October 5th Adventure

Here’s a story for you.

Last night, as I was winding things up at my desk and getting ready for bed, I heard the unsettling sound of footsteps outside my window. This wasn’t the window facing the parking lot; it was the one overlooking the narrow space between my building and the house next door — a space where there’s nothing but a concrete sluiceway for rainwater. This isn’t part of a walkway of any kind. There’s no path in back of my apartment. Once in a great while kids will clamber through that ditch — kids will explore any nook or cranny of a city — and now and then a utility employee or maintenance man will be there. But no one should have been out there at 12:30 a.m. on a Sunday night.

I cocked my head, listening. It sounded for all the world like the footsteps of someone trudging along in the shallow water of that concrete trough. The splashing started at the back of my building, passed my locked, curtained window, and stopped at the front corner, no more than ten feet from my chair, at a point where there’s access from the ditch to my narrow verandah, outside my front window, also locked and curtained. I imagined a prowler lurking just beyond the window at my left elbow. In Japan, that would be highly unlikely; and whoever it was had made no effort to be quiet when splashing through the water.  But still, it was baffling.

After a few minutes, there were no further sounds, and I didn’t have the sense of anyone skulking about, so I finished what I was doing and went to bed.

At about 6:10 a.m., my alarm clock rang for the first day of my second semester — yes, today was back to school for me. I took my shower, got ready, and as I was munching on a bread roll, I remembered the nightly noises and wondered if there was any evidence of anything I could find outside. So I went out there, and. . . .

You’re thinking of summer camp stories, aren’t you? Dorm room stories? As the police lead the girl away from the car in which she’s been stranded all night after her boyfriend went for help and didn’t return, she looks back at the car, and sees. . . .

No, it wasn’t horrifying, but I solved the mystery. At the end of the flooded part of the sluiceway, on a dry patch in the concrete ditch just behind the trash cage, there was a wild duck.

I knew at once that I’d heard the duck splashing through the water. I also knew, since it was still here and wasn’t swooping away from me as I peered down at it, that the duck had some kind of problem. It must be either sick or injured. It was just sitting there, wings folded, and looking quite alert. When I approached, it took a deep breath and shifted as if it wanted to fly away but couldn’t. I had to catch my bus for the university, so all I could do for the moment was break off some pieces of my bread roll and toss them down within easy reach. I broke off a dozen little bite-sized pieces, wished the duck well, and went to work. (It was making no move to eat the bread.)

I had 11 students in the pre-med English class: 9 boys, 2 girls.

When I got home, the duck was still there — still alert, but didn’t seem to have touched any of the bread. Although there was water in the ditch behind the duck, I thought it might be too shallow for the duck to drink (I was thinking of that Aesop fable about how the fox serves soup in the flat, shallow bowls, and the poor crane or stork can’t drink any of it with his long bill.) So I filled a paper bowl with tap water (single guys usually have paper dishes on hand) and put that down in front of the duck. It made no attempt to drink.

I worried about the duck through the afternoon as I was preparing lessons, wishing I had some better way to help it. It was in a sheltered place, but if it wasn’t flying away and wasn’t eating or drinking, things weren’t looking good. At one point I heard some schoolkids talking about the duck, but they moved along and didn’t bother it.

Finally, toward dusk, it occurred to me to go down the street and talk to a veterinarian I know. At the worst, I figured, he would just shake his head and tell me there wasn’t much we could do for a wild animal. But when I explained the situation to him, he said there is an agency in Niigata that helps injured birds. He said if I could manage to bring the duck in, he would call the Yachyou Kyoukai (Wild Bird Organization), and we could turn the duck over to them.

So I hurried home (it was now pitch-black again in the sluice ditch). Just as I came up my street, I saw my neighbor walking his two bulldogs. [I’ve actually written about him once before on this blog, long ago. Remember?] I prayed they wouldn’t devour the poor bird just as help was on the way. They sniffed and grunted around the trash cage; I think they had some inkling that a juicy bird was there, but they never figured out quite where. I exchanged good evenings with my neighbor, and he was probably wondering why I was out killing time beside my trash cage. When they’d all moved up the street, the two dogs huffing and grunting, I raced inside and hunted through my boxes.

The four or five little ones I have from Amazon.com were all a bit too small; they would have put a crick in the duck’s neck. Fortunately, I’d just bought a box of typing paper. Paper is one thing I use a lot of (conservatively, mind you — I print on both sides whenever humanly possible), so I buy it in bulk: a box of five bundles, each with 500 sheets. A box that holds 2,500 sheets of typing paper is quite adequately duck-sized.

I squinted through the darkness until I relocated the duck. He was still sitting up and seemed aware, but he was no longer squirming when I got close — he seemed a lot weaker. I was able to set the box over him upside down, slide the lid underneath him, and gently roll it until he was inside with the lid on top. The duck moved around a little in the box as I was carrying it back to the vet’s, which seemed hopeful. (But I was wishing I’d thought of the vet hours earlier.)

At the vet’s, the duck was still sitting up and looking around, but unable to fly or walk. The vet stretched out his wings one by one, and they didn’t seem to be broken. His legs seemed okay. There was a small, bloody patch on his chest or stomach. The vet thinks he may have been attacked by a crow or a cat — or possibly ran into something in flight. Anyway, the vet was going to try feeding him and giving him water, using an eyedropper if necessary. The Yachyou Kyoukai apparently is active only on Wednesdays and Fridays, so the vet will be taking care of the duck tomorrow. I had to fill out a form with my name, address, and telephone number, explaining where I’d found the duck and what its condition was. And I received a pin from the Wild Bird Organization for being a “friend of wild birds.”

I don’t know if the duck will survive or not. I wish I’d acted more quickly. But at least he’s out of the sluice ditch and away from the cats, dogs, and curious kids.

And that’s the adventure of October 5th (which, by the way, is the anniversary of the day I first came to Japan back in 1988).

[Addition on October 8th: Today I stopped by the vet’s to ask about the duck. I went with considerable trepidation, but I could tell by his face the instant he saw me that he had good news. He reported that the duck was safely turned over to the Wild Bird Organization on Tuesday. His own opinion is that the duck will make a full recovery and will soon be back in the wild. I was surprised and quite relieved — the way the duck had been declining so quickly on Monday, I was afraid it would expire that night, before the vet could turn it over to the bird people. The vet told me when he handed it over, the duck was beating its wings and full of energy — behavior it wasn’t exhibiting at all the first day! I guess a night indoors did the bird a world of good.

So the prognosis sounds excellent! Thank you to all who have been following this little drama with concern and good wishes.

The duck is doing so well that I’ll probably be hearing from its lawyer for ab-duck-ting his client, who was simply relaxing in the gutter . . . and the vet will be mentioned in the lawsuit, that the duck has pronounced him a quack. . . .] {Yes, I just rang up about a dollar in the Pun Fund.}

The invitation for those scary opening lines is still open (see previous post)!


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24 Responses to “October 5th Adventure”

  1. Marquee Movies Says:

    This was a very touching story. I would like to know what happens to the duck. Bless you for not only trying to help the duck, but also for caring so much about this animal. I’m reminded of something you once wrote, about how your dad told you in a letter that when cutting the grass in the summer, he decided not to mow by the fence. He felt he should leave the grass grow high by the fence posts, so the animals in the field would have a safe place to hide. It’s nice to see your father’s kind heart and empathy reflected in your actions.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks for reminding me of that story! One of my favorite summer activities was mowing the lawn. I’m serious — I never saw it as a chore — I could not WAIT for the grass to grow, so that I could get out there and mow it. Whether I was using a push mower or a riding tractor — or the big, wicked-looking weedcutter that looked for all the world like a Dr. Seuss illustration — I relished the whole experience. When you mow the yard, you get to be out there in the air, under the trees, between the hedges, going over every inch of it. There are the smells, the roar of the motor, the sight of grass cuttings spraying in an arc; there’s the satisfaction of the tall grass becoming neat and even in swaths. You pass from blazing sunlight to dappled shade to chill blue shade and back again. You get to revisit all the little hillocks and shady corners and tree roots you loved as a kid. You get to gaze into the distances across the fields. And it’s a long, solitary task, so you get to think all about stories and characters and dreams; when you’re mowing grass, it’s summer, or it’s about to be summer, so as a kid, you’re enjoying freedom. It’s the most pleasant and fulfilling “maintenance chore” I can think of.

      The point of this is to say that I definitely shared my dad’s feeling on that point. I would mow around all the tiny jumping life-forms in the grass. So I was forever having to circle back and mow the patches I’d spared, once the grasshoppers had moved on. But circling back prolonged the fun.

      • Daylily Says:

        Please, come to our house in Connecticut and mow our country lawn any time. We would love to share the fun! And the scenery includes a meadow with a forest behind it. Consider this a standing invitation. 🙂

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        Heh, heh! Thanks! 🙂

  2. Jedibabe Says:

    I am impressed that you took the time to take care of the duck. It was surely a good sign for the semester ahead and your anniversary. And now, as a “friend of wild birds” you are educated for the next one you find. Please keep us posted and I’ll say a prayer for the duck to pull through.

  3. Chris Says:

    I am unsure if this counts as an “adventure”.

    Perhaps for the duck. I mean he got to ride in an Amazon.com box and will wind up at a “facility” for others like him. Come to think of it, sounds like a rather unpleasant adventure for the duck.

    I was once chased around a park by a violent duck. No joke. The thing singled me out of all the people in the park and he mercilessly pursued me with evil intent in his soul-less cold eyes.

  4. Daylily Says:

    Today I took the opportunity to explore a forest trail new to me. As I strode along, I could see far ahead of me down the trail. I suddenly became aware of a large reddish-brown animal traveling purposefully along the trail towards me. It had pointed ears. Dog? No, not a dog’s gait. Fox? Coyote? Bobcat? About 100 paces from each other, we halted. Stalemate. What IS it? I wished that I could see better. However, moving towards a large animal of unknown species and temperament did not seem the best plan! Finally, I said, just loudly enough to carry, “I’m not afraid of you.” And I wasn’t, at that distance. Another moment and the animal turned aside from the trail and disappeared into the forest. I saw the short, thick tail. Not the brush of a coyote or fox. It was a bobcat! My third sighting in the five years I’ve lived in Connecticut. But the other two times were from the safety of my kitchen window, looking out into the meadow behind the house.

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Thanks, Daylily! This is a fascinating story! How big is a bobcat? As I think we’ve talked about on this blog, a friend and I (“Mr. Brown Snowflake”) were cornered by a bobcat inside an old bus that my dad bought to use as a shed/camping house down at our pond. On a moonless night, it padded around and around the bus, yowling, but because the night was so dark, we never got a glimpse of it.

      I know the eerie feeling of seeing a wild animal just indistinctly enough that you’re not sure what you’re looking at. That’s happened to me several times in life. I’ve seen tanuki (“raccoon dogs”) in Japan, foxes, hundreds of deer, raccoons, opossums, skunks, and a few truly unknowns. I’ve never had your experience, though, of having a staring contest with one!

      Oh! — in Michigan’s upper peninsula, I saw a moose standing right beside the road. And in Canada I’ve glimpsed black bears in the wild. And in Japan, I’ve encountered wild monkeys!

      • Daylily Says:

        “Adult bobcats measure from 30 to 45 inches long, including their tail. Males weigh about 24 pounds. Females weigh about 16 pounds and are shorter than the males.”–The World Book Encyclopedia
        I did not attempt to weigh or measure this one! Keeping my distance and not looking like prey were my main concerns. 🙂

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        Quite understandable! And thanks for the bobcat statistics!

  5. mileposter Says:

    This is a real-life adventure–an encounter with another living being–with some others (the dogs) trying to horn in, while others (the children) observe from a distance, but don’t get involved–kind of like those who passed by the man on the road to Jericho–the perennial author, always writing stories, but now living one: encountering the duck, who was unable to communicate with him–but Fred kept trying, and took the duck to the right place–to someone who could communicate, in a limited way, and meet the duck’s needs. We hope and pray that the adventure ends in a good way for the duck.

    • Chris Says:

      Well, to be fair Fred could have made the story better. The duck actually was just lying in wait, luring Fred in. When Fred got into striking distance the duck, a slave to unthinking blind “duck-rage” and its raw animal nature, lunged for the attack. Intent on feasting on the blood that keeps it alive through the cold October nights.

      Fred, mortally wounded, staggers back with the red blazing eyes of the duck, unable to slake its unholy thirst, glaring him against the wall. The duck, marching on toward Fred who, in his last moments of life learned that no amount of Amazon.com boxes would save him from this unfortunate death…

      Now THAT’S a story! (And to think I get paid to do SCIENCE when clearly I am an ARTIST! Sheesh! It’s OCTOBER, folks!)

      • fsdthreshold Says:

        Well, YEAH. Of course that’s how I’ll recycle the incident for use in fiction. Which title do you like best?
        Dawn of the Duck

      • Daylily Says:

        Definitely “Duckula,” because that one made me laugh the hardest!

      • Shieldmaiden Says:

        “Duckula” and “Ducktober” are my favorites!!!

      • Scott Says:

        You aren’t supposed to kill off the hero that quick.

        Fred drags himself back to his apartment. He could already feel the duck-venom beginning to flow through his veins. His heart racing, he fought off unholy urges to fly south for the winter and to sell Aflac insurance to all of his friends and neighbors.

        How about “An American Wereduck in Niigata”?

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      Mileposter: Thanks for your hopes and prayers, and for that wonderful comment! I hadn’t thought about it in terms of communication. But I really like that thought!

  6. fsdthreshold Says:

    For an update on the duck, please scroll back up to the post. I’ve added the latest news at the end.

    Also, Marquee Movies has posted a wonderful comment on the “Boo” entry — it’s well worth revisiting that thread to take a look! (Scroll above it, too, to read his first comment and my response about the horrors of Sesame Street.)

    And one more thing: I’ve replied to the comments above. I love doing that when I can; I apologize for the weeks when I’m too busy to manage it. But don’t miss my celebration of mowing grass (above)! Heh, heh!

  7. Elizabeth Says:

    I am so happy about the duck! I was so worried about the little fellow. It’s good news he’ll be doing better, and returning to the wild soon.

  8. Shieldmaiden Says:

    Great news about the duck, I am glad you got him there in time. Thanks for sharing this adventure with us!

    Chris: I think you could call it an adventure for Fred at the very least. And given the choice between braving the ditch in the dark with bulldogs nearby, and a ride in an Amazon.com box, I betcha that duck would pick the adventure in a box.

    And Fred: I do remember the neighbor from the blog. Was that post called “Intersections” or something like that? You’d see him early in the morning at the same time out walking his bulldog(s), right?

    • fsdthreshold Says:

      I don’t remember the title of the post, but that sounds like a logical one for it to have been in. I was making the point about how strange meetings and alignments happen all the time — how odd it was that I should wake up at a random time and decide to look out the window just as the man and dogs were going by. (No, that doesn’t happen every morning!)

  9. fsdthreshold Says:

    Polprav: Yes, you certainly may quote from a post of mine on your blog with a link to this one! Thank you!

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