The Ducks of Lake Bracken
by Terry Hogan
Do you remember the white ducks that used to call Lake Bracken home? There used to be about twenty or so. Sometimes a little more. Sometimes a little less. It was only about 50 years ago. They were mine, although I'm sure they would have disagreed with that statement. Ducks are stubborn, and these ducks probably felt pretty free from captivity. Bracken was a big place to call home.
They literally knew no other home. They were given to me as eggs when I was very young. Too young to remember my age. They were an Easter gift and they came with a sitting hen to hatch them out. As I recall, the nest was located in an indented corner of the neighbors' summer house. It was still unoccupied that early in the year, so it was private, well protected, with the two sides of the screened porch and the house providing shelter. It was close enough however, to keep predators away.
It wasn't long before yellow fuzz balls with webbed feet were swarming like a cloud across the front yard. The sitting hen was the proud mother of her brood, until the unthinkable happened. The ducklings' draw to the lake was greater than the warnings of the horrified hen. In they went. Paddled they did. Cope, the hen did not. Shortly thereafter she disappeared. I, to this day, do not know what happened to her. Nor will I ask.
The ducks grew, multiplied, and swam the length of the lake, as they pleased. It was a time in America when almost everyone enjoyed seeing the ducks, and very rarely were they chased or otherwise bothered by anyone.
Of course, life is never ideal. Not even in the glowing hindsight of the mind's eye. We had our moments. I came home one day from being over at the club house. It was a weekend because Dad was home. He didn't have his glasses on. He had a big Band-Aid over one eye. It seems that the ducks got through the fence that was to keep boats, fish, and wildlife from being washed to the spillway. Someone had let my parents know that they were on the edge of the top of the spillway. It was summer. The lake was low, so little water was passing over the spillway, but it was green with algae.
My parents went to the spillway to get the ducks. My Dad walked out on the slippery concrete ledge at the top of the spillway. He slipped and fell to the concrete below, breaking his glasses and cutting his head. As I recall, the ducks made it out on their own. I believe the ducks were "on their own" for awhile thereafter.
Winters had their moments too. The white ducks didn't fly. As the ice formed on the lake, they would swim around in circles near our boat dock to keep a small section of the lake "open". It was a futile effort, but they made it, every year, just the same. When winter temperatures won, we'd find the ducks frozen down to the surface of the thin ice that was once their little open water.
It was time to pry the ducks off the ice. This was a family affair. As I was the youngest and the lightest (to say nothing of being the unsung owner of the ducks), I got the dangerous part of the job. A rope was tied to my waist. I crawled on to the wooden toboggan. The toboggan with me aboard was pushed out onto the thin ice in the direction of the ducks. As they were frozen down, they could not escape. My job was to pry them off the ice, one at a time, and hang on to them. The rope would be pulled and I and the sled would be pulled back to the thick ice. The duck would be transferred. I would then be shoved back out on the thin ice to retrieve another duck. In this way, the ducks were saved from an untimely end.
The neighbor's summer house that had been used to provide shelter for the nest, now became the ducks' winter home. The house had a partially dug, dirt basement with an outside door being the only access. With the addition of a couple of old galvanized wash tubes, filled with water, the ducks spent the winter in the basement. The ducks were fed stale bread and similar treats.
In spring, the ducks were turned out to the freedom of the lake. The dirty job of cleaning out the neighbor's dirt basement was undertaken. I don't know if we had the OK for the use of the neighbor's basement or not. I didn't ask. And I'm not asking now.
In time, the white ducks of Lake Bracken disappeared. Too much inbreeding resulted in infertile eggs. The adult ducks disappeared, presumably due to either two-footed or four-footed predators.
Now, a trip to Lake Bracken will show Canada geese filling the niche once held by the white ducks. All in all, the geese make a nice addition to the lake. On a calm evening, it is nice to hear their chatter as they come in for a splashy landing on the mirror calm of the lake.
And the geese can take care of themselves in the winter.