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Ducks in the Bathtub

By Terrence Leigh / September 16, 1992

THE prospect of life without duck a l'orange was inconceivable. What would we do at Christmas? No menu would be complete ever again. So were we really sincere about "going vegetarian?"

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"What about starting with the big animals and working down?" Maureen suggested, giving me a sudden ray of hope that the ultimate sacrifice could be stalled.

"Brilliant," I agreed with indecent haste, "... and fair." Perhaps by the time we had worked through beef, mutton, and pork we might never have to face the unfaceable - life without "you know what."

As it turned out, events beyond our control dictated the course of our vegetarian path. It started innocuously enough on my birthday, which comes in July, when strawberries are fruiting and calabrese sprouting. I'd forgotten, but Maureen hadn't. She arrived home with a "birthday surprise," which she suggested I might not like.

"I am sure I shall love it," I said attempting a smile, "as long as it doesn't involve work."

She handed me a cardboard box with holes cut in the top.

They weren't very old, the three ducklings that huddled, wet and pungent, inside. They weren't very beautiful either; punk ducks with spiky feathers poking through the remnants of their duckling down. Punk ducks that needed immediate housing and penning.

"You said you like ducks," Maureen smiled encouragingly as she saw my face cloud at the prospect of the extra work.

"I do, I do," I replied, birthday bright, wondering where I had left the hammer.

And I did. I had always liked ducks, ever since Mother had kept a dozen Khaki Campbells for eggs during World War II when we were children. We were brought up together, so to speak, having enjoyed the same pursuits, messing about in water, getting dirty and into trouble.

By the time I had knocked together a makeshift duckhouse and a rough pen, nostalgia had rekindled all my old enthusiasm. Yes, I was pleased with my birthday present, glad to have ducks back in the family.

They grew apace and soon had us organized to their liking. Then came the night of the attack.

I have always attempted to be impartial in my regard for wildlife, but I have never found mink easy to love. When they attacked our young ducks, any vestige of impartiality went out of the window. Admittedly, it was an artificial situation - a hungry ex-captive mink meeting up with fat captive ducks - but this was unacceptable behavior. The attack was disturbing and left one dead and two severely wounded.

Looking at the hapless victims, I suppose the practical, cost-effective response should have been to make some orange sauce, peel some potatoes, and heat up the oven. But we didn't. We heated up the laundry instead and brought Richard and Blackie indoors. Richard, by the way, was the drake and Blackie was the duck ... and black.

The laundry made a good intensive-care unit. It was dry and warm and had an easily cleaned linoleum floor. Of course, Richard and Blackie didn't sleep on the linoleum; they slept on blankets, pure wool, folded in four.

There was nothing in the "how to" book on ducks that dealt with mink attacks, but our experience told us that 90 percent of a duck's day is spent in the act of eating or in exploration with a view to eating. Food, obviously, was a top priority. Alas, neither Richard nor Blackie showed any desire to eat; in fact, they showed little desire to "be" at all.