This week I’ve been visiting Camp Rosie. It sits deep in the Cape Fear region of North Carolina.
For those who don’t know the southern states of the US, a lot of geography here is defined by rivers. The Cape Fear River runs through this part of the state of North Carolina. The area is known also for its American Indians, the Lumbees, who may have taken the name from the Lumber River that’s here—or vice versa. It’s one of those southern folk stories.
My brother, now deceased, told me a story about the Lumbee Indians. He said they are actually the descendants of the “lost colony” of English settlers who landed in the colonies 22 years before Jamestown and 37 years before the Pilgrims landed in Massachusetts, under the ultimate authority of Sir Walter Raleigh. The colony later disappeared. My brother told the tale very convincingly because Jamestown is not that far from here, and he said: “many of the Lumbee tribe have blue eyes.” I’ve never tried to validate the last theory with facts.
I’m staying at Camp Rosie because my friend, “Miss Rosie,” needs some assistance while she’s recuperating from spinal surgery. There are a lot of mouths to feed and animal chores around the 40-acre farm we affectionately call “Camp Rosie. Miss Rosie needs a little tending to as well, although she claims spinal surgery is a “piece of cake” compared to the double-knee replacement she endured this summer. What a trooper.
Right now, all is well at Camp Rosie. The two horses, two donkeys, five dogs, 16 cats and hundreds of Canada geese that she feeds are peacefully quite and happy .. oh, and let me not forget Grendel, the white farm goose that thinks he’s Canadian.
An ice and snow storm swept through here a day ago. The same storm that hit and paralyzed New York and Maryland. Fortunately all we lost was power for a few hours. That’s what happens when a wet, icy winter storm hits the south. The ice and heavy, wet snow freeze power lines and bring down spinly loblolly pine trees that fall over, also bringing down power lines. It’s pretty much a mess.
On the positive side, though, the scenery during the ice storms is pretty spectacular. Especially at Camp Rosie.
Duck tales: Southern folk tales
Most of the dogs and cats at Camp Rosie are strays. Miss Rosie finds them on the side of the road near where she lives, or they wander up to her gate. She takes them all in. That’s who she is.
Miss Rosie bought Ester, the donkey. She came to Miss Rosie with a bonus. She was with “child.” Rosie planned to name the offspring a Biblical name since he/she was son/daughter of “Ester.” However, as fate would have it, the offspring was born on the 4th of July. “Firecracker” he was … of course.
Grendel, the farm goose who thinks he’s Canadian showed up at Miss Rosie’s some 16 years ago. He, like Firecracker, was embryonic. Grendel hatched just after Mother Goose was rescued by Miss Rosie. Grendel is the lone survivor of the brood now.
Grendel is in charge of the migration of Canada geese on the 15-acre lake at Camp Rosie. Each year he welcomes new arrivals; chooses a pair to “adopt;” babysits the family’s goslings; then flies off with the gaggle of geese, escorting them to their next stop — we think. Each year Grendel leaves on a pilgimage, Miss Rosie is certain he is gone for good. Then he reappears. He swims around the lake in lonely despair until his friends reappear to settle in again.
Once when I was visiting, Miss Rosie and I set out to find Grendale and her adopted goslings. They were together in the morning, but by afternoon, they were nowhere in sight. Mama and Papa Goose were swimming around the lake, enjoying their free time together. They seemed oblivious to the fact that Grendel and the babies had disappeared. Had the fox that lives nearby snatched them away? Was there evidence somewhere of “fowl” play?
There, on the far side of the lake was the scene we feared. Footprints and duck feathers. We thought the worse.
Next day, though, there they were. Grendel and the family, paddling along as if nothing had happened. Not a feather was out of place.
More duck tales
While on the subject of ducks, I must share two of my favorite duck tales with you. They’re written by my friend, Larry Johnson, author of The War Baby — a book you really must read – especially if you’re a “baby boomer.” Larry is a master of words and just a bit corny—two gifts that make his writing so genuine and compelling.
The strangest thing has happened with my ducks. When I first got them from my friends Roy and Elizabeth, these gorgeous Indian River ducks were still immature. One was obviously a drake, but the other two appeared to be female. I named them Peter, Pauline, and Mary.
After a few weeks, Pauline started turning darker, and also began taking on masculine features. His ducktails commenced turning up too, a sure sign. It soon became apparent that they were indeed Peter, Paul, and Mary.
But there was never a doubt who the couple was. Peter and Mary were definitely the pair. Paul was always the tagalong. I could not help but feel sorry for him.
When the mating season started in January, I spotted some ducky panky on several occasions. The odd male just looked on with envy. The alpha male made sure that Paul did not get too close to his ducky darling. He made it obvious that he did not want to deal with any duck cuckoldry.
I got really excited about the possibility of Mary raising a brood. One time I spotted her coming out from under the ivy on the bank. I thought for certain that was where her nest would be. Then I started finding eggs laid on the ground right at the water’s edge. Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe she is one of those females that did not come pre-wired with mothering instincts.
Within the last couple of weeks, the male competition has been raised a notch or two. The dominant male has been relentless in attacking and running off his rival. Paul would sometimes duck under the water to get away. It was not unusual to hear some rather fowl language coming from the two, either.
I continued feeling sorry for the mate less male. I kept thinking that he was bringing so much of that fury on himself, though, and wondered why he would not just back off. The damsel duck seemed not in distress at all, really enjoying the attention. What was the meaning of all of this quackery?
Then I got up one morning last week, looked out across the lake, and the pretender Paul was swimming merrily along with the duckess Mary. Her former beau was nowhere to be seen. I was momentarily afraid that something had happened to Peter. With my binoculars, I spotted him on the bank across the lake all alone.
Overnight, there had been a coup- de-duck. Peter (the not so) Great had been dethroned. I went to check him out, and he was fine except for obvious shame and grief. In his disgrace, the deposed drake has presently retired to another small pond across a little swamp from mine.
He is so pitiful. I wonder if I could fix him up with the AFLAC duck. Or maybe I should just get him a bottle of Cold Duck.
Just before dark on the day of the duck swapping, I went out for an evening walk. The adulterous ducks were on the dam sleeping together. They were cuddled up with their duckbills snugly around each other. Ah, the excitement (and exhaustion) of a new illicit romance. And I thought ducks mated for life, but a little aduckery had undoubtedly been going on right there in front of my eyes.
I will continue to commiserate with both Peter and Paul – Peter for his loss, and Paul for his gain. Will Paul ever be able to trust his duplicitous duck, especially with her former flame, Peter, looming in the shadows? Would Peter take back the unfaithful female even if she begged to come home?
Like sands through an hourglass, these are the ducks of our lives.
At first there were three. I named them Peter, Pauline, and Mary. They were just youngsters when they first came to live with me. Gradually, Pauline’s voice began to change, and I realized that his name was really Paul. I shared some of their ducky antics with you before.
Peter and Mary were sweethearts. But back there somewhere in the early spring, Paul moved in on Peter’s woman. One morning there was a new top duck. The rivalry was intense. Peter seemed finally to accept his defeat.
Mary’s biological clock started ticking, and she with new mate Paul started making plans for a family. She would work on the nursery, but then forget what she was doing. After squandering numerous opportunities Mary, ever the modern woman, finally went to set on her nest.
After several hours, the duck came off for a brief respite, only she forgot what she was doing and went over and took a nap with the guys. The next morning she was back on the nest again, but by noon, she took another break, and this time did not return at all. The following day she had rolled all of the eggs out of the nest, cracking most of them open. Apparently, Mary had far more important things to do than take a month or so off to incubate and raise a brood.
It was at that point that I suppose I should have reported the derelict and delinquent mom-to-be to duck-facs. The little wench. She was far more interested in getting laid than in laying. Like many of her human counterparts, her paramount concern was engaging in activities in which babies are made, but then ducking out of the responsibility of having and raising them. As for her priorities, she just could not seem to get her ducks in a row.
All the while, the wanton floozy flaunted herself before both of her suitors. And she was never without attention. The three of them seemed rather to enjoy their little ménage-a-duck.
And then there were two. One recent Friday morning, I looked out the window and Paul was dead in the water. His ducktail was sticking up in the air, and his head still ducked under. Apparently, Peter had been waiting for his chance. Sometime during the nighttime it had come. He had fought his rival drake and had drowned him.
Before the carcass had floated to the bank, I looked out and saw a coyote across the lake. Peter and Mary spotted him too and watched nervously. He eyed the dead duck. For a minute, I thought he was going to swim out and get it. But something looked too suspicious. He meandered on down through the woods. Later, Paul was given a decent burial.
Peter and Mary were together again and now alone. Peter the Great strutted his stuff. He was no quack. The Duckess Mary was wooed.
And now there is one. On the following Sunday morning, I was awakened by Mary calling loudly and pleadingly. Peter was nowhere to be seen. He had been abduckted. Round and round the lake she dawdled, quacking mournfully. On the dam where the ducks slept at the water’s edge was a little pile of feathers. They were all that was left of Peter.
My suspicion is that the coyote returned. I also wonder if Peter, with no longer a rival with which to concern himself, might have let his guard down. In forty-eight hours, Mary had gone from having two doting beaus, to double duck widowhood.
That Sunday happened to be Mother’s Day. So late that afternoon I had a serious talk with the young lady. I told her that if she had any fertilized eggs yet in her that it was time to start taking this motherhood thing seriously. But so far she has shown no signs of building a new nest.
Humans are not the only species to experience grief. Mary is obviously in a state of shock and bereavement. In light of her aduckerous ways, and now with her brooding, my counselor friend BJ made an interesting deducktion. She suggested that I should try to find the widow Mary a self-help duck tape.
– by Larry Johnson
Please do yourself a favor and check out Larry’s book, The War Baby. Here’s the link on Amazon.