This review is by Kit Riemer, MD, PhD. I assigned her a review due on the 11th, of her choice of subject. Within three hours, she turned this into me, in its entirety, and I was unable to stop myself from publishing it as soon as possible. Reviews are published every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from now on, instead of twice a year, like they have been.
When we moved here early this year, it seemed like the lake was filled to the brim, and there were no ducks anywhere that I could see. Now the lake has drained perhaps 8 feet, and ducks abound. What’s the deal?
The back window of my apartment looks down on a stream. By the time it reaches our complex, it’s flowing through a carefully constructed poured-concrete trough, and its depth is typically a couple feet, although it fluctuates. Fish live in it. I don’t know what they eat. Once I saw a heron flying up along the stream, skirting underneath the bridges and overhanging plants. No ducks here, though.
Upstream, there’s a cut-in from another water source, and that’s where most of the stream’s water comes from, because the other source is the lake, and the lake is low as fuck right now.
Why would the lake be so low in December? It’s a mystery to me. Maybe they lowered it to keep it from flooding the lakeside houses during the colder months. I was going to add another possibility but that’s the only one I can think of.
Anyway, since the lake went down, there have been some visible rocks 20 or so feet from the new, lowered shoreline. On those rocks there are always ducks. Sometimes also geese or swans, but always ducks. I see them, standing there, periodically hopping into the water and circling a little and ducking their heads underneath for fish. I’m pretty sure the lake has lots of fish because during the warmer months there are fisher-men and -children, and they stand where the old shore ended in early November, where it’s still grassy and not sandy, and cast off into the corner at the spot where the lake begins to turn into the stream, and overhead there’s an electrical wire with like a hundred bobbers and lures hanging various distances from it on translucent lines.
I walk to the lake a lot. It’s a convenient distance and I can’t really walk anywhere else because we live in a weird place with few sidewalks, and I’m ill and like to be places where someone could pick me up in a vehicle if I had an episode and became immobile. The lake is right next to a playground and a pretty big parking lot so it meets these criteria. When I’m feeling brave I continue away from the parking lot along the bank of the lake, where a path goes a little ways into the trees (from in the trees you can still see the ducks) and eventually meets up with some train tracks, which you can follow back to the parking lot. It takes ten minutes or so.
On a scale of excitement I rate the ducks a 5. I like to see ducks, especially the ones with the green heads, which are either male or female. The brown ones are fine too. I love to see swans. I think of the song The Giant of Illinois when I see a swan. The Andrew Bird cover. The original sucks, in my opinion. A swan sighting feels like a rare treat. Even better are herons, standing or flying. They’re so primordial. Geese I couldn’t give two fucks about. I got chased by a goose once when I was pretty young. It wasn’t traumatic or anything, it’s just relevant. My brother and I used to go to the lake at my grandparents’ house and shoot at the geese with airsoft guns, and when the little plastic BBs would impact their wings it would make a hollow thock sound. They didn’t seem to care. Then we would run around in our bare feet in the marshy grass by the shore and step in little cylinders of their shit. I couldn’t believe they were a protected species.
Geese make a stupid noise when they fly. I rate it an 8 on the scale of how much fun it is to make fun of. Off the top of my head the only thing that’s more fun to make fun of is the sound that fat frogs make in their throat that sounds like “gump.” That’s probably a 9. There’s no 10 because making fun of stuff has a threshold.
The ducks in the lake near my apartment never make noise. Presumably they quack, sometimes, but I haven’t heard it. The only sound that carries to the shore occurs when they remove their heads from the water and shake them vigorously. When they do this there’s a little splashing. It’s endearing, like a cat shaking its wet paw. I rate duck noises a 6, because they’re pleasant and unbothersome but not really remarkable.
I have no frame of reference to compare these ducks to others in terms of height, weight, feather sheen, etc. They seem healthy in that they don’t look super haggard or thin. I don’t find any duck feathers on the beach. Something that freaks me out about certain animals is that you have to be trained to read emotions like pain. A dog will make pain noises that are pretty recognizable, but for example lots of cat owners don’t recognize the telltale signs that their pet is injured: refusing to be handled, tremors, agitation, etc. I think the only way I would be able to tell if a duck were malnourished is if it came up to me and begged for grain. If a duck does that to you, it’s probably safe because ducks can’t get rabies.
However, if a duck is acting strangely you shouldn’t necessarily handle it. Ducks can get avian flu and avian cholera, and both of those things can be transmitted to humans. There’s also something called “duck plague,” which I feel bad for laughing about. Humans can’t get duck plague, but nonetheless, I don’t recommend getting super close physically or emotionally to a wild duck. As far as disease transmissibility goes, I’d rate the ducks in my pond an 8. In this case a higher score indicates less transmissibility.
I went there today with my mom to do duck research and take some photos. She thought it was funny that I was rating the ducks, and she was game to help. When we observed three ducks, she began personifying them, describing one as intelligent and reserved when it swam behind a rock out of view, and another as brave when it placed itself between us and its more circumspect sibling. Unfortunately, these three were the only ducks we saw, and they didn’t stand on rocks at all: they swam away from us along the shore, occasionally dipping into the water or padding briefly onto shore in search of victuals. For not showing up to be examined by me and my mom, I give the ducks a 7 for rudeness, but also an 8 for caution.
There’s one more thing to discuss and I’ve been putting it off.
In terms of sexual terror I rate the ducks a 7.5. I think about duck penises probably more than I think about any other penises, including human ones. They’re really remarkable, but incongruous in a way, too, because looking at a duck sitting on a lake or standing on its little webbed feet provokes no feelings of sexuality or fear at all. The creatures themselves feel alien, sexless, impossible to anthropomorphize. I’ve never seen a duck have sex. The process is shrouded in moist feathery mystery. I haven’t looked it up because I don’t want to. I know more than enough already.
Here, at the end of our journey, I could average the duck’s scores to give you a reckoning of the general compatibility between myself and the ducks that live near me, but I won’t do it. Ducks don’t exist to be summated or reviewed, they exist to swim and ruffle their feathers and catch the occasional fish. A duck can be a friend or a foe, depending on one’s species and circumstances. You don’t get to choose the ducks in your life, but you can choose whether you’ll help or hinder them. Hindering them would be something like shooting at them with an airsoft gun, or shouting “fuck you, idiot” at a duck searching for a worm in wet grass. Helping them would be maybe donating to a wildlife refuge, or kidnapping an oil executive.
Enjoy ducks while we still have them! Bye!
duck sightings: 10 or so
score: already explained