We probably should have pruned the shrubs in the front of the house last summer, but a number of forces at work in our family and in the world just allowed us to put it off until this year. With a renewed sense of purpose, I charged up the hedge trimmers, and went to work around the entire house, giving every plant and shrub a nice flattop haircut, which also included shaping the sides and getting rid of the straggly, looking-like-we-lived-in-the-woods branches. After all, we live in the largest metropolitan area in North Dakota! Fargo counts 125,000 people as its own…
So, I buzzed and chopped, and we pulled the dead clippings away, and outside of a bit of a gap due to past years’ overgrowth, it looked pretty good. One of the bushes had been planted years ago about 8 feet from the front door, and so to clean it up made the entrance to our humble manor look better.
After we finished, I went out to get the mail, and was able to see the pruning job from a different perspective. It was then that both Cheri and I saw it: underneath the newly pruned shrub sat a large nest, with at least eight eggs in it. It had been completely hidden with the overgrowth, but now it sat wide open before God and everyone. We left it alone, in part because we really didn’t know what to do with it. The professional landscapers were scheduled to start pulling out other old shrubs and redoing the border of the gardens in the next week, and so it was troubling to see a bunch of eggs sitting close to where a Bobcat would be yanking plants out.
I thought about it for a while and decided to go back outside and look at the nest again. What I didn’t expect to see was a mother duck, now sitting on her nest, fully exposed to the world! I’m sure she thought it was the pits – when they made the nest, and she laid the eggs, it was a fairly secure area, although I’m sorry, Duck – it doesn’t take a lot of brainpower to recognize that you shouldn’t build your nursery within three or four steps from a front door – that was frequently used – and, well, Gosh – why should I now have to take care of a stupid duck, and the future of the duck world. I texted my brother with my predicament, and his only response was, “Yum! Duck eggs!”
Mama Duck didn’t move and didn’t make a sound. I knew what I had to do – I had to become a general contractor and rebuild the shrub wall that I had chopped away. My first thought, of course, was to say to myself, “See – this is why you don’t do yardwork. You just disturb Nature when you do!” The corners of the front of our house were flanked by tall, gangly evergreens that stood about 15 feet tall, and were scheduled for the Big Yank when the landscapers would come, so I went around the to back of one of them, and clipped three or four good sized full branches. I carried them over to Duckworth estates, and began talking to Mama. “I’m not going to hurt you – I’m just trying to give you some cover to a stray dog or cat doesn’t find you before the eggs hatch…” I tossed one branch on the ground in front of the shrub. No movement from the duck – I was impressed. I would have high-tailed it far away if someone had been throwing branches in my direction. I took the remaining branches, squished them together, and decided to do one more throw, and hope for the best.
There are times in our lives when we try our hardest to do a good thing, and the mere chance of success sits at close to zero. It is at that point, I believe, that sometimes, God’s gentle, loving hand guides our way, and makes what is otherwise hopeless become a successful achievement. That day, God helped. As I swung the branches, and let go, they miraculously fanned out, and, as perfect as anything can be in this world, they perfectly and completely covered the opening as though they had always been there! I stood there for a moment, shocked at the feat, and knowing that it wasn’t my skill – God and I were just trying to love a dumb duck and her eggs. I left Mrs. Duck to her work.
I then began to wonder how long this next phase would take – I send a note to the landscapers to tell them we had a squatter (literally) in the front bush, and that we would need to postpone for a while until the eggs hatched. I found that it takes 28 days after all the eggs are laid before the duck eggs hatch. Of course, I had no idea of when they were first laid, so we began guessing it would be a couple more weeks. If we looked at the side of the bush, we could see Mama’s head, and so a few times a day, we would check on the progress, which was nothing to see. Ducks don’t move a lot when they are nesting. In fact, they will go without eating or even drinking when it gets closer to the hatching. Kind of a lousy way to spend a week or so, and by the way, Dad is no where in sight!
Cheri became more and more eager to see the baby ducks, and so each day was a time of anticipation. I did tell her that I read that after the ducks are hatched, within hours, the mother duck will parade them to the nearest body of water to teach them how to feed and have it serve as a protective place while they grow up. I didn’t know I’d have to study science in the summer!
Finally one morning, we went out and peeked at the nest, and sure enough – it was empty. All that was left was part of one eggshell, but the place had been abandoned. She skipped out on us, and left just an ugly bunch of grass and stuff behind. Cheri was crestfallen – she wanted to see the babies. I guessed with her that the hatching had happened in the night, and before dawn, she had them across the street, through their backyard, and over the dike to a flood diversion channel where there are lots of yummy gross green slimy stuff to eat. Just like that, the season of the duck by the front door had ended.
To me, this experience reminded me of how little control we have over our world. Ducks will lay eggs where they want, and will just as quickly, leave without a thank-you. Seasons and experiences fill our days, but our belief that we will manage when eggs hatch or when people we know will leave or even die is far beyond and above our pay grade. Instead, a more gracious, and even more intentional way of living is to simply enjoy the experience, the anticipation, and even feel the letdown and sometimes grief when the world moves by God’s hand, the same way that a group of branches are guided to protect a duck. Our best job, sometimes, is to stand in awe of how our God keeps things turning in a world we would sometimes want to command.
Still – what a crazy duck.
Word for the day: absquatulate. It’s actually a word from the 1830s America, where dozens of new words were formed. Some call it a “fake Latin” term, with the center of the word being “squat” – “ab” means away from, and “ulate” is the action of doing so. Therefore, it means “to leave abruptly, or to flee.” It’s probably not a command in our common language, like “skedaddle,” or “git,” or “off with you, now” – it’s probably more like the action of a mother duck after the eggs hatch. She absquatulated, which when you say it out loud should give you a good chuckle…
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.