When my grandmother appeared at our house with a Muscovy duck for our four-year-old son Zach, we couldn’t help noticing the gleam in her eyes. Not the duck’s eyes. My grandmother’s eyes. Her one-woman farm was a sanctuary for any critter that found itself homeless or unloved—a grouchy pony, a solitary sheep, a man-hating goose, a huge sow that loved having her ears scratched every day, a multi-colored assortment of orphaned cats, multiplying rabbits, a love-struck Peking duck (with a crush on the only rooster), along with the usual chickens, cows, pigs, and, of course, her newly acquired Muscovy ducks. She figured since we lived in the country, in the middle of the woods, and our son was a little kid, he needed his own duck. Later she would give him his own chicken. That’s another story.
We named the duck Woody. I cannot remember why.
Muscovy ducks don’t generally quack. In fact, they’re rather silent. The only way you know a Muscovy is around is by stepping in duck poop or by watching him eat your prized outdoor plants.
That summer we bought Zach a blue plastic kiddie pool. My husband dragged over the garden hose and began filling the pool with water. We were being watched.
Just as the water reached the right depth, Woody waddled over and hopped into the pool. It was quite apparent to him that the new duck pond was intended for him.
My son stood there, incredulous, as Woody joyfully began to swim around in his deluxe swimming hole. The look on Zach’s little face said it all: I’m not getting into that pool and playing where a duck has been swimming and leaving his usual trade-mark behind –a flotilla of excrement and downy feathers. Or maybe we were thinking that. The duck didn’t care.
We built Woody a chicken-wire pen, but, basically, it was just a suggestion. He ruled the roost in our yard. He had free run of the place. I planted a peony near the back door. I imagined how exotic its pink blossoms would look when they emerged in their glorious beauty. Woody waddled over and ate it. And ate it again. And ate it again. Every time the peony tuber proffered a hopeful sprout, Woody ate it.
My husband was working nights at the time, and I was home alone with Zach who was sound asleep in his room. It was before dawn on Easter Sunday, and the morning air was slightly cool. The sweet scent of spring drifted into my open bedroom window. Unwelcome noises began to drift in as well.
I was startled awake by the sounds of rustling feathers, followed by shrill yapping, more rustling, and running feet below my window. It was a sudden ambush by a small dog from a neighbor’s house somewhere through the woods. His petite hunting skills had led him to his quarry. I sprang up in bed. “Oh, my gosh, there’s a dog after Woody!” I rushed downstairs to rescue my quack-less friend.
As I hurriedly unlocked the kitchen door and ripped it open, before I had time to realize what was happening, Woody nonchalantly waddled into the room. The dog had disappeared. Of course, I hadn’t had my coffee, and I was still half asleep. I looked at Woody through a sort of surreal existential haze.
“It’s 5:30 in the morning, and there’s a duck in my kitchen.”
I had fed Woody plenty of times, but I had never tried to hold him or pet him. I wasn’t sure how he would act if I tried to catch him. His webbed feet had claws. But my only choice became clear. I screwed up my courage, reached down, picked him up with both hands under his stomach, and set him back outside. He didn’t seem to mind at all.
Lots of people celebrate the glory of Easter Sunday at a sunrise service. They go to church dressed in their new finery. They sing joyful songs about the resurrection. As I looked around at all the people in my church congregation later that morning, I couldn’t help wondering: How many of them began their day by wrangling a Muscovy duck in their kitchen?
Meanwhile, life with Woody continued. He settled down after our morning’s excitement and all was well—until a few weeks later when my grandmother gave our son another duck: Esmerelda.