Chimney Ducks and David’s Irises

I was feeling pretty cruddy today; a kind of nonspecific languishing that makes no sense to me given it’s a perfect day in the perfect month of the perfect week. Everyone is relatively healthy, Child the Eldar is getting ready to strike out on his own, and generally I am extremely blessed. *EXTREMELY* blessed. So why, when I woke from a perfectly lovely dream (well, okay, actually there was a bit of stress dream in there; we weren’t sure if the newborn conjoined twins would be coming home with us or staying with their Manitoba family because of a miscommunication, and then we had to Tetris the ExMass tree, boxes full of books, sound board and mixing equipment, and all our luggage into what I think was a 70s era AMC Ambassador (baby poop green)), would I be needing to be a poopypants?

Things are weird, okay?

Many years ago, I mentioned to my friend David that I loved irises. They’re such a flamboyant flower, and at that time, I was living in a kind of a slum lord house with the kind of yard someone in their early 20s who’s more interested in studying, gaming, and reading has. He was a master gardener who had a lovely home with an amazing yard full of all kinds of flowers (his mother is also a master gardener whose yard and garden have been featured in MAGAZINES). He began to bring me irises from his garden every year on my birthday. According to David, his irises always waited to bloom until my birthday, and so he would bring me the first blooms.

One year, it had been too cold and dry, and his irises were tardy, so he, also a brilliant artist, drew me an eyeball and lovingly painted it in watercolours and dropped it in my mailbox. “Your birthday iris,” he wrote inside the half-folded card stock. “Blooms to follow in perhaps four days”. It is, to date, among my favourite gifts.

After David’s death, his mother offered me some of her irises (David’s had come from her garden originally); David had told her about my birthday flower, and I was deeply honoured to accept a number of corms. I was also terrified because I was not…good…at gardening and figured I’d kill them all. Yet, they overwintered in the garage, packed in newspaper inside five gallon pails, and come spring, His Nibs and I planted them in our yard. Our neighbour also gave me some of her irises when she split them, and they, living along the southeast wall of the house, always bloom early as the heat from the brick radiates them up and out in late May.

But only one of David’s irises has ever bloomed, a pale yellow bearded thing that would sigh and send out one flower every three years or so. They’d grow, but they weren’t happy. I was always pleased to see them anyway, and always thanked David for his mother’s gift. The winter before last, we had a number of weedy trees removed from our yard, and I was hoping the increased among of sunlight would encourage them to bloom, but it was not to be. This year, I’ve spent every spare moment in the garden, ripping out weeds and loosening up soil and planning and planting and tending and talking. I pulled up David’s irises in the south bed and set the corms shallower and a little bit more westerly from their previous place. I have plans to move the ones on the west side of the house also so they get more light.

This morning, as I was feeling mumbly, I went out to say good morning to the garden, and I saw buds on David’s irises in the south bed, which have only ever had that one pale yellow bloom. I smiled, thanked him, and turned to check out the vegetable garden when something caught my eye. Every single one of the irises in the south bed has blooms on it. Every one. I swear the buds weren’t there yesterday when I was weeding the beds. But this morning, *all of them*. Of course I burst into tears. Even though it’s been a few years since David died, I still think of him frequently, especially when I’m working in the garden.

I ran into the house, more than a little blubbery, and exclaimed to His Nibs that David’s irises are blooming for my birthday. Just when you don’t expect to feel better, you do, and that’s wonderful. I thought my day was made. But there’s another emotional rollercoaster on the horizon…

A few years ago as I was out in the yard likely attempting to eradicate the creeping bellflower from the beds (an ongoing Sisyphean task), I heard a Kerfluffle overhead. There, flying high above me near the roof of our house, was what looked like a duck. A duck with a cool hairstyle. A duck what had just landed on one of our chimneys. Our house has three chimneys. One is functional, one is purely decorative, and one is no longer functional but could be. “Wait,” I said to myself (out loud, because that’s just who I am), “a duck?”

Yes, a duck. That was the year that I learned some wood ducks and merganser ducks like to roost high up in trees. Or, as fate would have it, in chimneys. So we had our goofy chimney duck. Fit right in with the family, actually. It would sit up there, King Duck in Duck Tower; Lord High Purveyor of Duckville. I named him Hugh. I never saw Ms. Duck, but Hugh Duck was very pretty.

Photograph of a merganser duck roosting in the chimney of a 2-storey brick farmhouse
King Hugh Duck, Lord of the Chimney, Emperor of all Duckville

The following year, *a* duck returned to the chimney. Not knowing a lot about ducks, I just kind of assumed it was Hugh because I don’t know how duck communication works and whether ducks have N&Ns (the duck version of B&B – Nest and Nosh) or whether they sublet their nests or whether they come back to the same ones like a timeshare. Maybe they have newsletters. Maybe they have Duckslist. Because I do not speak Duck, I have no idea how these things work.

Nevertheless, ducks returned to our chimney. Duckville 2.0 had begun, and I was both confused (I had no idea there were ducks who nested anywhere other than beside lakes and rivers) and excited (come on; you know I’m a huge suck for most living critters. Except mosquitoes. Those jerks can must MOVE ALONG). So I excitedly sent out The Duck Report to everyone I’d ever met in my entire life since the history of time, and took to talking to the chimney ducks as I did yard chores.

Photo of a tall brick chimney in front of leafy cottonwood trees. A merganser duck sits atop the chimney.
Year Two of Chimney Ducks, now with MOAR LEAVES. He just looks so damned pleased with himself.

So while I was pleased as punch to let this duck squat in our chimney (I mean, what am I going to do, climb up 50 feet to the top of my roof to shoo him away? I THINK NOT), I never really thought much more about him, or what family he may or may not have. We live close to a river, so I just figured that if Hugh (or Hugh 2) really liked it up there, the least he could do is keep some of the bats out of that particular chimney.

This year, I was saddened when I didn’t see Hugh return. I had grown to love our weird chimney ducks, and believe you me, if anyone in our town would have chimney ducks, it would be our weird family (proudly weird, I must say). I expressed to His Nibs that I was sore disappointed that the weird ducks weren’t back, but that I would console myself knowing that we are Friend to Crows (His Nibs saved a baby crow that had fallen out of its nest last year by offering it berries and water) and that the several birb nests in our porch beams seem to be teeming with little chirpers. (Not knowing anything about birbs, I think they’re some kind of sparrow? Or maybe chickadee? Robins have been in there before…)

Cue His Nibs excitedly running in the house after a grocery run a few weeks ago.

“The weirdest thing just happened,” he said. “I was coming in the house and I saw this duck flying low over the house, and then it just kind of …dove… into the chimney. Really all I saw was its butt.”

I was so excited. Our chimney duck was back! But. THERE IS A PLOT TWIST.

THIS duck did not roost in the cosmetic chimney. It went down into the old chimney that’s no longer used. Good lord. THEY’RE EVERYWHERE.

A few days or weeks later, he called me to the kitchen window. His Nibs did, not the duck. Well, the duck may have called me to the kitchen window, but seeing as how I do not speak duck, it would have been an instruction I’d have missed entirely. “Look out there,” His Nibs said. “What do you think that is?”

There was a broken eggshell under one of the chickadee/sparrow nests by the verandah.

“It’s a broken egg,” I said.

His Nibs sighed *meaningfully* and picked at his eyebrow. “I know it’s a broken egg. It looks too big to be out of these nests.”

We looked at each other. I whispered “it’s a duck egg.”

Oh no. Poor Hugh and Ms. Duck. We tidied up the smashed, bloody egg and tried to keep the dog away from the scene of the avicide. We expressed our condolences to the Ducks and hoped they would have better fortune next season. And we thanked them for choosing our chimneys for their NEST BUSINESS. Businest?

Today, as I was having my morning constitutional, I get a text from His Nibs. “Come here” it said, “Duck is on the loose.” I replied that I was at that exact moment unable to extricate myself from my regular bodily schedule, but then decided I’d done enough and could in fact wash up and run downstairs to see what was up. Or what was going down. He met me in the hall and showed me some blurry photos of what appeared to be – glory be – a brown duck butt WITH A LITTLE FLUFFBALL FOLLOWING BEHIND IT.

I went to the freezer to get corn and peas to set out for Ms. Duck and wee Rodduckrick, and of course, in my haste, I freaked them the fuck out, and she flushed herself out of some bushes while wee Rodduckrick peeped alarmedly and tried to run through the fence. I’m an idiot. But I put the corn and peas down and went back inside and hoped they’d be okay. A few minutes later I saw Rodduckrick trundling through the front yard, clearly still freaking out. I then heard jays and our favourite crow farting around in the side yard so I yelled at them out the window (apparently Mom voice works on corvids because they took off).

But then I saw the crow on the neighbour’s roof. It had something fluffy it was picking apart. I was crestfallen. Heartbroken. I’d murdered Rodduckrick. I told His Nibs my rash attempt to be nice to ducks had likely resulted in the death and dismemberment of the baby and I announced I’d be spending the rest of the day in bed. I took my tea and plodded up the stairs. At least I had the irises, right?

A few minutes later, another text from His Nibs: “The chick is ok. They are in your favourite corner.” I looked out the window. By God, there they were, waddling through the back yard. I’ve been watching them out the window of my home office upstairs ever since. Mum quacks, waddles by, and Rodduckrick peeps and follows behind. A few minutes ago I saw her walking in the middle of the street and I shouted at her to be careful (I think she’s trying to take Rodduckrick to the river), but as I’ve mentioned I don’t speak duck so she just kind of quacked at the cars and then came back into the yard.

Photograph of a mother merganser duck and her duckling walking on the path in the back yard.
Ms. Duck and wee Rodduckrick on a stroll in the back yard. Pls to ignore creeping bellflower.

Today might just be an okay day after all. Rock on, wee Rodduckrick! Good luck finding the river!


6 responses to “Chimney Ducks and David’s Irises”

  1. Well, that was rather lovely. We have so many lakes around these parts that it is common for MamaDuck to proudly lead the Fluffball offspring parade across two lane roads skirting the water at any time of the day. Always dignified, never in a hurry. I like that. About the only animals your average numbskull ALWAYS stops for. And quite right, too. I’ve never seen an ugly duckling.

  2. Your ducks are much brighter than the one that, during my childhood, nested in our functional but thankfully not used at the time chimney, slipped in, and came through the wood stove after going down two full stories of chimney.

    That was a helluva time, a Very Angry duck, and a pretty perplexed family, that was.

i make squee noises when you tell me stuff.

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