Monday, May 14, 2012

Great Grate Duck Saves

May 12, 2012, 4:05 p.m.

What Is It About Ducklings?

The Press-Citizen gives page one coverage this morning [May 14] to the latest Iowa City duckling rescue. Tara Bannow, "Locals Come to the Rescue of Baby Ducks," Iowa City Press-Citizen, May 14, 2012, p. A1 ("In an unexpected Mother’s Day twist, a handful of Walmart shoppers in Coralville ended up spending about an hour and a half fishing ducklings from the drain that runs the length of the parking lot.")

It reminded me of a couple incidents in which I was involved in providing the necessary human intervention to save ducklings.

A couple weeks ago, when leaving the law school, I saw a live human head on the grass. No body, just the head. Since none of my colleagues or students are capable of magic tricks of that sophistication, my first assumption was that it was a training exercise in a comparative legal systems course. This would be a way that faculty could illustrate, and students could then experience, what it feels like to be partially buried alive before being stoned to death.

As I approached closer to the scene of the exercise, the head turned out to belong to my next door colleague, Todd Pettys, who shares my sentiments and theories regarding animals' legal rights. He had crawled down a manhole to stand in the sewer, grabbing and handing up little ducklings one at a time to their waiting mother. Like the ducklings at Walmart, these baby ducks had followed their mother across a grate with openings small enough for her to walk on, but too wide to prevent the little ones descent.

Upon the completion of the family reunion, Todd emerged, head firmly attached to body, and the mother duck headed off into the woods to the south of the law school with her brood following close behind, presumably on their way to the Iowa River. We were all a little concerned as to how that was going to work out. (a) How they would get down to Riverside Drive, and (b) if they did succeed that far, how they would cross the highway. But we decided she was a pretty sharp mother, so long as she stayed away from grates, and that she'd probably figure it out.

Years ago I had occasion to help a mother duck and her ducklings across Riverside Drive near Benton Street. They had apparently come into Bruegger's for bagels, and were now on their way back to the river. But the mother had never been told to look both ways before crossing streets, or having once been so instructed had long since forgotten. I decided to take on the role of a school crossing guard for ducks; gestured to the oncoming traffic from both directions to stop (unfortunately the intersection lights were green for north-south traffic), and patiently walked the ducks across the four lanes. The drivers were not, alas, so patient. They began a chant, in the only bumper sticker poetry they were apparently able to come up with extemporaneously, of "F**k the ducks," while revving their engines.

If I may be pardoned a little grandiosity, I did feel a little like that young man standing in front of the tanks in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

What is it about ducklings?

After all, when as children we were presented with their yellow, marshmallow representations on Easter morning, the temptation was to bite off their little heads. And yet, even if we played guitar in a heavy metal band, we'd never think of biting off the heads of real, live ducklings.

I don't know about you, but my introduction to ducks (and China) came from a delightful children's book, The Story About Ping, by Marjorie Flack and Kurt Wiese -- copyright 1933, the year before I was born. It was read to me so many times I virtually memorized it. Ping was cute, but also vulnerable, both in need of, and worthy of, protection. Maybe that's why I stopped traffic for my own family of Pings.

We are lucky to have the ducks we do along the Iowa River. At least I think we are. They have many favorite resting places. One is under a couple of trees between the sidewalk and the River, about halfway between Park Road and the baseball fields.

Here's what they looked like this morning as I passed by on my bicycle.

All in a Mothers' Day of Great Grate Duck Saves.

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Jim said...

I'm really grateful (no pun intended) for people like you and Todd and those folks at Wal-Mart. It really brought a lump to my throat.

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