The children's book "Duck Enough to Fly" I did with Jerry Barrack and Doug Goodell began with a journal entry I wrote just after Jerry Barrack and I witnessed (and Jerry photographed) the Wood Ducklings making their first big splash at the Celery Farm on May 11, 2004 (not May 10 as had been previously thought).
I realize now that I wrote this two days after Mother's Day, which may explain a thing or two.
I am posting this at 10:05 a.m., which as I recall was when the first baby jumped on this day 13 years ago. I think the journal entry also stands by itself...
The Celery Farm put on its most amazing display this morning, no more than a half-hour ago, and my heart is still pounding.
Jerry and I were standing on the Warden's Watch, logging a few extra minutes of sunshine, when two Wood Ducks flew in, making their high-pitched calls as they glided past the platform and landed on the water.
The male, in beautiful plumage, landed about 20 feet past the nearest Wood Duck box. The female landed in front of it, swam for a moment, and then flew atop the box and looked in.
A tiny head peered out, and the female flew to the water in front of the box.
Then, in rapid succession, little Wood Duck babies appeared at the opening, saw direct sunlight for the first time in their young lives, looked down at their Mom, and like paratroopers taking their first jump, wavered a second at the opening.
Then they each made their great leap of faith.
Although they had never flown or swam, they jumped out of the nesting box and flew/fell the four feet to the water.
Some landed on Mom. Most hit the water directly and quickly nestled up against their mother.
They had just left the dark womb-like atmosphere of the Wood Duck box, climbed the little metal netting up to the hole, and jumped.
They left the only home they ever knew, and they would not return -- unless one of them was a female, managed to survive to adulthood, and laid eggs of her own in the box.
I'd like to say that the miraculous moment has a storybook ending, and if I stopped right now in the narrative, it would: Mom and her nine sun-dappled babies paddling merrily together, having left one part of their life behind and embarking on their lives.
But maybe 30 feet away, the calm of Lake Appert was broken by the splash of a snapping turtle's head emerging from the water. Moments later, another turtle's head appeared, then disappeared as well.
Welcome to the real world.
Time cannot stand still, even for precious Wood Duck babies, but the image of those little ducks bravely taking that giant first step will stay with me for as long as there are beautiful spring mornings.
That the moment came less than 12 hours after a violent storm only heightens the contrasts that nature presents.
And now all is calm, and the young ducks learn, in their way, to sink or swim, to fly, and if they're lucky, survive long enough to bring their own little Wood Ducklings into this amazing world.
Happy Mother's Day this weekend!