With the temps in the teens this morning here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere, the Colonel took binoculars in hand and glassed the shoreline of Lake Brenda from an upstairs window to see the progress of ice formation. A splash drew his attention and he swung to focus on a diminutive mallard hen frolicking in a still as yet un-iced corner of the impoundment. The duck's name is Archie. She is a free spirit. This is her story.
Back last summer, the Colonel's favorite daughter kicked the last of the sticky sand of the Scumslime State from her feet and changed residency to Eegeebeegee (the physical and spiritual capital of the Tallahatchie Free State--a virtual republic established as much tongue-in-cheek as hand-on-wallet). As reward for her display of outstanding wisdom and uncommon common sense, the Colonel procured for his favorite daughter a pair of call duck ducklings.
A call duck can best be described as a miniature show duck. Originally bred in Europe as live decoys for trapping wild ducks, call ducks were later used in America as live decoys by duck hunters, until the practice was outlawed in the name of "fair chase." The raising and showing of call ducks has become a hobby with a growing following.
Parenthetically, it seems to the Colonel that just about anything can take on the trappings of a fad or hobby with a fan base. The Colonel is earnestly awaiting the fad of sawdust collection to catch on in our popular culture--his sawmill, Semper Filet and the Colonel's ever-growing collection of wood-working power tools (insert monosyllabic guttural utterances here) in his Man-toy Internal Storage and Facility for Sawdust Production Training (the MISFSPT -- acronymically pronounced Missfit) account for a significant percentage of the nation's sawdust production and would, therefore, place the Colonel in an excellent monopolistic position to corner the market.
Go ahead and laugh. How many of you remember pet rocks? A jar of cedar sawdust has infinitely more intrinsic value than a painted rock. The Colonel is just sayin'...
Back to the Colonel's story about Archie and Peyton, the Colonel's favorite daughter's names for the pair of call duck ducklings acquired for demonstration of sound judgement in choosing Mississippi for residency over the state that will go unmentioned, but whose initials are FLORIDA. Why anyone would voluntarily live south of I-10 or north of I-40 baffles the Colonel more than Euclidean Geometry and the fact that there are still people who claim to honestly believe in Keynesian Economics. But, the Colonel digresses...
Throughout the interminably long, hot, dry summer that shrank the shorelines and exposed bottoms of ponds and lakes here at the shallow northern end of deep southern nowhere so much that the pillow-case-hooded crowd hereabouts began to become increasingly edgier, and cloaked the kudzu-clad hills and long-tall loblolly pines with a choking chalk so that the green began to give way to grey, the Colonel's favorite daughter spent hours each day "teaching them to swim" in a small swimming pool formerly claimed by the Hope of 21st Century Civilization dashes One and Two, and lap-training her two ducklings to dry and preen themselves and then take naps nestled on her shoulders. It was a bit much for the Colonel to take. The Eegeebeegee Hen Herd (said fowl collection, as the five of you who regularly waste valuable rod and cone time perusing posts hereon may remember, was actually a lot less hen and a lot more heard) was none too favorably impressed, as well. The chickens took every opportunity to voice their displeasure at the ducklings and much effort was expended by the Colonel's favorite daughter to ward off the roosters' untoward advances on her charges.
Then, tragically, one morning dawned to reveal that the duckling known as Peyton had fallen prey to fowl play. The Colonel immediately opened a faunicide investigation, which has, due in great part to the dumpling diving demise of three of the prime suspects, failed to reach satisfactory resolution.
Poor Archie was now alone.
Even more grievous was the growing apparency that Archie, contrary to early gender assignment and subsequent naming, was not a drake.
The early gender miss-assignment of fowl here aboard Eegeebeegee is occurring much too frequently and is a matter for investigation by a select committee of the Tallahatchie Free State's Peoples' Congress. Whereas said committee will necessarily be chaired by the citizen of the Tallahatchie Free State, and given that there are many much more pressing subjects of congressional investigation yet to be addressed; such as: the strict portion control at the Colonel's table of late, the disturbing lack of key lime pie for desert, and the substitution of the Colonel's well-fitting for ill-fitting trousers by persons-unknown; it is unlikely that the issue of early fowl gender miss-assignment will be resolved anytime soon.
Archie is a hen.
Towards the end of summer, Archie was out-growing the kiddie-pool and the Colonel recommended that his favorite daughter take her duck down to Lake Brenda for a swim. At the conclusion of the first such dip, the Colonel's favorite daughter needed the help of her big brother and the Colonel's long-handled fish net to corral her duck. At the conclusion of the second such daily dip, the duck demonstrated a profoundly impressive learning curve and easily evaded recapture by net, or by any other means. Archie clearly was not to be a pen hen.
The dainty little duck was at the lake each time the Colonel's favorite daughter checked over the next few days. Then, she disappeared. That is, the duck disappeared. The Colonel's favorite daughter was still here and more than a tiny bit distraught. The Colonel scoured the shoreline of Lake Brenda for any sign. A few feathers at water's edge alongside a set of small predator tracks led the Colonel to surmise that Archie had fallen prey to an opportunistic coon cruising for some crustacean cuisine. The Colonel reported to his favorite daughter, however, that he believed that Archie had flown away. That was his story and the Colonel was sticking to it.
Two weeks later, Archie was back. With company. A hooded merganser drake had followed Archie back to her home waters. The odd couple flapped and flirted for several hours seemingly oblivious to the reality that fish-eaters and dabbling-feeders do not, under any circumstances, commingle, cohabit, or otherwise fraternize. Certainly not in the wide open. The Colonel, feeling oddly parental, finally had enough of the brazen avian PDA and walked down to the lake to break it up.