Recently Cash and Story have been obsessed with ducks, particularly the mallard ducks on the lake by our house. For days on end, they were outside with binoculars tracking every move of the ducks and trying with all their might to figure out where the female mallard had made her nest. Then one day last week, they found it!
She had built her nest, lined with soft feathers (which Cash informed me from reading books about ducks that she pulled from her own breast to use for her nest), in a large flower pot on our neighbor's dock. In the nest were eleven beautiful light blue duck eggs.
The kids could not have been happier to have made this discovery and to dream of the day soon when they'd see the ducklings that would hatch from the eggs. They were checking on the nest and the mallard several times each day, until one time, on Saturday afternoon when they checked, instead of a mallard on the nest, they found this.
It was a big black Eastern King snake, and harmless, according to our other neighbor, who happened to be dumping her yard trash in the pile nearby and joined us on our little real-life Planet Earth experience on Saturday afternoon. She said the snake keeps mice and rats away so she didn't want to kill it, but all I could think was, what about the ducks?
If TJ had been home, I think Mr. King Snake would have had to say his good-byes to Planet Earth, but the situation being what it was, our neighbor kindly helped us move the snake off the eggs three times over the course of the afternoon, farther and farther away with each successive move. And every single time, that sneaky creature found its way back.
At one point, after the snake's second removal, the kids were only able to count seven eggs in the nest. Then they glimpsed the female mallard swimming in the lake. They were sitting on the bank, hoping desperately she would make it back to the nest before the snake. What a triumph when she did!
One would think the mallard would not leave the nest again for anything, but maybe the snake scared her off or maybe she got hungry. All we know is that when Cash and Story checked the nest one last time before bed on Saturday evening, they found an empty nest: no mallard, no snake, no eggs.
It was pretty heart-breaking for them to watch the thing they had been so excited about discovering be swallowed up so suddenly and unexpectedly by the laws of nature. Before bed, Cash told me he didn't want to talk about it any more, which I took to mean he couldn't think about what transpired because it was too sad.
We ended the day with two hopes: that the snake had a stomachache, and that the mallard would find a new place for her nest. According to Cash's reading, in cases where predators take their eggs, mallards will often lay more eggs and start a new clutch.
Believe or not, the mallard chose to return to her same nest, which if you ask me, is hope against hope. As of Tuesday, she had laid two more eggs in the very same nest, except this time, she had buried the eggs so deeply in the nest that the kids said you can hardly tell they're there. Once when the mallard was away, Cash took a small stick and gently poked into the nest to be sure there actually were eggs in there. I assume there are couple more eggs by now, and that means we may get to wait for the ducklings to hatch after all.
I started thinking about how everything on Saturday would have taken place, whether or not we were aware of the mallard, the eggs, and the snake. Of course, the snake's consumption of the eggs probably would have gone much more efficiently without our interruptions to his meal. But if Cash and Story had not been watching and waiting for those couple weeks prior, we would have missed the whole experience. We wouldn't have known where the mallard's nest was or that eleven eggs were in it. Yet it would have existed just as truly without us.
And like this, I wonder what else is existing around me, what else is true, that I might be missing because I am too busy or distracted to watch and wait. I want to have eyes for what is real, like watching which of the table scraps I throw to the chickens they like best (so far it's cantaloupe seeds and corn on the cob), or knowing the pattern that the lawn guys cut our grass, or being sensitive to a friend's or a child's request for presence. I want to look at TJ when he talks, and know what size shoes my kids wear, and talk to the cashier at Aldi and remember her name. This takes time, awareness, watching, waiting. Most of the things that matter most don't happen fast, but E.B. White nailed it when he said they are rich and steady.
Come on, little ducklings, we are ready.