when three ducks die

Dave was the red-headed doppleganger I sorta-kinda had, a missionary kid my age from Papua New Guinea, with whom I started my first year of tree-planting. Dave's older brother started planting the year before, the same year as my older brother (who was the same age), and he also had a younger sister the same age as my younger sister and a younger brother the same age as my younger brother. A dopplefamily, if you will.

When things got horrible out planting (and they often did), Dave would say, "Life's hard and then you die, Barkey... keep working." He was a bit of a melancholic chap, that one, but he also had within him a certain joi de vie, a streak of positivity that more than once kept me going when I was pretty seriously contemplating walking off a cut-block and never looking back. He talked me through one of the snowiest, coldest days of my career - so cold I couldn't feel my arms, let alone my fingers - and on one of my most hellishly hot days as a rookie foreman (we became foremen together, too), Dave went back to camp and brought me a gigantic slice of ice cold watermelon.

Dave was a volatile mix of depressive lows and exuberant highs. He was, in short, a human. To be human is to experience life as an emotional spectrum, to vacillate between extremes of joy and sadness and hopefully, somehow, to come to peace with it.

Which brings me to the ducklings. Two days ago I was riding to work and saw five little wild ducklings walking down the side of a busy street. I pulled my motorcycle off the road, walked back, shooed them out from under a momentarily stopped SUV and up into a vacant lot, and then caught them and put them in my jacket. Sweet, right? But sad, too, because there were these five ducks whose mother had been killed, and they were all alone and scared out of their little duck minds.

So I took them home and spent the afternoon building them a pen. Yesterday they played in their little tin of water, acted all jolly, and then hunkered down for the night under the heat lamp I'd set up for them. My son loved playing with them, and I loved playing at being a farmer.

Then today whilst I was at work, my parent's little dog, Monty (may his name live in infamy), broke into the pen and killed three of the ducklings, just for fun.

Unless you know me well, you probably wouldn't believe how incredibly depressed and infuriated that made me. I kid you not, I wanted to wring that little mutt's neck and hang him from a tree as a lesson. I once again sunk down into this cycle of despair (like when I wrote that "spike in the back of my head" thing) where I could think of nothing for a while but the fact that everything sucks... that life's hard and then you die.

I had no epiphanies, this time. As I write this, I am still mad, sad, angry and despairing. With my mind I know that Monty's just a dog, being doggy. With my mind I know that the rolly-polly armadillo bugs I fed to those ducks yesterday were just as alive - their deaths just as important. With my mind I know that although life does suck and that everything does then die, there is still so much that is lovely and amazing about life in the meantime, as well. Right now, though, I'm sad about the ducks. They were a spot of beauty and pleasure in my life, and I wasn't ready to let them go.

When I got up this morning, I wasn't ready for this much suck.


  1. That's so touching that you brought them home! Sad what happened though. Loving is hard- it often involves loss. But hey, you have two still, right? They're probably scared out of their minds and need you to give them extra attention that would have been hard with five. Those two will follow you around like you're their daddy. They'll snuggle on your shoulder (if they're still small enough) and make wonderful pets. Enjoy them!!

  2. Ahh, just saw the picture of them! So adorable! I'll babysit if you need help!

  3. Thanks, but there will be no sitting on these ducklings :)

    I actually wasn't hoping to make them pets, just shelter and feed them until they could be released. Hope I can still give that to the remaining two.


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