Monday, March 7, 2011


A POND SITS in the undeveloped area just west of our tract of houses. For some reason, a dam of gravel and top soil was pushed into place some time ago and the result is a little biome that is home to Mallards, Canadian Geese, Herons and, probably, a collection of fish. I say “probably” because many times when the loop along which the pond is located is walked, one or more anglers will be patiently engaging in a portion of a day far better than work.

Today, save for where the night's run-off runs in, the pond is still. A blanket of overcast mutes the colors of the surrounding glen. Perhaps a half-inch of rain fell last night and what has collected is turbid, although flat. A volunteer of pampas grass – not native to the area – provides a nice reflection in the glass surface. A range of vinca slopes up the opposite side into a stand of mixed oak and digger pine. The winter grass is tall.

Blackberry vines – profuse and ubiquitous – display new, red leaves. A few feet back from the bank, a pear tree blossoms. All mirrored in the pond.  A gentle rain, more like a mist, curtains the distance – enough to fog my bi-focals but not disturb the water’s surface.

I watch.

FROM BEHIND A STAND OF TULES, a Mallard pair paddles forth. The brightly colored drake seems to lead, the furious action of his webbed feet hidden beneath the surface. His teal-green head and white-banded neck is held high. His eyes are placed at the sides of his tiny skull – ready to capture the slightest movement, predatory or not. He paddles a non-direct route across the still water. His lady, brown and seemingly non-descript, navigates a straighter line: a line made safe by the watchful perseverance of the male.

I watch for four, five, maybe six minutes – a long time in the hurry-up environs of south Placer County. The female seems content to paddle her course. The male: watchful and alert.

I walk here often. I’d seen this pair before. Sometimes my evil black lab mix sees them as sport and dives head long into the placid pool, dog-paddling across.  Artfully, the pair waits, waits, waits until the moment is perfect.
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Then they skitter atop the surface and take wing, frustrating the little pup. He turns and paddles back, climbing out at my feet, often ingesting just under the amount of water needed to drown him.

The ducks, I think, know.

I WONDER about this pair: the handsome male and his dutiful hen. I say “his dutiful hen” because, after a couple of years of returning to this spot, I suspect that Mallards mate for life. I understand that geese do. I wonder whether they are impacted by the mist that drifts atop the pond and through the glen; and what they did when it rained last night.
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I wonder about the clutch of eggs that they may have collaborated on last year and what became of those offspring. Or whether this pair is of the offspring. I wonder about the pond and why it is there and when it will silt up and where some subsequent generation of Mallards may move when that happens. And where this pair might have lived had man not formed this pond for whatever reason.

MY SLIGHTEST MOVEMENT is captured and the regal green-headed male begins a graceful, slow motion arc that leads the couple back to the rushes. The she-duck follows, disappearing into the Tule reeds. They do not peek back out.

After a time, I walk on, thinking a bit about the pond and a bit about what I will have to do when my house silts up.

© 2011
Church of the Open Road Press

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