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An Animal Rescue

The phone call was for me. I was visiting my parents in Inkster Michigan where I grew up, 17 miles east of my own home. The Tiger game was on and some family members were watching thought, as it was the Tigers, it held little interest to me. The voice on the other end was crying and distressed, "They've fallen down the drain and I can't get them out!" It was my wife Melissa. The alert reporter in me began the questioning; all the "W" questions "Who, What, Where, How, Why, When?" OK, there's an "H" in there. "Baby ducks! The momma duck was leading them around and they got too close to the storm drain! I can't lift it, it's too heavy! You gotta come home and do something!" My mind was working like a sprung trap. "But I'm forty minutes away! Can you find our pick axe and get the cover loose?" "I can't! You gotta come home now! They're gonna die! The momma duck has been walking all around with the others and I'm afraid more are going to fall in!" "Can't you get anyone around there to help? I'm forty minutes away!" (Hadn't I just said this?) "No! You gotta come home now!" "OK, I'll be home as soon as I can. I'll leave now." I don't remember why I was visiting with my family that sunny summer afternoon. I think there was a Detroit Tiger baseball game on TV at the moment. Dad likes to watch them or listen whenever they're on TV or radio. Personally, I care little for losing teams so I made my good-byes. "I have to leave," I told them. "Some baby ducks are trapped in a sewer and I need to see if I can rescue them." They understood the emergency and I quickly left for Ann Arbor.

Island Drive Apartments was our favorite residence in all the eight we had in our 19 years of marriage, except for our current home on a coastal island of Georgia. The apartments were nestled quietly at the rear of a dead end road that stopped along a horseshoe bend in the Huron River. The other border of the property was the base of a high thickly wooded hill rising a hundred feet or so to a residential area invisible from the bottom. If you kept going from the end of this road, Island Drive, you entered a small, secluded park, perfect for family picnics, Frisbee tossing, or romantic walks along the not so swiftly flowing wide river. None of which we did during our stay there. No, wait, we did on occasion walk around the grounds on a nice Spring or Fall day or two when the mosquitoes were absent. There was also a large set of swings that I enjoyed using a few times like the little kid of so many years ago who was so fascinated with motion. The place was an idyllic setting whether in Winter's deep snow or in Spring's full bloom or Fall's golden hush. The wildlife was plentiful, with squirrels skittering about, a full variety of birds displaying a multitude of color and song, abounding in raccoon, and the ubiquitous ducks and Northern Canadian geese. It was pretty common to see a family of ducks wander the walkways and paths of this small apartment complex. In fact at one point in time we put out on our patio a clean plastic pan, the kind used to change your car's oil, and filled it with water, and some ducks waddled by and splashed around in it. It was a regular Nature Show at our sliding glass door. We noticed one particular family of ducks among the dozens, whose mother didn't seem quite right. She would sometimes pick and poke at her children for seemingly no reason. Kind of the way some psycho human mothers do that you see in the malls and other public places. The kind that makes you want to give a friendly dope slap to.

Our unit was in the rear of the complex facing the base of the hill. It was very quiet. Because of the dense foliage of the plants and trees on the hill no road noise could be heard, just the peaceful sounds of nature, as if a permanent recording of the sounds of the deep forest were broadcast outside our patio door. It was delightful. And this small group of apartments/condos existed within a quarter mile of the University of Michigan Hospital and Medical complex. We had very much the best of both worlds: living in a secluded park, almost like a nature center of sorts, amidst the hustle and bustle of the best university setting in the best university town in the country, and only a few miles from where I worked as a buyer at Edwards Brothers, Inc. Michigan's largest book manufacturer. Close enough that I could walk home from work had I needed to (which I did on a couple of occasions). Had it not been for the fact that a year after we rented the place our unit was sold to someone who could actually afford to buy it (namely, not us) we might still be there. As it was we were forced to relocate and move into our fourth apartment in almost as many years.

But now I was rushing home that Saturday afternoon hoping that somehow Melissa was able to gain access to the storm drain and free the trapped animals. About forty minutes later I arrived at home and hurried straight to the place I knew Melissa would be, just down the sidewalk from our unit about fifty feet. She was distraught and kneeling beside the top of the grating with a home made netting wrapped around coat hanger wire affixed end to end long enough to reach the ten feet or so to the bottom of the drain. She had not yet been able to remove the heavy steel vented grating from the opening. I went back into the apartment and located the 16-pound sledge hammer that I absconded from somewhere while working for the Detroit Edison Company. All perfectly legal I assure you. A thief I am not. After slamming it a time or two on top of the grate I inserted the end of the pick axe (don't ask how I acquired that-I think it was dad's) into the grating and pulled. It released its grip without much of a fight. By this time the mother duck had long given up on its lost child and wandered off with her remaining brood. Melissa said she didn't stay very long, and there was great fear that more would fall in as well. She suspected that this was the psycho momma duck previously mentioned and she may have intentionally lured her brood this way to rid herself of the responsibility of raising a family. It could happen! As it was there was only one baby duck down there, even though from the racket it made it sounded like more. There are few things more heart wrenching than hearing the plaintive squeaking of a Peep's distress signals. It tears your heart out!

After I pulled off the steel grate which probably weighed thirty pounds and was an inch thick of solid steel, we were able to more easily get a bead on the duckling. The little triangle area of netting that formed a scoop large enough for one duckling was at the end of a wire fashioned to a length that could reach the bird. Melissa's implements of rescue. With the grate in position there was no way for Melissa to leverage the right angle of attack and maneuver, and the duckling kept on swimming around in the few inches of water in the sewer. But now it was a fairly simple matter of timing it just right to scoop up the duck and in no time we had him/her out and safely walking around. We picked him up so he wouldn't fall back in and closed up the drain. Then we had to somehow locate its family. This would be the tough part.

We cleaned off the little tyke and put it in a basket and wandered toward the direction of the river a couple hundred feet away, calling out as we walked to see if any of the ducks around there recognized this orphaned child. None did. We reached the banks of the river looking around expectantly to see if anyone of the large lot of ducks would make signs of recognizing this little peeper. Again, none did. Even after we released the baby into the river where the rest of them were gathered in their family groups, eating and diving and swimming around, babies keeping close to their mothers, mothers keeping a close eye on their children, none of them made signs of recognition. This was not good. We wondered alarmingly what would happen to this orphan if she didn't find her family. None of the other mothers seemed to want to administer to this lone baby. Indeed, if the peep got too close to a mother's own brood it very meanly poked at it and chased it away. Adoption must not be a duck thing. This was too much to watch! But we couldn't just leave like that, while the little one had no where to go and was too small to fend for itself. We felt so guilty rescuing it from the storm drain only to release it to the open river to find it in just as perplexing a situation. Only now it was out of our reach and we couldn't do anything for it but helplessly watch as it got shuffled off from one strange family to the other, all the while emitting these high pitched peep distress signals. It was just as distressing for us to watch. You would think that its mother would hear it and come rapidly swimming over. This really must have been the evil psycho momma duck! She was determined not to locate her missing child and probably was swimming down river as fast as her little psycho feet could paddle abandoning her remaining family along the way or hoping they'd get dashed against the rocks in some little rapids that hoped she'd find. We were infuriated with her wherever she was.

The evening was now quickly giving way to the dim luminance of an early twilight and an almost full moon rising over the river as we faced it, and we knew we'd have to give up. There was no way we could reach the little one out there in the river, we'd just have to trust God that it somehow would survive. We admittedly had our doubts, and Melissa especially was inconsolable. We had the poor thing safe in our control and released it to its newly abandoned state. There was nothing else we could now do but painfully walk back home and pray. Life in the wild can be treacherous.

It actually wasn't too many days after that we had to vacate the premises to the new owners who wanted to live there instead of rent it out. We had already found a new apartment on the west side of town near Pauline and Maple Road and on June 20, 1986 we would move into it. But our hearts remained behind at the nature preserve of Island Drive. Seared into my memory is this image the day after we moved away from the tragic scene: an inconsolable Melissa sobbing and heartbroken for leaving behind the duckling and our wonderful island-like home. There was no way to comfort her though I tried. It would only take time, that age old healer of hearts. It would be a tough couple weeks but we eventually let go and moved on. Melissa even found a job to distract her right across the street from our new home as the church secretary for Grace Bible Church, where we started attending. We met some very wonderful people there. But we also met some real wackos too. But that's a story that will have to wait for another time. A tale to be told on a dark and stormy moonless night around a campfire. Can you feel the chills rise over your shoulder?

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