Thursday, July 26, 2012

Quack! I'm a Duck!

Might look green but its DRY!
Northeast Ohio is dry. The ground in my garden and flower beds are riddled with chipmunk tunnels that now have skylights.  I watered a hole under my raised bed in the garden for 10 minutes without it flowing out under the rest of the bed...where did that water go?!!!!  The birds are all stressed looking for water, the grass is brown, WE have a fire ban, shrubbery is skeletal and all the retention ponds are dry.  So what, you say, well here is the issue.

Mallard ducks have this particular habit of nesting most anywhere and are so common here that they make their nests wherever and in whatever is available....flower pots, under bushes next to your house, on get the idea.  Strangely enough, the female will lay her eggs a distance away from any water.  With the expansion of man into wildlife habits, humans and ducks tend to collide.  

I was at the grocery which is part of a large mall area.  So big that it has two retention pond type areas. The smaller of the two closest to the giant parking lot was now dry. To get to the other one wildlife must transverse a REALLLY big parking lot.  Not just in a straight shot across either but across the bias so to speak from one corner to the furthest corner.  

On this particular day, a police car was blocking the out exit; lights blinking red then blue.  It was literally, the hottest day of the year here at least 104 degrees.  The beleaguered policeman was standing, sweat dripping from his brow, directing traffic.  In the grass next to him was a very unhappy female mallard, pacing, quacking, lifting into the air periodically to move herself quickly from one spot to another.  I thought, that is one annoyed duck. The police officer was valiantly trying to keep the duck from getting run over.

Having been a naturalist in the past, I thought I knew what was going on, so I pulled over and parked.  Approaching the police officer, I could see his frustration and asked him what was going on.  His reply was, "Third time this week I've had to wrangle ducks, the guys are going to start calling me the duck whisperer.  I can just hear them now."  I chuckled and replied, "Ducklings down the drain, eh?" which was a duh statement as you could clearly hear a duckling peeping.

Down the storm drain, were momma duck's 8 babies having dropped one by one as she took them on their first hike across the parking lot to the other retention pond.  I am sure she'd planned on water still being in the smaller pond but the drought had done its damage.  With all the peeping and us peering into the drain, others gathered; more police came with chains and big trucks.  Off went the drain cover and the problem became how to get the ducks out.  I went to one end of the drain which emptied into the pond and did my best duck quacking.  Yes, I have been practicing.  I quacked and quacked and out came the one brave peeper...all the other lazy ducklings remained in place seemingly not caring that freedom was but a short swim away. 

A neighborly person arrived with a butterfly net, I scooped up the errant baby in the puddle/pond down below.  The policemen duct taped a plastic, Chinese soup container to the end of a long metal rod and I got my bushel basket from the trunk of my car.  Together, we nabbed the rest, placing them carefully into the basket. 

By now the police had completely blocked the driveway and cars were cutting across the parking lot willy-nilly, momma bird flying around, landing here landing was quite the spectacle. One of the boys was watching mom.  Finally, she took off to the north.  I crossed my fingers that all the craziness hadn't scared her so much that she would abandon her newly, hatched babies. 

Everything was put back and people dispersed.  We shook hands, took pictures of each other with the ducklings, we wiped the sweat from our brows, congratulating each other and waving good-bye as the summer sun dipped behind the grocery store leaving just myself and Kevin, the duckling whispering policeman.  I placed the ducklings in my trunk and we drove to the other pond behind the stores.  Momma was still not in sight.  We turned the basket over and out wiggled the 8 little ducklings jumping over each other to be the first down the short slope to the water. 
As the soft light of darkness glinted on the water, other ducks emerged from the edges softly quacking a hello.  But none came forward to claim the little waifs as their own.  They were happy as ducks in a pond should be and immediately started swimming and dipping under the water to nibble at algae on the rocks.  I stood and watched until thirst drove me to leave.   I crossed my fingers that momma would find them and keep them safe overnight.  Ducklings are easy prey.  Probably is why they have so many .  It is not unusual for them to lose all but 2 or 3 to predation.  

The next day I had to work early so on the way home I stopped by to see how they had fared overnight.  As I pulled up, I saw a mother duck and 5 tiny little ducklings cruising quickly towards the middle of the pond. Evidently, they felt that they had had enough of stardom and did not stay around to thank me properly.

Monday, July 16, 2012

An Ounce Is An Ounce

Photo Credit: Restless Jim Davis
 Every year during thru hiker season, I enjoy participating in the pack Tuckerizing .ceremony.  It is a time to see new gear, to talk trail, to look at wanna be thru hikers gear selections and sometimes it is a time when I press the palm of my hand into my forehead and shake my head.  I've seen some pretty crazy stuff in packs like 2 rectangular bags full of various cosmetics, face cleaning items, anti-itch, anti-sweat, anti-bug and anti-wrinkle creams, plus band aids LOTS of different sized band aids.  Now, for the most part just let me say that band aids don't really work for hikers, usually its because they are sweaty and hot.  Band aids don't stick well to sweaty, wet skin...generally it takes duct tape. 

So, I know a lot of hikers, I even can play one on TV if I wanted to.  I used to sell a lot of gear at a major gear store.  Most of you know this about me.  What you do not know, maybe, is that I am a secret pack evaluator.  Meaning that I cannot pass by someone wearing a backpack without doing one of those superhuman scans where everything is revealed.  If you have too much stuff in your pack and you want to keep it...I am your worst enemy.  If you want to lighten up, I can be your best friend.  

Potential Ruck Tucker-izers
If you've ever been to an ALDHA event (goggle it) then you may have heard about a secret ceremony that occurs once, maybe twice a year at the PA Ruck and Trail Days.  It is called Pack Tuckerizing.  You will have to wait for another time to hear the whole story of how this event started and I have to admit I was not there at the very first Tuckerizing.  I think Friar Tuck and Jim Owen might be the only ones who know when the practice first started.  But it was a historic event which has helped many hikers in the ensuing years lower their pack weight 
and hike more comfortably.

When a friend, who is hiking this year, said recently to me, "My knee is killing me, I have no idea why and I'm not going to hike much just a couple of days."  I was duly upset for him. Then he said the magic words, " I REALLLLY need to lower my pack weight."  BINGO, Nelly...that's what I've been trying to tell you, I thought.  Instead, I said, "really?!"

When he invited me to look at his pack earlier this year before hitting the trail and I'd suggested that he leave some things home, he said things like, "oh, that doesn't weigh very much" and "Oh I have to have my giant knife and also my multi-tool."  Statements like these always make me say my stock answer which is "Well, an ounce is an ounce and you put 16 together you have a pound." and his reply was to put everything BACK into his pack. 

Photo Credit: DeLee Smith
This seems obvious but I know that when I started backpacking, I said the same thing.  So, I put in extra socks because I worried about wet feet, I put in extra food because I worried about starving, I put in extra clothes because I worried about being cold, I carried soap because of dirt, I carried...well you get the idea.  I carried things because of fear.  Not knowing what to expect I thought if I was prepared that I could use those things as a shield to keep me from all the unexpected things "out" there in the great unknown. I hoped that if I put all the things I carried on like a coat it would protect me from having to feel the fear and deal with it, to be cold, wet, out of food, dirty...but what I found was that it wasn't the things that kept my fear at bay it was the walking.   

 Was it easy to par down my pack size? No, each time I left something at home, decided to go with a higher degree bag and leave the extra pillows home, it was uncomfortable but I didn't die..yet.  Lately, due to knee issues, lack of time and aging I have had to face that fear even more because there can be no more backpacking unless there is less weight in my pack.  The real fear, I think, each of us face everyday is that there might not be time to do the things that are really important to us.  Guess its time to take stock and maybe I'll have to leave that teddy bear at home.....