling water. She could by herself catch the duckling being carried away, but she would have to abandon the rest to the hungry merganzers. She gave up the one and circled back to fight the merganzers, with her babies frantically working against the current to stay inside her protective reach.

The merganzers gave up, the mother was too fierce, but by that time the little duckling had been carried out of sight, although we could still hear her bleating, but soon, even that was drowned out by the city noise.

 

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69: Laundry list

My current laundry dryer.

Tatiana Warkentin, another home-bred Canadian prairie writer living in Switzerland, is pushing her way through a blog-challenge to post a blog every single day of this month. She’s doing it with the aid of the alphabet and she’s doing great, although, she appears to be sledding through a tough virus at the moment that threatens to knock off her resolve. You can check out her funny, wrenchingly honest blog at The Dubious Hausfrau. 

One of her recent posts sought to uncover the veil on this glamorous jet-setting lifestyle by admitting she watches a lot of television. I applaud this: Wasting time is how the most important creative work gets done.

Her idea seems like a good one, and so I’m copying it so that I don’t accidentally fool anyone into thinking our lives here are spent swimming in cheese fondues, conversing in foreign languages and dining on chocolate in many forms. Here are the highlights from my normal weekday. You can skip over what follows without fear. I call it “highlights,” but if you read it, you might call them lowlights.

  1. Check emails, Facebook, read news on the web.
  2. Write/edit for two or three hours.
  3. Exercise for 30 minutes. I can’t do this any longer without lapsing into a comatose state. I get through it by watching a television serial such as Downton Abbey or The Big Bang Theory. A friend can testify how bored I am because she happened on me during a circuit weight session at my cottage where she discovered I talk to myself, counting out repetitions and cheering myself to keep going.
  4. Hang out the morning laundry, sometimes go high-tech by pointing fans at it (see above).
  5. Breakfast.
  6. Clean up the hotel room.
  7. Check the mail, which happens to be where the hotel staff go for their cigarette breaks, so I spend some time chatting with them. They are dedicated to schooling me in the ways of the Swiss; a testament to the tenacity of these people, but then, they have rebuffed the French, Germans, Austrians, Hungarians and Italians from taking over their country, so what else could we expect from them?
  8. Head out for the midday shop which almost always entails some mortifying communication problem where someone tries to speak to me in German or French. This is a daily reminder to be nice to immigrants when I return to Canada. I have, by the way, always been nice to immigrants, but once you have been an immigrant you realize that what looked like nice to you was not as nice as you could have been. Immigrants need every bit of encouragement they can get.
  9. Engage in a choppy French conversation with an eccentric old woman who likes people to admire her rum-coloured poodle named Candy.
  10. Return to hotel room. Read blog draft, remember that it has a few pre-teens reading it, gasp in horror, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, then post it.
  11. Walk down to lake and stare at swans. Take note of daily routine of town drunks and drug addicts.
  12. Surf the local stores for sales: A necessary survival skill in Switzerland where most things are priced beyond the worst nightmares of most Canadians and Americans.
  13. Go on another walk along the canal where I stare at the ducks.
  14. Take down laundry.
  15. Phone home or online chat with friends in North America who are just waking up.
  16. Write some more.
  17. Greet Dave, realize I have not made dinner again, watch him cook a prepackaged meal (I will explain this another day).
  18. Go for another walk with Dave who is very good at steering me away from drunks and drug addicts, which makes me wonder whether I pay enough attention to my surroundings. Just yesterday he pulled me away from a trajectory that would have put me too close to a man who was attempting a personal relationship with a woman featured on an advertising poster in our town’s main square.
  19. Back to the hotel where we read emails, surf the web and sometimes sneak up to the hotel fitness room to scarf more towels. We are supposed to get by on only two bath towels a week, a starvation-level allotment if ever I saw one, so we bulk  up our supply. The hotel staff know we do this, take away our extra used towels without comment, and look the other way. Bless their hearts.
  20. If I am in an obsessive writing state, I will do some more of it.

And that is our exciting life in Switzerland.

 

 

 

 

71: The Savagery of Swans + Statsurday

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

ABC News: Killer Swan Cited in Chicago Man’s Drowning Death

I’m not surprised a bit to learn a bird took an active part in a man’s death. In the late 1990s I spent some time in a cast, thanks to a ferocious rooster pursuit – the rooster was after me, not the other way around. I’ll say no more about this embarrassing episode except that he started it.*

Swans: Don't mess with them. Source: Wikipedia, Japan.

Friday was windy, sending Lac Biel swans up the town’s canals in search of calmer waters. They move almost in formation, pushing up against the current sometimes in a straight line, then ride the current back to the canal mouth into Lac Biel where they turn around and start the loop all over again.

In Canada, we read much about staying away from waterfowl lest we disturb them to the point where they fail to reproduce or thrive, but I’ve always suspected that loons, ducks, geese and all the like are more resilient than that. Switzerland’s swans bear out my hypothesis.

As I made my wind-whipped walk by the canal, the only pedestrian in sight, the swans took note of me walking high above on the canal’s banks, broke off their formation and proceeded to swim alongside me, poking their bills in my direction in the same manner my labrador retrievers used to nose my hand for treats.

Orderly Republican swans to the right, more Democrat "Frank Sinatra 'I Did It My Way" swans to the left.

Had I already learned of the U.S. man’s swan-induced drowning, the theme track to the movie “Jaws” would have run in my head, but I was blithely unaware of the dangerous flock that followed me. In that way, it as though I am living in a Hitchcock horror movie.

When I lingered over a canal bridge, they gathered round as though readying for choir. I had no food and while swan’s faces do not appear configured to convey disapproval, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that I had let them down.

I’ve never seen swans up close until we came here. I always thought they were graceful elegant creatures, but up-close they are a lot like people. There’s always one in a crowd who bullies his way about, stabbing and tearing at other swans to get to the front of the flock.  Occasionally, we’ll spy one who for some reason the flock just do not like. That sad swan lingers at the fringes, pecked and pursued every time she tries to drift in to the heart of the flock. Others hang around in the thick, but they still guard their little circle of surf with an air of menace.

Nonetheless, they are lovely to look at, fun to watch as they try to take off in flight (it takes a long time, they are heavy birds) and despite the dreaded news of the man’s drowning, gather around people like puppies here in our little town.

* I was once sent flying out of my lounge chair when a loon spiked up out of the water right next to my head, triggering me to make noises that Dave said was what he imagined a person might make while being attacked by a bear.

BlogBits

Top country hits:  Canada, U.S., and Switzerland

Bottom country hits:  Qatar, Israel and Bulgaria

Readers from Japan:  Three

Weirdest search termNabadaba dingdong

Most read post:  Paris Food – Can you eat lambs kidney without having to sell your own has once again climbed to the top after being briefly usurped by Luscious Lucernewhich has dropped to third place, nudged out by Switzerland’s Toronto. I cannot explain any of this, except that perhaps I under-rated the world’s interest in Parisian food.

Most active time of day on this blog: 3 p.m.

Yes, he got close and his feathers were up. I have no idea what that means.

Swans are beautiful no matter how you look at them.

Fascinating only to me, possibly, but this is how much churn one swan kicked up on his start to avoid a bully-swan.