Three weeks ago we got ducklings. They were two days old and each was smaller than a balled-up sock.
At first, all five looked the same, since they breathed, moved and slept as one panting yellow fluff-ball.
But now I know that one is smaller and not as scared as the others. He hurt his leg, poor guy – was dragging himself around.
Now he has healed, after being cradled in Tim’s big hand for regular feeding and drink.
Their beaks and feet look unreal, like made out of plastic. Their tiny black bead eyes are shining, innocent, unknowing. They are so vulnerable, I’m scared to hold their beating-heart bodies in my hands. I’m scared to leave them alone and I’m scared my favourite one will die. I suppose this is the way mamas feel about their babies, but never having had one, it’s all new to me.
After a brief stint in the dank, dirty barn, we put them in a large box in the back pottery studio. I worry that they’ll be cold with the drafts and chill of spring nights. The day that Tim fires his kiln, to avoid them inhaling fumes, we bring the ducklings in the house.
I like them this close. I can hear the chorus of their peeps and I know when they’re up and about. I see them often for little visits.
But they are growing so fast, and soon they move out of the house, in to a closed-off corner of the raku shed that Tim nails together. It feels a bit rough, but there’s a window and their heat-lamp of course. Tim has started building a cedar fence and soon they’ll have access to the great outdoors. That will be exciting for them. They’ll get to eat slugs and and frolic about.
I always feel inadequate, unknowlegdeable, a little helpless when it comes to raising animals. We’ve had them before – a couple of pigs twice, a few hens on two occasions and a goat once (and likely never again). But we’re not farmers and we didn’t grow up raising farm animals. Last time we slaughtered and gutted the chickens, I remember having the big ‘Country Wisdom’ book open on the grass, reading aloud the instructions while Tim held the knife in his hand, a few stray drops of blood landing on the large thin pages.
Raising animals has been a bit like growing food for me – I learn as I go, I figure it out, I consult books or the internet when I have to.
I see that having animals, like growing plants, teaches me to care for things. Today I am transplanting some strawberry plants, holding them gingerly, aware of their sensitive state. I snug up the dirt around them and water them right away to be sure they’re content, comfortable, secure.
I care for the ducks in the same way – making sure their water is clean, feeding them treats of dandelion leaves, adding more wood shavings so their bed is dry, speaking softly because they startle so easily.
And I don’t just care because I’m going to eat them!
I care because I love to care, it feels good and it gives me a purpose – a purpose with heart.