Most days, when I take the dog out for her morning constitutional, we follow our respective routines—she heads off toward the cedars near the fence, while I amble over to the top of the stone steps leading down to the river and have a look at the river.
If I’m lucky, and sort of ease into place where I can get a good long view both up and down the stream, I sometimes see something interesting—a heron wading the gravel shallows above the cottage, a mink humping along the island’s bank, a turkey vulture balancing on a midstream rock in a most un-buzzard-like manner.
A few mornings ago I looked upstream and was startled to see a pair of domestic ducks staring back at me from the upper end of the riffle. Their feathers were such a radiant white that in the dim half-light between dawn and sunrise, they seemed to glow from an inner luminescence.
The two had obviously arrived sometime in the middle of the night, for there’s no way I could have missed such obvious visitors when I took my final upstream look the previous evening. The real puzzles were—where had they come from…and how had they gotten here?
The obvious answer to the first is a park and flood-control dam complex located a couple of miles upstream.
One of five similar flood-control sites in the area, the dam was built following a terrible flood in 1913, when in late March, three storms in three days sent more water into the area’s river system than passes over Niagara Falls in a month. At Third and Main, the city’s downtown center, floodwaters rose to twenty feet. Sixty-five thousand people were displaced from their homes, twenty thousand homes were destroyed, and upwards of 400 folks lost their lives.
It was the worst natural disaster in Ohio’s history.
The dam itself is a huge earthen affair, 4,716 feet long, 110 feet high, and 739 feet wide at the base. A main roadway runs along the top. The leftover hole, from which the earth was taken to construct the dam, is now a sprawling, shallow lake—home to all sorts of waterfowl and wading birds, and occasionally an osprey or bald eagle.
Human nature being what it is, from time to time a pet duck or goose is surreptitiously smuggled into the park and dumped beside the lake—where its former owners assume it will live happily ever after alongside the wild mallards and Canada geese. That some of them actually manage to survive marauding coyotes and foxes and raccoons, cold weather and disease, passing cars, and the immediate necessity of foraging for themselves instead of having their meals tossed out regularly from a feed sack—says more about the resiliency of the birds than the foresight of their abandoning and irresponsible former owners.
This park lake is certainly the most logical source for my bright white duo. No neighbors keep ducks. But seeing as how the park is on the upstream side of the dam—and the dam being upstream from where I live—there’s a complication to this theory. In order to reach this lower stretch of river from the park pond, the birds would first have had to travel through the spillway tunnel. This is a long concrete conduit—dark inside, of course—which carries the river under the dam. It’s not exactly a place I can envision even two rather adventurous ducks entering and float-tripping through.
Moreover, one they’d reached the lower, downstream, side, they’d still have to paddle and float the two miles of river below to get here. I’m not sure whether or not that’s a long float by duck standards. But I do know these white ducks must either float or waddle to get anywhere, because they can’t fly…I’ve watched them try.
At any rate, I’m now faced with a personal dilemma—do I feed them or not? I haven’t been putting out scoops of cracked corn since the Canada geese departed temporarily on their usual summertime domestic sabbatical. While I don’t specifically provide feed for wild ducks and geese though the fall, winter, and early-spring months, they soon spot the cardinals and sparrows enjoying my handouts and flap over for their own share of the free victuals. So I suppose I could begin my food subsidies a bit early.
In the meantime, the white ducks appear content to remain in their riffle home—always within a few dozen yards one way or the other of where they were when I first saw them. Apparently they’re doing okay in regards to meals—at least for now. I would think the Cottage Pool below the riffle would offer more food…but then, who am I to tell a duck where to eat?
For now, we’ll just take our occasional peeks at one another, and I’ll ponder whether or not to take them on as boarders.