Ducks are common visitors to us camp-dwellers of Beech Hill Pond. For years, we’ve eagerly awaited the regular arrivals of entire duck families that swim in the shallows and under the docks, looking for a handout.
Before we learned that tossing bread to those ducks wasn’t doing them any good, my family did the same thing dozens of other camp-owners did, and took cute photos of the ducklings as they raced to get the next free morsel.
Some years — likely during times when they’ve grown accustomed to that steady diet of bread from the kids around the pond — the ducks have grown bolder, tromping up steep embankments and swarming us as we sat in chairs on the lawn.
But the duck I saw this past weekend was different.
It didn’t have a swarm of ducklings in tow. It didn’t seem too interested in my wife or me. It didn’t really slow down to see if any food was in the offing. Instead, it paddled past, seeming eager to go somewhere, anywhere, other than where it was.
I had set up camp on the end of my dock that day, hoping a remote book-signing at my home pond might spark sales of my book, “Evergreens,” in which I share plenty of camp-related tales. (It didn’t).
And when that lone duck paddled past, about 15 feet away from me, I saw the reason for its abnormal behavior: There, about two feet behind it, was a small piece of wood, or cork, or plastic. When the duck turned, that object turned. When the duck swam straight, it followed.
Somehow, it seemed, the object — a virtual buoy — had become attached to one of the duck’s feet. And there was nothing I could do to help.
I’m among those who enjoy watching and enjoying the nature and wildlife that surrounds us, but I’m not overly sentimental about much of what I see. Nature is sometimes cruel. I know that. Animals eat other animals, not because they’re being mean, but because that’s how they survive. So I know there’s a fair bit of suffering going on out there in the natural world.
But this? This was something different.
It wasn’t natural at all.
There aren’t many ways a piece of wood, or cork, or plastic would end up trolling behind a forlorn duck, you see. There’s about one: A human was involved.
Not that the human meant to hurt the duck, of course. While it’s possible that somebody simply tossed a snarl of fishing line in the water, where the duck later ran into it, that’s probably not the case. More likely, an angler found his lure snarled on bottom, and gave a quick yank to free it, ended up snapping the fishing line.
Then, later — maybe months or years later — the duck got its foot stuck in the nest of line, and ended up picking up some more debris that it wound up hauling around Beech Hill Pond.
When I realized that the duck might be in trouble, I put a post up on my social media channels, asking for advice. One friend said I should throw a jacket on the duck, subdue it, and then cut the line to free it.
That may have worked, had I had a jacket with me, or had the duck swam closer, or had I received the reply before the duck had vanished down the shoreline.
Someone else suggested calling a game warden, but by the time a warden arrived, I’d have only been able to give a vague description of where the duck might have headed.
So, sadly, I did nothing. Nothing of any use, at least.
Until now. Here’s hoping that we anglers can be a little more careful when we hit the water. We all get caught on the bottom once in a while. And we’ll sacrifice some lures and hardware to the depths. It comes with the territory, sadly.
But we can be more careful about what we do with our snarled line. We each can make sure we obey laws about the use of lead tackle and sinkers.
That’s the least we can do, I figure. All of us — humans and ducks and loons and fish — are sharing these wonderful lakes and ponds.
Let’s keep ’em as clean as we can.
John Holyoke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-990-8214. Follow him on Twitter: @JohnHolyoke. His first book, “Evergreens,” a collection of his favorite BDN columns and features, is published by Islandport Press and is available wherever books are sold.